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NFL seeks LGBT businesses for Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV

Florida Puerto Rican Parade announces LGBTQ committee

Florida Puerto Rican Parade announces LGBTQ committee NFL seeks LGBT businesses for Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV

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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Pulse was community. Pulse was a place where the LGBTQ community could bring their families, their co-workers, their friends. Barbara made sure Pulse was a place of unity.

departments 7 // Publisher’s Desk 9 // Central FLorida News 11 // Tampa Bay News 14 // State News 15 // Nation & World News 21 // talking points 41 // Community Calendar 43 // Tampa Bay Out + About 45 // Central Fl 0ut + About 46 // Tampa Bay Marketplace 48 // Central FL Marketplace 53 // Wedding Bells / Announcements 54 // The Last Page



— onePULSE Foundation CSO Mark Cady-Archilla on ceo/Executive Director and Remarkable Person 2019 honoree Barbara Poma

On the cover

Rican Puerto ces Floridade announ ee Para committ LGBTQ TQ rts LGB ad of NFL cou sses ahe LV businea Bowl Super

Florida Rican Puerto Parade ann NFL oun couces rts LGB LGB businea TQ com TQ mitt Super sses ad of Bowl aheee. LV NFL cou busines rts LGBTQ of Sup ses ahead er Bow l LV.

Florida Pue Parade rto Rica n LGBTQ announces committ ee

page Eyes on Florida:


page THE



Watermark presents the 19 Most Remarkable People of 2019 from Central Florida and Tampa Bay. Cover Photos by Dylan Todd. Design by Dibenedetto/Wiedemann.

scan qr code for

Federal court weighs restroom use by transgender Florida student.

Watermark Issue 26.25 // December 12 - December 25, 2019

Committed Commitee

Tampa Touchdown

Remarkable Royalty

Remarkable Reach

page Florida Puerto Rican Parade announces LGBTQ committee.

page NFL courts LGBTQ businesses ahead of Super Bowl LV.



Read It Online! In addition to a Web site with daily LGBTQ updates, a digital version of each issue of the publication is made available on




Jazell Barbie Royale is Miss International Queen 2019.


Cole Foust’s philosophy of love elevates Tampa Bay.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @WatermarkOnline and Like us on Facebook. watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


Rick Claggett PUblisher



elcome to Watermark’s

annual Remarkable People issue. This is, hands down, my favorite issue of the year. We take a handful of people in our local communities, 19 for 2019, and showcase why they are remarkable through the eyes of those closest to them. Some of those recognized will be well known to you, as they have been champions of our community for many years. Others will be less known, those who work behind the scenes making magic happen, someone whose single act of kindness set them apart or those whose talent was so great it made them rise to the top in places LGBTQ people have not gone before. Whatever their accomplishment, I hope you will join Watermark in celebrating our remarkable people of 2019. 2019 was a milestone year for this newspaper. Watermark celebrated 25 years of reporting your stories this past August. For

the 10th year in a row we have seen an overall increase in sales and we received awards from both the Orlando and Tampa Bay Business Journals. Watermark relocated both its St. Pete and Orlando offices this year, moves that allow us to better serve our community. In 2019 we also bid adieu to art guru Jake Stevens, who dedicated 12 years of his life to literally making Watermark look good. He is now thriving at the Tampa Bay Business Journal. At the end of 2018, I wrote a column outlining things I’d like to see happen in 2019. Since this is my last column of the year, I thought I’d look back and see

how I did. First up, removing bad leadership. It looks like progress is being made on the national level. Whether Donald Trump is removed from office or not, truth is being valued in the House of Representatives and that is a start. This progress is completely partisan at the moment, which doesn’t bode well for my second desire for 2019 — an end to the all or nothing culture. My third wish, changing the alphabet soup nature of LGBTQ+, is slowly happening. More and more I am hearing the community refer to itself as the queer community. Another positive outcome of 2019 was the loving welcome of Red Shirt Pride Days, something I hope continues to grow. Finally, my hope that Lady Gaga would win the Oscar for “A Star Is Born” was squashed. Although, it also didn’t go to Glenn Close as many predicted it would. What’s in store for 2020? My biggest wish for the New Year is that we elect the 46th president of the United States. That’s of course unless Trump is impeached and removed from office. I believe then I’d like us to elect the 47th president. I’d like to see the nation rally behind a candidate that will bring honesty and decorum back to the White House. Second, I’d like to see corporate America take a larger interest in local LGBTQ news outlets. This may seem selfish on my part, but it just makes sense to me. Why go to the trouble of slapping a rainbow on your product just to advertise it in the New York Times? I guarantee it would cost less and reach a greater audience with the LGBTQ community if they put that effort in the regional papers of the National LGBT Media Association. Watermark caught some flack from reader’s this year by sharing stories about Starbucks, Amazon

watermark staff Owner & Publisher: Rick Claggett • Ext. 110 Business Manager: Kathleen Sadler • Ext. 101

