Three weeks ago we published the Top 10 National Stories of the Year. But our editors chose those topics and subjects.

So we took a look at what our readers are actually reading on sfgn.com.

Death Penalty Being Reconsidered for Man Who Murdered Gay Couple

By Christiana Lilly

The wheels of justice move slowly, but hopefully this October the trial in the 2010 murders of Steve Adams and Kevin Powell will finally come to an end.

Peter Avsenew was found guilty and sentenced to death in June 2022 — his attorneys requested that the death penalty be thrown out, claiming that some jurors did outside research, which is not allowed. His request for a new trial was denied in December 2022, but his penalty will be reevaluated during a hearing on Oct. 9.

This was not his first time before a jury, though. Avsenew was originally found guilty and sentenced to death in 2018. However, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the sentence and granted Avsenew a new trial in January 2022 because a witness, his mother Jeanne, gave her testimony against him via Zoom since she was undergoing cancer treatments. The court believed that it was unfair to Avsenew that he could not see her while she testified. She died in April 2022.

Jeanne told the court that after the couple was killed, her son arrived at her house with a stolen car, asked that she get rid of his gun, and said that “he had done something violent, something that was the worst thing he had ever done, and that he could not get out of it if he was caught.” He hadn’t slept in three days, she said, and had a bruise and showered to get rid of the smell of bleach.

Adams and Powell had made plans to fly to Ohio to visit Adams’ family for Christmas in 2010, but when they never arrived at the airport, the family called the Wilton Manors Police. On December 26, the couple was found dead inside their homes with gunshot wounds to the head.

As if the case wasn’t heinous enough, Avsenew hand-wrote a letter to Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes, gloating that, “It is my duty as a white man to cull the weak and timid from existence … homosexuals are a disease to mankind and must be put down. I can’t put into words the feeling of ending a life it’s euphoric at the least.” He also implied it’s not the first time he may have killed someone writing, “these weren’t the first and won’t be the last,” and “if you only knew how many there really are you would faint.”

Fort Lauderdale Residents Vote in 3 New Commissioners

By Christiana Lilly

From a crowded ballot of 15 candidates, Fort Lauderdale residents voted for John Charles Herbst, Pam Beasley-Pittman and Dr. Warren Sturman to join Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Steve Glassman, both gay men, at the dais.

Sturman now has the role of vice mayor, after beating out six other candidates for the District 4 seat. According to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, he squeaked by with 21.19% of the vote, beating Kevin Cochrane by less than 100 votes. For District 3, retired BSO extradition specialist Beasley-Pittman was elected.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the election was Herbst’s easy win for District 1. He is no stranger to Fort Lauderdale, as he served as the city’s auditor for 16 years before being fired in February when he investigated the former police chief’s “secondary employment” as an NCAA coach when he was supposed to be on duty. Trantalis and Glassman both voted to have him fired, and now they must work alongside one another. During his very first meeting, Herbst called for the firing of the city attorney, city manager, and Trantalis’ chief of staff.

Former Commissioner Heather Moraitis announced in April that she would be resigning from her post, saying that she wanted to return her primary focus to education. Vice Mayor Ben Sorenson lost his run for Florida Congress in August, giving up his seat for a new commissioner. During the same midterm election, Commissioner Robert McKinzie won a seat on the Broward County Board of County Commissioners.

Broward Epicenter of Monkeypox Outbreak 

By John Hayden

When Monkeypox was still backpage news in most of the country, it was front and center for South Florida’s gay and bisexual community. MPox is common in Africa and it has been decades since the U.S. has seen an outbreak.

But when infected patients went to circuit parties in Europe this past spring, they spread and South Florida began to see a high number of infections. Since April 1, more than 1700 cases have been diagnosed in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties.

While there is no such thing as a ‘gay disease,’ this outbreak disproportionately affected the MSM community. The reason is Patient(s) Zero was/were sexually active MSM.

The community rallied together to fight yet another health crisis facing LGBT. Vaccines were quickly on site even while one million more doses were on backorder. Adult entertainers got vaccinated when producer Howard Andrew got some doses for that community.

AHF’s Dr. Zachary Henry told SFGN at the end of October, “Cases have been steadily falling overall since August. For me personally I was seeing a minimum of 3 to a record of 12 in one day every day at the clinic from early June until September. Now we are surprised to get one case a week.”

