It was the 1970s and the gay life in South Florida was marked by its nightlife, and it's nightlife was measured by the Copa. As Tiny Tina, Ray Fetcho was one of its star drag performers.

The preeminent bar for all things gay, the Copa was a hedonistic dance club located on South Federal Highway in Dania Beach, just by the airport.

One night a week, the Copa would host a 'Wet Jockeys' Contest, and the contestants, all dressed in nothing but white Haines underwear, would showcase their wares, as a drag queen poured pitchers of water on their not so private- and suddenly- ever so transparent parts.

The contest was funny and upbeat, and would pack the Copa. No host was more popular than Tiny Tina, the 'Queen of Comedy.' But what was popular to the gay community
was pornographic to the police. Early in 1976, they raided the Copa, taking Tiny Tina into custody, charging her with 'offering for a lewd act.'

With homosexual acts deemed illegal at the time, she pled no contest to the charge. Over 30 years later, it would come back to haunt her. After retiring from full time performing and becoming a nurse's aide, Ray Fetcho worked as an employee and caregiver in an assisted living facility.

As laws changed, background checks became required to work in nursing facilities. Individuals with certain types of arrests, like Ray's were banned. In 2010, after one such check, Ray's employers discovered the arrest from a quarter century before. They regretfully, but summarily, fired her.

Tiny Tina's plight became a news sensation locally. It went viral nationally online in LGBT publications. After decades of social service, Ray was suddenly out of work for
a minor act years before. But Tiny Tina fought back. SFGN took up her cause.

With the aid of counsel, first Ray petitioned the state government for an exemption from the harsh statute. After some legal wrangling, and a successful appeal, his nursing licenses were reinstated. 'She' won her job back.

Soon afterwards, Ray would face a health challenge . Diabetes would claim his leg. Last week, the consequences of the disease claimed his life.

On Monday, December 7, the Boardwalk will host a tribute and memorial for 'Tiny Tina.' Stated John Castelli, the present day Wilton Manors realtor, " She was a legend in the South Florida area, who performed for over 44 years, generating love and laughter." Castelli would know. He was the owner of the Copa when her act was interrupted by the police so many years ago, in a lifetime far away.

A winner of the Miss Congeniality Award for three years, it is now named after Tiny Tina. A regular contestant in the Miss Florida pageant, Tiny Tina was also a former honorary Miss Florida as well.

She was friends with Cathy Craig for 33. Together, they formed an act that still performed up until last year together- even after losing a leg to diabetes. Her shows continued weekly for senior citizens in local nursing homes. She would not let adversity beat her back.

"Tiny Tina was a great performer," said Boardwalk's Victor Zepka. "it is an honor to host a tribute to her. We expect to have a slate of stars on stage."

Added Cathy Craig, "Her gay daughters were Dana Manchester, the first lady of South Florida. The legendary Nikki Adams. And Angie Walker. A long long friendship with
Miss Wanda Wednesday, and an 8 year relationship with Mr Robert Traut. She touched many people lovingly."

Tiny Tina, the Queen, took her acts on cross country tours to gay venues, and wound up playing the local condo circuit. She was ever the entertainer. Still, for one brief moment in time, faced with injustice and discrimination for being herself, she rose to the occasion and said, 'No.'

In those difficult days, the 'Queen' became a king, a plaintiff in the cause for the gay civil rights you own today. Look back with fondness and respect. You never know when you too will be called upon to make a difference. May you shine as much as Tiny Tina.


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