Forging A Rainbow of Alliances

In South Florida, terrain left untended and the men who settle here soon revert to wild. Careful gardens become jungles and diligent souls become playful. There is a good and a bad side to this inevitable process. At its worst, a jungle becomes impenetrable and perilous. At its best, it is lush and alluring. At his worst, a man becomes a frail burn-out. At his best, he becomes a community leader without guile.

I sat down with one of the good guys, Roger Handevidt, to discuss the cyclical rise and fall of the Fort Lauderdale gay economy, its small hotels and its business associations, including the Rainbow Alliance of which he is the chairman. I arrived at his guesthouse, the Orton Terrace, hoping for a combination of history and gossip from a man who has lived here for exactly thirty years and thirty days. I was not disappointed although I suspect that some of what he told me on Monday might be repeated differently on Tuesday and further revised by Wednesday. Such is the privilege of a sixty-nine year old.

It is the listener’s responsibility to dissect the braided decades, keeping in mind the significant difference between colorized memory and dishonesty. I suspect Mr. Handevidt of colorful honesty.

I asked him about the life of an innkeeper.

“Well, I acquired Orton Terrace during a real estate spike, one of many we have all been through, along with the drops. As you can see, I’m answering the phone and managing this operation all day and every day. My partner, Mago, also works full time here. He’s busy right now clearing breakfast. In tougher times you have to be willing to work harder and with smaller staff to get the same things done. Of course there are always many improvements that you wish you could make like paint and furniture. You do them as money permits. Even so, there is not a single day when I say that I don’t want to go to work here.”

Assuming that the small hotels of Fort Lauderdale are like wine, each with its own characteristic flavor (Rich? Fruity? Well aged?) and admirers, I asked about the identity of the Orton Terrace.

“Over the years, I have built up a clientele that you might describe as ‘laid back’. This is a casual comfortable place to stay. No attitude. Not fou-fou. Men come here to relax.”

This led us into a discussion about the Rainbow Alliance, an entity born of an earlier organization called the Rainbow Carpet Lodging and Hospitality Association (RCLHA). Roger is the Chairman of the Rainbow Alliance.

“In June of 1996, there were nine gay guest houses on the beach. By December of that year, there were eighteen, and a year later there were twenty-seven!”

“In 1999, we formed the RCLHA to work together to welcome tourists. In 2006, RCLHA became the Rainbow Alliance to rope in all the businesses that support tourism. We did all this before the Chamber had its gay committee.

“The Rainbow Alliance produces a map/guide to greater Fort Lauderdale, and we participate in LGBT travel shows. We are about to tackle an important question: ‘How should the Rainbow Alliance evolve to keep up with changing times?’ We are seriously looking at the 20-something tourists. Do they want small guesthouses? Do they want high-end? We need to understand that market.”

“I thought that it would be a good thing for the Rainbow Alliance to produce a strategic marketing white paper that projected out two, five and ten years, but in recent times, illnesses kept our membership from producing that study. Now there is a new group called the Rainbow Business Coalition in addition to the Chamber’s GLBX.”

I got the impression that a man less polite than Roger might have voiced an opinion about how the volunteers of these various groups have succeeded or failed at working to­gether, but he seems to have no taste for the bitter, and he seems focused on the original goal of these organizations rather than on the debilitating plague of ego-gratification that sometimes besets volunteers.

I was impressed with his wise acceptance of the imperfections of the human being. He described a previous relationship without acrimony although it was obvious to me that the guy had treated him badly.

The recent revelation that a former treasurer of Pride South Florida may have stolen or misappropriated significant funds involves Roger’s swift and prudent actions which helped safeguard that organization, but his account of that situation includes a gentle sympathy for the unfortunate plight of the accused man. In a world full of activist-divas and hell-bent avengers, Roger Handevidt is refreshing.

Here on the beach, everyone has a story to share, and if traffic is an indicator, Roger’s messy office is a place where those stories are deposited and warehoused. A steady stream of other innkeepers, vintage guests, neighbors, community organizers and businessmen kept interrupting us via phone, email and in person as I began to see that Roger really has two full-time jobs, albeit one of them—the one that benefits our community greatly—is entirely volunteered.

While Roger Handevidt, like all of us who wash up on this beach and stay for decades, has lost some of the distinction between a blurred past, present and future, his gentility and the business instincts behind his words are a sharp and current community asset. Served and guided by much worse, we are lucky he is with us.