This has been a remarkable week for America’s gay community. A decision in a San Francisco courthouse brings us into the 21st century. Gays will soon be able to legally marry again in California. Our centerfold celebrates many couples. Still, the battles we must win are in the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen. There should never have been a Proposition 8, where citizens got to vote on our civil rights. It is not like we have voting on a free press, or freedom of religion. It is a right that is inalienable; which cannot be taken away by statute or a voter. Yes, you should have always had the right to partner and marry who you sought. Finally, American courts are catching up with the rest of our civilized world.
On another plane, yesterday, at the Pride Center at Equality Park, Mikey Verdugo held a press conference to announce that he will continue a challenge to retain his certification to remain a law enforcement officer in the State of Florida. As reported in our very first issue back in January, in a story you can read on our website, an arbitrator had ruled the City of Hollywood lawfully terminated his tenure as a Hollywood cop. His crime? Omitting on his employment application that he once did a scene in a gay porn film, five years before even applying for a police job. Please!
Aided by the skill set of Wilton Manors attorney George Castrataro, and the team at his able law offices, Verdugo’s appeal comes down to invidious discrimination against a gay man. Had Verdugo omitted to put on his employment application that he played a role as Othello in a summerstock theater company, there would be no legal battle today. Mikey Verdugo would still be a Hollywood police officer.
The significance of this story cannot be underplayed either, because the City of Hollywood continues to seek its pound of flesh. Despite a decade on the department where he distinguished himself in the field, including during dangerous undercover operations, the City was not satisfied with just firing him. They are also seeking to strip him of his state certification to remain a police officer anywhere in the state. This is outrageous, not only because there are many agencies that would still employ him, but the nominal offense of omission, weighed against his years of service to the community, is inconsequential.
Indeed, that was the ruling of the State of Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, who had negotiated a stipulation with George Castrataro, on behalf of Mikey Verdugo. Castrataro engineered a fair and just settlement, insuring that Verdugo could remain a licensed police officer in the state of Florida, with a supervisory probationary sanction that included an ethics course. By all rhyme and reason, it was an appropriate disposition, which would leave only Verdugo’s challenge in Circuit Court to the arbitrator’s ruling. It is a tough case to be sure, hard to win, but one where he would get to make his arguments.
Amazingly, the City of Hollywood police department has chosen to snake the settlement agreement by filing a challenge with the Training Commission, and they are going to Tampa to argue their case tomorrow. Mind you, this is an agreement already signed off by the General Counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But that was not good enough for City of Hollywood attorney Joel Cantor and the city’s police chief, Chadwick Wagner. They have asked that Mikey’s right to be a police officer be terminated, unless he drops the arbitration case. It is their quid pro quo. But it is wrong, and Mikey has said “No, I will stand by ground.”
As a newspaper, as his co-counsel, we urge you to stand by him. Do not leave him naked before the cannon. Follow this newspaper, both in print and online, and watch as the events of his case unfold. Pressure the city commissioners of Hollywood, and its state representatives to intervene. Ask them to have the city police department ‘stand down.’ To do that, we must stand up.
If candidates want the support of the gay community, it is time they start standing up for gay rights when there are gay wrongs. In this week’s paper, Dean Trantalis, an openly gay man who once served as the Vice Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, has advertised his endorsements for those candidates who have respected the integrity of the gay and lesbian community. We second his endorsements. We invite you to stand together to mandate and elect leaders who protect and insure our rights.
Mikey Verdugo’s case may play itself out in the courts, but make no mistake about what has happened here. As gays get married in San Francisco, in Florida, a talented young man is being denied an opportunity to serve his community primarily because he is gay, and that is wrong. It is up to us to make it right.