From Porn to Politics, Juan Melecio Mounts a Longshot Campaign in Wilton Manors

Juan Melecio is a gay porn star campaigning on the idea that one of the nation's gayest cities is, well, "too gay."
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
Juan Melecio is a gay porn star campaigning on the idea that one of the nation's gayest cities is, well, "too gay."

The candidate raises a wine glass to his lips and looks into the camera.

He extends a finger for each passing second of his sip: one... two... three... four... five, followed by an emphatic "Ahhhhhhhhh!"

It's late July, and Juan Melecio, a 42-year-old former salon owner who lives in Wilton Manors with his husband, is addressing Instagram followers on his campaign page, swirling ruby-red sangria in his glass as he speaks. His demeanor in these candid, unedited segments tends to fall somewhere between indignant and frustrated, or jovial and excitable. Today, he's indignant and frustrated.

"I'm running for commissioner, not for president and not to be the fucking pope, OK?" Melecio tells viewers. The semi-regular video updates by his longshot campaign more often than not devolve into dressing down "angry queens" and "haters" he disagrees with in social media comments.

In a few days, voters in Wilton Manors — the city with the second-highest percentage of same-sex couples in the U.S. — will decide whether Melecio fills one of two open city commission seats.

Melecio doesn't care that voters may think drinking on camera (or during virtual candidate forums) is unbecoming of a prospective city commissioner, or that they may take issue with his short fuse and his reluctance to atone for racist remarks he allegedly made in the past.

And he certainly doesn't care whether any of his would-be constituents count themselves among his 25,000 subscribers on PornHub, where his videos have amassed more than 44 million views. Today, under the name Antonio Biaggi, he consistently ranks among the top 25 most-watched gay performers on the adult content aggregation site.

"I don't know why people would feel uncomfortable if I'm dressed up at a podium, doing laws and regulations," Melecio says. "I'm not having sex up there, for god sake. Like, I'm not having sex all day long."

His candidacy itself is something of a walking contradiction: a gay porn star campaigning on the idea that one of the nation's gayest cities is, well, "too gay."

Though he's a self-described liberal and regularly lambasts the current administration on his social media, there exists an almost Trumpian essence to Melecio's public persona.

Bombastic, unapologetic, and regularly touting his status as a political outsider, Melecio sees himself as the fix for a local governing body hobbled by bureaucracy and an old-guard mentality.

"They all look professional with the suits. They have a better vocabulary than mine. But it's the same shit as always," he says of the other candidates. "And people are tired of that."

click to enlarge Melecio doesn't care that voters may think drinking on camera is unbecoming of a prospective city commissioner. - SCREENSHOT VIA JUAN MELECIO
Melecio doesn't care that voters may think drinking on camera is unbecoming of a prospective city commissioner.
Screenshot via Juan Melecio

On a particularly hot October afternoon at his home just outside of downtown Wilton Manors, Melecio is seated on a cushioned wicker bench in the backyard, beads of sweat beginning to show through his polo shirt.

Maybe he'd be more comfortable, a reporter suggests, if he moved out of the sunlight.

"I can take the heat," he says, the sun beating down on his face.

It's about a month out from the election — the home stretch, the final blitz — and Melecio says his campaign has all but concluded, except for maybe dishing out some more yard signs. But he's definitely done accepting campaign contributions, he says. People aren't exactly throwing money at his campaign to begin with, but at this point, he's tired of having to write up the treasury reports candidates are expected to file with the clerk's office.

"I really don't want to deal with accounting," Melecio bemoans. "Whatever you haven't done at this point, there's nothing else you can do.... People have made up their minds. They know who they're going to vote for."

By now, he hopes his message to voters is clear — and if not, that's on them.

"If you're tired of the fucking liars, you vote for me," he says, throwing his head back, breaking into a fit of wild laughter.

When the allegations came to light, Melecio was criticized and accused of stoking bigotry amid a national reckoning on racial injustice.