Former Mr. Ramrod Stripped of Title

By John Hayden

South Florida’s leather community is out and proud, but, in 2022, they had to deal with a problem within their ranks. Scot Blumstein, Mr. Ramrod 2017, was stripped of his title after making vulgar, disparaging comments about Blade Onyx, the then-reigning titleholder.

Blumstein made racially-tinged comments among other long rants on social media. Pageant organizer David Howell told SFGN at the time, “I think it all stems from jealousy. There had been some bickering between the former and the current. Most of it was coming from Scot. Then he made comments about Onyx and Deep South, and it stems from jealousy.”

As part of the sanctions, Blumstein had to return his patch, medallion and was barred from The Ramrod. Howell said in a statement, “He does not represent the bar or the contest. His actions have shown that he is not deserving of being a leader in our community. I DO NOT and WILL NOT tolerate this behavior toward anyone in our community let alone a current or former titleholder.” 

Blumstein posted, “I let ego, perceived slights, and thick-headedness cloud my judgment and allowed myself to make bad choices.” Howell said, given the hateful tones of the original posts, this is not enough of an apology or amends.

Groups Have Very Different Ideas of How to ‘Protect the Children’ 

By Christiana Lilly

A clash of ideals came face to face on Fort Lauderdale Beach with conservative and progressive groups both wanting to protect children — but disagreeing very much on how.

Word spread that a Protect the Children rally would be taking place Dec. 3, hosted by Moms for Liberty Miami, Florida Fathers for Freedom, Gays Against Groomers and the Proud Boys. In their event flier, they said they would be protesting against “radicalized sexual curriculum, gender ideology, child grooming, parental alienation, and ‘gender-affirming care’.”

In response, LGBT groups organized a counter-rally to show support for queer youth, holding signs such as “gender-affirming care is health care” and “tired of being a target.” The groups were separated by A1A and for the most part, did not interact.

During the rally, Broward County School Board member Brenda Fam spoke to supporters of the Protect the Children side, where she talked about sex trafficking and grooming. She responded to criticism of her appearance at the conservative rally by saying, “If you support my cause, to protect the children you are [welcome] to stand next to me. Doesn't matter if you are gay, straight, black, white, Black Lives Matter, or the Proud Boys.”

Meningitis Outbreak Hits MSM Community

By John Hayden

Major medical crises hit the LGBT community one after another in 2022. An outbreak of meningitis and meningococcal disease disproportionately affected Florida’s MSM community. They affect the brain, spinal cord, and blood. If untreated they can kill in 48 hours. 
 
The outbreak started in December, 2021, and appears to have its roots in the Orange County/Orlando area. While only a few dozen cases were diagnosed, that is still a much higher number than Florida health officials have seen in years. Gay and bisexual men were encouraged to get vaccinated. 
 
Dr. Kinder of AHF said the diseases went from being an afterthought to an immediate priority. “I haven’t heard of any meningococcal or meningitis cases in 15 years,” he said. “It was the last vaccine we’d give and now it’s one of our tops.”  
 
The number of new cases has subsided, but people in at-risk groups are still encouraged to take advantage of readily available vaccines. 

While meningitis and meningococcal disease aren’t spread as easily as cold and flu germs, close or lengthy contact such as in retirement homes, dorms, and during sex can quickly lead to a cluster.

Ex-DC Cop Awaits Florida Trial On Sex With Minor Charges

By John McDonald

A former D.C. police lieutenant awaits trial in Broward County on charges of sex with a minor under the age of 18.

Brett Parson was arrested on Feb. 17, 2022 in Palm Beach County and later released on a $50,000 bond. The incident took place five days earlier around 1 a.m. at 5601 Regency Lakes Blvd. in Coconut Creek where Parson allegedly performed oral sex on a 16-year-old boy.  

An affidavit states Parson and the boy met on Growlr, a hook-up app for gay bears. They exchanged “explicit” photos of each other and met in a parking lot where they kissed and performed oral sex on each other in Parson’s car, the affidavit states.

Later, while traveling east on Johnson Road, both cars were stopped by police. Parson, 54, is charged with two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

Parson served as a supervisor in the LGBT Liaison Unit for the D.C. Metropolitan Police, before retiring in 2020 after a 26-year career. He was in South Florida to care for his mother after a recent surgery. 

Parson has hired Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Dutko for his defense. A hearing before Judge Tim Bailey is scheduled for March 17, 2023 at the Broward County Central Courthouse.  

