1. Pier Guidugli
As I go to summarize the ten most significant stories we ran in our paper this year, I realize that the most significant thing we have done is publish a newspaper. Faced with an adverse economy, and straight and gay newspapers crumbling in cities across this country, one man took a leap of faith with me and invested his heart, soul, and wallet into making SFGN the credible, progressive, newspaper for our LGBT community.
Without him, the stories I write about would have been visions of what might have been. He has stayed the course and steered the ship in a prudent sound direction. So much of what our staff has done is attributable to this quiet and ‘silent business partner’ of mine, I could not start this column without saluting him, because without him, I would not have started this newspaper.
Maybe I should not call him all too silent, because the fact is his columns on gay life from Italy to China have stirred more comments and dialogue on our pages than any of the other writers we employed. So with Pier Guidugli I not only have a great business partner who has stood by my side, we all have a great columnist whose insights are enriching, illuminating, and insightful.
2. Mikey Verdugo and George Castrataro
In our very first issue, we applauded former cop, Mikey Verdugo, who challenged the Hollywood Police Department for his job back. When he first came to us, he had been fired and an arbitrator had ruled the firing was legal. The city of Hollywood also sought to terminate his statewide certification to remain a cop.
During his tenure as a cop, Mikey had done an outstanding job in the department, not only on patrol but in an undercover capacity, taking drugs off the street and seizing dirty money, turning it over to the department and the city. But he also challenged the brass for humiliating him about his sexuality, and some of those superiors wound up undergoing sensitivity training when Mikey’s allegations about sexual harassment were sustained.
As the court battles played out, one attorney, George Castrataro, stood up and went to bat for Verdugo, winning last July the battle to retain Mikey’s state certification. Doing so on a pro bono basis, fighting for the rights of gays in the workplace, Castrataro’s efforts are to be applauded. While a Circuit Court eventually concluded in November that Verdugo’s firing was lawful, the city of Hollywood relented just two weeks ago on their claim for attorney’s fees. We salute both Mikey Verdugo and George Castrataro with SFGN’s 2010 ‘Making a Difference’ Award for ‘LGBT Advocacy.’
3. Tiny Tina and Ray Fetcho
This would be a feel good story had Ray Fetcho, aka, Tiny Tina, not wound up losing his leg to diabetes later this year. But in March the entire LGBT community was pretty stunned to hear his amazing story. 36 years ago, working as a drag queen at the Copa, Fetcho promoted a wet jockey shorts contest. But cops back then had no sense of humor, just badges. They arrested Ray and charged her with promoting a lewd act. A nominal fine was paid, his career as an emcee prospered, and the episode pretty much went away, until this year.
In his full time charge, Ray had been a nurse’s aide, licensed by the state. And to secure that position, the legislature eventually passed laws restricting that type of employment to those without criminal records. This year, in a routine check, it came up that Ray, 40 years in the same health care field, and 16 years at one ALF, was no longer employable based on the decades old arrest. He was summarily fired. We did a front page feature entitled ‘God Save the Queen,’ and my law partner Russell Cormican came to Ray’s rescue. He petitioned immediately to get Ray an exemption from the rule, pointing out the episode had occurred in the distant past. To their credit, the State responded swiftly, and in a story that was generated by SFGN, and covered locally and nationally, from NBC to CNN, Ray got his job back. When you are a young newspaper, and you can help do something that good for someone, it makes you feel good about yourself too. SFGN salutes Ray Fetcho with our 2010 ‘Making A Difference’ Award for ‘Exemplary Courage.’
4. AHF, The Spirit and HIV Advocacy
Of all the achievements of SFGN, I am proudest of the fact that we created a quarterly newspaper supplement to remind everyone that HIV is still real, still here and our community is still getting sick from this pandemic 30 years from its dawn. The saddest reminder of this terrible disease has been the fact that Florida now has a waiting list of over 2,000 patients denied their life saving meds. This cannot stand. It is unconscionable. Ironically, for all the accolades and articles we have published about the Obama Administration’s efforts in this regard, this never happened under two terms of former President George Bush, whose op-ed on AIDS we published on World AIDS Day.
However, one person and one organization stands out proudly for having taken the gauntlet and raised the flag, saying ‘no more, no way.’ We salute Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Health Foundation for its fortitude and forthrightness in advocating for AIDS patients, taking the legislature to task. But more than just politically, we have seen how AHF has undertaken to help persons individually. When a porn star who tested positive for HIV in October went untreated for a month and notified AHF, he was escorted to doctors for treatment immediately.
We recognize the AIDS Healthcare Foundation with the SFGN 2010 ‘Making A Difference’ Award for HIV Advocacy. From protecting porn actors to its mobile AIDS testing unit, AHF has become a driving force for advocacy for those living with HIV in Florida. Whether standing on street corners with placards and bullhorns, or supporting our efforts with media partnerships, we praise AHF for standing up for the HIV community.
5. Larry Patterson and Wilton Drive Magazine
A newspaper’s job is to uncover scandal. The story of Mr. Patterson was not pleasant, but very real. He was using people to start a magazine for Wilton Drive, but not paying them, promising them everything and delivering nothing. He was abusing and sexually harassing employees, leading them on with misrepresentations our newspaper exposed. Leaving a trail of unpaid employees and never publishing Wilton Drive Magazine, Patterson was hosting parties and throwing out promises of how much he was going to do for the LGBT community. He did do a lot for us when he disappeared after our expose. We present Larry Patterson with the Scott Rothstein Award for Dishonorable Disception.
