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Miami gay activists and allies rally at Little Havana icon, Versailles Restaurant, to protest 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Miami-Dade gay activists and allies left the safety of South Beach on Thursday and staged a public forum demanding repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' at the iconic Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

"If we were having this discussion in the 1960s -- my father's generation -- what would be happening in the restaurant or in the streets would be chaos," said speaker Jorge Barbontin, 47, a straight ex-Marine raised in Miami by Cuban-American parents.

7077139Barbontin, other speakers and local organizers were surprised that no one counter-protested in favor of keeping the gay military ban.

"In the middle of Versailles on an issue that may have been thought to be controversial in the Latin community, there was no reaction to it," Barbontin said.

The "Voices of Honor'' forum -- sponsored by Miami-Dade County gay-rights groups Unity Coalition and SAVE Dade, and Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United -- was widely promoted in the media and in Little Havana.

"We wanted to reach out to the Hispanic community and what better place than the heart of the Hispanic community, Versailles Restaurant," said Herb Sosa, president of Unity Coalition, a Miami-Dade County gay-rights group that operates fully in English and Spanish.

Barbontin said that when he grew up, his family never spoke about homosexuality. On Thursday, he publicly demanded an end to the law that prevents gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military.

"We have better things to be talking about," said Barbontin, a real estate property manager in Miami. "Attitudes have changed. There may have been narrow views in an older time. The views 20 years ago aren't what we have today. And our views tomorrow won't be what we have now."

In addition to Barbontin, speakers were Yaletza Morales of Miami, Walker Burttschell of Miami Beach and Pepe N. Johnson of West Virginia, all gay service members who left the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

NAVY30 GAYFORM DADE CTJ Burttschell and Johnson didn't know they were gay when they enlisted in the 2000s. Morales, then recently divorced with a 3-year-old son, was out of the closet when she joined the Navy in 1989.

At that time, the gay ban was military policy and not yet law. After newly elected President Bill Clinton said he would lift the ban in 1993, it "became the hottest topic around'' Morales said.

"People were scared. I was not going to pretend who I was. I already came out to my family. My ex-husband knew," she said. "I went to my chief and said, `I have to talk to you. I'm living with a woman. I'm gay. I'm not pretending. You'll see me on South Beach holding her hand. So I need to get out now, with an honorable [discharge]."

Morales left the Navy without benefits just before the ban became law in 1994. She became a paralegal and raised her son, now age 25.

7077142 Human Rights Campaign recently asked Morales, 43, to speak at Thursday's forum at Versailles.

"I was nervous because I know it's a political hotspot. There's a lot of passion that flares there and I was scared," Morales said afterward.

The Versailles forum (”No Preguntes, No lo Cuentes'') was part of a national tour organized by HRC and Servicemembers United.

"It's the first and only Spanish-speaking event being done so far," said Miami political strategist Vanessa Brito, a Unity Coalition board member. "Since Florida is one of the states they are focusing on -- and Sen. Bill Nelson is one of the votes they need -- they're trying to mobilize the Spanish-speaking constituency."

Nelson is one of six uncommitted U.S. Senators being targeted for support, said Marty Rouse, HRC's national field director.

The Florida Democrat would support repeal subject to an upcoming study by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates of "how it will impact the military," Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley said.

Brito said Thursday's forum was carefully orchestrated to frame the military ban as a discrimination issue, not a gay-rights issue.

"When you talk about discrimination to this population, it really brings the issue together. It's not about the LGBT community," Brito said. "Obviously we talk about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, but that is not the premise of what the veterans are talking about here."

The forum's success encourages Unity Coalition and SAVE Dade to be more active in communities that haven't traditionally embraced gay rights, said C.J. Ortuño, SAVE Dade's executive director.

"You have to take a leap and say, `Let's go into the belly of the beast,' '' Ortuño said after the forum. "And OK, the belly is not so bad."

New photos by CHARLES TRAINOR JR. / Miami Herald Staff

Center photo: Yaletza Morales in the Navy (about 1989).

Bottom photo: Yaletza Morales at Versailles


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"Miami-Dade gay activists and allies left the safety of South Beach..."

Come on, really?

This is nonsense. They want to be accepted and they will not. What is the big deal. It can be treated as they have found it to be a disorder of the brain.

