Jesse’s Journal: Dolphin Democrats – As reflected in the Stonewall Archives

Dean Trantalis speaking at a 2017 Dolphin Democrats gathering. Photo via the Dolphin Democrats, Facebook

The Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors are our community’s treasure. 

Researchers ranging from renowned scholars to high school students have taken advantage of this valuable resource. In my role as Historian for the Dolphin Democrats, I recently had the privilege of studying Dolphin documents preserved in the Archives.

 As the oldest LGBT political organization in South Florida, the Dolphins made their mark in our history. Unfortunately, the history of the Dolphins has not been well-preserved, and many of its founders and early leaders are no longer with us. This is where the Stonewall Archives come in. Though their documents are far from complete, they give us an idea of the Dolphin Club’s progress during its first 25 years. I want to thank Stonewall’s Chief Archivist Paul Fasana and Director of Programming and Education Emery Grant for allowing me to research this material.

The “Dolphin Democratic Club of Broward County” was formed in 1982. In December 1982 the officers were Burnett “Karl” Clark, President; Delia Alonso, Vice President; Tom Green, Secretary; and Seril Grossfeld Treasurer. Meetings were held at the Broward County Courthouse and later at Tri-City Realty at 1741 E. Sunrise Blvd. 

By 1983 the Dolphins were active in Broward politics, supporting candidates like State Senator Peter Weinstein and issues like the South Christian Leadership Conference’s lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale over single districts. 

That year Dolphin Steve David was honored as “Man of the Year” by the Broward County Young Democrats. On October 5 the Club re-elected Clark President and Grossfeld Treasurer, along with VP Tom Green and Secretary Richard Sedlak. Also elected were Directors Sandy Bernstein, Steve David, Ernestine Edwards, Richard Esposito, Dennis Foley and D. Lynn Mattingly.

In 1984 some members of the Dolphins ran for Democratic Convention delegates in support of candidate Alan Cranston. Soon after the November elections (Nov. 14) the members re-elected Clark and Grossfeld along with Secretary Green, VP Jeff Jackson and Board members Mattingly, Mike Lockwood, Don Millington and Ron Spann. 

By 1985 the Dolphins met at the Broward County Government Center at 201 S. Andrews and held its 2nd annual Human Rights Advocate Awards Dinner (honoring State Rep. Anne Mackenzie). In November the Club re-elected Clark, Green, VPs Alonso and Jackson, and Treasurer Mattingly. It also elected Directors Grossfeld, Lockwood, Millington, Elsa Dillof and Buddy Markwell. 

In 1986 the Dolphins backed Miami gay businessman Jack Campbell in his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate.

In 1988 the members re-elected Clark along with VP Don Millington, Secretary Jesse Portis Helm and Treasurer Paul Merel. They also elected Directors Tom Bradshaw, Brad Buchman, Keith Carlson, Fred Fejes, Peter Rogers and Ann Silkie and gave their annual Human Rights Award to attorney Dan Bradley. In 1989 Bradshaw succeeded Clark as Club President. He joined Board members Jamie Bloodworth, Brad Buchman, Lenny Kaplan and Evan Leatherman.

On January 10, 1990 Bradshaw was re-elected President, along with VP Buchman, Treasurer Richard Katz, Recording Secretary Jamie Bloodworth and Corresponding Secretary Beverly Cothern (Bloodworth’s partner). Grossfeld was re-elected to the Board, along with Richard Altman, Len Simons and Carl Trough. During the March primary, the Club endorsed Anne McKenzie (State House), George Stuart (Governor), Howard Forman (State Senate) and Evan Leatherman (State House).

 It supported United Citizens for Human Rights in its eventually successful effort to amend the Broward County Human Rights Act. It also supported a new activist group, GUARD (Gays United to Attack Repression and Discrimination) and gave its annual Awards to State Senator Eleanor Weinstock, the Broward Human Rights Board, Father Bill Collins of Poverello and attorney Allan Terl.

On January 9, 1991 the Club re-elected the five officers and sent to the Board Grossfeld, Simons, Trough, Tom Bates, Dick Geisler, Bob Sawyer and Gary Steinsmith (Buchman’s partner). Later it held a lively fundraising party at Steinsmith’s home. 

On January 8, 1992 Bradshaw, Buchman, Bloodworth and Cothern were re-elected along with Steinsmith as Treasurer and Geisler, Grossfeld and Sawyer as Directors. Buchman’s election was controversial and he resigned February 12, to be replaced by Cothern. Even so, by the end of 1992 Buchman was back, as Secretary. 

The Archives are silent about the years 1993-1996 but by 1997 Gary Steinsmith was President of the Club, along with VP Shane Gunderson, Treasurer Joe Donnelly and Secretary Tony Espaillat. Steinsmith was followed by Gunderson, who presided over the Dolphins for a brief period of time.

By 1999 the Dolphins’ founding fathers and mothers were gone and the club was run by the likes of President Bill Salicco, VP Keith Watts and Treasurer Joe Scaglione. Only Secretary Espaillat and an up-and-coming Board member named Dean Trantalis are worth remembering. Later Salicco was involved in some controversy and resigned, to be succeeded by Trantalis (2000). Dean served alongside VP Paul Jaworski, Secretary Marc Dickerman and Treasurer Kevin Swagger. 

In 2001 Percy Johnson was elected as the Dolphins’ first African-American President. But Johnson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. He was succeeded by Trantalis, who was re-elected alongside VP Robin Bodiford and Treasurer Bill Rettinger.

By 2004 Michael Albetta was President of the Dolphin Democrats and the Club was meeting at the Pride Center, then located on Andrews Avenue and N.W. 16 Court. 

Albetta was succeeded in 2005 by Ken Keechl, with Melissa Fojtik as VP. The next year Keechl resigned to run for the Broward County Commission (he won) and Fojtik became President. 

In 2007 the Club President was Amy Beth Shoosmith, with Albetta as her VP. By 2009 Albetta was President once again, this time with Julie Carson as VP. Sadly, except for a few photographs, programs and newsletters the Stonewall Archives does not have many documents from the Dolphin Democrats post-2009. Perhaps some of our readers will help us fill in the gaps.

 


BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS