It may not be a surprise to hear that some of the city’s straight residents might not be completely happy with Wilton Manors becoming known as a city with one of the nation’s highest concentration of LGBT residents. What may be a surprise is that some of the city’s LGBT residents think too much emphasis has been put on Wilton Manors’ relatively-recent demographic shift.
One of them is former commission candidate Naomi Cobb. She brought the issue up at the Candidates Forum in September. In an interview with The Gazette, she talked more about her concerns.
In addition to more non-LGBT residents, Cobb said she’d like to see a more ethnically-diverse city, even amongst the LGBT community which is mostly made up of white men.
The city’s population of residents ages newborn to 17, dropped between 44 and 45 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. In that same period, the ratio of male to female residents also shifted. The percentage of males went from 55 to 63 and the percentage of females went from 44 to 36.
Cobb said that the recent incident of a gay hook-up advertisement being allowed, and then removed, on city-controlled advertising space was not helping cultivate an atmosphere of inclusivity. As a parent of two children who are now older, Cobb said she understands you can’t always protect children from everything but the sexualized ads strike her as something that could have been avoided.
In April, when the ads got a lot of attention, resident Michael Rajner also expressed concern for children who might see the ads. He said that the ads were putting a divide between LGBT and straight residents. Some straight residents spoke out on the issue of the Pride Flag, which has been raised permanently at Jaycee Park. Those who spoke against it said they felt it was unnecessary and divisive.
At the time, the commission defended the flag as only being a symbol of the LGBT community. “No one would argue that a Martin Luther King Memorial is anti-white,” said Vice Mayor Justin Flippen.
Cobb added that the city needs to do more to appeal to families and college-aged people.
“What would a new college graduate want to come to Wilton Manors for?” Cobb asked.
“What if you’re not part of the LGBT community? What is your pride in Wilton Manors if you’re not?”
Her own children recently moved to Fort Lauderdale. “[They said] ‘there’s nothing here for us.’” Part of that, said Cobb, is due to a lack of affordable housing in the city. “For a lot of people, Wilton Manors has been priced out.”
Mayor Gary Resnick defended the city, saying it’s not the intent of officials to attract one type of resident over another. “We’re not dividing ourselves. We don’t want to control who comes to the city. It’s certainly not my intent. The more, the merrier.” He added that another idea for a city tagline, in addition to the official one, could be “Where Elton John could dance with Donald Trump.”
Resident Chuck Poole said his straight friends aren’t all that upset over the gay issues but he feels like there’s too much focus on LGBT issues and causes.
“I would say that we tend to be a little bit too much for gay things that are going on in the city.” He cited the transgender healthcare provision that was added recently by the city to the employee healthcare plan. “I don’t find that a particularly important thing.” He added that the aging population, lack of affordable housing and the workforce community should be issues that get more attention by the city.
But residents Sal Torre, president of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors, and Karl Lentzer, president of the Wilton Manors Business Association, don’t see the city as focusing too much on its LGBT identity.
Torre cites the wide variety of non-LGBT events and program, including the Easter egg hunt, holiday lighting ceremony, and children’s Halloween event, as evidence the city offers plenty to LGBT and non-LGBT individuals and families.
He also encouraged anyone who is concerned or worried to get involved.
Lentzer thinks the perceived LGBT-slant just might be chalked up to LGBT residents becoming more a part of what goes on. “It’s more out in the open than it’s ever been. Maybe that’s what it is,” Lentzer said.