Billy Manes, Voice For Orlando's Gay Community After Pulse Shooting, Dies at 45 | KERA News

Billy Manes, Voice For Orlando's Gay Community After Pulse Shooting, Dies at 45

Jul 24, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Someone we have heard on this program over the last year died suddenly on Friday. Billy Manes was a leader in Orlando's gay community. He edited the city's LGBT newspaper, Watermark. Our cohost, Ari Shapiro, has this remembrance.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: If you're picturing a grizzled and jaded newspaper editor, erase that image. Billy Manes crackled with energy. Platinum blond hair seemed to shoot off his head like an explosion in an old "Road Runner" cartoon. His clothes added to the effect, like a favorite vintage leather jacket in bright lemon yellow.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SHAPIRO: Billy.

BILLY MANES: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Hi.

MANES: It's nice to meet you.

SHAPIRO: The first time I met Billy was just over a year ago. It was one of the most difficult times in Orlando's history - days after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay club. Billy Manes was an anchor and a voice for a community that needed both. And even in the middle of his grief and the fear of another attack, he couldn't help but crack a joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MANES: Even being here and being on national networks and whatever, it puts me in the spotlight then. And then I am Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard," you know?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Oh, my God.

MANES: I know. I'm not trying to make light of it. But, I mean, that's the first thought that came to my mind.

SHAPIRO: When's the last time you felt fear like that? Have you ever felt that in your life before?

MANES: Yes, I was shot by BB guns when I was a 20-something going to gay bars.

SHAPIRO: Out of homophobia?

MANES: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Really?

MANES: I don't want to say the F word. But yeah, it was said. And I was shot from a truck.

SHAPIRO: They called you homophobic names...

MANES: Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...And shot you with a BB...

MANES: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Gun.

MANES: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Billy Manes overcame a lot in his life. He had a partner who committed suicide. And because same-sex marriage was not legal at the time, Manes had to fight in court to keep the car, the house, even his late partner's ashes. He wrote vividly about that fight in Orlando Weekly, the newspaper where he worked before Watermark. Last December, Billy Manes came back onto this show for a year-end check-in. He told me that after the presidential election, he and other gay people in Orlando felt even more vulnerable than they did just after the Pulse shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MANES: Nobody wants to seem too gay, do they? There is so much licensed hate right now.

SHAPIRO: Can you give me an example of how that fear, that not wanting to be too showy, plays out in your own life? I mean, are you, like, putting away the more flowery scarf and putting on something more low-key? What are you actually doing? What does that translate to?

MANES: No, I'm doing the opposite of that actually (laughter). I mean, if this is the new Wild West, then my role is not the defeatist or the defeated.

SHAPIRO: So what do you do then?

MANES: Well, what I do is try and love more, I guess. That sounds so flaky. But honestly, my response to my friends who are having rough times with this is it's a generosity.

SHAPIRO: Manes was 45 years old when he died on Friday of complications from a sudden onset of pneumonia. Two years ago, Billy Manes legally married Tony Mauss. Mauss said in a statement to Orlando Weekly, grieve, Orlando, grieve, but don't forget to laugh, create joy and love each other wildly. That would honor him.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "THE FOOTSTEPS DIE OUT FOREVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.