6. Stonewall Pride and Mike Cruz
We have a right to hope that the people who conduct non profits do so responsibly with dignity and meet the challenge. We wrote with disappointment about the mismanagement of Stonewall Pride this year and its residual impact on street festivals in Wilton Manors. Even today, the costs of law enforcement and EMT’s are not paid from last June’s festival. This month, we reported how Stonewall went broke, no way to pay their past bills. This community and its leadership have an obligation to do better. We should figure a way to pay that debt to the city. Because the city was owed money from last June, the city’s own recklessness then permitted its Halloween festival to be run with the streets open and citizens open to harm as well. You don’t have a party with people drinking on the streets and allow cars to drive in between them. That was just plain stupid, and I am glad that SFGN was a voice protesting the city’s malfeasance. Maybe next year they will do better.
Stonewall Pride may have been an administrative collapse we could have avoided, but sometimes you just can’t stop bad things from happening. Pride South Florida’s reputation was tarnished a bit when its former director Mike Cruz was charged with grand theft, stealing donated funds for charities, accused of pocketing it for himself. Not much better than when we had to report that an LGBT Samaritan, 85 year old Miss Vicky, was the alleged victim of elderly exploitation by Mark McKinley, a man she had trusted. It’s not fun to write about gay people getting arrested unless they are like the Senator from California, Roy Ashburn, who spent his life bashing gays until admitting he was one- after he got picked up for a DUI with a boy in the front seat. We present Mike Cruz with the Whoops We Dropped the Soap Award.
7. Arthur Goldberg and George Rekers
Another headline splash for SFGN that put us on the map nationally came when we exposed an ex religious leader who ran a therapeutic treatment center for homosexuals, one of those ex gay programs. Working with Truth Wins Out, we exposed Arthur Goldberg’s New Jersey operation, playing himself off as a hero while failing to disclose his criminal convictions for fraud. The icon for the ex gay movement had erased from his moral compass his history of scamming money from people which led to a stay in a federal penitentiary. Our newspaper outed his criminal past and he was soon thereafter ousted from the boards of the right wing anti gay groups he represented. We recognize him with a sarcastic SFGN ‘Making a Difference’ Award for ‘Hypocrisy.’
We also did the story on the guys who did the story on George Rekers, exposing him for picking up a rent boy from Hialeah as his ‘travel companion’ for a European vacation. Penn Bullock’s New Times exposé led to him being featured on our front page, with his partner, Brandon Thorp, as ‘Writers of the Storm.’ Now in school in Manhattan, Bullock is still an SFGN correspondent, recognition coming his way this past Fall from OUT Magazine, naming him as one of their OUT 100 for 2010. Bullock is a good young man with a solid future in journalism. I will also add that Jovanni Roman, the rent boy who Rekers engaged, is a charming and personable young man whose full story has not yet been told. It will be.
8. Dan Choi and Get Equal
Obviously, the repeal of DADT has been a featured item in every LGBT publication this year, but we have made a point of covering it from our very first issue, when Congressman Alcee Hastings supported us with an op-ed calling for its repeal. Few political leaders in this community have ever stood by the LGBT community as righteously and for as long as Alcee has, and we should never forget his never-ending support. And like him or not, Dan Choi worked the streets to make DADT go away, from chaining himself to the White House to delivering national addresses. So too did Robin McGehee get equal by getting in everyone’s face this year, orchestrating demonstrations in congressional offices and maintaining pressure against the inequities of DADT. Our newspaper was proud to cover the protests and the speeches, the debates and the dialogues leading to the December repeal.
Ironically, ten years ago, when I started Express Gay News, we covered this story at that time relentlessly. A decade later, we were still writing about it. Early on this year, I featured the late Leonard Matlovich in a cover story. The repeal is a tribute to men like him, whose memorial reads, ‘In the Army they gave me a medal for killing two men; they threw me out for loving one.’ We present Dan Choi with the 2010 Award for National Advocacy.
9. Gay Marriage and Prop 8
This was a year where the gay press and mainstream press covered so many of the same stories that we shared content back and forth with the Sun-sentinel. But no story got more press than the battle for same sex marriage in California. When the courts declared victory, we took our weekly newspaper and published a special 8 page section the very next day, distributed to all of our 400 plus distribution points. It was testimony to the dedication of our staff, the support of our advertisers, and the significance of the story that we were able to capture the technology of our times and disseminate a newspaper overnight. Winning the battle for same sex marriage was one of our community’s great successes. Publishing a newspaper hailing that victory the very next day was this paper’s crowning achievement and proof that we are here for the long run, printing a gay newspaper, like our ad says, that you can respect in the morning.
10. Gay Adoption and Martin Gill
Not only did the stories of gay adoption dominate our news pages throughout 2010, we were privileged to have this story generate right here in our own lap. Florida was the sad state, thanks to Anita Bryant, that did not allow gays to adopt. Our legislature and closeted governor would not budge. Instead, it took courts and judges to make rulings and decisions protecting and providing for gay men to adopt straight children. These are important rulings as they delineate with specificity how there are no empirical facts or rational basis to discriminate against gay men and women who wanted to or were raising foster children. Those that endured the battle were later honored appropriately as heroes of our community. Those that opposed us, like George Rekers, wound up embarrassed and humiliated. We present Martin Gill with the 2010 Award for Father of the Year.