Just what this newspaper needs in the largest issue of South Florida Gay News ever- more words from me.
Actually, for me, now 62 years old, and for forty years a journalist or publisher, four of which were spent here in South Florida as the owner of the Express Gay News, this issue represents a moment of particular personal pride.
In my lifetime, standing alone, it is simply and singularly the largest weekly newspaper I have ever published at any given time.
No, I can’t retire now. Actually, what will happen in this office is that next week I will first really hear it from my chief executive officer, and SFGN business partner, Piero Guidugli, the man whose faith and financial contributions underwrote this enterprise in January of 2010. He did this at a time when the nation’s economy was looking down at us all ominously, and when his own partner of many years, Jack Goodwin, was taken ill.
I had actually met Piero through Jack, a man of laughter and love, spirit and strength, family and focus. Cancer would claim him, but good fortune found and favored Piero. He is now partnered with yet another elegant and erstwhile gentleman, Tom Fillmore.
Piero and Tom were married last year during an intracoastal cruise, in a ceremony presided over by SFGN's high priestess of column writing, one Tony Adams. Tony, you see was once a Roman Catholic priest, and his papal picks appeared online this week at the www.sfgn.com website. You see, folks, all our lives are bound together in one way or another.
Piero has been calling me a size queen from day one, when we inaugurated SFGN with a 48-page issue. He is going to want to know why we are so big this week. He is going to want to know whether the paper was in the black, not whether we captured every color in the freaking rainbow.
Our paper has fortunately prospered because you have placed your faith and advertising support with us. It is because we had the courage to deliver you a credible and conscientious newspaper, populated not just with ads from our advertisers, but stories about our lives. From day one, with credentialed writers and respected journalists, we have told the stories that give our lives meaning and purpose.
Take our every first paper. That edition illuminated the situation of Mike Verdugo, a distinguished gay Hollywood police officer, who was unjustifiably fired for having done gay porno films years before he even joined the force.
The reason it is relevant today is because Mike challenged his firing and became a client of my law firm. He is now a good friend and great business neighbor. He runs Bodytek Gyms here in Wilton Manors by our SFGN office, This week, however, he is back in training with BSO.
He begins that new career because another friend, George Castrataro, perhaps the most distinguished local LGBT counsel in South Florida, undertook lead representation of Mike's case on a pro bono basis. While he did not prevail in getting Mike’s job back specifically with the city of Hollywood, George’s skill-set manifested itself so that Verdugo maintained his police license and certification statewide.
Thus, while Mike is emerging today as a fitness guru with a great gym, the law offices of George Castrataro preserved his right to become one day again a law enforcement officer. Here is where you, our readers, come into the story again.
The stature and political activism of the LGBT community is so immense in South Florida, we are influential in seeing who gets elected to office. From the Dolphin Democrats, to LGBT lobby groups, candidates come to us for their support. From a business standpoint, that means a hell of lot to SFGN as well.
Since we started our paper three years ago, we have had over 75 political candidates advertise their aspirations for political office on our pages. That means two things, at least. First, it is testament to this newspaper’s credibility as the conscience and voice of our community. Second, it is a tribute to you and your influence in the shaping of our lives in society. Office seekers want your votes.
In 2012, both the Republican incumbent and Democratic challenger for county sheriff actively recruited the LGBT community for its support. Scott Israel, the winner and new sheriff, is a man I have known for over a quarter century, ever since he was a rookie police officer on road patrol working evening details on the Fort Lauderdale beach. I was a young lawyer defending the kids he arrested- particularly the hot gay ones.
Working day and night from Weston to Wilton Manors to win the Sheriff’s race last year, Scott Israel made it a point to champion the cause of LGBT justice, actively seeking our community’s support. It was not an easy road to hoe. The incumbent he wound up defeating, Al Lamberti, had also spent much of his own term reaching out to the gay community. We had two suitors, not one- yet another tribute to our own emerging political stature.
Regardless of who beat whom, the entire gay community has still won. How? One of the very first things that Sheriff Israel has done is bring Mike Verdugo back to the force. If you look up Verdugo's Facebook page this week, he is in the Academy again, test driving field units to later serve our community as a reserve officer.
If Mike passes you wearing a police uniform in 2013, remember he is wearing that badge because one gutsy lawyer in 2010, named George Castrataro undertook his cause, championed his rights, and at his own expense, fought for him in the courts. And a newly elected Sheriff said that strength of character, not sexual identity, will govern his hiring practices.
There is another appointment Sheriff Israel has made that I want to share with you. Ron Gunzburger has been named the General Counsel for the Broward Sheriff's Office. Who is he, you may ask?