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Melecio has called South Florida home for the past decade. After spending most of his 20s in his native Puerto Rico working in marketing for cruise lines, in 2008 he set out for San Francisco, where he ran a boutique. But it wasn't long before Melecio began to crave an escape from the monotony of his work routine.

Bearing in mind his conservative Catholic upbringing, pivoting to a career in porn was the farthest he could think to venture outside his comfort zone, which at once terrified and electrified him. With no experience to speak of, Melecio first approached a studio in 2008 and was turned down. That same studio, however, referred him to another, Raging Stallion, where he signed a contract that he says earned him $2,800 per scene, with an obligation to shoot at least 12 scenes a year.

"It was very uncomfortable for me just to be in front of a camera for the first time," he remarked during a candidate forum in July with Wilton Community News. "It was a, you know — it was a process of getting used to it."

"But," he told the moderator, "this changed my life."

Antonio Biaggi, a combination of his middle name and the last name of his now-ex-boyfriend, was born. A quick ascent in the industry followed suit.

Since then, he's appeared in hundreds of porn shoots, worked as an Andrew Christian underwear model, and even briefly broke into the mainstream when he appeared in a Cher music video, 2013's "Take It Like a Man (7th Heaven remix)."

After his contract with the studio was up in 2009, Melecio formed his own company, Biaggi Productions, where he continues to perform and produce porn, as well as a traveling one-man comedy show, "Naughty and Nuts."

Melecio's primary source of income remains his work on porn sets, and he does not anticipate that changing, even if he wins his bid for the city commission. What his would-be constituents need to realize, he says, is that it's not Antonio Biaggi who will have a seat in city hall.

"It's a regular business," he tells New Times. "[Porn actors] get paid to entertain you, to do your fantasy, and other than that, other than the two, three hours they do filming, the rest of the time they have a regular life like everybody else."

It's not that Melecio doesn't think he would be spared the stigma that would come along with a sex worker being elected to public office. It's just that he's not bothered by it.

"People are very hypocritical," he says. "The porn industry is one of the biggest industries in the world for a reason."

When he left California for good about a decade ago and settled in the Fort Lauderdale area, he crashed with a friend until he found a place of his own. A man living across the street, David Levinson, caught his eye. Levinson, too, was struck by Melecio's charismatic personality and confident demeanor.

Six months later, the two reconnected during a night out at Manor, a popular Wilton Manors gay nightclub.

Later, on their official first date, the men discovered they were both dating the same personal trainer. Soon after, the two called it quits with the trainer to be with each other. Melecio and Levinson have been married now for four years.

"He is kind of like the fire, the energy, and the fuel," says Levinson, 41. "And he has so much passion.... That's the one, the biggest constant."

Like Melecio himself, Levinson has become a master at compartmentalizing his husband's on- and off-screen identities. To Levinson, Antonio Biaggi is an actor, a two-dimensional personality. Juan "John" Melecio is his husband, his home.

"John, as I know him, is a complex person," Levinson says. "I think Antonio is a one-sided character, and I think John is a human being who really feels... who puts everything in for his community, for his family, who, you know, sometimes has doubts, fears, questions. That is trying to understand this world just like the rest of us are."

The name on the ballot in November is Juan Melecio. But the candidate says Antonio Biaggi isn't going anywhere.

click to enlarge Juan Melecio and David Levinson have been married now for four years. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JUAN MELECIO
Juan Melecio and David Levinson have been married now for four years.
Photo courtesy of Juan Melecio

A queer mecca in its own right, the small city of Wilton Manors, with just over 12,000 people, has one of the greatest populations per capita of LGBTQ residents in the U.S., second only to Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 2018, it became the second city in the country to elect an entirely LGBTQ governing body, a city commission comprising an openly gay mayor and two gay commissioners.

About 14 percent of Wilton Manors' population identifies as queer. It's virtually impossible to walk even a couple of blocks without encountering a pride flag displayed outside a downtown residence or flying high on lampposts above the city's main drag, Wilton Drive.

