Growing up, nothing came easily for Edward Martí Kring.
As a 6 and a half-year-old in 1991, he left Cuba and his beloved grandmother, with whom he shares a May 13 birthday. A few years later, he cowered in a Hialeah closet as his new stepfather beat his mother. At 16 he became homeless when she kicked him out for being gay. Despite it all — and with the help of friends and a new adoptive family — Martí Kring managed to put himself through high school and college to become one of Florida’s new generation of equal rights activists. Now 37, he is SAVE LGBTQ’s community and field organizer and newly enrolled in a national social-justice program that trains women and people of color.
“In my line of work, people either have a spotlight on them or they don’t. And this kid has a light shining on him. He carries his own light. I saw winner all over him,” said Richard Jay-Alexander, a well-known Miami Beach-based Broadway and concert director whose career is associated with luminaries including Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler.
Jay-Alexander met Martí Kring in February at a South Beach Valentine’s Day event.
“I was in awe of the fact that we live in a world where so many people are damaged goods. Some people carry it poorly. They’re bitching and complaining that life is unfair,” Jay-Alexander said. “Then you see somebody in one of the most adverse situations I recall — these years are formative — and he managed to come out of it and he’s one of these people you gravitate toward.”
Martí Kring was a year old in Cuba when his parents split. About five and a half years later, he and his young mother flew to Miami and joined his grandfather in the U.S. His grandmother was unable to leave and had to stay behind in the Cuban fishing village of Antilla.
“One of the most impactful memories I’ve got of my grandma was our trip to the airport. I don’t remember much of it because it was late at night and I was sitting on her lap, just asleep on her shoulders. And my dad, my birth dad was in the cab, as well,” recalls Martí Kring.
When they woke him up they had just gotten to a security checkpoint, “where you have to say goodbye to everyone. I wasn't quite sure what was happening. All the adults were hugging each other. And then my grandmother gave me a hug, and I could sense the sadness about her. And as I looked up, I saw that there were tears going down her eyes, and so I started to cry.”
He still vividly remembers that night, especially when his mother told him to let go of his grandmother.
“‘You’ve got to let her go. We have to go now. We're not going to see grandma for a while, so just tell her you love her.’ And I did not want to let her go. It was one of the hardest moments I endured.”
Martí Kring hasn’t hugged her since. For him, that was just the beginning of a pained childhood.
In Hialeah, he said, “We just kind of floated around.” Martí Kring and his mother couch surfed with relatives until she remarried.
Unfortunately, Martí Kring’s new stepfather was not a good person.
“He just started coming home drunk. And after a while, not coming home. And coming home late turned into violence. He would come home and she would fight with him, and he eventually started hitting her.”
Martí Kring recalls being 7 or 8 years old, calling the police and hiding in a closet until they arrived.
“I was so scared about what was happening and what I was hearing,” he said. “And I think I got to a point where I got tired of feeling my heart beating in my throat.”
His mother stayed with her abuser for years.
Martí Kring in the 1st Grade in Cuba. Courtesy photo.
“Much to my cries that she leave him,” Martí Kring recalled. “I said I would rather live under a bridge than spend another day in this house with this man.”
They finally split when Martí Kring was about 15. He and his mother moved into a neighbor’s vacant one-bedroom apartment.
At Hialeah High, Martí Kring became a school cheerleader. “Around that time, I started to come into being, into my own in terms of my sexual orientation,” he said. “I'd begun to think about my sexuality. I definitely wasn't out.”
His 13th birthday was a milestone for Martí Kring. “I was just leaving my friend's house in my neighborhood, and I had the biggest crush on him. I just felt so sad that I just didn't know how to express it. And like, there was something so wrong with me. I was walking home from his house and I started crying.”
To this day that’s one of his most vivid memories.
“I'm having a conversation with what I thought was God, saying, ‘I don't know what I am. Am I that way?’ I couldn’t even say the word ‘gay.’ I said, ‘Am I like that? And if I'm like that, I would rather you kill me than be that way. I’d rather die than be like that.’”
