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.