C'mon, Get Happy
Long after Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle made the comments that ignited the latest and strongest backlash against his mayoralty and long after he'd had time to reconsider, apologize, or just soften the remarks, Naugle, speaking to New Times last week, would have none of it. Or rather, he seemed to want more of it.
Several weeks before, the mayor's remarks about gays had drawn protesting crowds. They had initiated a "Flush Naugle" campaign, which among other acts entailed sending the mayor rolls of toilet paper. It was a way to dramatize what was for many an emotional issue.
Not so long ago, most gays led closeted lives. But that was the past; now here they were living openly, many in committed same-sex relationships. They live in the greater Fort Lauderdale area in part because it has become a magnet for gays who want to be part of a society without having to hide their natures. It is in theory a tolerant area, where gays are a significant part of the population.
And now here was Naugle, an elected leader, saying they should not be called "gay" because they are unhappy.
And here was Naugle several weeks later in his office, with its pictures of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and Oliver North, shrugging off their objections.
Oh, sure, he'd received some toilet paper, he said, but it was just three or four rolls. "And frankly, they were of poor quality. Single-ply."
It all started with a toilet. A $250,000 toilet. High-tech, self-cleaning — the sort that the American Restroom Association and other lavatory aficionados refer to as an "automated public toilet" — APT for short.
City commissioners were trying to address the lack of public restrooms on Fort Lauderdale Beach, a problem they had been attempting to solve for years. But installing a toilet is no simple task. It would need to be hooked up to the sewer system, and it would have to be able to withstand hurricanes. There was maintenance to consider. And any such structure would cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The commission wanted to go ahead with the APT. And then, "unfortunately, the mayor decided to go off on one of his tangents," Commissioner Christine Teel says.
Naugle told a Sun-Sentinel reporter that he thought the APT was a good idea not because it would give beachgoers a potty but because it would do something almost unprecedented for a piece of hardware: It would deter "homosexual activity."
Not content with that alone, Naugle also said that he preferred the term homosexual to gay because he did not think people who were something other than heterosexual were especially ecstatic.
That incensed some in the gay community, but activists chose not to protest too much because the following week, on July 10, the commission was set to vote on whether to allow the Stonewall Library & Archives, a research facility that contains gay literature and historical documents, to be relocated to the city-owned ArtServe building. Naugle, citing his concern that the materials might constitute "hardcore pornography," voted against the move, but the measure passed anyway, by a vote of 3-2.
For the next City Commission meeting, on July 17, about 50 supporters of the gay community rallied outside City Hall wearing "Flush Naugle" T-shirts. Activists spoke at a podium surrounded by rolls of toilet paper. During the meeting, Michael Albetta, president of the GLBT Democratic Caucus, stood up and boldly shouted a request for the mayor to resign.
True to form, Naugle answered calmly. "Thank you," he said. "I'm not resigning."
The activists published advertisements for a bigger rally the next week, on the afternoon of July 24 — but Naugle preempted them with a crafty political maneuver of his own. He sent out a notice that he'd hold a news conference the same day — in the morning. He promised an "apology."
Come noon, he did not deliver the sort of apology everyone had been expecting.
"I want to apologize to the children and parents of our community," he said, for "not being fully aware of the problem with sexual activity in parks and public places."
He announced that, based on information from the county's health department, Broward leads the country in new AIDS infections resulting from male-on-male sex and that the county should reconsider advertising to gay tourists.
He had been alerted to websites such as cruisingforsex.com, he said, that listed spots where men could find anonymous gay sex. The sites mentioned bathrooms in city-owned parks. He apologized for "not bringing this forward earlier. Maybe some lives could have been saved."
By the afternoon, the anti-Naugle rally was in full force, drawing hundreds of protesters, city and county commissioners, and religious leaders. It also drew a few dozen Naugle supporters. Two airplanes — one dragging a banner supporting Naugle, the other waving a message against him — battled for attention in the air.
And that lowly-if-expensive toilet? Considering all the brouhaha, Commissioner Teel later explained, the commission decided to put the restroom issue on the back burner, "which made the beach Redevelopment Advisory Board very unhappy." She thought about the poor toilet rep who'd gone home without a sale and been pretty much forgotten. "And all he's trying to do is sell somebody a toilet — which we do need!"
