It was an avalanche of support that followed SFGN’s exclusive March 1 story about long-time South Florida resident and award-winning community activist Ray Fetcho—better known to fans and friends as drag emcee ‘Tiny Tina’—whose unjust termination as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) has made local and national headlines.
“I am overwhelmed,” Fetcho says, clearly moved. “I didn’t realize how strong the outcry would be. It’s humbling.”
As previously reported in these pages, Fetcho was informed two weeks ago that a state regulator, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), had uncovered a thirty year old conviction for promoting lewd behavior which made him ineligible to continue his employment as a nurse at a Broward County assisted living facility.
That conviction resulted from an arrest that occurred on March 31, 1976, when Tiny Tina was emceeing the Wet Jockey Short Contest at the former Copa night club in Port Everglades.
For decades, Fetcho believed that conviction and the subsequent $150 fine was past history.
In the intervening decades, Fetcho and Tiny Tina have been honored and recognized for the performer’s laudable service in South Florida’s LGBT community, a community he has in many ways helped to midwife from its birth in the 1970s.
And Fetcho has been the recipient of numerous accolades from both supervisors and patients he has worked with in his capacity as an assisted living nurse.
Even the facility administrator who was forced to terminate Fetcho by AHCA is among the first to attest to his “reliability and strong ethical character.” “I am sorry to see him leave,” says Lucie Eichler of Victoria Villa in Davie.
Following its initial report in SFGN, the story of this injustice has been picked up at news venues locally and nationally, featured in The Advocate and Queerty.com, as well as locally on CBS4 and in other local gay media.
Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Russell Cormican, who has taken on the case pro bono, says there are several avenues open to Fetcho.
“We have petitioned for an exemption from the Department of Health, which can otherwise prevent him from working as an LPN anywhere in the state,” said Cormican.
“When you ask for an exemption, the burden is on the petitioner—in this case us—to show sufficient evidence of rehabilitation, including the circumstances that surrounded the arrest. I think we have a pretty clear case here of an unreasonable standard for what was lewd,” Cormican said.
“And, of course, there’s always Governor Crist,” he added with a smile.
“That would be rich,” said Wilton Manors resident Dustin Davis. “Lord knows he [Crist] probably caught a few of her Wet Jockey shows back in the day.”
John Castelli, managing partner at Castelli Real Estate Services and the Copa’s owner at the time of Tiny Tina’s arrest recalls the night very well.
“It was such an innocent situation,” Castelli remembers, shocked by the controversy. “No one was exposed.”
Castelli and his partner, the late Bill Bastiansen, bailed the performer out of jail that night.
As reporter Ted Scouten noted in his March 2 CBS4 story, “the law that keeps convicted criminals from working with the elderly, inform or child was put into place to keep them from preying upon the weak.”
Linda Greenfield, whose mother was under Fetcho’s care before his wrongful termination, was thunderstruck.
“It takes a special kind of person to work with the Alzheimer’s population,” notes Greenfield, whose mother suffers from the disease.
In addition to Web postings and letters to state officials by supporters and strangers alike, the business and activist community has stepped forward to help Fetcho in his economic time of need.
“We are proud to be hosting a benefit for this South Florida icon and treasure,” says Paul Hugo, who, with business partner Brett Tannebaum owns The Manor Restaurant and Nightclub in Wilton Manors. The date and time for the event will be announced in SFGN.
Support has also come from some surprising quarters. Attorney Cormican has learned that one of the state agents who arrested Fetcho in 1976 will testify on his behalf.
“That says everything you need to know about this case,” says Cormican.
For his own part, Fetcho is hoping for the best possible outcome, one in which he can return to the job he has loved for over 40 years, and to keep his place in the pantheon of South Florida activist performers.
He is overwhelmed by the show of support and his renewed public awareness. But ever the consummate professional entertainer, Tiny Tina keeps her sense of humor.
“My dear friend, [fellow impersonator] Cathy Craig tells me, ‘don’t worry, Honey, your Fifteen Minutes will be over soon,’” she laughs. The Queen is jubilant.