Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Cuban artist to pay respects at St. Pete Pride to friend slain at Pulse

Edward Sotomayor made history by organizing the first U.S. gay cruise to Cuba in January, but skeptics feared he would be putting LGBT passengers in danger.

"People thought they would be harmed or imprisoned in Cuba," said Al Ferguson, owner of the Sarasota travel agency where Sotomayor worked. "It turned out to be the opposite."

From one port to another, people gay and straight welcomed the travelers warmly. Sotomayor bonded with an arts community in Cienfuegos and one of its members, Santiago Hermes.

Now, Hermes will pay his respects to his new friend by representing his community at a celebration of Sotomayor's life today in St. Petersburg. Sotomayor, a 34-year-old University of South Florida graduate, was among the 49 people slain in the June 12 mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse night club.

Hermes hit a snag in his plans to visit: He had a ticket to fly from Havana to Tampa on Friday but getting a visa so quickly proved a challenge at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It took intervention from the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, to make it happen Thursday.

"That he wanted to come honor Eddie says it all," Ferguson said.

The celebration is scheduled at 5 p.m. today at King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church, 3150 Fifth Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

Hermes is scheduled to speak and will participate afterward in a candlelight walk honoring Sotomayor during the St. Pete Pride parade, which begins at 5 p.m. and ends in a block party that runs until 11 p.m.

To Ferguson, the visit shows the value of the Cuba cruises Sotomayor championed and validates his friend's outlook on life.

"He knew that when you get out in the world to meet people, preconceived notions we have can be proven wrong. Cuba was said to be a place that wouldn't accept us. Hermes is married with children and bonded with Eddie in an amazing way."

Cuba used to imprison gays and lesbians. But homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979, gay bars are now found throughout major cities, and the national health care system provides free gender-reassignment surgeries.

Still, with the Communist government's history of persecution, Sotomayor and his cruise initiative were rebuffed at first by Ferguson's ALandCHUCK.travel, where Sotomayor worked as brand manager.

He suggested launching the first gay cruise to Cuba as a mix of educational tours and interaction with the island's LGBT community.

"He convinced us to do it," Ferguson said. "His commitment to bring the gay community to Cuba turned out to be the right thing. It was a great experience."

An eight-day, seven-night cruise once a month in January, February and April departed from Montego Bay, Jamaica, and sailed around Cuba, stopping at ports in Havana, Santiago, Maria la Gorda and Cienfuegos.

Havana's Pride organization hosted a celebration for each cruise, Ferguson said, with dinner, drinks and a drag show at a downtown gay bar.

But Ferguson considers the highlight of the three cruises to be the meeting in April between Sotomayor and Hermes, whose talents include painting, etching and performance art.

Hermes runs a cultural community in Cienfeugos that hosts art events of all kinds, including gallery shows and live performances. It was part of the cruise's people-to-people tour meant to teach Americans about Cuban culture.

When the tour moved to the next stop, Sotomayor — affectionately known as "Top Hat Eddie" because of his penchant for the headwear — stayed behind. He bonded quickly with Hermes and the other artists.

"He was there all day," Ferguson said. "Hermes and Eddie probably talked 30 times on Facebook since April. People from two different worlds met and there was an instant spark."

That ability to connect to individuals of all backgrounds is what made Sotomayor special, friend Manny Alvarez of Tampa said.

"He was charismatic and dynamic. He was a bridge builder. That's why Al brought him into the travel company and what he did in Cuba proves that. He was the perfect person to lead that."

The success of the cruises inspired Sotomayor to plan another series, on a grander scale.

In December 2017, the cruise will sail again from Montego Bay to Havana, where stars of the popular reality TV show RuPaul's Drag Race will hold a free performance.

Sotomayor planned to announce the cruise on Monday, June 13, the day after a gunman opened fire at the gay nightclub in the worst mass shooting in modern history.

The cruise will still sail, Ferguson said.

"No matter our differences, we can all be friends. That was the purpose of the cruise and the lesson Eddie always proved."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Comments
Pregnant mother Paige Howard wins women’s Gasparilla 15K

Pregnant mother Paige Howard wins women’s Gasparilla 15K

TAMPA — Initially, Tampa's Paige Howard was a little reticent about joining the pre-dawn throng at the starting line of Saturday's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.On a morning when temperatures began in the mid-60s and climbed, Howard's ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trump processes Fla. students’ grief as president, parent

Trump processes Fla. students’ grief as president, parent

WASHINGTON — Once again, it was the images of children that propelled President Donald Trump to act. Trump spent the first days after the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida fixated on the grieving and anguished students and parents. While at his Flor...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal."He was telling me that the two guys in...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Live blog: 2018 Gasparilla Distance Classic

Live blog: 2018 Gasparilla Distance Classic

The Tampa Bay Times will be there for every step of this year's Gasparilla Distance Classic. Whether you'll be walking, skipping, jogging or sprinting across the 5K, 8K, 15K or half-marathon finish, join us by using #gasparillarun.(function(d, s, id)...
Published: 02/24/18
The real Jefferson Memorial has a statue, but this one has a jukebox

The real Jefferson Memorial has a statue, but this one has a jukebox

The building was in its infancy when a vintage Cadillac Eldorado rumbled up the construction path. Getting out, the driver demanded to know what the finished structure was intended for.Told that it would be a private home, the driver scoffed. The uni...
Updated: 3 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 23

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 2, Crystal River 0BaseballCalvary Christian 9, Countryside 2Northeast 15, Tarpon Springs 1
Published: 02/23/18
Florida Capitol Republicans promise ‘complete investigation’ of what went wrong

Florida Capitol Republicans promise ‘complete investigation’ of what went wrong

TALLAHASSEE — A bombshell that South Florida police ignored tips that a teenager was planning an assault on a school and then failed to stop him when he attacked seems destined to complicate the election-year discussion around mass shootings.Even in ...
Published: 02/23/18
Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

WASHINGTON — A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, three people fami...
Published: 02/23/18
Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — Arthur D. Showley, 75, went fishing early Friday morning, something he did two or three times a week, friends said. When they saw his car and trailer still parked near a community boat ramp at 2 p.m., they thought that was strange."He never ...
Published: 02/23/18
Here are the GOP’s responses to the Parkland massacre. Would any have worked?

Here are the GOP’s responses to the Parkland massacre. Would any have worked?

Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leadership in the Florida Legislature have rolled out their ideas for change in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But would these measures have made a difference in the worst mass...
Published: 02/23/18