If Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis steps down to run for Congress, gay City Commissioner Steve Glassman says he’ll consider entering the race to succeed him.
“Is it correct to say that you haven’t ruled out a run if or when the mayor’s seat is vacated?” South Florida Gay News asked Glassman, who has served as the city’s District 2 commissioner since 2018.
“Correct,” Glassman replied Monday night.
On Feb. 28, Trantalis, the city’s out mayor since 2018, said he’s thinking about running for Congress to replace Democrat Ted Deutch, who that same day announced he’s leaving politics to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
Heather Moraitis, the conservative Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor representing District 1, said she would be interested in running for mayor if Trantalis decides to move on.
She told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “If he’s [Trantalis is] thinking about it, I would think about running for mayor. I believe I’m the most qualified,” she said, adding that “if George was in D.C. during the week, it would give me more time to run around the city and take on the responsibilities of mayor.”
Glassman, a retired schoolteacher and decades-long LGBT activist, declared his response to a Moraitis mayoral bid in one word: “Yikes!”
Heather Moraitis for years taught and raised money for Westminster Academy — the Fort Lauderdale Christian school founded in 1971 by national anti-gay activist D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
Last year, Moraitis caused an uproar when she sponsored a city proclamation honoring Westminster Academy’s golden anniversary. LGBT activists throughout Florida and beyond condemned the proclamation.
Fort Lauderdale’s two gay elected officials took different positions on the proclamation, which honored a church that Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls an “anti-LGBTQ hate group.”
Coral Ridge Presbyterian campaigned against same-sex marriage “and has a history of maligning the entire LGBTQ community,” according to SPLC.
Trantalis said during the proclamation ceremony in March 2021: “It’s time to build a future based on love and not hate, and it’s time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it. I know I have and I know my community has.”
Not so, according to Glassman, who declared just before the proclamation was read aloud: “It is a sanitized and whitewashed history of Dr. Kennedy and the church.”
Glassman, now 69, came out in the early days of the modern gay-rights movement.
“I pretty much came out officially or openly first year of college. I was 18. I obviously knew before that, but I guess that's when I really acted on it,” said Glassman, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up on Long Island and eventually earned a Master’s in education at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo.
“You have to remember that was sort of the end of the Vietnam War era, the ‘60s were a time of a lot of social activism,” he said. “The state University of Buffalo always had a very progressive, active, leftist reputation. I always felt it was a really open environment. It was not an unheard-of thing. It was pretty common. There were gay-rights groups.”
After graduating college in 1975, Glassman returned to New York City to pursue a career in theater. He auditioned a lot, modeled a bit and ended up a “stereotypical waiter.” After two years, he returned to Buffalo to teach there in a new performing arts magnet school.
The real reason Glassman returned to upstate New York was to be with native Buffalonian Randolph “Rande” Morris, a Vietnam war veteran he fell in love with during his college years.
In 1973, they met through a friend in a downtown Buffalo gay bar. On April 15, Glassman and Morris will celebrate 49 years together, including the past eight legally married.
The couple has always lived openly.
“I came out in the first year of college and I never really hid who I was, because I felt I just had to live honestly,” Glassman recalled. “My colleagues on the faculty always knew. Actually, I never really hid it from my students. They always knew there was a Rande [pronounced Randy]. They knew because Rande went on to have a really well-known hair salon that he owned in Buffalo.”
Glassman said that for the 18 years he spent as a Buffalo schoolteacher, “I was just always my authentic self. I always worked hard and tried to be the best citizen that I could be. Maybe I changed a few hearts and minds over the years because I think people saw me just functioning as anybody else would function.”
Having been an out-schoolteacher, Glassman is particularly pained by Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” law, which passed in the Senate on Tuesday and now awaits the governor’s signature. It will ban educators from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with younger students.
In February, Glassman sponsored a Fort Lauderdale resolution opposing the law. He, Trantalis and District 4 Commissioner Ben Sorensen supported the resolution; Moraitis and District 3 Commissioner Robert L. McKinzie walked out just before discussion and didn’t vote. The resolution passed 3-0.
