PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Angelo Castillo, the Pembroke Pines commissioner and Broward Sheriff's Office employee, clearly believed the idea was funny.
After the Caitlyn Jenner announcement, Castillo wrote on Facebook that he had made the "difficult decision to remain a guy."
"Now, I know this defies all conventional wisdom trends and styles," Castillo wrote in his stab at humor. "Yet I've considered my decision carefully and just feel it will be better for all concerned...Staying a guy is not an easy choice to make but in reaching this difficult decision I hope all of you will understand."
Castillo, who ends each of his Facebook posts with the word "discuss," has a small band of Facebook followers who at times respond to him.
But gay activist Michael Rajner, who is not among Castillo's circle, felt the post was offensive and belittling of the very difficult struggle of people he knows who are transgender. He didn't find it funny, especially since he battled with Castillo, who once ran the Broward House AIDS treatment facility, over domestic partnership benefits in Pembroke Pines.
"Some said, 'it's just a joke, lighten up,'" Rajner said of the response when he re-posted Castillo's words. "And some were deeply offended."
While some of his Facebook friends said they were amused, Castillo heard it from others, including Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith, who wrote, "The best comics will tell you always punch up at the privileged. Punching someone being held down, that's not humor, that's meanness. Be better than this post."
Then when Natalie Albright called it a "cheap, petty shot at the least protected group within the LGBT community," Castillo dug himself deeper.
"We all get to choose, is the point being made," Castillo replied to Albright.
"Choose what?" she asked, followed quickly by, "You certainly don't mean sexual orientation or gender identity."
But it was Democratic operative Jack Shifrel's response that really got Castillo going when he wrote that Castillo's post was "inappropriate, particularly as it could easily be seen as hurtful to some."
Castillo responded: "I couldn't give a rat's ass what impression it has on you." Then he responded again with what a lot of people have been talking about.
"[I]n this country, I have a right to say what I wish in the manner that I choose for the purposes I select and in the way I think is right. Anybody that doesn't like me doing that they can go (expletive) themselves. Is that clear enough?" Castillo wrote.
That obscene suggestion coming from a public official did Castillo no good. In fact, it made it a news story – in the Advocate, the South Florida Gay News, the Sun-Sentinel and The New Times among other publications.
It wasn't just about Castillo offending people, it was now about a clear lack of good judgment and a commissioner's boorish public discourse.
Even Castillo's boss, Sheriff Scott Israel, who gave Castillo a six-figure job at BSO after Castillo worked hard to help him get elected, sounded off on him, telling the Sun-Sentinel he didn't find Castillo's post funny and didn't "condone" it.
Castillo is one of the sheriff's numerous politically motivated hires and he's since been moved around the agency in a game of bureaucratic shuffleboard. Israel initially hired Castillo as "assistant executive director" of BSO, then shifted him to finance director, at a salary of $150,000. He was then demoted last year to something called "director of planning and research" with a pay cut of nearly $30,000. Israel also hired Castillo's wife Lisa, a former political operative, as his chief of staff.
Still, I've heard many say the whole controversy is a case of PC police run amok. Was what Castillo wrote so bad? For Arianna Lint, a transgender woman, yes it was.
Lint, who works at the social services agency SunServe, is a refugee from Peru where she said the discrimination against the LGBT community is unbearable. She said she fled the country after she was raped by a police officer. Once here, Lint faced discrimination in a previous workplace where she said she eventually won an EOC case.
You might understand that when people who know nothing about her lifelong struggle joke about it in the manner that Castillo did, it hits a sore spot. But she said she wasn't bothered that much by the post, though it told her a lot about Castillo.
"He is an ignorant person on transgender issues," Lint said. "He don't know how to treat the transgender community. He has to have a better education."
Bishop S.F. Makalani-Mahee, who is a transgender man, pointed out that people who are transgender are often hurt and even killed for who they are. He pointed out the "decision" Castillo flippantly spoke of is one that torments those who are transgender.
"The choice very simply becomes either living your authentic truth, and you're caught between that, and the other choice to make which is to live in complete depression, lies, deception, all of which take its toll on the psyche and become unbearable," he said. "While you feel like you are trapped in a body that you totally come to feel imprisoned in and do not feel connected to."
Makalani-Mahee said many of those who have are struggling or have struggled with that wrenching reality understandably take offense at Castillo's post, and because Castillo is a public official, also feel the need to call him out on it. He said the fact that Castillo dug in his heels and made that obscene suggestion to critics indicates that Castillo doesn't want a real discussion about the issue.
"He can either participate in the conversation or bury his head in the sand," said Makalani-Mahee. "But we're still having the conversation."
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