Popular and charismatic, Dean Trantalis has served his growing district for more than 20 years. With care and thought he offers insight on how far society has come and what it takes to foster a community that is vibrant, diverse and welcoming.
Q: What has changed the most between now and when you first began working in this district?
A: In the early 90s when I first began my activism in the gay rights movement, we realized that we had an enormous challenge ahead of us in trying to educate mainstream society to understand what it meant to be a gay person. It was a slow progression. In 1990 Broward county had a referendum in which it was trying to add sexual orientation to the equal rights ordinance, and it lost. But we got at least 40 percent of the vote, showing us that we had at least 40 percent of the people on our side — despite a bristling and gruesome campaign put on by the religious right at that time to demonize the gay community. It gave us further resolve.
We now have the most expansive equal rights ordinance protecting people within the LGBT community in the state of Florida.
Q: What are your concerns for the state of the LGBT rights movement?
A: We radicalize our issues instead of trying to mainstream them. And if you don’t mainstream them then you’re always going to lose. Look at what’s happening now with regard to marriage equality. Yes, we’ve gotten 36 states plus the District of Columbia, but the pushback is tremendous. You’ve got to educate America before they’re going to accept marriage equality, and one way to educate America is to teach them what it means to have equality. Let’s talk about job equality. Let’s talk about housing equality. Let’s talk about basic human rights that people don’t attach a religious association to.
Q: After years in public office, what do you still have to offer your constituents?
A: I believe in my city. I want to see it prosper, and I want to see it evolve in a way that I think will lay the proper groundwork for future generations. That isn’t just about new buildings and roads. It’s about the social fabric of our community and how we integrate into that community. So I feel that being an openly gay city commissioner in Fort Lauderdale is all part of creating that social fabric.
Q: If a family were thinking of moving to Florida, why should they move here?
A: I think a family — regardless of the make up of that family — would find a home here in Fort Lauderdale. And when I say a “home,” I mean a community that embraces diversity, a community that seeks out people from all walks of life at all income levels.•