The South Florida LGBT community has lost one of its treasured members. Terry DeCarlo, 57, passed away Monday, Jan. 27, at Memorial Regional Hospital, after being treated for stage 4 face and neck cancer over the past few months.
An LGBT and HIV activist for years, Terry gained national acclaim for his stewardship of The LGBT+ Center Orlando, after the Pulse massacre.
Raised in New York, DeCarlo’s first engagements with the LGBT community came about in the early 1990s, when he joined AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).
“I met Larry Kramer,” one of the organization’s pioneers, DeCarlo told me on my radio show this fall, “and never looked back.”
For decades, Terry became a force in his own right, inspiring care, concern, and commitment for others.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and communications, he moved to South Florida in the late 1990s.
Systematically, Terry became the face, voice, heart and soul of Broward House, along with a host of non-profit social service organizations.
Continuing with his AIDS activism, he turned the World AIDS Day celebration in Wilton Manors to a community wide event. His life story is a testimony to a gay spirit of authenticity and transparency.
After college, Terry enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he would become an intelligence operations officer for the Strategic Air Command’s 349th Air Refueling Squadron.
He served the nation proudly.
Terry maintained his commitment to AIDS activism when he returned to civilian life. He took on administrative and media relations’ positions with various LGBT social service organizations.
Terry initiated such popular local projects as “The Amazing Race” and bed races, getting hundreds of community members thoroughly involved in fun causes for charitable programs.
Terry also became a voice for LGBT causes. He spoke out against the FDA, attempting to overturn its antiquated ban on gay men donating blood.
With his partner, and later husband, Billy Huelsman, they started up WHTN Productions in 1997. They regrouped and launched their enterprise again last year, after Terry resigned from The LGBT+ Center in Orlando and returned to South Florida.
Billy posted on Facebook Tuesday, regarding his husband’s passing. It reads simply, “It is with the heaviest of hearts that I need to let everyone know I lost the love of my life last night. The cancer was just too aggressive for treatment.”
Many people did not realize that Terry had also suffered a heart attack in 2018 while he was living in central Florida. He was returning home to slow the pace down; to start the ship again.
Still, even healing, he partnered with SFGN to put on a memorial for Pulse at Richardson Park in Wilton Manors.
Terry did not discover he was sick until this past October, when he noticed some unexplained bleeding in his mouth. Tests revealed a cancerous tumor, which required immediate surgery.
On Oct. 15, Terry then underwent an exhaustive eleven-hour procedure to rebuild his face and jaw. He did not let up even then.
While in the hospital recovering, he systematically posted Facebook updates on his continuing treatment and attempts at recovery. Hundreds of friends posted letters and notes of support.
On Nov. 29, less than two months after the first surgery, Terry even appeared on my radio show, calling in from his hospital bed. He talked about his life, his recovery, and his aspirations, all while still managing to promote Wicked Manors. The show can be heard on the Norm Kent YouTube site.
“He never let up. He was always out front sponsoring an event for the community,” said realtor Tom Forcella, one of his closest friends.
Terry’s friend, Brett Rose, who launched a GoFundMe page for him after he was discovered with cancer said: “It takes a special person to give so selflessly of their time to better the lives of their community.”
Rose added, “Terry’s ability to empower and encourage others was a true gift and pure magic. There was no cause, no issue, no challenge that was too small of too large for Terry to take on…. The only thing bigger than his ability to help those around him was his heart.”
Terry’s work in the South Florida community has been celebrated for years. He was the second winner of SFGN’s Achievements in Excellence Awards in 2013, while he was serving as the Development Director of Broward House.
Terry’s time here on planet Earth will forever be remembered by his remarkable stature and commanding presence in the days after the Pulse massacre.
His solemn voice memorialized those lost in the massacre. His organizational abilities mobilized thousands in the community to gather in prayer and recovery, resolve and remembrance.
He became the LGBT’s presence and voice in the national and international media.
He met with the nation’s political leaders, from Hillary Clinton to Nancy Pelosi, and former President Bill Clinton, speaking out against gun violence.
Today, his passing leaves us all with an empty place in our heart, remembering forever a special person whose life illuminated our community and enhanced our ownCiao, my good friend.