C'mon, Get Happy

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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."

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Deirdra Funcheon