Love, laughter, sadness, and tears all blended together as nearly 300 people came out to celebrate the life of Leo Peralta, the partner of Wilton Manors City Commissioner Chris Caputo, who took his own life after a long battle with depression.
Despite oppressive heat and humidity, people leaned on one another for emotional support. The Celebration of Life was held at Richardson Park on Sept. 3.
As people entered, they were given a white mesh, ribbon-tied bag. Inside were sunflower seeds and a dollar folded into the shape of a heart. Sunflowers were Peralta’s favorite plant, and Caputo said he wanted him to look down and see blooming sunflowers all over. The dollar was meant to be a different kind of seed. The Leo Peralta Peak Purpose Fund has been set up to help LGBT people who are struggling with mental illness or, as Caputo calls it, mental wellness. People were asked to give the dollar, and more if they can, to help the fund.
Before and after the service, people gathered inside the house to have either Corona beer (Peralta’s favorite drink) or a whisky with a whisper (Caputo’s favorite drink), and sign a paper lantern with a message for Peralta. The lanterns will be released periodically, often on the anniversary of his death or when Caputo feels a need to remember and reconnect with Peralta’s spirit.
The service was opened by Sunshine Cathedral’s Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, who shared a biblical story laced with the mythology of how God showed Moses the Promised Land, kissed him, and took him home. Afterward, he said it was important to be there for Caputo and the community.
“Chris is a very important leader in our community and it was important that we be here for him. He also asked that Sunshine Cathedral be present in some way and of course we said yes.”
Other friends shared their memories, despite only knowing Peralta for a few months. Caputo spoke near the end, and urged people struggling with mental wellness issues to seek help, and of his desire for Peralta’s death to be a light for others to get help, especially in the LGBT community.
“This was more than mourning the loss of a loved one. This was also trying to prevent the loss of other loved ones by getting that message out. I want them to know that they are loved. If they can’t believe that God loves them then I want to promise them that I love them. That this community loves them, so they are loved.”
For many, shame of being LGBT is instilled from childhood and can leave lasting scars.
“This is something in our community that happens a lot,” Watkins said after the ceremony. “Four times more for gay people, eight times more for trans people. When you’re told very early that you’re not good enough, it takes a lifetime to undo that message. In the battle, some of us fall in the battle.”
If you or someone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts, please call the new suicide hotline. You can call or text 988 to reach trained counselors.