Broward Commission blasts Lauderdale mayor's gay comments

Broward County commissioners sought Tuesday to stem the impact Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle's spate of inflammatory comments about homosexuality could have on the area's $1 billion-a-year gay tourism business.

Using words such as bigoted and despicable, commissioners united in chastising Naugle, then signed letters that will be sent to gay news Web sites and convention planners reaffirming their commitment to diversity. The symbolic reproach individually by the nine commissioners, though, stops shy of them formally voting to censure him, which is what some gay political activists want.

The county's tourism czar, Nicki Grossman, said Tuesday's actions were vital in light of the growing national tumult over Naugle's views. She and other tourism executives had hoped the area's long-standing reputation as a gay-friendly destination would avert any negative effect.

"It gets as pretty close to a censure as you can get under the circumstances," County Mayor Josephus Eggelletion said. "Mayor Naugle's comments were his comments and did not represent the county or the Convention & Visitors Bureau or, I believe, the sentiment of more than the majority of the citizens of Broward."

In the past month, Naugle has charged the city has a problem with gay sex in public restrooms, said gays are unhappy and contended a gay library collection should not be housed in a public building. He also questioned whether the county should market to gay tourists because of the high rate of HIV infections in the area.

Naugle said Tuesday afternoon that he was unaware of the county commissioners' comments, but he said their feelings would have no influence on him. The county has no authority to discipline or remove a city mayor.

"I have only spoken the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts but it needs to be said," Naugle said.

An estimated 950,000 gays visited Broward last year and spent $1 billion, according to the visitors bureau. That makes it a major part of the area's tourism-based economy, considering 10.4 million people overall visited the area and spent $8.8 billion.

The letter that commissioners are sending cites the county's domestic partnership law, the more than 100 gay-owned businesses in the area and a decade-long marketing campaign to encourage gay tourism.

It is signed by Grossman, all nine commissioners and Scott Newton, the mayor of Wilton Manors. Wilton Manors is key because it's the center of the area's gay community and a majority of the City Commission there is gay.

"Greater Fort Lauderdale is a warmly welcoming destination that is safe, unbiased and gay friendly," the letter states. "We stand united and proud that our destination has long been enjoyed by gay visitors and supported by the local gay community."

The County Commission was on its summer recess when Naugle's comments first made headlines last month. Three commissioners — Ken Keechl, Stacy Ritter and Diana Wasserman-Rubin — joined more than 800 people at a protest rally.

Michael Albetta, a leader of the Naugle protest, questioned whether the county's actions Tuesday went far enough to prevent a decline in gay tourism. He said a formal censure would have been better.

"When they see the economic impact it will have, they will wish they had gone further," Albetta said.

Scott Wyman can be reached at swyman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4511.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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