Naugle had managed to create an impasse. He wasn't going anywhere, apparently — he is slated to serve until 2009, when term limits will force him to step down anyway. But he had gambled that he could gore this ox, the area's gay community, and somehow be the better for it. It was enough to make one wonder how well he knew the city he served and the greater Fort Lauderdale area and whether he appreciated how much it had changed since he took office in 1992.
How gay is Fort Lauderdale?
To answer that question, Gary Gates, a Los Angeles-based demographer and author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, suggested working with 2000 census data, "the only data we can do this fine-tuned geography with."
Keeping in mind that the census measures households that contain same-sex couples — "which is a very different question than how many people are gay," Gates notes, consider this: Broward County's 1.62 million people were crammed into 654,787 households. Of those, 6,404 households contained same-sex partners. That's about 1 percent, which is about twice the national average (the 2000 census counted 105 million households nationwide, with 594,000 headed by same-sex couples).
Looking at cities and measuring them in terms of the highest density of same-sex households, the census ranked San Francisco first with 2.7 percent — and Fort Lauderdale second with 2.1 percent. Seattle followed with 1.9 percent. New York didn't even make the top ten.
If you take away the "household" criterion, Gates says that based on his research, 4.5 percent of adults in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are gay, and, he says, "I figure that's higher in Fort Lauderdale proper."
Gates couldn't explain exactly how or why the area became so gay, but a researcher at the Stonewall Library says the shift began with the legendary Marlin Hotel. When Fort Lauderdale was known as the spring break capital of the world, it took a risk and openly courted the gay dollar. Even now, people remember the hotel's big, fabulous Sunday tea dances.
Bill Greeves, an openly gay man who volunteers at Stonewall, says he moved to the area for the same reason a lot of straight people do — the climate. When he sought to retire from Washington, D.C., eight years ago, he looked at Miami Beach, but there was "too much bling. Too much emphasis on drugs." So he moved into the Fort Lauderdale neighborhood of Rio Vista — a few doors away from Mayor Naugle.
Bill Hafer, a retired doctor, was sifting through documents at Stonewall on a recent afternoon trying to help staff decide what to keep and what to throw away. Hafer says he chose to live in Broward because "there's a complete community of gay people." Doctors, bars, hotels — within the county, one can find a gay-operated or gay-friendly version of anything he might need.
Gary Mercado moved from California to Fort Lauderdale to open the 36-unit Elysium Resort with his partner, Steve Barnes. The two have been all over the world, he says, but "the more we travel, the more we fall in love with Fort Lauderdale." Naugle's concept of gay sexuality is about 30 years out of date, Mercado says. Gay men generally don't need to find partners in bathrooms because increasing public acceptance, safe gay meeting places, and the Internet have made such tactics obsolete. Today's gay visitors, he says, come to the beach and maybe hit up the bars. Of course, they have the option of using the hotel's clothing-optional pool too — an amenity that's de rigueur at almost every gay hotel on the beach.
Mercado also points out his contribution to the economy. "With the bed tax alone, the last five years, we generated over $500,000. It's 11 percent. We do over a million in revenue. This is far beyond a mom-and-pop operation."
Gates, the economist, says that when cities "focus on creating employment opportunities and social opportunities for a wide variety of people — gays or nonwhites or people who don't speak English... that does have positive economic consequences. It creates arguably more entrepreneurial activity and innovation and broader thinking on a variety of issues." That's not to say that "if you just recruit 10,000 gays, you'll increase your GDP by X-thousand percent," Gates says, but in Naugle's case, "he does risk tourist dollars. His comments have been repeated for two weeks. There's no way that could be good for tourism."
As of August 10, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau still hadn't seen any cancellations due to the mayor's remarks, but that might be because its director had written at least 75 letters apologizing for him and insisting that gays are still welcome.
