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Call them old-fashioned (or perhaps out of shape), but you won’t find many elected officials celebrating their 40th birthday bash in just an orange Speedo.

Or getting Botoxed on Facebook weeks before the big day. Or kicking up their high heels as Cher for a SunServe charity fundraiser. 

Wilton Manors Commissioner Chris Caputo is neither old-fashioned nor as evidenced by his social media feed out of shape.

“He’s interesting to me because he’s fearless. He does not seem to me to be concerned about the normal things that politicians worry about — which is themselves,” said Al Ferguson, anchor of “Queer News Tonight,” a live LGBT program streamed evenings from Fort Lauderdale. “He seems to be interested in serving and being himself simultaneously. That’s highly unusual.” 

Ferguson notes Caputo’s authenticity is what makes him stand apart from other politicians.  

“Chris has been spectacular so far as a city commissioner because he tells you exactly what he thinks. You have to decide whether to accept that or not,” Ferguson said. “But how many politicians can you count on your left hand who can do that and are ultimately successful? Measuring success is to be able to be authentic, tell us the truth and lead us to success. That is so hard for a politician to do and be loyal to themselves.”

Caputo, born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in Fort Myers, has long been active in Broward’s LGBT and business communities. He acknowledges some people have advised him not to be so open in public. 

“There are probably more things I should do differently than I do,” said Caputo, who won his commission seat in November 2020. “I think a lot of people become much more reserved once they're elected. The advice that just about everyone has given me is to pull off social media entirely — and keep all your private business private once you're elected.” 

But that’s just not who Caputo is. 

“I've chosen not to take that approach and, so far, it seems to be working,” he said.  

He recognizes his approach may be totally wrong.  

“But … if it ever backfires, I'll say, ‘Ah, that's why everyone insisted I do it this way and I was thick-headed and didn’t listen.’” 

Caputo’s growing up was typical for a gay high school student in the ‘90s: “I recognized during my freshman year that this is who I was. It wasn’t that I met somebody, it was just the realization that this is clearly the way I am and there was no other way.” 

Classmates bullied Caputo in his sophomore year but that had ended by his senior year.  

“I guess we all grew up,” he said.

Caputo’s family handled his coming out well, “once they got past the initial sort of shock.”  

A few years later, his older brother came out as bi. 

At 21, Caputo moved to South Florida and bought a tanning salon.  

“That’s sort of when I first became acquainted with Wilton Manors. As soon as I found Wilton Manors, and Cathode Ray, and all that, I knew this was home.” (Cathode Ray, which closed in 2006, was once among Broward’s most popular gay bars.) 

For a decade after graduating Fort Myers High School, Caputo repeatedly enrolled in and dropped out of college.  

“I was fortunate to have a very good job already in software development,” he said. 

In 2009, Caputo received an online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degree from New York Institute of Technology. Three years later, he earned a master's degree in business administration from Florida Atlantic University. 

Caputo currently is chief strategist for Development Partners, a Wilton Manors-based technology company that focuses on helping small businesses grow. 

Along the way, Caputo met businessman Mark Budwig at the Gay & Lesbian Business Exchange (GLBX), a council of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce

“Chris has so much energy and anything he puts his mind to he accomplishes,” said Budwig, owner and president of S.MARK Graphics in Fort Lauderdale. “We started to work together. I have a graphic design firm. We would do the front-end design and he would do the back-end mechanics. We had a really solid working relationship.” 

Caputo said Budwig “took me under his wing and then became one of my best clients.” 

He recalled Budwig emphasizing the importance of giving back to the community.  

“We ended up partnering on many projects. He basically, as my mentor, was like, ‘Get involved in everything that you can get involved in. Give back first and then worry about the business later.’ And so that's what I did,” Caputo said. “Any chance I could do anything for the community, since I frankly didn't have a lot of work at the time, I would do it. And he assured me that within a year all this good stuff you do is going to come back and pay tenfold. And it did.”  