I won't ask, so you don't have to tell. And, likewise, I won't tell you how I feel about the whole situation. However, I will send you to the book of Genesis to see what the Bible says God thinks of the idea of homosexuality! When I look at things I don't agree with, I try to remember that because I don't believe in something, doesen't make it not the case. God forgives, if you ask Him. All homosexuals should ask God for forgiveness and straighten their lives out, just as all sinners must do. I am not John the Baptist. However, I do recommend to you what he did to all: Repent.

very truly yours, with love


Yo creo que el que desee dar su c...... es una desicion muy personal. No veo como es el problema siempre y cuando no me contaminen mi hijos etc.

Homosexual practice violates standards of morality that are unchanging. The Bible is clear on that. Unfortunately, Bible illiteracy is rampant. Those who continue to justify and find excuses for this behavior fight against God. It is a sad and fruitless position to be in. Education, prayer, recognition of sin, and repentance are the anecdotes for lives that have been devastated and torn asunder by false dogma. We all have weaknesses. True courage means confronting and conquering the weaknesses that hinder mortal progression. Homosexuality is a choice just like pedophilia or psychopathic tendencies. These may be inborn tendencies to some degree (nature and nurture must be accounted for)but one cannot excuse or justify the behavior by stating I was born that way. A psychopath can state the same thing, but does society excuse his behavior? Is it right? Food for thought.

Here's one straight guy who wants nothing to do with your death cult called religion or the kind of hateful God you believe in.

You bible-thumpers are should be relegated to don't ask, don't tell. It is time you stopped telling us about your religion and forcing it on the rest of us. I know, you just have to do it--but we got your message long ago, and don't want to keep hearing it.

Crooked Ger and Straight George, you'll change your tune in the judgement! But, of course, then it will be to late.


"Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property." -Leviticus 25:44-45

Hey Shakespeare, can you help me with my fight in Congress to enact a bill allowing US citizens to legally own Mexican and Canadian slaves?

Thanks for your devotion to Jesus.


I can hear Barry Manilow singing "At Versailles --hottest spot north of Havana..."

So wonderfully refreshing! Here is South Florida we hear a lot from the bigoted rightwingers who wish to stifle our humanity with their narrow point of view. Nice to know that there are reasonable and compassionate people here also. As a gay man, I know that God put this desire in my heart, it is not evil. It is encouraging to hear that there are straight people who understand this and stand up for what is right. Thank you Mr Barbontin, you are a hero.

I almost feel bad for the bible thumpers, how quickly and merciless the world is changing around them.

I said almost.

This straight former member of the US Military, thinks DADT has to go.

To all the bible thumpers you know I come from a very religious background and you throw your scriptures out when you find something that bothers you that you want to talk about. But, I find it hard to believe you are so strict to the bible if so that means if you have eaten shrimp or any crustacean from the ocean you will be in hell as well as stated in Leviticus. There is also that your daughter is not a virgin when she marries you can take her to the streets and have her stoned to death bet you don't do that either. Or let me think about this one when your husbands die do you pack your stuff up and move to his oldest brothers to become his property as well. No, I didn't think so. It is easy to pick and choose scripture but don't throw your harsh words and judgement because as Romans 2:1 Judgement is not yours, but only his and you face the same wrath you judge with.


Why is a self-described gay activist, Rothaus, permitted to cover gay issues for the Herald? Doesn't his activism present a conflict of interest?

And why is the Herald wasting its resources on a gay issues blog when it could use those funds to hire an investigative reporter to work on uncovering government corruption?

The bigots don't own God, or, the military.

Latino voters of Florida, let your voices be heard!

Contact your congressmen, congresswomen and representatives today and DEMAND comprehensive and humane immigration reform. No more politics!



Folks, I find it hard to believe that God would condemn a person simply because they are gay. Please, stop twisting what is and isn't in the Bible. Gays have the same rights as everyone else. Some of you Bible beaters are really scary and if I had to make a choice between the gays or the scary Bible beaters, I think I will stay with the gays.

The response in spanish by Tomasin Galindo is really funny. That person said they are ok just as long as their kids are not "contaminated". The ignorance is just mind blowing but then again what do you expect from a church follower whose priests are constantly being being bought up on charges of sexual abuse time and time again.

I was there and I hope everybody writes and reaches Senator Nelson to ask to repeal this law. I went with my father who is 84 years old and is just visiting Miami and his daughters... His comment was... It is incredible that in this Country that stands up worldwide in defense of Human rights still has laws like this one and he also asked what year was this law created; Thinking we were talking about dinosaurian’s times. What an absurd thing we still have to face!!!

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