When LGBTQ activist and South Florida Gay News founder Norm Kent succumbed to pancreatic cancer in April, his team knew they wanted to keep his legacy — and the newspaper — alive.
But the outlet's $800,000 debt load forced them to pivot, according to sales manager Justin Wyse and editor Jason Parsley.
"It was that voice that was totally missing from our community," Wyse tells New Times. "The only reason we’re changing is literally just because of the corporate debt."
Wyse and Parsley published their last issue on May 25 and decided to shut down South Florida Gay News (SFGN). One week later, they launched a new weekly print and online publication called Out South Florida, on newsstands from Palm Beach to Key West.
"There are so many stories out there that need to be covered, and this year, this legislative session especially, it’s just been an onslaught, one after the other," Parsley says, pointing to a record number of bills targeting LGBTQ people in Florida, including the "Don’t Say Gay" expansion bill and legislation restricting use of state funds for trans healthcare.
For more than a decade, SFGN was the main local news source for all things LGBTQ, from politics and crime, to health and entertainment. Many stories were often too "niche" to find in other newspapers, Wyse says.
"Unfortunately, while we have great partnerships with the [Miami] Herald, the Tribunes, and the Sun Sentinel, those publications don’t tend to cover our stuff, or they will I guess if you put yourself front and center for someone to cover it… because they're not necessarily an LGBT publication," Wyse says.
Before SFGN, Kent founded another local LGBTQ news outlet in 1999, Express Gay News. Four years later, he sold it to news conglomerate Window Media, which eventually went out of business.
Parsley says he had a "very loving, very antagonistic relationship" with Kent, who "was not going to be happy" if he was not in charge.
"We would definitely butt heads, go out and fight over journalism all the time, and it was great," Parsley tells New Times.
The dynamic was part of why SFGN "ran beautifully for many years," Wyse adds.
While SFGN was a voice for queer rights since 2010, it did not shy away from calling out political or social hiccups, even if that meant holding members of the LGBTQ community accountable. It’s something Parsley admired about Kent.
"He understood that sometimes we might have to cover bad stories about the people that support us, our allies," Parsley says.
For instance, Tony Lima, former executive director of one of South Florida’s most prominent LGBTQ advocacy groups, SAVE LGBT, was ousted from his position in 2019 after his actions in response to a hate crime that injured two gay men at Miami Beach Pride the year prior.
Lima invited the four attackers to SAVE’s Champions of Equality Gala and claimed the men were "wrongfully accused" of the crime. However, the state attorney and video footage suggested otherwise, according to the SFGN article, "SAVE Gala Stunner: Accused Gay Bashers Celebrated."
Orlando Gonzales replaced Lima a few months later as executive director of SAVE. While he didn’t comment on the incident itself, he commended SFGN’s ability to tell uncompromising stories.
"I think the newspaper had the responsibility to report back inconsistencies or public concerns… that’s what we depend on them for," Gonzales says. "It’s about the ability to hold our community, elected leaders, and public leaders to high standards."
While running the weekly print and daily online outlet, Kent was also an attorney. Among other clients, he represented Michael Verdugo, a former Hollywood police officer who said he was fired in 2009 on the basis of his sexual orientation.
Police officials claimed Verdugo was fired because he had not disclosed that he acted in a 15-minute gay porn scene three years before he became an officer.
"If it was a straight guy that did porn, they wouldn’t have called it that," Verdugo tells New Times. "Just having Norm as an attorney was a big deal. He called it like it was."
At one point, Kent’s writers wrote an unfavorable scoop on him, and to keep true to transparency, he still allowed them to publish it, Parsley recalls.
While serving as president of Pride Fort Lauderdale, Kent directed a staff member to ask a shirtless woman to "cover up" her pasties, Parsley says.
"This person accused the organization of sexism and… [Kent] didn’t particularly care for the story. He thought we were being sensational, but he let us run it and cover it as we wanted," Parsley says.
Gonzales says he hopes Out South Florida will stay true to SFGN’s legacy of transparency and accountability.
"By them being present at our community events, they’re able to capture the truth, capture what is happening, and do the type of reporting that is necessary," Gonzales says. "We all need a place where our community can share its news and information."
After SFGN's last issue ran in May, its articles were removed from the internet and replaced with the Out South Florida website.