It was the 1970’s and the gay life in South Florida was marked by its nightlife, and its nightlife was measured by the Copa. As Tiny Tina, Ray Fetcho was one of its star drag performers.
The preeminent bar for all things gay, the Copa was a dance club located on South Federal Highway in Dania Beach, just by the airport.
One night a week, the Copa would host a “Wet Jockeys” contest, and the contestants, all dressed in nothing but white Haines underwear, would showcase their wares, as a drag queen poured pitchers of water on their not so private — and suddenly ever so transparent — parts.
The contest was funny and upbeat, and would pack the Copa. No host was more popular than Tiny Tina, the “Queen of Comedy.” But what was popular to the gay community was pornographic to the police. Early in 1976, they raided the Copa, taking Tiny Tina into custody and charging her with “offering for a lewd act.”
With homosexual acts deemed illegal at the time, she pled no contest to the charge. Over 30 years later, it would come back to haunt her.
After retiring from full-time performing and becoming a nurse’s aide, Ray Fetcho worked as an employee and caregiver in an assisted living facility.
As laws changed, background checks became required to work in nursing facilities. Individuals with certain types of arrests, like Fetcho’s, were banned.
In 2010, after one such check, Fetcho’s employers discovered the arrest from a quarter-century before. They regretfully, but summarily, fired him. He thought he had no legal recourse.
Tiny Tina’s plight became a local news sensation, which went viral nationally in online LGBT publications. After decades of social service, Fetcho was suddenly out of work for a minor act 34 years before.
But Tiny Tina fought back. SFGN took up her cause. Fetcho first petitioned the state government for an exemption from the harsh statute. TV crews highlighted his plight.
After some setbacks, he won an administrative appeal. It was upheld. His nursing licenses were reinstated.
Already facing health issues before this happened, Fetcho would soon lose a leg to diabetes. Still, the “Queen” would perform in ALF’s for those even facing greater obstacles. Soon afterward, diabetes would claim not only his leg, but his life.
Of course, the emotional consequences of standing up to the state took a physical toll. It had to.
Stated John Castelli, the present-day Wilton Manors realtor, “She was a legend in the South Florida area, who performed for over 44 years, generating love and laughter.”
Castelli would know. He was the owner of the Copa when her act was interrupted by the police so many years ago, in a lifetime far away.
Tiny Tina was a great performer, once a Miss Florida. Ray Fetcho was a bigger human being. Ten years ago, faced with injustice and discrimination for being herself, he rose to the occasion and said, “No, I will not stand for this.”
The “Queen” became a king, a plaintiff in the cause for gay civil rights.
This is the fourth week of national LGBT history month. There are thousands of stories we can tell and re-tell here in the naked city. In South Florida’s LGBT history, this has been one of them.
This is a part of our LGBT History Month special package. Check out sfgn.com/historymonth2020 daily for new stories.