CFL Bureau Chief: Jeremy Williams • Ext. 106 Tampa Bay Bureau Chief: Ryan Williams-Jent • Ext. 302 Creative/Photographer: Dylan Todd • Ext. 102

and PrEP not placing ads in local LGBTQ markets. I assure you, the benefit of doing so is being pitched to them and progress is being made. However, the benefit such advertising would make to the LGBTQ community is immeasurable. Local LGBTQ newspapers are the voice of their communities. They cover the stories on a grassroots level that no other media outlets will. It’s advertising dollars, and only advertising dollars, that allow us to do that year round. It’s advertising dollars that allow us to open our pages to a quarter of a million dollars in sponsorship ad space for nonprofits. Thank

I’d like to see the nation rally behind a candidate that will bring honesty and decorum back to the White House.

you to our advertisers, local and national, for your part in helping us to voice the stories of our community. Finally, I’d like to see the documentary “Greetings From Queertown: Orlando” be completed. The 25th Anniversary and ongoing changes at Watermark have diverted my time from the documentary, but steps are in place to make it happen in 2020. For information on how you can help make it a reality, please visit We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

contributors divine Grace

is an Orlandobased trouble maker with a forked tongue and all the charm you can imagine. Page 17

Steve Blanchard

is a former Watermark editor turned media relations coordinator at Moffitt Cancer Center. He returns with his viewpoint column, Fit to Print. Page 19

Tiffany Razzano

is an editor at Tampa Bay Newspapers. She is the founder and president of Wordier Than Thou, a literary arts nonprofit that creates fun, engaging events for writers and readers. Page 53 Sabrina Ambra, Nathan Bruemmer, Scottie Campbell, Miguel Fuller, Divine Grace, Holly Kapherr Alejos, Jason Leclerc, Melody Maia Monet, Jerick Mediavilla, Greg Stemm, Dr. Steve yacovelli, Michael wanzie

photography Brian Becnel, Nick Cardello, Bruce Hardin, Jamarqus Mosley, Chris Stephenson, Lee Vandergrift

distribution LVNLIF2 Distributing, Ken Carraway, Vanessa Maresca-Cruz CONTENTS of WATERMARK are protected by federal copyright law and may not be reproduced in whole or part without the permission of the publisher. Unsolicited article submissions will not be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Although WATERMARK is supported by many fine advertisers, we cannot accept responsibility for claims made by advertisers. Publication of the name or photograph of any person or organization in articles, advertising, or listing in WATERMARK is not to be construed as any indication of the sexual orientation of such persons or members of such organizations.

Orlando Office Sales Director: Danny Garcia • Ext. 108 Senior Orlando Account Manager: Sam Callahan • Ext. 103

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WATERMARK is published every second Thursday. Subscription rate is $55 (1st class) and $26 (standard mail). The official views of WATERMARK are expressed only in editorials. Opinions offered in signed columns, letters and articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the newspaper’s owner or management. We reserve the right to edit or reject any material submitted for publication. WATERMARK is not responsible for damages due to typographical errors, except for the cost of replacing ads created by WATERMARK that have such errors.

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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

central florida news

Man leaves boy on side of the road because he thinks he is gay Lora Korpar


AINES CITY, Fla. | A Central Florida man was arrested and charged with child neglect for kicking a young boy out of his car and leaving him on the side of the road because he thought the boy was gay. Evenaud Julmeus, 30, stopped on Highway 27 near the Haines City Police Department on Dec. 1 and made the boy exit the vehicle with only a duffel bag containing a few articles of clothing, saying “the police will find you a new home.” The unidentified boy was left with no food, water, money and no phone or way to contact anyone. A bystander saw the incident happen and contacted HCPD. When police arrived, the boy told them that after Julmeus saw male pornography on the boy’s phone, the boy was told to pack a bag and get into the car. When Julmeus returned home, the boy’s mother had just gotten out of the shower. When he told her where her son was, she went to go get the boy from the police department, leaving her other two children with Julmeus while she was gone. Trying to escape arrest, Julmeus fled the house before the police could get there, leaving the two young children home alone. One of the two children told the police that she had never been left home alone before. According to Bay News 9, Julmeus has been charged with three counts of negligent child abuse without bodily harm.