Martí Kring said he’s not very religious, “but that was the moment of divine inspiration for me.”
“The sensation that I got was, ‘You know what? You're gonna be just fine. The only thing that matters in life is that you're a good person.’”
Eventually, Martí Kring joined Hialeah High’s then-unnamed gay-straight alliance club.
“That was a saving grace for me, to also see other kids that were like me. And all of a sudden it was just like, ‘I'm not the only one.’ Maybe I’m OK.”
At age 16, he went to Fort Lauderdale and his first gay nightclub — and didn’t return home for nearly three days.
When he got back home his mother was in tears waiting for him.
“‘Where have you been? I almost called the police. I thought you were dead!’” he recalled her saying.
Not knowing the full story, his mother reached out to Martí Kring’s birth father, who in 1996 also moved to Miami. She hoped he might be able to figure out what was wrong with him.
Alone on a drive, Martí Kring’s father first asked if he was on drugs. Then he said, “I think you might be gay.”
“I took a deep breath because I hadn't really planned that moment,” Martí Kring said. “But it was beautiful how life had strengthened me enough to take a breath and say, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I am gay.’”
Edward Martí Kring in 2009 during a march in Washington, D.C. to protest "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Courtesy photo.
Later that day he said, “‘We’ve got to tell your mom.’"
Coming out to his mother didn’t go as well. Martí Kring recalled his mother crying for “what seemed like forever and a day” and that it was like “witnessing my own funeral.”
“She even offered — I don’t know if she was joking or not — to rent me a sex worker to make sure that I wasn’t straight. I was like ‘What? Are you crazy? No!’”
Despite that, Martí Kring dropped out of high school to help support himself and his mother since she lost her job and the house. He enrolled in night school and got a job at an arts-and-crafts store in Hialeah.
Everything went downhill one night when he asked his mother what was for dinner.
“She gave me a really cold response. She really wouldn’t look at me. I remember that I started to cry. She looked over and I was sobbing and she said, ‘Why are you crying?’ I said I feel like you don’t love me anymore.
“And she looked at me and said, ‘I can't love you like this.’ I said, ‘I can't help it. This is the way that I was born. This is the way that God made me.’ And she said, ‘No, God doesn't make shit like you. God doesn't make shit like this.’”
Martí Kring went from being sad to angry, and threatened to move out when he turned 18, to which she responded, “Well, you don't have to wait. You can move out right now.”
Although Martí Kring agreed to move out, he had no idea where to go. He logged onto AOL Instant Messenger and began chatting with a girl he met through cheerleading. When he told her what happened between him and his mom, her mother agreed to take him in.
Martí Kring packed his belongings, said goodbye to his first dog named Rocky, and had his best friend drive him to Naples where he stayed a few weeks with his cheerleading friend’s family.
He got a job coaching cheerleaders, and adult coaches provided him temporary housing, while helping him get back into high school.
After about three and a half months of couch-surfing, Martí Kring met a family through cheerleading, who ended up offering to take care of him. He recalled the other saying, “We love you and we accept you for who you are. And we would like for you to become a part of our family.”
Martí Kring moved into the home of Cathie and Tad Kring, their daughter Sarah and young son Skyler. “It was the Brady Bunch family that I was praying for when I was that little boy in the closet.”
Cathie and Tad wanted to legally adopt him, but Martí Kring said no.
“I knew how expensive it was to go through the adoption process. I already felt like family. I didn't feel like adoption was necessary for me to feel like family.”
Instead, Cathie reached out to his birth mother in Miami and asked for her power of attorney. At first, his mother said no.
“I remember telling her, ‘Look, you didn't want me, and this family wants and loves me for who I am. And I need you to do whatever is necessary to make sure I'm OK. So sign these papers so that they can put me in school and they can make choices for me. So she signed the power of attorney.’”