Well, one of his lesser titles is that he was once the Associate Publisher of my original newspaper, the Express Gay News, and his mom, Suzanne Gunzburger is a respected Broward county commissioner, having won just last Fall an Equality Florida Human Rights Public Service Award.
Personally, Ron, now 49 years old, has been a neighbor of mine in Victoria Park for 25 years. A spectacular free lance photographer, he is a shrewd and noted political activist, a distinguished lawyer, and a cool skateboarder. He and his partner Dana Buker, have been together since 1987, and were legally married in Canada in 2006 on their 19th anniversary. Dana is the Homestead Portability Coordinator in the Property Appraiser’s Office, and a great chef.
Today, thanks to Sheriff Israel's belief in Ron's stature as a leader and qualities as an advocate, he is also arguably the highest-ranking openly LGBT officer in the State of Florida.
Ron’s recognition and rewards comes his way because of what he does with his life when his clothes are on in the daytime, not how or who he does in his bedroom at night. That is the way it should be.
Each of our lives has stories to be shared and told. For three years, this newspaper has illuminated so many of them. Each week, we find more to unveil. We are only able to do so because you have invested in us.
Today, I am proud to offer you the largest paper I have ever published, including the Pride Center’s Voice, showcasing the dedication and devotion of one the more remarkable LGBT Pride centers in the USA. It is led ably and honorably by two of our most distinguished citizens, CEO Robert Boo, and COO Kris Fegenbush, guys you can trust your life to; your estate with.
How can I say that so easily? When I was the Executive Director of the largest and oldest AIDS agency in Broward County 12 years ago, CenterOne, the person I turned to as my Deputy Director was that same Kris Fegenbush, who is simply one of the most passionate, trusting and enthusiastic persons you will ever want to meet.
How did I meet him? He started dating one of my next door neighbors, a good friend and real estate whiz named Robert Eldredge, who has since become Kris's partner, and a successful gay entrepreneur in his own right. What a lucky guy he is!
The Pride Center insertion of the Voice does not really cost them or you a dime. You need to know how that happened, too. It is printed for free to them because Robert Kecskemety, a quiet gay man, dying last year of cancer, who had worked with the Pride Center wanted to carry their message beyond his days.
Bob had spent his life chronicling the LGBT community in photography and print, from videographically recording Stonewall and AIDS events to once working as the Assistant Publisher of Brad Casey's 'Scoop' Magazine, back in the 1990's. His fun column was entitled, 'Shut Up and Focus.'
One of my dearest personal friends for many years, Kecskemety left his entire estate to the Pride Center, with a specific proviso, that they continue to publish the Voice quarterly for you, our community. Because of his acts yesterday, our community will have the 'Voice' constantly tomorrow.
Before he passed, he sat down with Robert Boo at a Wilton Manors hospice and shaped this arrangement, ensuring his legacy of print journalism would be carried on beyond his lifetime. He then turned to one of South Florida's most reputable lesbian lawyers, Robin Bodiford, to draft testamentary documents to carry out his purpose.
This is the same Robin Bodiford younger members of our community probably do not know was two decades ago campaigning against reluctant county commissioners to pass human rights resolutions for our LGBT community. Few were by Robin's side back then, people who have passed like Jamie Bludworth, Alan Terl, or Gary Steinsmith, along with so many honored leaders no longer with us. It is a list too long to record here today. Our lives are today sharing in the rewards of what they did then, because as much as we walk in the present, we are linked to our past. Like attorney Dean Trantalis, for decades by our side, many still carry the torch for reform. In 2013, we see that torch passed to new political spokespersons, such as Ken Keechl. But we also find ourselves with respectable choices in gay supportive candidates such as Charlotte Rodstrom. It's a good day to be gay.
As the Joni Mitchell song goes, 'life is a circle game,' my friends. Sooner or later, we find our acts and deeds, paths and fortunes, all linked together. Each of us have histories to share and stories to tell.
Today's feature highlights just a few distinguished people in our Rainbow City. Tomorrow, the life we illuminate could be your own.
Friends, we are all on this planet for a very short time, but this is truly the meaning of our lives. We have to care and love, reach out and do right. SFGN is a simple newspaper that has published a few thousand stories over a few short years, but there are a million stories to yet be recorded.
When you publish and work in a newspaper, you are part of something that is more than life in the present. You record what has happened, you tell what is happening, and you preserve what will one day be shared forever.
The goal and the promise of SFGN is to be there by your side as life happens. We reach people who care; people who read. I hope we are fulfilling that promise with every issue.