Terry Fleming, a longtime Florida gay rights activist, died Tuesday.
Fleming was 58.
The cause of death had yet to be disclosed to the public. Fleming died in Gainesville, where he was a well-known activist and Co-President of the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida.
He was described in a local NPR report as a “patriot in the best sense of the word.”
“He was always so busy, so vibrant, doing multiple things and doing them well,” said Susan Bottcher, a former Gainesville city commissioner.
Bottcher met Fleming in 2004 on the John Kerry presidential campaign. She quickly noticed his commanding presence in the political arena.
“Terry was a presence,” Bottcher recalled. She considered Fleming one of her political mentors, but was intimidated when they first met. In joining the fight for equal rights, Bottcher said she learned to appreciate Fleming’s skills for planning and solutions.
“Terry always kept a finger on the pulse of the opposition,” Bottcher said.
Fleming held many distinctions in North Florida and statewide. As Horacio Sierra, a Florida historian notes, he created the Stonewall Democrats of Alachua County and helped bring the LGBT Florida Caucus meeting to Gainesville.
“He ran the Pride Center there,” said Sierra, a faculty member at Bowie State University in Maryland.
Fleming was a founding member of the Gainesville area’s first center for the LGBT community almost 20 years ago and according to a prepared statement from the organization, "remained a driving force behind its services and events, which grew substantially under his leadership."
“Carrying on Terry’s work will take all of us,” co-president Tamara Perry-Lunardo said in the statement. “Not just the Board and our regular volunteers, but everyone in our local community who shares the passion Terry had for serving others, working for LGBTQ+ visibility and equality, and creating a safe space for people to be themselves.”
News of Fleming’s death began to spread on social media Wednesday, disrupting Democrats across the Sunshine State.
“We are all in shock and mourning the loss our dear friend and dedicated colleague, Terry Fleming,” Palm Beach County resident Stephen Gaskill said.
Gaskill now serves as president of the caucus Fleming once led. Fleming served as vice president and president of the caucus. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a bow-tied Fleming introduced New Jersey Senator Cory Booker at a Democratic party gala in Hollywood.
“He was one of the giants of our community who dedicated his life and career to service,” Gaskill said, in a press release. “First as a Navy veteran, then as a mentor and supporter of LGBTQ youth, as a policy advocate fighting for LGBTQ equality, and as a Democratic activist electing pro-equality candidates.
“Terry is a leader who can never be replaced. He brought decades of experience and institutional knowledge combined with a humble spirit and ‘get it done’ attitude. Because of Terry’s leadership, Alachua County and Gainesville have been light years ahead of other municipalities on LGBTQ equality – not just in Florida, but across the country. The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus sends our condolences to Terry’s husband and family, his community and colleagues.”
Added Michael Albetta, caucus past president and Fort Lauderdale resident:
“Terry had everything you wanted in a leader: a steady hand, a smart political mind, experience, compassion and empathy, a humble heart for service, and an infectious spirit that inspired people to work together for a common purpose. For more than 20 years, I’ve counted on Terry for his counsel, hard work, and belief in our mission of equality for all. We’ve lost one of the greats.”
Tampa resident Sally Phillips, who handed the caucus reigns over to Fleming, had this to say about his death:
“Terry moved the Florida LGBTQ+ Caucus to another level of influence within our state,” Phillips posted on Facebook. “He is loved by so many, including me, and he will certainly be missed. Ercilia and I send loving condolences to his husband, his entire family and all who love him. We pray they find peace in this very difficult time.”