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Critics: Mayor's remarks hurt tourism
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 5, 2007
FORT LAUDERDALE - Tourism officials have worked for years to make this beach city a gay-friendly destination. Now their biggest obstacle could be the mayor.
Mayor Jim Naugle has made a string of recent comments that critics have called blatantly homophobic.
He portrayed city park restrooms as popular gay sex spots, opposed a plan to house a gay book collection in a public library and insists on using the word "homosexual" because, he says, many of them "aren't gay; they are unhappy." He also said tourism officials should put less emphasis on attracting gays, and he objected to tourism brochures showing men together in bed.
His stand has prompted protests, demands that the six-term mayor resign, and his removal last week from the area's Tourism Development Council.
"We've got a message that says we're a warm, welcoming, safe destination, and his message is virtually the opposite," said Nicki Grossman, head of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau."
Naugle, 53, insists that he is not a homophobe and that he is aware of the many contributions gays have made here. He says he is simply trying to combat illegal and unsafe activity.
Gays are vital to this city's tourism industry, pitting Fort Lauderdale against other vacation spots such as Miami and Key West. Last year, officials say, about 980,000 of the area's 10.4-million visitors were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, and they spent $1.1-billion of the roughly $8.5-billion generated by tourists.
Tourism officials say Naugle's remarks about gays and his depiction of the city as one swept by perverts have done major harm, dissuading not only gays but also families from visiting.
But Naugle said he has received 7,000 e-mails related to his comments and says a majority expressed support for him.
"If I have a fault, it's at times I'm blunt. I'm plainspoken," he said.