South Florida’s LGBT community lost two of our greatest leaders during the first two months of 2020.
On Jan. 27 Terry DeCarlo, a well-known and popular community organizer and activist, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 57. On February 25 Justin Flippen, Wilton Manor’s beloved “People’s Mayor,” died of a brain aneurysm. He was only 41. Both DeCarlo and Flippen gave so much to our community and would have given us so much more had they been allowed to live. Their deaths affected us all; even those who were not personal friends or family members.
During the last several years our community lost many great and good women and men, some of whom were younger than this writer or most of the remaining presidential candidates.
Their untimely deaths make me wonder, to paraphrase the title of Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s most famous book, why bad things happen to good people. In times like these, we must heed the advice of Rabbi Noah Kitty of Congregation Etz Chaim: That we never know when we will die; that we should be thankful for each day that we are allowed to live; and that we should use our remaining time on earth to do the work that we were assigned to do.
In my case, I presume that I continue to exist on this planet in part to chronicle the lives of my departed friends and loved ones; so that they will not be forgotten. For that purpose, I wrote articles about Vicky Keller, Joe Campanella and Richard Sedlak, not to mention my late partner, Michael Greenspan. Terry DeCarlo and Justin Flippen do not need me to be remembered; since their achievements are well-known, both in the LGBT community and beyond.
I knew both DeCarlo and Flippen personally; though they were not as close to me as Keller, Sedlak or (obviously) Greenspan. DeCarlo and his husband, Bill Huelsman — one of our community’s true power couples — were active in a variety of community organizations and events that gave me the opportunity to get involved and to interact with them. Later DeCarlo and Huelsman moved to Orlando where, as Executive Director of The Center, DeCarlo led Orlando’s LGBT community in the aftermath of the PULSE Nightclub massacre.
I met Flippen through our involvement with the Dolphin Democrats, a group (among many) that he led in his lifetime. When Flippen was elected Wilton Manor’s City Commissioner and later Mayor he continued to be the same friendly, outgoing and generous person that he was when I first met him. Flippen loved everyone and everyone loved him; and had he lived he would have surely been re-elected in a landslide. And after that, what? Alas, we will never know.
In William Shakespeare’s play “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” Caesar’s wife Calpurnia — played by a boy in drag, like all female parts in Shakespeare’s time — warned her husband that “When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
Though we no longer believe in the power of comets to predict the future we recognize the fact that some of the men and women in our midst are princes or princesses, not by heredity but through their achievements. Both Terry DeCarlo and Justin Flippen were gay princes who left us too soon.
Like the other activists whose names I have mentioned, they spent their time on earth doing the work that they were assigned to do. Those of us who are left behind in a world without them should mourn their loss; support their friends and loved ones in their hours of grief; and, most importantly, follow their example.