The pleasure of attending a great party is exceeded by only the satisfaction of throwing a great party, and that is what Gary Bitner, president of Bitner Goodman, did on Saturday night as the planner for “The Beach Ball”, the dazzling second annual south Florida fundraiser for GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) held at the fabulous Fort Lauderdale home of GLAAD supporters John Evans and Steve Wozencraft who explained the work of GLAAD. “In the world of social justice, GLAAD is important. I have been watching the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell battle on C-SPAN where it is clear that, for the LGBT community, perception is a strong reality. GLAAD is all about changing hearts and minds.”
GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios chimed in. “Politicians follow public opinion. Debate about our rights is everywhere in the media. To win our rights takes two things. First, we need to come out. Second, we need to build media impact. GLAAD tells our story to middle America. GLAAD has trained many of the LGBT members of our military to tell their story effectively. Events like this offer visibility for LGBT people in cities and towns across America. GLAAD's work can only happen thanks to the generosity of our south Florida allies.”
SFGN sat down with Gary to learn more about his secrets as a superb party-giver, more about GLAAD and to learn more about the man behind the 30 year success of Bitner Goodman, an advertising/public relations/marketing firm headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.
“The reality of supporting organizations like GLAAD is that you have to have fun parties. I am a big believer that a fun party starts with a fun invitation. I thought the beach ball theme might work and I was surprised to find no suitable clip-art of beach balls, so we got a bunch of real ones, blew them up and threw them in my pool to get the photo on the invite. We tucked a beach ball into each invite and carefully calculated the postage so they all didn’t bounce back.” (SFGN politely ignored this pun.)
Gary is one of two Floridians on GLAAD’s national board. “GLAAD is the communications arm of the ‘movement’, promoting the positives and fighting defamation. GLAAD is the only group that does this. My business partner, Michael Goodman, who is also gay and out, is fully supportive of our work with GLAAD.“
When Gary started his company in 1980, LGBT issues were less visible. “You have to marvel about the progress made by our LGBT community. We are now in the media mainstream in word and image. GLAAD focuses on the top 25 USA markets, including Tampa, Orlando and south Florida where the significant influence of Latin America is particularly strong. For the issue of gay adoption rights in Florida, GLAAD did a lot of work providing media training to improve our ability to speak with friends, neighbors and the media about why the ban should be lifted. This helped build public support among Floridians.”
Gary has been a Floridian since the age of 5 when his family moved to Fort Lauderdale . He attended Stranahan Public High School and graduated from the University of Florida in 1975, having majored in journalism and public relations. He worked as a reporter at The Fort Lauderdale News before it became part of what is now The Sun Sentinel. Gary moved to Washington DC, taking a corporate PR position with Marriott. “I hated the weather, so I bailed and returned home in 1980. I had done PR, corporate and newspaper. There was no particular agency I wanted to work for, so at the age of 26, I started my own company with no clients. At that age, when you do that sort of thing, you don’t even realize the risks you are taking. It’s nothing. When you get older, you can’t imagine doing that. The first assignment for my company was to handle the opening of the Galleria mall in 1980. Now we have 20 employees with an office here in Fort Lauderdale and another in Orlando.
In February, Gary will have been doing business in south Florida for 31 years. Would he do it all again? “Sure. My family and my roots are here. I love this work. I’m 57 years old and I never plan to retire. The key is to establish trust and solid relationships. Then you have to be willing to work long hours. This would be a good time to thank my life partner, Jim LaBrie, for putting up with my difficult schedule.”
Gary and Jim have been a couple for two and one half years. They met online. SFGN’s press for details was met with a laugh. “No, thank you, but I will say that we were both instantly amazed that we had never met, given how much we have in common.”
Gary summed up the night. “Great place, great people, great cause. Last year, we raised $60 thousand for GLAAD that relies 100% on private giving. We will keep on doing this work.”
At the party, SFGN met handsome actor Wilson Cruz, a GLAAD board member, a New York lunch with whom was one of the silent auction prizes. “This is a fun party, but let’s remember that we need to support our watchdog GLAAD. They keep the media honest about all of us.”
For more info about GLAAD: www.glaad.org