Homophobic graffiti found on Palm Bay business windows Lora Korpar


ALM BAY, Fla. | LGBTQ-owned shop Tizmal’s Treats was defaced earlier this month with homophobic graffiti. Though the graffiti is partly unintelligible and riddled with misspellings, it is clear that homophobic slurs were spray-painted on the business’ window and front door. Tizmal’s Treats is a small chocolate shop owned by married couple Shawn Tizmal and Rob Donnelly, who have now closed the shop completely with plans to relocate. Donnelly says they caught the incident on their security cameras. Palm Bay police are currently investigating the crime, but have not named any suspects yet. Donnelly says there has not been much support from the Brevard County LGBTQ community as well as a lack of action from their landlord. “[The landlord’s] first reaction to finding out about the spray-painting was ‘hurry up and clean it before anyone sees that,’” Tizmal says. “We were punished for calling the police when we were just trying to defend ourselves.” Tizmal and Donnelly say they are trying to recover financially at the moment and are not sure where they will be relocating yet, but plan to reopen once they have raised enough money.

Committee Members: (L-R) Vivian

Rodriguez, Ralph Morales, Luis Martinez, Joel Morales, Jerick Mediavilla and Roxy Santiago after the LGBTQ+ Committee announcement at The Center in Orlando.

Photo by Jeremy Williams

Committed Committee Florida Puerto Rican Parade announces newly formed LGBTQ+ Committee Jeremy Williams


RLANDO | The Florida Puerto Rican Parade and Festival has announced the formation of a new committee to help bring more LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion to its annual celebration. The announcement, made during a press conference at The LGBT+ Center in Orlando Nov. 27, introduced the six-member committee who will be a part of the planning process of next year’s parade, festival and related events. “The Florida Puerto Rican Parade and Festival is proud to announce the newly created first LGBTQ+ Committee highlighting the strength, tenacity and beauty of our ever-growing family,” said Vivian Rodriguez, the LGBTQ+ Committee Chair and member of the Florida Puerto Rican Parade Board of Directors, during the press conference. “This committee brought together six of the most active, recognized and committed Puerto

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Rican leaders within a wide array of industries and backgrounds that have consistently worked towards equality in our community.” The LGBTQ+ Committee consists of Rodriguez, who is also the Executive Director of the Gay Officers Action League in Central Florida (GOALcfl); Joel Morales, Director of Operations at The Center; Ashley Figueroa, Project Manager at Bliss Cares; Jerick Mediavilla, Recruitment Development Director at Universidad Ana G. Mendez Metro Orlando Campus; Roxy Santiago, President of The Center Board of Directors; and Luis Martinez, City of Orlando’s Multicultural Affairs & International Relations Deputy Manager. Rodriguez and Santiago are also members of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Greater Orlando Steering Committee. “Our community reaches so many different areas and people that it’s important for us to continue to grow and continue to be inclusive of everyone,” said Florida Puerto Rican Parade Chairperson Ralph Morales.

“We are proud of the hardworking people who are members of the LGBTQ community and happen to be Puerto Ricans. We want to make sure that they feel that our parade is a house for them also.” The Florida Puerto Rican Parade and Festival, which is in the planning stage of its fourth annual celebration, has fast become one of downtown Orlando’s most attended parades. Central Florida is home to more than 400,000 residents who identify as Puerto Rican making them the largest Hispanic population in the area. “For many Puerto Ricans living in the area, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+, Orlando has been a haven where they not only feel close to their family roots but they can love in freedom and acceptance,” Rodriguez said. “After the Pulse attack, Orlando became a city where everyone wanted to show support and love the entire [LGBTQ+] community and that’s what we wanted to share with the Puerto Rican Day Parade.” The Florida Puerto Rican Parade launched in 2017 in order to promote the Puerto Rican community’s culture, heritage and its contributions to the state of Florida. “It promotes the achievements made by Puerto Ricans in business, health, music, sciences, arts and government,” Morales said. The Fourth Annual Florida Puerto Rican Parade & Festival will be Saturday, April 25, 2020 in Downtown Orlando. For more information, visit

