BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
C.J. Ortuño, the straight, married dad who for five years has run Miami-Dade County's leading gay-rights group, has resigned to take a development job with City University of New York law school.
Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, will move next month to New York City with wife Charlene and their 5-year-old daughter, Amalia.
"I’ve accepted a position as executive director of development for CUNY School of Law. They’re a public interest law school in Long Island City," Ortuño, 36, said Monday night. "My start date is the end of July."
Ortuño, who grew up in Miami-Dade County and graduated from Killian Senior High, Miami Dade College and Florida International University, joined SAVE Dade in 2008 -- weeks before Florida voters enacted the state's Amendment 2, which defines marriage as a union only between one man and one woman.
Previously, Ortuño had been development director for Hands On Miami, a nonprofit volunteer-based social entrepreneur organization.
Ortuño put those skills to use when he succeeded Heddy Peña as SAVE Dade's executive director.
Under Ortuño's leadership, SAVE Dade helped secure domestic-partner benefits in cities including Coral Gables and organized political campaigns, including David Richardson's successful 2012 run for state legislature, making him the first openly gay Florida lawmaker.
"C.J. brought a level of professionalism, professional management, to SAVE Dade that we had never really had before. He brought fundraising and political skills and brought us significant new resources to plow into missions of the organization," said mortgage broker Joseph Falk, SAVE Dade's previous board chairman. "There's no question the results are apparent. Our task now is to look out to five more years of growth and find an executive director who can lead to new heights."
Falk is chairing the committee to replace Ortuño. A quick national search is planned. "Our view is expansive. We are not limiting our search to Miami-Dade County," Falk said.
Attorney Brian Adler, SAVE Dade's current board chairman, said he is disappointed Ortuño will soon leave.
"We want to congratulate C.J., obviously. He’s embarking on a wonderful new journey," Adler said. "Anyone’s who has worked with C.J. knows his unwavering dedication to the LGBTQ community."
Ortuño describes himself as "a completely different person" than the young man who first went to work at SAVE Dade.
"There was a tremendous amount of responsibility placed on my shoulders. I’ve been able to build a connection to a cause that doesn't directly affect me, yet completely affects me. I've been able to create this overwhelming sense of empathy and compassion that I didn’t know I had inside of me," he said. "It allowed me to manifest some values that were inside me as a person, but didn’t know how they shaped me. Values of respect and dignity and equity."
Two things surprised Ortuño most in his five years at SAVE Dade.
"First, the value of the work, the purpose of the work. Acceptance and fairness and equality were afforded to me by a community that I am not exactly like. Here I am, this straight guy running an LGBT advocacy organization, asking for the acceptance on behalf of a community. That same idea of acceptance was afforded to me," he said. "I was the person who was different, coming to a community of difference, where I was accepted.
"Ultimately, that allowed me and the organization to be embraced and see some success. That is what the success of the movement will be. Because acceptance is a two-way street," he said.
"The second thing I learned was just because you are gay or transgender doesn’t necessarily mean you are part of the movement," Ortuño said. "I thought it was going to be easy: If you are gay or lesbian or transgender, you are going to support SAVE Dade, of course.
"I quickly realized I had my work cut out for me even in the community that was affected by the work. The movement is so diverse. The movement is realizing success at such a rapid pace, that level of diversity doesn't always speak to somebody just because they are LGBT.
"During the time of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' to tell the 60-year-old gay man or lesbian that being in the military was important. Or to tell the 15-year-old queer kid that marriage is important."
Ortuño named another challenge: Reminding well-to-do LGBT people in places like South Beach and Miami's Upper East Side that the movement is "also about the 13- or 14-year-old boy in Hialeah or Overtown who is being marginalized, without the power or the access."