University of Central Florida

Carlos Guillermo Smith knows hate crimes are real

 

Chicago’s police chief is accusing”Empire” star Jussie Smollett of using the “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career” by paying two men to stage an attack on him last month.

The allegations concerning Smollett, who is black and gay, sparked an international avalanche of commentary, but one state representative who’s weighing in has more than a passing interest in the matter.

“I decided to finally tell this very deeply personal story because the reality is that hate crimes are real. Homophobia is real. Bigotry is real. And hate violence is on the rise against many groups. Anti-semitism is on the rise. Hate violence against transgender women of color is on the rise, especially in Florida,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday evening.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is openly gay, spoke with us after he tweeted about his experience as a survivor of “senseless hate violence” when he was a University of Central Florida senior in 2003.

In a telephone interview Thursday evening, Smith recounted the evening 16 years ago when a keg party turned into a gay-bashing attack on him and his roommate, Heath Frank.

The attacker, identified as “Eduardo Alessandro Mongio” in court documents provided by Smith, was “lingering around” and “acting kind of weird” at the crowded party, Smith said.

Other witnesses later said they heard Mongio making homophobic remarks, but “I never heard any of that,” Smith said.

But at some point a bloodied Frank came back inside the apartment, Smith recalled.

“He was red in the face. He was crying. I’m like, Heath, what’s wrong? He said, it’s nothing. Let’s go. Let’s go,” Smith said.

But when they went outside, Mongio confronted Smith and started punching him in the head and face.

“I didn’t know what was going on. But I got banged up pretty bad. When the dust settled, everyone was telling me about how the guy was making all these homophobic slurs about our group, because hey listen, we travel in cliques. We queer people, we stick together,” Smith said. “I don’t remember if the guy was drunk or what his deal was but he started lashing out at . It was like a full-fledged gay-bashing.”

Smith, who was still trying to piece together the events of more than a decade-and-a-half ago, said the police were called and Mongio was arrested. Once in the cop car, according to the police report, Mongio threatened to “get that fucker” and repeatedly referred to Smith and Frank as “faggots.”

“But I remember, the next day, I was so down on myself. I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. It’s hard to describe the feeling that you have when you’ve survived hate violence and you’re not sure what to do with it, especially when you’re young. I was like, what just happened,” he said.

Former state Rep. Joe Saunders, who was one of Florida’s first openly gay legislators and who was one of Smith’s close friends at college, told Smith the campus was “stunned” by the attack.

Saunders quickly penned “his first press release” and organized a rally where students — including Smith, who later worked with Saunders at Equality Florida — demanded that the university update its non-discrimination policy to include LGBT students.

Mongio was charged with two counts of “battery, evidencing prejudice,” and disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the hate-crimes enhancer — which could have added another five to 10 years to Mongio’s sentence — and the disorderly conduct charge after he agreed to plea no contest to the battery charges. He was sentenced to 312 days in the Orange County Jail followed by a year of probation.

And Mongio’s sentence also required sensitivity training, an anger management course, and a letter of apology to Smith, according to the court record.

Smith said he “felt compelled to speak out” as the controversy around Smollett exploded.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to become of the Jussie Smollett case. But I can already see there’s a narrative out there that hate crimes aren’t real. No. They are. And they’re on the rise. Especially with the election of Donald Trump, who wears hate for other groups on his sleeve,” he said.

Smith said he feels “like justice was served” in his case. But he knows that’s not every other survivor’s experience.

“Even though it hasn’t defined me as a person, it absolutely is part of my experience as an out gay man, as an activist, as a lawmaker who cares deeply about issues of fairness and equality,” he said. “I think that people who now know this about me, they understand why I’m such a passionate advocate for my community. It doesn’t define who I am but it’s part of my experience.”

Tagging every yard of UCF’s undefeated season

UCFplate-logo.pngA group of Florida lawmakers, including one pursing a specialty license plate for his own alma mater, want the state’s motor vehicle agency to be the latest to proclaim the University of Central Florida undefeated Knights as college football’s “national champion.”

State Reps. James Grant, R-Tampa, Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, are pushing a proposal (HB 1359) that would add “UCF National Champions” license plate to the more than 130 specialty tags already available from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“A UCF license plate is the perfect way to commemorate our undefeated Knights for achieving this historic milestone,” Guillermo Smith said in a press release.

Guillermo Smith, Latvala and Mariano are UCF alumni.

“We can argue statistics and strength of schedules, but you can’t argue a perfect, undefeated season,” Mariano said in the release. “We are the true College Football National Champions, and our season made a big statement to the CFP that their current system is not working. I am so proud to be an Alumna from the best University in the world! Go Knights and Charge on!”

The measure would also revamp the specialty license program, an annual exercise in the state Legislature, by capping the number of different designs available at one time to 125 and to boost the required number of pre-order plates from 1,000 to 3,000 for a new tag to be allowed on the road.

The proposal also would make an Auburn University license plate — along with tags for Florida Lineman, Florida State Beekeepers Association, Rotary, Beat Childhood Cancer, Florida Bay Forever and Bonefish and Tarpon Trust — available for pre-order.

Grant, who along with Tallahassee public-relations guru Kevin Cate, have been working to get Florida to offer the Auburn University plate.

“Nobody wanted Auburn to beat UCF more than me,” Grant, an Auburn University grad, said in the press release. “However, UCF beat the team who beat the team also claiming to be national champions — Alabama — a team with a long history of making up national championships.”

Cate’s CateComm and Sean Hartman of Orlando designed the pseudo national champion plate.

Gov. Rick Scott on Jan. 8 signed a proclamation declaring UCF national champions following their 34-27 victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

As with Scott’s proclamation, those pitching the Knights as national camps point to Auburn having defeated the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama topped Georgia to conclude the NCAA’s four-team playoff invitational.

UCF finished sixth in the Associated Press’s final poll of the season.

By Jim Turner.

UPDATED: Bob “Good Sport” Buckhorn pays off mayoral debt

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn paid off his bet with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in a very public display of humiliation, after the University of Central Florida bested the University of South Florida in a thrilling 49-42 gridiron victory last week.

Buckhorn wrapped himself in a UCF flag before it was hoisted  above Tampa’s Old City Hall Thursday morning. And he fulfilled his “War on I-4” challenge with a case of locally brewed Cigar City beer and a box of Arturo Fuente cigars.

“Mayor Buckhorn is a great sport! And he looks good in black and gold!” Dyer tweeted.

If USF had won, Dyer would have had to hoist the Bull’s flag over Orlando’s City Hall and gifted Buckhorn with beer from Orlando Brewing along with a “cornhole” board from Victory Tailgate.

Not to be outdone, UCF had a little fun with the Buckhorn’s dirge-like video by doing a remix that, shall we say, put a decidedly upbeat spin on Tampa’s loss.

 

By Jim Turner and Dara Kam.