Ensuring the city maintains its appeal to tourists as an LGBTQ destination is also imperative for the city's bottom line. The annual Stonewall Parade and Street Festival, for starters, draws tens of thousands of visitors each year, bringing in more than $2 million yearly to the local economy.

Melecio's platform centers primarily on diversifying Wilton Manors' tourism attractions and downtown businesses. He's mused publicly and in interviews about the perceived lack of daytime tourist offerings. Melecio contends the Drive lacks businesses that appeal primarily to women — unless you count "the grilled cheese shop attracting straight girls" after nights out at the nearby bars.

More than 100 businesses line Wilton Drive, the commercial heart of the city. The majority are restaurants and bars, easily the lifeblood of the local economy. A downtown whose primary draw extends beyond dining and drinking, Melecio says, would do more to attract a more diverse clientele.

Time and again, in candidate forums and interviews, Melecio has offered up a frank indictment of the city: It's "too gay."

Time and again, in candidate forums and interviews, Melecio has offered up a frank indictment of the city: It's "too gay."

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Melecio isn't the first person in Wilton Manors to suggest that straight people, who make up the majority of the city's population, are somehow disenfranchised. In fact, the sentiment is a familiar one.

In 2017, when the city was profiled in U.S. News and World Report, one resident, who implied she was straight, told the reporter she didn't feel represented by local leaders.

"They say we're the majority, but we don't feel like we're getting government's attention," she said. "We don't understand why there are so many resolutions against hate, or this or that. Why don't we do something constructive about traffic or parking and not have so much grandstanding?"

Melecio might just be the first openly gay person running for public office in Wilton Manors to say the same.

"Everything is too concentrated on the gay community," he says. "Meanwhile, this is a city that 60 percent of the population is straight." (Actually, it's closer to 85 percent, according to the most recent Census data.)

When pressed about why an openly gay man running for public office in a city sometimes referred to as "Gayberry" wants to make it more palatable for people who aren't sexual or gender minorities, Melecio embraces the paradox.

"I'm happy to be living here, that I can walk with my husband holding hands to the restaurant, and nobody's going to bother me," he says. "But at the same time, I don't want the straight people to feel uncomfortable in their own town that they cannot even go to Wilton Drive because everything is too gay."

Melecio's campaign operation isn't much of an operation at all, which he says is by design. The campaign comprises just one person, and that's Melecio himself. No staff, no volunteers — just him.

A registered Democrat in Broward County since 2012, Melecio has a consistent voting record and has cast a ballot in each election for which he's been eligible to participate, county records show. Melecio announced his candidacy for the Wilton Manors city commission last fall and officially qualified to appear on the ballot this spring.

A longshot candidate by any standard, he appears to have received no official endorsements, and campaign finance reports show he's brought in a meager $3,180, the second-lowest total of the six candidates. By comparison, the top two candidates have already brought in $34,551 and $17,127.

In May, Melecio raised eyebrows when he launched a GoFundMe page to kickstart his campaign. The crowdsourcing effort, which brought in $2,560, appears to be the vehicle for the vast majority of his donations. He also had to return hundreds of dollars in anonymous donations, since state campaign law requires the name and address of a person or entity making a campaign contribution.

click to enlarge Melecio has offered up a frank indictment of Wilton Manors: It's "too gay." - PHOTO BY CITY OF WILTON MANORS
Melecio has offered up a frank indictment of Wilton Manors: It's "too gay."
Photo by City of Wilton Manors

Back at Melecio's home, the candidate searches for the right words.

"Drama always follows me," he says with a drawn-out and wild laugh, his head tilted back. "I try to be relaxed. I like to have a calm, normal life, but it doesn't seem to happen."

He mostly attributes the dramatics to the actions of others.

"The drama, the crazies — they always come to me," he says.

But the most recent spate of "drama" in his life is something he still hasn't fully answered for. In 2017, Melecio settled a civil suit with a Black police officer in Virginia who accused him of using racial slurs and claiming in social media posts that the cop threatened his life.