“We can't afford to go backward,” Glassman said about the current conservative push in Tallahassee. “That's why we have to stay, so vigilant, and on top of this, and we have to express ourselves when legislation like this is proposed, such as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. When children in high school or middle school or elementary school, can't feel comfortable, or can't talk about something, or don't feel safe, we all have to say, ‘No, that's not acceptable.’”
Last year Glassman brought forth resolutions opposing the ban on student trans athletes in Florida, which the state eventually enacted.
In 2019 Glassman took the lead on crafting an ordinance in the city that banned conversion therapy on minors and discrimination against the LGBT community in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations.
Glassman grew up visiting South Florida with his parents, first in Miami Beach and later Fort Lauderdale.
In the mid-1990s, Glassman and Morris decided they “grew a bit tired of the cold weather” and moved to Broward County.
“Rande briefly styled hair and did interior design work in South Florida and retired at 55,” Glassman said.
“When I came down here, I worked for a television production company for about three years. And then I took a job for almost a decade with the Broward County Cultural Division, where I did a variety of things. I did arts education work for the county, I did advocacy in Tallahassee for the arts,” he said. “It was a perfect fit and I really loved it. I got to work with all the schools because I was doing arts education. I was a project manager for several arts parks that we developed in the county, including the really nice one in Hollywood Young Circle.”
Working in government, Glassman said he “learned a tremendous amount.”
“You learn the process, you learn what it is to work with a bunch of folks that are maybe coming from different perspectives,” he said. “I found it to be a really excellent learning experience because most of my work was done with the community. So I was always out there trying to build a sense of community with helping arts and culture permeate almost every aspect.”
In 2009, Glassman retired from the Broward government and became a full-time activist. He and Morris now live in a North Ocean Boulevard condominium.
Glassman served as president of his neighborhood association; two three-year terms on Fort Lauderdale’s Planning and Zoning Board, as well as the city’s Beach Redevelopment Advisory Board and the Broward County Historical Commission.
“I was also at the time president of the Broward Trust for Historic Preservation,” he said. “All of those things meshed and they're all connected, but they also gave me a really good foundation. When I ran for office and got elected, I think all of that experience was a tremendous asset for me. It just gave me a foundation that I think not a lot of people that run for office have.”
Glassman first ran for city commission in 2009 against then-incumbent Charlotte Rodstrom. He and a third candidate “split the anti-incumbent vote” and Glassman came in second, missing a runoff by 40 votes.
In 2017, when then-Commissioner Trantalis announced he was going to run for mayor in 2018, Glassman decided to run again. This time, he defeated former Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Tim Smith and three other candidates.
Glassman represents “most of the beach, … Victoria Park, Lake Ridge, Middle River Terrace, South Middle River, historic Sailboat Bend, Downtown’s Flagler Village, MASS District and Progresso Village.”
In 2018, Fort Lauderdale voters changed the city’s spring election cycle to coincide with November presidential elections. Glassman won a new four-year term in 2020.
Glassman is active in progressive political groups including Broward Young Democrats (his commission aide Nancy Fry is their new president), as well as queer organizations including Equality Florida, SAVE LGBTQ and the statewide LGBTQ Democratic Caucus.
“There are so many groups that do great work. In fact, when I had excess campaign funds left over from the 2020 race, I did make donations to a wide range of them,” he said. “The Pride Center does great work. Stonewall Library. I even donated some materials that I had from the ‘70s to them.”
He’s particularly fond of Dolphin Democrats, which he joined just after moving here.
“Steve is a fantastic guy. He’s always there to help. We are lucky and blessed to have him,” Dolphin Democrats President Alfredo Olvera said. “He is a true fighter for the LGBTQ community. He’s a strong supporter of the Dolphin Democrats and its members. Since he got elected as a commissioner, he has been doing a fantastic job for the City of Fort Lauderdale and the LGBTQ community in general.”
Olvera, 47, said that “as a gay person, we always have to acknowledge the people who were here before us, the shoulders we stand upon. It is important to have that knowledge from commissioners like Steve Glassman to continue to do the work.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.