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


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tampa bay news

St Pete Pride and executive director part ways Ryan Williams-Jent


T. PETERSBURG | St Pete Pride confirmed Dec. 6 that Luke Blankenship will no longer serve as the organization’s executive director. “Luke Blankenship is no longer employed by St Pete Pride,” St Pete Pride President Chrys Bundy shared with Watermark. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.” Blankenship was named executive director of Florida’s largest LGBTQ Pride celebration in May 2018, making him the youngest executive director of any Pride organization in the country. He had previously served as interim executive director beginning in late 2017 and had worked in various roles in years prior, including logistics coordinator, parade director and development director. “For 6 unbelievable years, I’ve been honored with the opportunity to impact thousands of LGBTQ+ people around the world,” Blankenship shared via social media Dec. 5. “Blessed with an amazing group of people to help build St Pete Pride to where it is today, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed feeding my passion while getting to live out a dream.” Blankenship touted highlights during his time with the organization, including collaborating with more than 400 LGBTQ-friendly businesses, increasing sponsor funding by 143% in two years and more. He also thanked volunteers, vendors, coworkers, mentors and colleagues. “My tenure at St Pete Pride is now over,” he wrote. “It’s been an incredible ride, to say the least … It goes without saying, my time at St Pete Pride was incredibly special.” He also noted that while “I’m not entirely sure what’s on the horizon, this is far from farewell. Several next moves are in the works. Whatever my next steps are, know this: my energy and passion for LGBTQ+ advocacy will never wane.” When asked if Blankenship resigned or was terminated from his position, Bundy advised “I’m unable to speak to that.” Blankenship also declined comment. Blankenship’s last day with St Pete Pride was Nov. 20, Bundy confirmed. An interim executive director has not been named and the organization’s executive committee will handle the role’s functions at this time. “The board of directors is looking forward to a national search to recruit our next executive director who will take the organization and our mission to the next level,” Bundy says. “Our talented production board, dedicated volunteers and staff are hard at work preparing for what will be an amazing Pride season in 2020.” Following the confirmation, St Pete Pride focused on the organization’s annual Red and Green Party, welcoming more than 650 guests to Sunken Gardens Dec. 7. It featured a silent auction benefiting the St Pete Pride Community Grants program and more. St Pete Pride 2020 will be held June 26-28, 2020, with more than 250,000 expected to attend. For more information about St Pete Pride, visit

BUSINESS OF EQUALITY: Business Connect Director LaKendria Robinson details the NFL’s program at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 4.


Touchdown! NFL seeks LGBT-owned businesses for Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Ryan Williams-Jent


AMPA | The NFL is seeking LGBTQ and other minority-owned businesses for contracting opportunities during and after Super Bowl LV, touching down in Tampa Feb. 7, 2021. The league’s Business Connect program is a partnership between the NFL and its Super Bowl LV Host Committee. The initiative will create opportunities for 200-300 diverse businesses to compete for contracts. “The Super Bowl LV Business Connect program is designed to leave a lasting impact and legacy in our community,” Super Bowl LV Host Committee COO Claire Lessinger announced in November. “We look forward to working in tandem with the NFL in helping provide an incredible professional development experience and opportunity to our local diverse businesses.” “The Business Connect program plays an important role in embedding the local, diverse business community into the heart of the Super Bowl,” NFL Executive VP Peter O’Reilly added. “The contract and networking opportunities

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created through the program will hopefully have a meaningful impact on the capacity of the local diverse businesses of Tampa Bay well beyond the Super Bowl in 2021.” The program is led by Business Connect Director LaKendria Robinson, a longtime advocate for undeserved communities. Among other efforts, she created the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce’s minority business accelerator program. “The NFL has made it a top priority to engage leadership in every Super Bowl host city to make sure that this is a signature program,” she says. “They’ve had really great success and expanded it to include women-, veteran- and LGBT-owned businesses because they make up a large population – not only of individuals, but businesses that are coming online in various markets.” To qualify for the program, businesses must be the direct source of at least one of the more than 30 services requested by NFL contractors. They must have operated a physical office in Hillsborough, Pinellas and/or Pasco counties since at least Jan.

2017 and at a minimum, be 51% owned by a member of the LGBT community, a woman, a veteran or another minority. Certification as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women-Owned Business (WMBE), Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) or LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTE) is also required. Businesses must be certified by the appropriate certifying bodies, including the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, of which the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce is a local affiliate. “As a previous chamber employee myself, I understand the value that they bring to our community,” Robinson says. “We have quite a few chambers in the tri-county area and they all focus on very specific niches. It really gives us a unique advantage to make sure that we’re touching each of those niche markets and those areas, like with our local Diversity Chamber.” Businesses do not need to be certified in order to apply to the program, though they must be certified to be accepted. “I would encourage every business to apply,” Robinson adds. “We can help them through the entire process.” LGBT-owned businesses can apply for the Business Connect program until Feb. 14. To apply, schedule an information session or for more information, visit BusinessConnect. For more information about becoming LGBTBE certified with the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber, visit