To honor his new family, Eduardo Lopez Martí legally changed his name to Edward Martí Kring.
Martí Kring was among the crowd during the "Rally in Tally" in 2009. Courtesy photo.
At age 19 and a half, he graduated from Barron Collier High School in Naples and got a job as a customer care specialist at a local Apple Store. He enrolled at Edison State College in Fort Myers (now known as Florida SouthWestern State College) and received the school’s HOPE Scholarship for first-time college attendees.
He soon became politically active on campus. He started the community college’s first gay-straight-lesbian alliance — a big deal, he said, because “Collier County is very conservative.”
He also became involved in student government. Within a year, “I was elected as the first, openly gay student government president.”
He was elected two years in a row, back to back.
“It’s a very conservative area,” he said. “I was really happy that I was living to do the things that I love to do. I've always been drawn to — whether it's activism or public policies in some way to protect ourselves, to protect me and people like me.”
After earning an associate’s degree at Edison, he applied to continue his studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee. While waiting to hear back from FSU, he lived three months in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and spent time attending Congressional hearings.
He entered FSU in 2008 and three years later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and international affairs.
He lived in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2019 where he said he ended up leading the largest ever pro-LGBT rights rally in the area.
“We had over 700 attendees and somebody gave me a megaphone. I led the crowd chanting … I’ll never forget all those voices yelling for equality, filling the courtyard of the Florida Capitol. And you could hear it echoing. It was amazing. It was absolutely just an empowering moment.”
After graduation, he found a job that resonated with him: resident care specialist for the Big Bend Homeless Coalition in Tallahassee. He eventually became a development and community affairs coordinator.
“Not every kid is as lucky as I feel like I have been, to not hit the ground and to have to sleep on the streets,” Martí Kring said.
Martí Kring (center) with his adoptive family. Courtesy photo.
Up to 40% of unaccompanied homeless youth are LGBTQ, he said, “when in the broader population it’s estimated that we are less than 10% of the population.”
“We are disproportionately finding our queer kids are being kicked out or finding themselves on the streets. And we know that nearly half of them attempt to take their own lives,” he said. “It's a huge problem. I don't think any child should ever have to feel like they're broken or unworthy of love. That’s something that we owe to ourselves as a community, as a human family, to make sure that we end these kinds of psychological attacks and abuses on LGBTQ youth.”
Martí Kring later worked a few years in the hospitality field, and also planned community events for the city of Tallahassee. He moved to Miami in January 2019, and in July 2020 SAVE LGBTQ Executive Director Orlando Gonzales hired him to be the group’s community and field organizer.
“We hired Eddie out of the need to have a fully operating field and canvassing program,” Gonzales said. “Our field program is SAVE’s centerpiece and core competency. When we met Eddie, we quickly recognized his skill and his talent, and that he was a perfect fit for the field and organizer position.”
Martí Kring, who is single, this summer entered the year-long National Urban Fellows Program, of which Gonzales is a 2012 alumni and a current national board member.
“The National Urban Fellows Program is designed to educate and train people of color and women to lead in the government and nonprofit sectors. For Eddie, one of the things that emerged in talking about his professional development is the need for further education like a graduate program,” Gonzales said. “This opportunity is also a scholarship. When you think about Eddie’s experience in life with hardships, this is a chance for Eddie to receive a wonderful chance at being able to grow and expand his opportunity in the future, and at the same time it’s a tremendous benefit to SAVE to have him go through the program while being with us at the same time. It’s a win-win.”
SAVE is helping sponsor Martí Kring. “What would be his salary is what we use for his participation in the program, including tuition, books and a living stipend,” Gonzales said.
Martí Kring’s life has come full circle. He even reconciled with his birth mother, who apologized to him in 2014.
“I've been learning to really forgive, wholeheartedly,” he said. “I'm learning to love her for the person that she is. She has a great heart.”
Martí Kring during a 2020 SAVE campaign. Courtesy photo.
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.