The CVB started actively recruiting gay tourists around 1996. First, it dedicated $50,000 toward print ads in gay-oriented publications. The investment returned a spike in numbers. Now, 950,000 gay visitors account for nearly a billion dollars of Broward's $8.5 billion tourism industry. This year, the CVB spent $300,000 — about 10 percent of its budget — marketing to gays. On its website, www.sunny.org, the Visitor's Bureau hypes the city's 30-plus gay-friendly guesthouses, bars, restaurants, and gyms and even a church.
This would appear to be a trend that Naugle can't stop, no matter what he says. Some gays did call for a boycott of Fort Lauderdale — notably, the guy who runs cruisingforsex.com. But men like Larry Bakle and Nathan Sherlock, out-of-towners who, after enjoying a $40 breakfast at Shula's, were found drinking soda at the Grand Resort & Spa, were not put off by the mayor's comments at all. In fact, they were about to sign a deal on a piece of property, they said. The couple liked Fort Lauderdale because "it's a lot gayer than Indianapolis," Bakle said. In San Francisco, the weather sucks. Key West is played out. Miami? Overpriced.
The mayor's comments meant nothing to them. "Mayors are notorious for being stupid," Sherlock said.
Although Mayor Naugle has in past years made it clear that he does not condone a gay lifestyle, many gay people tolerated or even liked him. Often, they could agree on progressive issues like the environment or building restrictions. This time, however, Naugle seemed to have alienated them all.
Norm Kent, a lawyer and the publisher of nationalgaynews.com, was in San Francisco when he got wind of Naugle's comments. He'd been opening a West Coast law office and was getting ready to attend Major League Baseball's All-Star game. Kent has known Naugle for years; they were both active in politics. But when Naugle told the Sun-Sentinel he based his comment about unhappy homosexuals on his "miserable" friend Norm Kent, well... Kent was less-than-pleased.
"He used my name in vain," Kent says. "He used our past friendship to advance his political cause." Kent e-mailed Naugle, he said. "I told him, 'You've been very denigrating and insulting to the gay community, and you owe everyone an apology' — and he sent me back an e-mail which was even more insulting: 'Are you happy, Norm? You must be the exception.' So I said, 'Yeah, I'm very happy, and so is our very diverse gay community.' Jim responded, 'I'm in Bimini, and I'm very happy.' "
If Naugle had made an apology or clarification, Kent says, he would have published it immediately. "It would have ended everything. Instead, he wrongly and broadly labeled us as unhappy. We're so diverse — active in business, commerce, the economy, the judiciary. He could have moved on in a healthy manner. But he chose not to."
Kent felt that Naugle was also out of line for insulting the Stonewall Library "It's our Smithsonian," Kent says. "The wealth of literature it contains is only matched by the diverse talent that put it together. What he doesn't grasp is that when he's insulting the library, he's insulting the hundreds of dedicated volunteers."
Dean Trantalis, another openly gay lawyer, served as vice mayor alongside Naugle on the City Commission but is now fed up with Naugle. "The mayor has abused the position he holds. Even if he does have these feelings about groups he has now maligned and vilified, a mayor, or anybody in a position of public service, is supposed to bring people together to find common ground and establish a quality of life that benefits as many people as possible — rather than create anger, fear, and hostility."
Trantalis says that when they worked together, Naugle was "affable, congenial, accommodating." But now, Trantalis believes, "it was a superficial attitude, simply a charade. I was another vote he might need. I feel betrayed."
Alan Silva, a gay man who worked as city manager — as an unpaid volunteer — for nearly a year and is largely credited with saving the city from a budget crisis, said that "when I was there, he was a consensus builder." He remembered doing drive-bys with Naugle to check on city properties. But even Silva was disappointed in Naugle this time.
Ron Gunzburger, a longtime political junkie and son of County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, works as counsel for the Broward County Property Appraiser's Office and operates the politics1.com political blog. He too is openly gay — and he helped run Naugle's first campaign for mayor.
"He's a quirky person," Ron Gunzburger says. "He's done good things, but he also goes off sometimes." Gunzburger remembers the time Naugle insulted firefighters who argued that speed bumps were detrimental when engines were racing to fires. "His comment was, 'What? You'll spill your coffee?' " Later, when asked to apologize, "He said, 'Well, I didn't say spill your beers. That's what I was thinking.' " Another time, Gunzburger recalls, the city hosted a convention for overweight people, and Naugle said it would be good for restaurants.