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


state news

Federal court considers bathroom use by transgender Florida student

Gay softball tournament celebrates 25 years


Justin Musial of South Florida Gay News


ilton Manors, Fla. | The Hurricane Showdown Softball Tournament celebrated its 25th year Nov. 29-Dec. 1. The annual tournament brings together teams from the U.S. and Canada with the goal of promoting diversity, inclusion and fun. This year more than 60 teams attended from Nashville, Tennessee to Toronto, Ontario, including leagues from Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. Ahead of the tournament, this year’s tournament director Jon Anderson called it an exciting year. “For the first time ever SFAAA [South Florida Armature Athletic Association] is bringing an all new focus on the player experience. All brackets and schedules will be digital.” SFAAA is a part of the NAGAAA, or North American Gay Armature Athletic Alliance. For more information about the alliance, visit For more information about the tournament, 8662-115339 PRINT Dr. Brenton Priest Watermark Ad

boys’ restroom and instead steered him toward single-user gender neutral restrooms. A lower court last year overturned that policy, ordering student has the right to the St. Johns County school district to use the bathroom that let Adams use the boys’ restroom. corresponds to his gender The 11th Circuit could become identity, a lawyer told a federal the first federal appeals court to court Dec. 5. issue a lasting ruling on the issue, The Florida school district that’s which has arisen in several states. appealing a lower court order in It would cover schools in Florida, favor of the transgender boy told Georgia and Alabama, and could judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court carry the issue to the U.S. Supreme of Appeals in Atlanta that they Court. The 4th Circuit had ruled should overturn the ruling, however, in favor of a transgender Virginia and let the school district restrict student, but the U.S. Supreme students to the bathroom matching Court sent the case back down their at-birth sex. for further consideration after The case involves Drew Adams, the U.S. Department of Education, who graduated from Nease High under Donald Trump, withdrew School outside Jacksonville. Adams guidance that said federal law transitioned before his freshman called for treating transgender year, and used the boys’ room at students equally. the Ponte Vedra, school for weeks All the parties in the courtroom before several girls complained. Magazine Ad FY20 *RUSH Final.pdf 1 12/5/19 9:31 AM were aware of the possibility that Administrators barred him from the

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the ruling will set an important precedent. Lawyer Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal, who represents Adams, said after the hearing she was hoping schools will get “a clear statement that the law requires that transgender students be treated equally.” Borelli, though, repeatedly underscored that Adams is not seeking to abolish distinctions between men and women. “This case is only about me, a boy, being allowed to use the boys’ bathroom,” Adams said. Now a student at the University of Central Florida, Adams added that he’s never had a problem using a men’s bathroom. “Before this became an issue, nobody knew who I was, nobody cared what bathroom I used,” he said. “This really wasn’t an issue until the school board made it an issue.”




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nation+world news

NIAID Director: Help us implement plan to end HIV Lou Chibbaro Jr. of The Washington Blade, Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association


r. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told an audience of mostly legislative aides to members of Congress at a Dec. 5 congressional briefing on Capitol Hill that scientific advances have made it possible to end the HIV epidemic in the United States within the next decade if not much sooner. In an impassioned description of what he calls “implementation science,” Fauci said he and his colleagues at the National Institute of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal, state and local health agencies are hopeful that a newly launched federal plan to end HIV will be able to overcome socio-economic barriers that have prevented the scientific advances from reaching those who could most benefit from them. Among those who attended the briefing were U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).

Fauci has been involved in AIDS research and public policy since the epidemic first surfaced in the U.S. in 1981. He told the briefing the federal plan is based on two major scientific advances that are available today. The first, he pointed out, is the effective anti-retroviral drug treatment regimens that have successfully suppressed HIV in the human body for the past 10 years or longer. The second major advancement, he noted, is the development of the HIV prevention drug known as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, which Fauci said is 99% effective. “Theoretically, if you got everyone or almost everyone who is infected and put them on therapy and bring down the virus to below detectible and you got most of the people who are at risk of infection and put them on PrEP, theoretically you can end the epidemic tomorrow,” he said. “The problem is we don’t live in a theoretical world, we live in a real world. And the goal of any plan is to bridge that gap between what we know is possible and what we can make happen.” Among the “real world” facts that the plan is intended to address, Fauci

