You may know or remember Ray Fetcho as ‘Tiny Tina.’ He is a proud gay 61 year old man who has been a licensed practical nurse for the past forty years; four decades of service to people who are ill.
Unfortunately, in 1976, while hosting a ‘Wet Jockey Shorts Night’ at the Copa, he was busted for promoting a lewd act. Today, that incident has come back to haunt him. The state has told him he can no longer be a nurse because of the conviction.
For the past 15 years, Fetcho has been an acclaimed and honored employee at Victoria Villa, an assisted living facility in Davie, recognized for his “compassionate service to the elderly.”
On March 31, 1976, Fetcho, performing as ‘Tiny Tina’ at the Copa in Dania Beach, was charged and convicted of promoting ‘lewd and lascivious’ behavior by throwing small buckets of water on boys’ briefs while hosting the irreverent ‘Wet Jockey Shorts’ contest.
Last month, that dated conviction from his past became a nightmare. Last week, Ray Fetcho was summarily fired from the job he has loved and cherished. A state licensing agency, the Agency for Health Care Administration, doing a routine screening inspection of nursing home employees, told him he would be ineligible to remain on the job at his facility “because of the lewd act conviction” from thirty plus years ago.
During the 1970’s and 80’s, the Copa was the most renowned and preeminent gay bar in South Florida. It was an international destination for tourists and a ‘coming out’ venue for anyone local, gay, and seeking an all night dance club.
30 years ago, John Castelli, and his partner, the late Bill Bastiansen, were the owners of the Copa, which hosted renowned drag queens like Tiny Tina, Nikki Adams, and the late Dana Manchester.
Today, Castelli is a respected broker of Castelli and Associates in Wilton Manors. After being told of Fetcho’s plight Saturday morning, Castelli commented: “Oh my God! What century are we living in? It was such an innocent situation. The boys always wore briefs. No one was exposed. That was during the Anita Bryant era, a lifetime ago.” Castelli even remembered the incident, noting he and his partner had to bond Fetcho out of jail.
Unfortunately, those acts then have impacted Fetcho’s life today. Unless he petitions and receives an exemption for his past misconduct, the Department of Health can stop him from working anywhere in the state as an LPN, a job which has paid him close to $40,000 a year.
Lucie Eichler, his now former employer from the Villa thought the decision was equally incredible, “Fetcho has been a valuable addition to our company. He is so well-liked that he still maintains relationships with the families of residents who have since passed.”
Eichler attests to Fetcho’s, “reliability and strong ethical character,” and says that she is “sorry to see him leave.”
Ann Garfinkel, the daughter of a Victoria Villa resident, was in disbelief when informed of Fetcho’s firing. “His termination is a great loss to the residents of Victoria Villa and the nursing profession in general.” She continues, “I believe the State of Florida is making a big mistake.”
Added Linda Greenfield, “Ray took care of my mother while she was suffering from dementia at the Villa. He is the most caring and considerate nurse you can imagine; he brings patience and love and humor to his work.”
Ironically, Fetcho has a new job waiting for him in a new Coconut Creek assisted living facility. Kelley Madigan, the administrator at Dayscape, a senior activity center told SFGN, “I was Fetcho’s supervisor at the Villas for six years. He is dedicated and pleasant, dependable and compassionate. I am prepared to employ him the moment he clears this hurdle.”
Fetcho has retained long time Fort Lauderdale constitutional rights attorney, Norm Kent, who is the publisher of SFGN. Stated Kent, who is taking the case on a pro bono basis, “I promise you that this injustice will be cured and that Ray Fetcho will get an exemption- and be restored to his tenure as an LPN.” He addresses the issue in today’s SFGN editorial.
Kent has to petition the Department of Health and make a case to its administrators. He explained the legal process that Fetcho must initiate: “Employees seeking an exemption have the burden of setting forth sufficient evidence of rehabilitation, including the circumstances surrounding the criminal incident for which an exemption is sought, and the time period that has elapsed since the incident, and the history of the employee since the incident,” Kent said.
For his part, Fetcho is upset and concerned about his future. “I love being a nurse and I love my job and I can’t believe this is coming back to haunt me 30 years later. It was stupid then. It is ridiculous now.”
Added Fetcho, “I should be working up to my retirement in five years, not looking back at something from the past. I never mixed my two careers together. One was show business, one was real. I had the best of both possible worlds but if I have to fight today to help some other nurse tomorrow, they are going to have to fight ‘The Queen’ in her court.”