"He makes jokes," Gunzburger says. But this time, "he went too far. He's probably destroyed his legacy. With this comment and all the reaction, he'll probably be pegged as Fort Lauderdale's last homophobic mayor — and that'll outweigh any good he did."
Gunzburger envisions Naugle as "the Tom Sawyer of politics." City and county commissioners didn't find him so cute. They complained their computer systems were overwhelmed with all the e-mails about Naugle; some received viruses. Both commissions were asked to officially censure the mayor. The County Commission instead settled for issuing a letter condemning him; the City Commission is in recess until September.
The city's current vice mayor, Carlton Moore, was frustrated. Of the mayor's technique, he said, "I think it has worked very successfully — it has gotten him a whole bunch of publicity." Asked if the mayor's actions had taken away from energies that could have been better used on other city business, Moore took a schoolmarmish tone: "I don't think anything is falling into the background — for those of us interested in bringing good government."
If the mayor wanted a fight, he's got one. The group that was behind the Flush Naugle campaign and the rallies is headed by a gay couple, Waymon Hudson and Anthony Niedwiecki.
These are the same two guys who were at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport this spring when they heard someone reading a Bible verse from Leviticus over the intercom. If a man lies with a man, the voice said, he should be put to death.
The employee who'd done it was fired, but Hudson and Niedwiecki were disappointed that media reports characterized him as a prankster. They saw him as a hatemonger. Hudson says that after the incident, he was harassed and threatened. A woman at the grocery store recognized him from the news, he says, and spat in his face. "You deserve what that man said to you," Hudson recalls her saying. "Sinful faggot."
Their experience led Hudson and Niedwiecki to found an organization and a website, fightoutloud.com, that advises people on how to deal with hate crimes.
It also prepared them for what was to come. After Naugle's initial gay/sex/toilet comments, the couple helped launch Unite Fort Lauderdale, the group that quickly put together the anti-Naugle campaign.
Even after the rallies, the pair wouldn't back down. Niedwiecki, a law professor at Nova University, filed a public records request seeking e-mails the mayor had sent between June 25 and July 31. He also asked for correspondence between Naugle and various conservative leaders. Niedwiecki says he hand-delivered the request. Five days later, he got a call from the dean's office at his work.
"The secretary says, 'We got something from the City of Fort Lauderdale you might be interested in.' " There was a letter on city stationery marked "personal and confidential" — but strangely, it was addressed to Nova President Ray Ferrero Jr. instead of Niedwiecki. The letter said that it may take a while to respond to the request.
Niedwiecki believes that Naugle was running interference by trying to alert his bosses. It was a signal: "I better back off. He's interfering and harassing me for exercising my rights."
The language was much more subdued in Mayor Naugle's eighth-floor City Hall office, a spacious retreat painted blue and cluttered with model ships, framed photos, and city memorabilia. Stacks of paperwork cover a desk and table. Children's drawings hang on the door.
In person, the mayor uses his soothing voice to great effect, waxing on about the sister-cities project and his grandfather, who was a commissioner of Miami-Dade as well as a doctor. He answers the phone with that voice — "Jim speaking" — and is even polite to telemarketers: "No, I'm not buying any advertising today."
But he's not afraid to talk about his battles — or, for that matter, to inflame them. He himself switches the topic to the recent conflict with gays when he gets a call from a supporter in England. "He'd rather go to the bathroom in the ocean than go in those toilets," Naugle laughs.
The APTs, Naugle says, would "cut down on sexual activity that so many people complain about and that we've made arrests for. We made arrests Monday night." It's an issue he wanted to bring into the open, he says, in part to encourage people to make complaints against activity that "in past years, because of political correctness, people were not willing to report." It's that sort of thing that "resulted in, I'm assuming, [Monday's] arrest."
