Throughout most of his career, filmmaker John Mikytuck has managed to combine two passions — his art and a call to advocacy. His documentary, The Newcomer, premiering on WPBT on Jan. 14, is just the latest example.
The Newcomer tells the story of Richard Heyman, who made headlines as the first openly gay mayor in the United States when he was elected to lead Key West in 1983.
San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk became the first gay elected official in 1977 before he was assassinated a year later and Congressman Gerry Studds was forced to publicly come out in 1983 after an affair with a House page became public.
Thirty years later last week, the first openly gay United States Senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, was sworn in and dozens of openly gay officials have been elected to Congress, statehouses and city halls across the country.
“From Richard’s perspective, I imagine that he didn’t think it would become as big of a deal as it became,” said Mikytuck. “You could say that Key West was a gay-friendly town, but that doesn’t necessarily translate that it should have a gay mayor. You could say Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach are pretty gay friendly town, but none of them have gay mayors.”
Ironically, Heyman’s sexual orientation wasn’t nearly as big an issue for Key West voters as his status as a “newcomer” to the island.
Beyond the obvious historical importance of Heyman’s election was a much more compelling story for Mikytuck, a New Jersey native who called Key West home from 2000 until 2006.
“I wanted to tell the story about HIV and AIDS and its impact on the community,” he recalled. “As I was doing research on the history I came on the story of Richard.”
Mikytuck came across a memoir written by Heyman’s assistant following his death in 2004:
“It said he hadn’t been tested for HIV until 1989 and that got me wondering why,” said Mikytuck, noting Key West had one of the highest infection rates in the country at the time. “From that question, I started to look into Richard’s story and everything I found out is what you see in the documentary.”
Beginning in 2009, hours of research led to interviews and a magazine article. Recognizing the story would make a compelling film, he re-interviewed many of the sources on camera and began a lengthy editing process. The film was shown at several film festivals before Mikytuck began approaching PBS stations. After WPBT expressed interest, he added more interviews, resulting in the final version that will premiere next week, culminating nearly four years of dedication to the project.
Mikytuck, now 46, had devoted much of his career to activism, developing educational programs and using his talents to raise awareness about pressing issues within the gay community. An Emmy award-winning journalist, he produced programs for the gay program In the Life and the History Channel.
While working on a piece about the growing number of LGBT youth living on the streets and incarcerated in the juvenile justice system, he more recently took a position with a non-profit organization devoted to the cause in New York City.
Mikytuck concluded, “My job takes me to different worlds… This is such a problem in our community.”
If you want to see The Newcomer, a film by John Mikytuck
Monday, Jan. 14, 9 p.m.
Airing on WPBT2, check local listings