Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday 21 July, 1997

MIAMI-AREA POLICE: A SCARY HISTORY OF HOMOPHOBIA

Historians & Activists Say Metro Cop-Hunt Tainted by Extreme Prejudice
Bob Kunst Thunders: "Remember Gianni & Boycott Dade County!"

By Jack Nichols

 

"The Miami Beach police should have had a stake-out on suspect Cunanan's truck," suggested Randolfe Wicker, the pioneering gay activist who was first to go on TV and radio as such. Wicker told GayToday: "Cunanan had been spotted before in the South Florida area. It just shows that police didn't care about catching a gay serial killer until he'd murdered a prominent Miami-area celebrity."

Wicker's commentary is only one in a plethora of gay activist opinions critical of Miami area and FBI investigations into the murder of openly gay Gianni Versace, the world- famous fashion designer. Miami's police history as a gay-unfriendly resort is a decades-old story of woe.

In the introduction to Edward Alwood's definitive history of mainstream media's treatment of gay men and lesbians (Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media, Columbia University Press, 1996) an unnerving portrait of homophobic Miami area police behavior emerges. As early as 1953, news accounts in the equally homophobic Miami Herald (whose editorial department sanctioned the Supreme Court's 1986 invasion of privacy decision in Hardwick Vs. Bowers and, in 1977, the "Save Our Children" Crusade of Anita Bryant) described how police became agitated over a strip of beach at 22nd Street that was "a hangout for males with a feminine bent."

Alwood writes: "Predominantly displayed on the front page of the local news section, the Herald story of November 21, 1953, explained that the police chief had inspected the beach area personally and called for a police wagon to take twenty-one men to police headquarters for questioning. The Herald told its readers, "The chief said that he has been 'getting lots of complaints' that men with girlish looking hairdo's and flimsy, Bikini-type tights 'have been prancing around the 22nd Street public beach in droves.' The area, he explained, has been acquiring a reputation as a congregating place for males who try hard to look and act like women."

Miami newspapers, says the GLAAD-Award-winning media historian, became "a pipeline for propaganda" from the local police. "The journalists never asked why police felt compelled to herd law-abiding citizens off a public beach to let them know they were unwelcome. "We had no charges we could book them on," the chief told the Herald. "It's just a question of cleaning up a bad situation and letting undesirables know they're not wanted here."

Straight News also details how, in 1954, the murder/rape of a young girl was blamed by both police and the echoing Herald on the male gay community and a massive hunt for the girl's killer was conducted in a cluster of gay bars that the Miami Beach police called "Powder Puff Lane."

In the intervening years the Herald has conducted fierce smear campaigns against effective gay and AIDS activists, including Bob Kunst. A forthcoming history of the gay south (to be published in October by Westview-Harper-Collins under the title: From Lonely Hunters to Lonely Hearts: Generations, A Cultural and Oral History of Lesbian/Gay Southern Life--1948-1968) by the University of South Carolina's Dr. James T. Sears, tells how Florida, in the mid-60s, because of its anti-gay crusades, had found activists calling it "The Mississippi of the Homosexual".

In 1962, according to historic accounts in TWN (The Weekly News) a south Florida gay publication, gay men and lesbians felt, as they traveled from Miami to Miami Beach, that they were figuratively on their way from Russia to China with respect to gay human rights. Miami Beach police picked up gay citizens at random, placing them in custody for no other reason than that they were deemed "undesirables" a continued policy that had not changed in a decade. "There is a militaristic 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' consciousness among these police," says long-time Miami Beach activist Bob Kunst, "They're about the worst in the country."

In the mid-1960s a McCarthyist-type witch-hunt was conducted by the Florida State legislature under state senator Charlie Johns, whose vicious gay search vehicle was dubbed "The Johns Committee." Hundreds of gay academics were fired or driven from the state. A heterosexual reporter for the Orlando Sentinel , critical of the searches, was among the wrongly-smeared casualties of the Johns Committee entrapments, according to reports released in the early 1990's.

Jim Kepner's forthcoming book, Rough News, Daring Views (1950s Pioneer Gay Press Journalism) to be published by The Harrington Park Press in November, also portrays Miami and Miami Beach police as indefatigable homophobic crusaders, freely trampling on the rights of citizens with the full backing of the Herald and other Miami papers. In Kepner's 1956 (April-May) ONE magazine story, the revered gay journalist/archivist wrote: "The Herald also aggravates public passions by goading ambitious or foolish politicians to a full-scale pogrom."

"Miami area gays and lesbians," says George Ferencz, editor of South Florida's largest gay publication, Hotspots, "are still under the gun from Metro area officials and police." Ferencz referred to the recent 7-6 turn-down by the Metro Commissioners of equal protection under the law for those who bond with their own gender.

Bob Kunst, acting through his decades-old organization, The Oral Majority, says that the Miami Metro Commission's "license to discriminate led to the license to murder." Today, the famed and fiery Miami Beach activist, who has been interviewed in scores of newspapers and magazines, told GayToday he would hold a noon press conference at the murder site.

He intends to press forward with a gay and lesbian campaign to boycott Dade County, saying that Gianni Versace's memory can best be honored by a crusade to eliminate the second-class gay status with which hypocritical area officials, including the Roman Catholic Church, callously and thoughtlessly have tarnished the beloved fashion designer.

"Now, with the international spotlight on them, they turn right around after denying us equality and wax lyrical about Versace, a man whose life, as a member of a minority, was considered not worth granting any equal legal protections to by a majority of the area's bigoted politicians."

Kunst believes that to take the heat off themselves, both police and Dade officials are once again planning and organizing a hate campaign on all levels against the gay and lesbian community. This may include such shenanigans, he implies, as the planting of misleading stories in the media.

Kunst was particularly incensed as he watched Miami's Mayor Penelas falsely claim, on Larry King Live, that his administration had carefully notified the gay community. Indeed, foiled federal promises had been made that would alert three South Florida gay publications about Cunanan's whereabouts, including the Ft. Lauderdale-based Hotspots. Each of these publications now say that the promised calls from lawmen never materialized.

This time, however, Kunst has a measured, perhaps even a temporary sort of praise for the Miami Herald that has long mistreated him. He says he is grateful for the newspaper's expose of police incompetence. GLAAD has also praised the Herald for courteous mention of Versace's long-time comrade, Antonio D'Amico.

"Miami Beach Police have marched in the last two gay and lesbian pride parades too," he said, balancing his criticisms with appreciation.

Kunst will announce that his Oral Majority is taking the lead to see that a national "800" number, a hot-line and rumor line, are established to assist in capturing the murderer.

Finally, says the veteran activist, "the (politicians and police) lies, distortions, misrepresentations, and bigotry all led to this disaster." He is also calling on Miami Beach to secede from Dade County.

"We will only support those politicians, police, businesses, who support gay, bisexual, and heterosexual rights for everyone," Kunst is announcing, "The rest we boycott and will call on the conscience of the world to join us."

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CORRECTION: Bob Kunst's quote in yesterday's news article should have read "Why wasn't" (instead of "why was") Cunnanan's stolen truck found June 10, long before Versace's murder?"

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