"During this controversy is when I found these websites that advertise places for activity. Where I first heard about it was the arrest of that state legislator." Naugle is referring to Bob Allen, who was arrested after allegedly offering to give an undercover officer a blowjob in a park bathroom. "I went to this site — Gay Guide to Florida Activities — and there: Holiday Park is listed. I said 'Aw, man! Again!' "
The sites Naugle mentions also list various private businesses as "cruisy places" or having "cruisy toilets." He says he's planning to write the managers of each of those companies, like the Home Depot on Andrews Avenue and the Barnes & Noble on U.S. 1. "But there are two locations that I'm responsible for as mayor — Holiday Park and Mills Pond Park. Out of political correctness, we're not going to look the other way. No. This is a criminal act, and it doesn't belong in a park. I'm being attacked because of my honesty."
But what about his "apology"? Was that a childish stunt? Naugle explains that he held a news conference because he was going to the Keys for minilobster season — an event he hasn't missed in 25 years, even though he'll work on Christmas if need be. He had to leave before the rally so as not to hit traffic, he says. As though it's some sort of proof, Naugle whips his diver's certification card out of his wallet.
Asked if he would agree that most gays are productive members of society, not sexual deviants, Naugle says, "Of course." So why not make a statement saying that?
"Why don't they join me and try to be responsible members of the community and support people who have families and stop being selfish?" he cries, his voice rising uncharacteristically. "A lot of people are just being selfish! They're thinking about themselves and being self-centered! They're not understanding the impact that some people in the homosexual community are putting on families in the community!"
To be clear, the mayor said, "We want to welcome gay people to visit our city — but I think we want to make sure we crack down on criminal activity."
Although many gay people in town were furious about Naugle's remarks, others, it must be said, were only vaguely aware of them. Multiple 20-somethings who were asked about the comments were more concerned with clubbing than politics. At least one gay couple missed the entire firestorm because they were off getting married. And another gay man might have behaved differently if he'd been more aware of Mayor Naugle's wish to "crack down."
That man, who was arrested in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, August 6, and charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, spoke with New Times only on the condition of anonymity. The 56-year-old said he was in Holiday Park that afternoon with sex on the brain. He had read about the spot on cruisingforsex.com.
It was about 4 p.m., he said, following a thunderstorm. He doesn't know what possessed him to go to the park — he's had a supportive partner for 12 years, he said. Perhaps he was thinking of the way it used to be for guys of his generation, growing up in the Carolinas without gay role models or information. "You figured things out for yourself," he said.
The venture to Holiday Park "was just a curiosity," he tried to explain, his voice nervous even a week after the incident. "I don't even need to get into the psychological aspect of it." He says he had no intention of having sex in a bathroom. "It was more of a visual erotic thing. Like, a mental thing — of possibilities."
This is his version of events: A white man in a pickup truck pulled up along his driver's side and motioned for him to roll down his window. The man asked to see his dick. So he undid his zipper.
The guy in the truck suggested they leave the park and go to his place. They drove a few blocks and parked. Then two other cars pulled up, and three men jumped out and started yelling. He knew then that they were cops, he says — and he was scared. He begged them not to arrest him.
"They wanted two things," the man says. "First, they said, 'Tell me somebody who can sell me some tina,' " slang for crystal methamphetamine. If he could, they wouldn't arrest him. "And the second thing, they said, 'Are you part of those fags that were protesting the mayor?' "
Although one of the cops was nice, he says, another told him that he has two kids, and if he ever saw a gay man masturbating near his child, he'd take a baseball bat to his head.
The police report differs slightly from the defendant's account. It suggests that the man was masturbating with his window open before police started talking to him. And despite the man's insistence that no kids were around due to the earlier thunderstorm, the police squeezed in a sentence at the bottom of the report that echoes the mayor's concern: "It should be noted children were at play in this park."
The officer also wrote that the detectives "were in an undercover capacity in Holiday Park to combat lewd and lascivious behavior."
A public information officer at the Police Department said there was no recent increase in such efforts.
For a $25 bond, the man says, he spent 30 hours detained.
"Maybe I was stupid," he said. "Maybe I was naive."
He is not political, he said. But was he aware of Naugle's recent complaints about gay sex in public places, and the protests?
Oh yeah, he said — "Flush Whatever-His-Name-Is."
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.