On Nov. 4, the GLBX honored Caputo with its annual Legacy Award

Caputo and Budwig have each been board chairs at the Pride Center at Equality Park

Talking about the Wilton Manors center leads Caputo to tell “the personal side of my story, which was me at the Pride Center testing positive for HIV, coming as a complete shock.” 

Caputo learned his HIV status about 10 years ago. 

“The reason it was a shock: Ultimately, I was in a relationship for like two years, and I had gotten an HIV test like four months prior that came back negative, and here I was in this relationship and I just gotten a test,” he said. “I had just gotten out of the relationship and was jumping headfirst into a new one. I thought, ‘OK, I'm going take another test and everything is going to be negative.’ And then it kind of came back positive.  

His ex-partner had had HIV the whole time they had been together and never disclosed it to him.  

“It never stood out to me that every time I'd gotten a test while we're together, he didn't want to go get a test. He would always make an excuse as to why he didn’t. In retrospect, of course, I learned he knew about it the whole time,” he said. “And of course I forgive him for all that. But that’s why it came as a shock to me. I had just assumed I was in a monogamous relationship with somebody who was HIV negative.” 

At the time, there still was “very much a stigma about being positive,” said Caputo, who was once a vice president of Impulse South Florida, a chapter of a national organization that describes itself online as “the world’s largest HIV/Wellness group for gay men.” 

“I sort of struggle from a morality point of view of dealing with where Impulse stood on things. They weren't necessarily about harm avoidance. It was often a harm reduction strategy,” he said. “So, in other words, youth are going to go out and party, so let's not tell them not to party, but to try to get them to party more responsibly.” 

He stayed with Impulse about a year and then decided to “just support them from the sidelines.”

Being prudish was certainly not the reason Caputo left the sex-positive Impulse group — he’s the city commissioner who actually shows his face and discloses his HIV status on queer dating app Grindr. 

“I remember an early lesson when I was HIV positive and dealing with stigma, I found it much easier for my profile to say I was positive,” he said.  

Caputo says he never had concerns about publicly revealing his HIV status.

“If anything, I thought it was helping me because the more people knew, the less chance I had of being involved in the situation like say with my ex, or the less chance I had of going on a date with somebody and being rejected later when they first found out,” he said. “That’s why I tried to be as out as possible.” 

Being so open about his own status often touched other HIV-positive people.  

“And the other thing that was, frankly, reaffirming is that every time I told my story, somebody I knew who I didn't know was positive would reach out and say, ‘Hey! This made me feel better. Here's who I am. I'm dealing with this, as well.’ And so that sort of affirmed what I was doing.” 

In November, Caputo participated in his 10th SMART Ride cycling event to raise money for HIV/AIDS service organizations in Florida. This year’s ride raised more than $1.2 million. 

“It feels good to make a difference in the way that people have made a difference for me,” Caputo said. “Like when I said I have HIV and people were like, ‘You're fine and we've got your back.’ It feels good to know that the things I do help other people feel like I’ve got their back, that we’ve got their back. It’s the joy that comes from making the community a place that people want to call home. That feels good to me. It's sort of self-serving that I get a good feeling from having this result happen.” 

Caputo also serves as a board member of Plays of Wilton, a local arts nonprofit founded by playwright-producer Ronnie Larsen that focuses on “filmed and live LGBT entertainment.” The theater group is also raising money to host a quarterly national playwriting award. 

These days, Caputo is single.

“I am definitely more comfortable single than partnered right now,” he said. “I think it's the first time I felt that way. Now that I'm old enough to realize some of my own personality things that may make me a difficult person to be in a relationship with, I don't feel that compelling need to be in one. And also, I just have role models who are single who show me, it's OK to be single.” 

Like many gay men, Caputo is a bit anxious about getting older.

“In general, I still worry about being aged out in a Grindr search where there's an age bracket. But that's sort of a silly thing compared to what I've learned,” said Caputo, who turned 40 on Dec. 1. “My life is better today than it certainly ever was in the 20s and even 30s. So that's the thing that makes it OK to be of a certain age: the realization that my life is definitely better today than it was at that age that I think I wanted to be.”

Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.


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