said, is the disparities among the diverse groups at risk for HIV who are not taking advantage of the treatment and prevention options. According to Fauci, he and his government colleagues who helped develop the plan to end HIV in the U.S. determined one important way to address disparities faced by different risk groups was to respond to the geographic breakdown of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. Much to their surprise, Fauci said, data shows that more than 50% of all new HIV infections in recent years come from just 48 out of the 3,007 U.S. counties plus the District of Columbia and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Also shown to have high concentrations of new infections are seven southern states. “This almost shocked me to the point where I had to go and look at the individual data myself because I almost didn’t believe it,” Fauci said. “That’s really amazing.” Among other things, the new federal plan will target those 50 geographic “areas” along with the seven states for greater resources and outreach to address the disparities that may be causing the higher infection rates there, he said.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, space for civil society and advocacy has shrunk. Human rights activists and their lawyers have been detained, while internet censorship has increased. LGBTQ activists have turned to a novel tactic: submitting statements to the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, which solicited opinions from the public on a draft of the “Marriage and Family” portion of the Civil Code through Nov. 29. The Marriage and Family section is among six draft regulations for which the legislature began seeking comments at the end of October. As of Nov. 28, the website showed that more than 200,000 suggestions had been submitted either online or by mail, the greatest number of any of the outstanding drafts. It was not clear what proportion of the suggestions pertained to same-sex marriage. In social media posts, campaign participants held up their Express

Mail Service envelopes along with rainbow Pride flags. While activists acknowledge that legalizing same-sex marriage is still a far-off reality in China, they said appeals through the official channel will push the government to take the demand more seriously. Few legal protections are available for same-sex couples in China, and those protections are just a fraction of those enjoyed by married couples. After He’s partner passed away, it pained her to think about how they kept their status in the shadows. Through their 12-year relationship, it was He who accompanied Li on doctor’s visits. In He’s mind, they were married. Friends told He that she could file a lawsuit to recover some of her and Li’s shared property. He got a lawyer, but in the end, she gave up on the lawsuit. It was too exhausting, she said, to have to prove their love to everyone.

Chinese activists seek to change marriage code Wire Report


EIJING | It was only after her partner’s death that He Meili realized the full meaning of marriage. As a lesbian couple in China, He and Li Qin kept their ties largely unspoken, sometimes introducing themselves as cousins. This rarely bothered He until Li succumbed to complications from lupus in 2016, and Li’s parents demanded that He hand over the deed for their apartment and other property documents under Li’s name. He, a 51-year-old nonprofit worker in southern China’s Guangzhou city, has joined LGBTQ activists and supporters in an appeal to lawmakers to allow same-sex marriage, using a state-sanctioned channel to skirt recent government moves to suppress collective action.

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in other news Boston man charged with hate crime after attacking gay man A Massachusetts man accused of striking another man with a shovel, attacking him with a box cutter and calling him anti-gay slurs has been arrested on charges of assault and committing a hate crime, Boston police said. Police responded to reports of an assault on Dec. 3 and found a man bleeding from the head. Officers said they found a box cutter and a snow shovel. The injured man told police the attacker had directed anti-gay slurs at him in the past. The injured man was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The attacker will be arraigned on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, mayhem and committing a hate crime.

Texas judge warned for refusing to perform same-sex weddings The Texas Commission on Judicial Misconduct issued a public warning to McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley for refusing to perform same-sex weddings since August 2016, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision a year earlier that established the constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The commission said Hensley is violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by “casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.” Hensley has 30 days to appeal.

Michigan pastor denies Holy Communion to gay judge The Roman Catholic Church in western Michigan is defending Rev. Scott Nolan’s decision to deny Holy Communion to Judge Sara Smolenski, a popular judge in a same-sex marriage. St. Stephen Church has been her lifelong parish – she gave $7,000 for a building project – although she said she hadn’t regularly attended the church for months. Smolenski, a suburban Grand Rapids judge, married her longtime partner, Linda Burpee, in 2016. Nolan said the teachings of the Catholic faith aren’t flexible. The church recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman. The Grand Rapids Diocese released a statement, expressing no reservations with the priest.

Philippines president appoints trans woman to government Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appointed transgender woman Dindi Tan as director of the country’s Department of Agrarian Reform. Tan had previously been the department’s assistant program manager. Tan is the first trans woman named to a position within the Philippine government. Duterte, who is the former mayor of Davao City, has been president of the Philippines since 2016. Duterte, among other things, has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. Tan noted Duterte previously appointed CY Seguerra, a trans man, as chair of the country’s National Youth Commission.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

 


Divine Grace


Divinity Luck Ain’t a Lady Tonight


ello, Dolls!

