Activists from the fight for gay and lesbian rights in Fort Lauderdale got together again to relive tender moments, difficult journeys and well-earned victories.
Presented by the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, the activists sat for a taping of the South Florida LGBT Rights Oral History Project. They argued with each other, took questions from the audience and shared laughs.
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis started practicing law in the city in 1982. The gay community at that time was largely an underground and secret society.
“We kind of kept to ourselves,” Trantalis said. “We had a very enjoyable but isolated lifestyle.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, very few LGBT people were out at their workplace.
David Stack, a retired educator, still has difficulties talking about his experiences as a closeted teacher. Stack served as President of the Dolphin Democratic Club, Florida’s oldest LGBT political organization and was a delegate to 1996 Democratic National Convention.
Other panelists included SFGN Publisher Norm Kent, attorney Robin Bodiford and Cooper City Public Works Director Denise Yoezle. Kent described gay life in the 1970s as wild and carefree.
“In the 70s the defining gay word was hedonism,” Kent said. “People came down here to enjoy themselves, to assert their sexual identity and to party at places like the Copa or Monster Bar in Key West.”
Kent said that hedonistic lifestyle eventually turned to anger and activism as AIDS took its toll on the community. Bodiford lost her brother to AIDS.
“My Broward experience was returning here angry and hurt about my brother’s passing,” Bodiford said. “His passing with the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) having never said the word ‘AIDS’ — I turned that anger into political activism.”
Florida Atlantic University Professor Fred Fejes moderated the discussion which at times grew heated between panelists when they recalled their own battles from within the movement. Bodiford accused Stack of anti-women comments and unplugging her tape recorder during a Dolphin Democratic Club board meeting 25 years ago.
“You’re still a bully,” Bodiford told Stack as she left the building.
The discussion went on for two hours inside the auditorium at ArtServe on Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Bodiford was not shy in her commentary. She recalled a recent exchange with a straight physician taking her blood pressure.
“Have you ever had someone introduce you to their wife before?,” Bodiford asked. The physician said no.
“Well that’s because we’re afraid you are going to hate us,” Bodiford responded. Bodiford said she no longer “self censors” the word ‘partner’ for ‘wife.’
“Not that that guy taking my blood pressure dislikes me because I have a wife, but he’s never heard it before,” she said.
“People are still getting used to it,” Trantalis interjected.
Trantalis also dismissed the notion that South Florida gays are party animals.
“Not everybody sitting here is a hedonist,” Trantalis said. “Not everybody here is going to go on a party cruise and have a friend that dies from an overdose of drugs. A lot of people shun that kind of lifestyle. In fact most gay people, I think, do. Especially as you get older.”
After editing, the project should be made available to the public sometime this spring, said Emery Grant, Director of Community Engagement at Stonewall National Museum & Archives.