In a surprisingly uncommon swift decision, the State of Florida’s Board of Nursing has ruled that Ray Fetcho—a/k/a Tiny Tina—will be granted an exemption and allowed to return to work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN).
The decision took officials less than 30 days to publish—an unprecedented timeframe—and a ruling which is being hailed as “a victory for LGBT employment rights.”
The story, first reported in SFGN, began unfolding in January when Fetcho, who had entertained South Florida audiences for decades as the irreverent and popular drag emcee Tiny Tina, was fired from a nursing job, after a routine background screening of the assisted living facility that employed him, found a decades-old arrest on his record.
The arrest had occurred in 1976, while Tiny Tina was hosting a “Wet Jockey Shorts Contest” at The Copa, a popular Fort Lauderdale nightclub for over 30 years.
Police had been doing an undercover operation looking for drugs that night and although no controlled substances were found on Fetcho, state alcohol agents nevertheless charged ‘Tiny’ with “promoting a lewd and lascivious act.”
“That was during the Anita Bryant Era, a lifetime ago,” remembers John Castelli, who owned The Copa with his partner, the late Bill Bastiansen. Castelli believed – and still believes – that the arrest was out of line.
“It was such an innocent situation,” Castelli says. “The boys always wore briefs, no one was exposed. It was comedy. Now the state made it into a tragedy.”
After Fetcho contacted SFGN to report his dismissal, Fort Lauderdale-based attorneys Russell Cormican and Norm Kent—who is the Publisher of SFGN—volunteered to take the case pro bono, in hopes of securing an exemption from state officials to allow Fetcho to return to work.
Said Cormican: “It’s clear that an injustice which occurred in a less enlightened time had reared its head and we were fortunately given an opportunity to make matters right. The state responded as they should have- swiftly, affirmatively and justly.”
Cormican and Kent had petitioned the Florida Department of Health to overturn AHCA’s ruling, which they did. “Employees seeking an exemption have the burden of setting forth sufficient evidence of rehabilitation, including the circumstances surrounding the criminal incident for which the exemption is sought,” Cormican said.
An outpouring of support for Fetcho and Tiny Tina followed the disclosure of his unjust termination. Among those pledging their assistance were Paul Hugo and Brett Tannenbaum, co-owners of The Manor Restaurant and Lounge in Wilton Manors, who have offered to host a benefit in the entertainer’s honor.
“Tiny Tina is a local treasure and a South Florida icon,” said Hugo.
Unexpected relief also came from a surprising source: David Shomers, who headed the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco investigation of The Copa and is now a Lauderdale Lakes city commissioner. He told reporters “I think it’s an injustice and terrifically unfair for Mr. Fetcho to lose his position now over a misdemeanor over 30 years ago.”
“It’s not as if he robbed a bank or beat somebody up,” Shomers told the Sun-Sentinel after the original story broke.
On March 25, Florida Department of Health administrators informed Fetcho of their ruling. “It has been determined you have demonstrated clear and convincing evidence you will not present a danger if employed within the healthcare field,” the notice reinstating Fetcho read. “This exemption is granted.”
The newly-reinstated nursing professional has plans to begin a new job working in Coconut Creek at Dayscape, a senior activity center.
Fetcho says he is grateful for the community’s backing: “Thanks to all my friends and supporters for standing by me during this troubling time.”
His attorney, Cormican, was also pleased. “We have a victory in that a wrong has been righted. But the fact that this even was a case remains a cause for embarrassment and concern in this modern age.”
A benefit- now a celebration- in honor of Fetcho is still scheduled for Tuesday night, April 13, at The Manor in Wilton Manors, which will be emceed—of course—by Tiny Tina. There will be a Wet Jockey Shorts Contest featuring dancers from local bars.
“I am humbled by the support and the response. And it’s nice to have another ’15 minutes’ of fame,” Fetcho added, a smile on his face and a song in his heart.