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Fort Lauderdale mayor's refusal to apologize riles gays

BY AMY SHERMAN, asherman@miamiherald.com

QuestionAs competing banner planes droned overhead Tuesday afternoon, gay activists and their opponents faced off across a Fort Lauderdale street, but the man whose incendiary talk started the whole mess -- Mayor Jim Naugle -- had already had his say.

At a news conference earlier Tuesday, which he announced with a press release that promised an apology, Naugle didn't say he was sorry for recent statements about the gay community -- including his suggestion that sex in public bathrooms is too common.

Instead, Naugle said what he regrets is ``not being fully aware of the depth of the problem with sexual activity in parks and public places.''

That development fueled the rally late Tuesday afternoon outside Fort Lauderdale City Hall, featuring national speakers on diversity, local politicians and hundreds of residents -- including a woman in a rainbow-colored boa with toilet paper draped from a hairpiece.

Bathroom references -- someone waved a toilet seat, while another flaunted a sign that said ''Flush the Turd'' -- stemmed from Naugle's proposal earlier this month that the city spend $250,000 on a single-occupancy toilet for the beach to cut down on gay sex in public bathrooms.

The resulting ill will toward Naugle blossomed into a general call for diversity and unity that raised at least $10,000 locally and resonated beyond Broward.

Speaking at Tuesday's rally was Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Earlier, he called Naugle's comments outrageous and shocking from a leader of a cosmopolitan city that is home to many gay residents and is a gay tourist destination.

''So many people across the country have been to Fort Lauderdale for vacations and found it to be . . . gay-friendly,'' he said.

Naugle has made statements that have angered the gay community and other minorities in the past, but the response has been much more vocal this time.

''People come to a breaking point, and I think that's been reached with Mayor Naugle,'' Foreman said.

At times, the rally had the feel of a 1960s demonstration as people distributed flowers and County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin sang Give Peace a Chance.

''We as a community must unite,'' City Commissioner Carlton Moore told the cheering crowd. ``We must unite against hatred.''

Overhead, the issue was starkly defined, on banners trailing from rented planes: ''Surrender Naugle! UNITY rally City Hall now!'' vs. another that read, ``Mayor Naugle is Right.''

Anger at the mayor extended beyond the gay community.

''We need to come together and not stand for disrespect to people,'' said Lucia Lanchbery, a Wilton Manors resident, who described herself as straight.

About 30 people gathered across the street to support Naugle, led by the Rev. O'Neal Dozier of the Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach. Last year, Dozier called Islam a ''dangerous religion'' -- a position he later renounced.

Some residents said they agreed with Naugle. ''I don't want to have my children going into a bathroom being exposed to two men having sex,'' said Gary Monzillo of Fort Lauderdale. ``God is clear that is an abomination.''

Naugle's term expires in March 2009, and he has said he won't run for another office. But many participants said they wanted to send a clear message to other candidates.

''Future politicians need to know his sort of ignorance is not going to be tolerated by our community,'' said Clifford Clapp of Fort Lauderdale.

To bolster his argument that public sex is a problem in his city, Naugle distributed at his press conference a 1999 New Times article about gay men having unsafe sex in public places.

He also pointed out that a gay website recommends as good places to cruise for gay sex several Broward parks, including Easterlin Park in Oakland Park, Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood Beach near Surf Street in Hollywood.

''Our parks are important for our children, and we will not accept this activity in the name of being inclusive or tolerant,'' Naugle said.

Naugle has said he has received several complaints from soccer moms and Little League dads about dozens of incidents of sexual activity in parks, but police statistics show very few.

Since 2005, two men have been arrested on charges of sexual activity in a public restroom, said city spokesman Ted Lawson. There also was at least one incident on a trail in a park.

In addition to his toilet proposal, the mayor also voted against moving the gay-oriented Stonewall Library into a city building because he said the nationally recognized collection contains pornography.

A handful of gay activists shouted and laughed at the mayor during the news conference.

''You do not speak for Fort Lauderdale or the city,'' said Waymon Hudson, a gay activist who organized Tuesday's rally.

Photo by CANDACE WEST / Miami Herald Staff

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I'am sadden over the comments made by Mayor Naugle. However, such behavior among some indidivuals within the gay communuity does exist. I think this is a wake-up call from a community that is deeply upset with this form of exposed behavior. Furthermore, politicians are a reflection of their voters.

This is very exciting. Exposing a bully and bigot. I take this as a very positive development. If more bullies and bigots would come out of the closet then we could expose them for the nasty people they choose to be. We can overcome this one bully. Expose him in every email and conversation you have with your friends.

Thank you Mayor Naugle. you have done us a huge favor. Keep it up. Your time is almost over as mayor. Ft Lauderdale is greater than you and we will survive your inept service.

To Christopher Brown:
So the fact that homosexuals cannot get a room but do it in a park full of kids is ok with you? The mayor is a bigot for wanting to keep the freaks out of the parks? You more problems than he does.

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