Jesse's Journal: Mayor Dean Trantalis - A Day That Will Live in History

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SFGN file photo.

In 1995 the Gay and Lesbian Community Center (now the Pride Center) joined forces with the Stonewall Library (now the Stonewall Museum and Archives) to produce a poster meant “to increase the awareness of the citizens of Broward County to some of the historically important events of the Broward County gay community.”

The poster celebrated 12 historic events in Broward’s LGBT history: Community Center launched (August 18, 1993); First Broward County human rights referendum held (we lost that one) (September 4, 1990); Broward Women in Network created (July 29, 1987); John Fiore elected to the Wilton Manors City Council (March 8, 1988) and Chris Wilson elected to the Oakland Park City Council (March 9, 1993); Rainbow Pride flag is adopted at a conference held at the Marlin Beach Hotel (October 12, 1985); AIDS Center One created (September 12, 1984); Florida authorizes Sharon McCracken to be a foster parent (November 18, 1992); Fort Lauderdale MCC (now the Sunshine Cathedral) established (February 27, 1972); Stonewall Library and Archives created (April 12, 1973); Ken Wolf wins Fort Lauderdale City Commission primary (February 8, 1994); Lambda South Clubhouse opens (June 4, 1983); and Congregation Etz Chaim founded (March 4, 1974). Each of these events is an important part of our history, and each deserves its own article.

I had the privilege to witness LGBT history in the making on March 20 when Dean Trantalis was sworn-in as Mayor of the City of Fort Lauderdale. I have the honor to know Dean for over three decades, years in which he excelled as a lawyer, LGBT rights activist and City Commissioner. Under his leadership, Broward enacted a human rights ordinance that finally survived an effort to repeal it (1995).

Later he joined Robin Bodiford and others in a successful move to get the County Commission to enact domestic partner legislation (1999). He also served, at different times, as chair of Broward United Against Discrimination, co-chair (with Bodiford) of Americans For Equality; and president of the Dolphin Democrats. But Dean Trantalis is more than a one trick pony.

He was first elected to the Fort Lauderdale City Commission in 2002, in which he proved to be a capable and compassionate leader, not only for his LGBT community but for everyone. His knowledge of and care for the needs of his city, its residents and its visitors earned him a following that went beyond his sexuality or his Greek-American heritage; and on March 13 he was elected “the people’s mayor” in a landslide.

I contributed a very small part towards Dean Trantalis’s victory, serving as a volunteer in various campaign fundraisers throughout Fort Lauderdale. Besides the fact that this gave me an opportunity to visit some of the city’s most posh houses or apartments, volunteer work allowed me to see the affection that many in Fort Lauderdale had for their current commissioner and future mayor.

Attempts by supporters of City Commissioner Bruce Roberts, Dean’s main opponent, to paint him as a gay stereotype failed miserably. After all, Dean Trantalis is the straightest gay man I know (sorry, Dean). His victory party, held at Thasos Greek Taverna (a great place to eat, if you can afford it) was attended by a veritable “who’s who” of Broward’s LGBT and mainstream communities, who were there to celebrate Dean’s victory and their city’s future. The election of Steven Glassman as City Commissioner, keeping the District 2 seat formerly held by Dean in gay hands, only added to the historical moment. The election of Ben Sorensen from District 4 gave Mayor Trantalis, at least for now, a 3-2 majority in the City Commission.

Fort Lauderdale has come a long way in just over a decade, from the homophobic Mayor Jim Naugle to the out and proud Dean Trantalis. But Dean is not Florida’s first openly gay mayor. Key West, Oakland Park, Palm Beach Shores and Wilton Manors have or had elected queer mayors through the years; and J. P. Sasser served as the matter-of-fact, openly gay Mayor of Pahokee - a small city on the shore of Lake Okeechobee - for years without raising an eyebrow. But Fort Lauderdale is a large city, larger than Key West, Oakland Park, Palm Beach Shores, Wilton Manors or Pahokee. Dean’s election makes Fort Lauderdale, now that Annise Parker is no longer Mayor of Houston, the largest city in the South with an openly LGBT mayor. That makes Dean Trantalis’s victory a truly historic event, not just for Floridians but for all Americans. Keep up the good work, Dean. We will be rooting for you.


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