C'mon, Get Happy

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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.

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Deirdra Funcheon