It started with a text message.

In December 2014, the officer, Centell McNeil, texted a number he thought belonged to a relative and said he needed help troubleshooting a problem with a newly purchased firearm, according to a legal complaint filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.

When the person McNeil was texting did not respond, he made a FaceTime video call. When the officer, brandishing his firearm, saw Melecio's face on the screen, he realized his mistake and apologized.

Melecio did not speak, but the complaint says McNeil observed him training a video camera toward the phone screen on his end of the call.

Sometime after McNeil ended the FaceTime call, he followed up with a text message: "Dude y didn't u tell me [I] had the wrong number the whole time I thought u [were] my cousin who I was trying to reach for weeks lol."

Still getting no response, McNeil called the number to repeat his apology and explain that he was a cop, seemingly to assuage any anxiety over the firearm.

"Let me suck your d—-," Melecio responded, according to the complaint.

From the court documents, it's not clear whether McNeil replied. At that point, Melecio informed the officer that he had shared photos on social media of McNeil holding the gun.

McNeil alleges in the complaint that Melecio called him several times throughout the day with a blocked phone number. After McNeil told Melecio that he would be filing a police report if the harassment continued, emails from an account he didn't recognize started pouring in.

"GO PICK COTTON YOU N——-," one of the messages read. "LMFAO."

"Don't know who this is but this email will be saved for law enforcement purposes thanks," McNeil wrote back.

Both McNeil and Melecio claimed to be unfamiliar with the email address in question. Melecio denies sending the message entirely.

Shortly after the phone call, Melecio told McNeil that he was going to file a police report, too. Melecio claimed he felt threatened by McNeil's weapon. Melecio never actually filed charges against McNeil, according to the court complaint, but the officer did temporarily lose his job as a result of the allegations.

The judge didn't seem to buy most of the complaint considering all but one of the counts — the cop alleging that Melecio had defamed his professional reputation — were dismissed, court filings show.

McNeil declined to comment for this story through a personal spokesperson, citing terms of the settlement agreement. Melecio says he ultimately paid McNeil $10,000 as part of the settlement.

The existence of the civil suit was first reported in June by a (very NSFW) blog that covers the gay adult entertainment industry. When the allegations against Melecio came to light during his political campaign, he was widely criticized and accused of stoking bigotry amid a national reckoning on racial injustice.

When the allegations came to light, Melecio was criticized and accused of stoking bigotry amid a national reckoning on racial injustice.

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It wasn't the first time Melecio has been accused of racism: In 2017, he faced scorn after making fun of Beyoncé fans in a racist tweet.

"I'm so afraid of the beehive... keep twerking and Voguing... that will pay for your KFC," he wrote.

Melecio now says the tweet was taken out of context. During a forum with Wilton Community News this summer, the moderator asked why he invoked racist stereotypes when criticizing Beyoncé.

"Because she is a Black girl," he responded. "If I were talking about Jennifer Lopez, I would've said, 'There's tons of Puerto Rican girls that could sing way better,' which is true because Jennifer Lopez doesn't even know how to sing — she only knows how to do stupid little movies that you can see on Sunday."

Why, the moderator pressed, could the candidate not offer a full-throated apology?

Melecio offered half a shrug.

"Nowadays, people are offended by anything. Everything that I do, people love it, people hate it," he said. "I can't please everybody."

If Melecio wins one of the two commission seats up for grabs, he vows to dramatically transform the place he calls home.

And if he loses? That's the city's loss, he says.

Though Melecio is ambitious, claims to have progressive ideas for governing, and believes he is the solution for a community he perceives as jaded by its leadership, his political trajectory remains to be seen. He could run for another term on the commission. Maybe even mayor, he says. But that's entirely dependent on whether he claims victory November 3.

"If I don't win, I'm concentrating on myself," he says. "For me, it's like, I really do want to do this, but if they don't want me, I'm not going to force you. I'm not going to give the ideas to somebody else."