Well, it’s that time of year again. The stockings have been hung, the tree has been decorated and the department stores have been blaring holiday songs for the third consecutive month. Joanne’s Fabric has had a star on top of their conifer tree since at least the Fourth of July. Now with Black Friday out of the way, the emergency rooms are less-crowded, and most of the blood has been wiped off of the flat-screen televisions at Wal-Mart. It has been my experience that only once the collective nation has reached the end of their garland rope and is ready to bludgeon a family member with the business end of a fruitcake, only THEN is it time to celebrate MY birthday. I turn 45 this year. I know, I know! I’m a medical miracle. I attribute my youthful appearance to a diet high in fiber and I drink plenty of water — well, as a mixer. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m pickled and I probably deserve more swag from the bigwigs at “Fat Tammy’s Orange Blossom Liquor Emporium”. Anybody who is born in the last three weeks of the year need not be clairvoyant to see where I’m steering this article: DECEMBER BIRTHDAYS SUCK! The general idea that’s handed to many of us is, “Birthday? That’s nice. You know who ELSE has a birthday just around the corner? Your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Yours is good too, I guess. Cater a lot of buffets with five loaves of bread and two fish, do ya’?” So, while I may be Divine, Chick-fil-A ain’t gonna be closing shop to honor MY day off.

Adding to the misery is the math a late December birthday has to second-guess every time they try to figure out how old they were during a milestone. “Start at ‘75. Those last fifteen days of 1974 don’t matter.” The icing on the cake, that I normally don’t get because “there’s a tin of cookies from Aunt Joyce in the mail and a tree full of candy canes in the den,” is that I’m a twin. I’ll give you all a moment to consider emergency procedures and escape strategies upon discovering that there’s ANOTHER one of me running around out there. If you think it’s hard to compete with “The Prince of Peace” on your birthday, try doing it in tandem with a sibling who has never consumed a slice of cake in his life without complaining that your slice was bigger; a direct indication that our parents loved me more than him. Aside from my friend Michael busting his ass like a CHAMP, my birthday has been largely ignored for decades and I stopped caring. It turns you into a total Scrooge, but you get used to it after a while. I was a slut in the late 1900’s, and those of us with parts looser than our morals just assumed that we would never see 40 — as sanctioned by law and Jerry Falwell. To further this full disclosure, I’ll inform you that also over the course of these 45 years, I have (and I’m not joking) died an awful lot. Literally, and not “Millennial ‘literally,’” either. LITERAL literally. At two, I choked to death (flat-lined) on a hand full of nuts. At four, I became a true American statistic when my 10-year-old brother found my father’s “unloaded” Army rifle and emptied it into my lower gastrointestinal tract, putting the “ME” in colostomy. At 16, a carjacking ended with attempted murder and me naked and hog-tied with a shopping bag tied over my head in a forest in Decatur, Georgia. At 27, a bad wisdom tooth (which is so ironic considering how stupid they are) had me on life support

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

and a liver transplant list. And then last February, after apparently walking around and performing with pneumonia for at least four months, my lung collapsed just in time for my mother’s stroke and subsequent death. I’m so blessed. No, seriously. I’m not even kidding. Ladies and gentlemen,

to do what I love and perform with people that I genuinely care about. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly and a boyfriend that makes me feel like a size queen. I am surrounded by an orbit of the most incredible, fascinating and talented people who care about and genuinely love me. How many can say that?

inexplicably, I am still here. Like Pokémon and Cher. I guess it isn’t too much for me to take a back seat to the King of Kings this Dec. 16. I have everything I need, really. And I share a birthday with Beethoven, Margaret Mead, Benjamin Bratt’s fine ass and Bette Midler celebrates her wedding anniversary on Dec.

aside from everything I have just disclosed here, aside from all of the horrors, the sickness, the terror and heartbreak, I am demonstrably the luckiest person I know. Hell, I’m the luckiest person YOU know! I challenge you to name one person in your life that has survived as much crap. Forty-five years of this mess has made me acutely aware of just how wonderful my life really is. I mean, I get

I don’t mind getting older. I’ve never been one of those queens and I don’t get what the big deal is. I mean, in one breath, everybody gives thanks for “one more day” and “living their best life” and in the other breath they are refusing to announce a birthday beyond 29. Well, which is it? Me? I’m so glad I’m bragging! Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ‘em all and my dear I’m still here! Somehow,

16, proving once and for all that she’s obsessed with me. So go right on ahead and don your gay apparel, Mary. I have no idea how many more birthdays I have ahead of me but I am so very grateful of the copious amount I am storing in my saddle bags. Happy Holidays everybody! I’m wishing you all the happiest of New Years! Amen, The Divine Grace

Aside from my friend Michael busting his ass like a CHAMP, my birthday has been largely ignored for decades and I stopped caring.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


