Fort Lauderdale Mayor vs. Gays
A rift between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Mayor Jim Naugle and the city's tourism officials reached a new peak a few days ago and the city's repuation as a top destination for gay travelers is at stake.
Tensions started last month when Naugle said that gay sex is rampant in public washrooms on the beach and that the city should spend a quarter-million dollars to clean up the problem. Citing the city's high rate of AIDS infections, he said the city should rethink its ad campaign promoting itself as a gay and lesbian destination. Last week during a news conference, flanked by religious leaders, Naugle said he thought gay sex is becoming a major health crisis for the city.
Gay activists and tourism officials in the city batted back. "Mr. Mayor, we're just asking you to please stop the rhetoric," Nicki Grossman, president of the Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Naugle in a public meeting of the city's Tourism Development Board last Thursday. Naugle has "demonized a significant portion of our residents and our visitors," Michael Albetta, president of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, said in a meeting of the Broward County commissioners in Lauderdale on Tuesday. During that meeting, the commissioners voted to oust Naugle from Lauderdale's tourism board.
Over the past few years, Grossman has spearheaded a campaign heralding the city as a haven for gay and lesbian travelers. Earlier this year Planetout, an online news and lifestyle magazine oriented toward gays, ranked Lauderdale among the top hottest gay resort areas in the U.S. In all, 800,000 gay and lesbian travelers visited last year, by Planetout's account.
"I never said we should not promote gay tourism," Naugle said at last week's meeting. "But we should do it tastefully and with the public health in mind."
But has this already hurt the city's appeal as a gay destination?At least one group has suspended plans for a meeting there, according to Grossman. Z, a San Francisco gay newspaper, has called for a boycott of Fort Lauderdale.
Should there be a boycott? Should the city change its campaign targeted at gay travelers? Or should this all be chalked up to local politics that doesn't much affect travelers?
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