Gay Bashers Plead Guilty - Case Lasted for Four Years

By Jason Parsley

The saga is over.  

It took over four years to resolve the case of the four men who attacked a gay couple at the closing of Miami Beach Pride in 2018.  

In October all four of them, Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa, Juan Carlos Lopez, Adonis David Diaz, and Luis Manuel Alonso-Piovet all pleaded guilty after a year of twists and turns in the case.  

At the beginning of 2022 they attempted to use a new defense: Stand Your Ground. They suddenly claimed they were the ones being attacked and were simply defending themselves. None of the four took the stand in the mini-trial to determine whether or not the judge would allow them to continue with that defense.  

The judge denied them. And finally in October they pled guilty.  

They could have faced 15 years in prison. 
 
The court withheld adjudication and sentenced them to five years' probation, 200 hours of community service, anger management, mental and substance abuse evaluations and any recommended treatments. They must all stay away from the victims.  

They were all also required to apologize to the victims in court, which all four did on the spot.

Lesbian Senate Hopeful Caught In Florida’s Red Wave

By John McDonald

She had hoped to become Florida’s first lesbian Senator, but Janelle Perez got caught up in the one red wave Republicans were able to surf on. 

Perez lost the race for Senate District 38 to Alexis Maria Calatayud, 93,741 (54.3%) to 78,625 (45.6%). Many analysts had Perez favored to win the coastal Miami-Dade district, which stretches from Key Biscayne to Homestead Air Force Base, covering 231 precincts.  

Perez did well in Coral Gables, but it wasn’t enough to stop Calatayud, who ran up big margins in Westchester and parts of Kendall. The results were integral in the Republicans’ flipping of Miami-Dade County from blue to red.

The race got nasty at times with the 28-year-old Calatayud touting herself as “vibrant” which some perceived as a slight to Perez, 34, a cancer survivor.

“While FL Dems are writing thesis and pointing fingers on Twitter the GOP is out there registering voters,” Perez tweeted shortly after the election. 

In December, Perez and her wife Monica were invited to the White House to attend President Joe Biden’s signing of the Respect For Marriage Act. The couple is proud parents of two girls. 

“We’ve built a family filled with so much love and appreciation for those who paved the way,” Perez posted on Facebook.

Gay Man Attacked in Fort Lauderdale

By John Hayden

Gay-bashing was behind the attack of a senior Fort Lauderdale man in April. James Garcia told local media that he was walking his dog when a person came up and asked if he was gay. Before he could respond, Garcia was punched and suffered a broken nose and needed ten stitches. 
 
The attack came out of the blue but police believe it wasn’t random. They arrested Maurice Antwan Charles after Garcia picked him out of a lineup. He’s charged with hate crime battery, a felony. 
 
He was released on $15,000 bail and electronic monitoring, but as of Christmas, Broward County Sheriff’s Office shows him in the main jail awaiting trial. Charles has a violent criminal record that includes a felony. He was released from custody just before Christmas of last year. Four months later he would be back behind bars and charged with attacking Garcia. 

Trans Teen Attacked Twice, Community Rallies With Fundraiser

By Christiana Lilly

In August 2022, Nori Sanford, 14, thought she was invited to hang out with friends at Pompano Beach Park. But when she arrived, she was pushed to the ground, kicked, and punched.

“They came behind me and jumped me,” she told Local 10, adding that the boys told her “Don’t come around me with that gay shit."

Someone at the scene taped the attack, which was shared with Local 10, which helped the Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest two of the four boys involved. Since they are minors, their identities were not released.

This was not the first time that the trans girl was attacked. In May 2021, she made the news when another video surfaced of students slamming her into the ground at Deerfield Beach Middle School. The video shows fellow students standing watching — she said she no longer attends the school.

But as the LGBT community does, it rallied for Nori. Jasmine McKenzie of the McKenzie Project hosted a GoFundMe fundraiser for Nori and her grandmother to help with moving to another community where they can be safer. So far, $4,700 of the $60,000 goal has been raised. 

“The community, including law enforcement and the school district, has not supported this family and ensured their safety,” according to the fundraiser. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and we are hoping the community can help us boost the mental well-being of [Nori] and her grandma to someday soon have joy and liberation.” 

*In our original reporting of this story, we used a different name that Nori no longer uses.

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