La Cosa Nuestra

The war on sexual orientation reveals the organization and structure of the Take Back Miami-Dade political family

9. Rev. Richard Bennett, Jr., soldier. The 45-year-old AACCC executive director earned stripes for his tireless leafleting during the Vote Yes campaign and for fearlessly challenging old-guard black leaders such as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s top associates. The flyers, distributed at churches in Miami-Dade's black community, included one of Bennett's own eloquent quotes: "To compare the sexual preference amendment to the civil rights movement is embarrassing. It's nothing but a smokescreen. Our forefathers fought for us to ride the bus, be able to go to restaurants. The civil rights movement has nothing to do with homosexuality." The flyer also quoted Shuttlesworth saying, "It is wrong to equate homosexuality with civil rights." Shuttlesworth, when he learned Take Back had used his name for the repeal campaign, issued this statement: "Discrimination against any group of people is morally wrong. Racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia are all unacceptable forms of hatred, and as a minister I cannot subscribe to any form of hatred. I believe in the equality of all God's people."

10. Jorge Rodriguez, associate, owner of La Poderosa (The Powerful One). Rodriguez plays a crucial role by enabling the Take Back family to amplify its anti-homosexualist message and appear more popular than perhaps it really is. The full extent of the financial relationship between the station and the family is unknown. A week before the vote, Rodriguez announced a new late-night call-in show called Inquietudes (Apprehensions) whose mission was to foment "objective" debates and help "orient" listeners on important issues. A female caller said that soon in Miami we'll have nude marches by gays à la San Francisco. Host Miguel Melanio objectively offered his thoughts about homosexuality: "For me it is an atheism. Because if you don't respect la cosa divina, the law of God, then you don't respect anything."

11. Tomas "Tomasito" Regalado, capo. The independent-minded District 4 Miami commissioner isn't afraid to offer his frank opinion of the Underboss. "He's crazy," the 55-year-old Regalado told the press recently after Armesto complained that Channel 51 anchor Ambrosio Hernandez called him a marica (fag) during a tense interview several weeks before the election. But when it comes to public proclamations Regalado remains loyal to the Take Back creed: Anti-homosexual discrimination doesn't exist. As election day approached, two ladies from the Commission on the Status of Women asked the commissioners to pass a resolution supporting the current anti-discrimination law. Regalado did not understand. "Are you saying that we discriminate in the City of Miami? We are an equal-opportunity city. So what is the problem?" he asked the women, then said he could not support them. "I will be taking a lot of heat for this," he added. "And I'm willing to take the heat. Like Truman."

12. Raquel Regalado, capa. As host of the La Poderosa talk show Lo Que Otros No Dicen (What Others Don't Say), the commissioner's wife provides astute political analysis of, and moral support for, the family's struggle. On air the day after the election, Mrs. Regalado, age 65, said she believed the precinct problems were a stratagem by the elections department to prevent elderly Cuban Americans, who traditionally vote Republican and conservative, from casting ballots. "I think this is a maneuver to thwart the old people who go out to vote," she said, "and a way to end Cuban-American electoral power." Verdugo, who was on-air by phone, replied, "No doubt about it."

13. Rick Sanchez, associate. The former WSVN-TV (Channel 7) newscaster is now a New York City-based MSNBC anchor and host of a radio talk show that airs in South Florida on WQBA-AM (1140) and in NYC. In a show a week before the election, Sanchez invited Rosa Armesto to explain how it came to pass that Verdugo was arrested for opposing the "homosexual agenda." But before she did, Sanchez ventured: "It would be almost impossible to acquire 500 signatures for any cause without finding a few signatures that a person signed twice, or another individual faked his telephone number, or didn't put his last name correctly." Sanchez found it "a little strange" that authorities targeted a man with Verdugo's way of thinking, adding: "It seems to me that it was done for political reasons."

14. Janet Folger, soldier. At a Take Back news conference at San Juan Bosco Catholic Church in Little Havana four days before the vote, Folger declined to reveal her last name to some reporters. But the 39-year-old Fort Lauderdale activist dexterously spun the ballot item into a referendum on Boy Scout policies and the First Amendment: "Think about it. We're in a Catholic church right now. And I would wager a guess that most of the news agencies that you represent went after the Catholic Church. What was the offense? They claimed the Catholic Church did not do enough. And while blaming the Catholic Church for doing nothing to protect young boys from homosexual assault, the same people are blaming the Boy Scouts for doing something to protect young boys from homosexual assault. And what we're looking at here is the freedom to disagree, the right to petition your government, the right to believe what you see fit." Boy Scouts of America executive Jeffrie Herrmann has seen fit to warn that "attempts by anyone to use the Boy Scouts' name and cause to fuel their agenda are not in the best interest of our community."

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