Steve Blanchard

fit for print Hanging onto History


have been captivated

by some grave news in Tampa Bay – and yes, that pun is 100% intentional. Since the late summer months there has been a flurry of news stories about long-abandoned and forgotten cemeteries discovered under schools, apartment communities and businesses in Tampa. Literally hundreds of coffins have been found using ground-penetrating radar technology and the possibility of even more forgotten burials is discussed almost every day. A vast majority of those discovered graves belong to members of Tampa’s African American community. Some reports say the graves were simply forgotten to time. Others believe that landowners and interested buyers were more concerned about making a profit during Tampa’s boom of the mid-20th century than the sanctity of the souls buried beneath them. The land was sold for development and, yes, racism was undoubtedly part of the decision to pocket some money and literally pave atop the legacies of the dearly departed. However those graves ended up under apartment buildings and schools, the new discoveries under Tampa’s topsoil ignited interest in the area’s history, even if that newly discovered past is less than celebratory. As a huge fan of everything related to history, I’ve enjoyed reading about the discoveries and the many newspaper articles about some of the people who were laid to rest in these abandoned cemeteries. The Tampa Bay Times in particular has done a great job of researching and sharing the stories of some of those who were, at least up until 2019, lost to time and development. Historians, archeologists and politicians are all talking about Tampa in a way we rarely get to hear. The people who came before us were instrumental in building everything we see – and admittedly take for granted – every single day. The discussions prove that

history is much more than a bronze placard placed along a busy sidewalk. It’s real and the people that were here long before we were even born had a very real impact on our present. Families in Tampa’s black community are rediscovering a part of their history, which is both upsetting and fascinating. All of this got me to thinking about my own history, especially as it relates to the LGBTQ community. When I was younger, like most LGBTQ youth, I thought I was one of the only gay people to ever exist. It usually takes a few years after coming out to understand that there were generations of LGBTQ people who came before us and it takes even longer to appreciate all that they accomplished. It’s a history that is often hidden and inaccessible. Fortunately, that is starting to change in some states. As a former journalist, I enjoy research – and if you look hard enough, we can learn a lot about our own past. We are fortunate to have people in our community who have kept records and photos and are always willing to share information about the people, places and events that have projected us to this moment in time. (I’m looking at you, Mark Bias and Carrie West!) Whether it was the gay bars of the 1950s or the politicians who both opposed and supported us through the decades, it’s important to have that context in understanding where we are on this journey called life. A very popular expression these days reminds us to “be on the right side of history” when voicing an opinion or supporting or opposing a cause. It’s important to remember that history is not always “ancient,” either. Because of my long relationship with this publication, I’ve had an

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

up-close view of several moments that will always be viewed as “historical.” Photos from the early days of St Pete Pride spring to mind, as do the passionate conversations held in Hillsborough County Commission chambers regarding domestic

have a more difficult time hating something when they have a personal connection to it. But the older I get, the more I realize that sharing our stories is also a way of ensuring we don’t get lost to time, much as those who are buried in those newly discovered cemeteries were.

– or their future equivalent – say about the LGBTQ experience? What voices and what landmark events will future generations of our community learn and study? We just don’t know yet. But it’s important to keep our present as a tangible and teachable lesson for future

partnerships, adoptions and Gay Pride. It’s also important to remember that even our more wide-ranging recent victories are historic, yet young. Marriage equality, which is less than five years old, is the biggest example. Most of my adult life I’ve preached that the best way to gain equality is to share our personal stories. People

We finally have legal documentation noting our relationships in courthouses thanks to marriage equality. News media finally covers LGBTQ issues and our impact on society’s future. And news programs, docuseries and documentaries are always a great way to get a glimpse of what came before us. In 50 years, what will the history books and web pages

generations who will be studying their past. Otherwise we are at risk of our impact on history being buried and forgotten, just like the souls who rest in those newly discovered graves. And for me, that would be just as tragic.

It’s important to keep our present as a tangible and teachable lesson for future generations who will be studying their past.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Steve Blanchard is the former editor of Watermark and currently works in public relations. He lives in Tampa with his husband and their two dogs.


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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


U.S. states

now ban

conversion therapy,

along with D.C.

and Puerto Rico.

64 cities,

talking points I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what people’s sexuality is, to be perfectly honest ... [The exception is if] you legislate anti-gay legislation but are gay. I fully accept outing those people for the hypocrisy. —Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, in an interview discussing the privacy of individual’s sexuality

Shelley Morrison, Rosario on ‘Will & Grace,’ dies at 83


helley Morrison, an actress with a 50-year career who was best known for playing a memorable maid on “Will & Grace,” died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Dec. 1 from heart failure after a brief illness, publicist Lori DeWaal told The Associated Press. She was 83. Morrison played Rosario Salazar, a maid from El Salvador, in the original run of “Will & Grace” from 1999 to 2006, becoming part of a cast that won a Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble in a comedy series. The character, originally written for a single episode, proved so popular in her interactions with co-star Megan Mullally that she would appear in 68 episodes during the NBC series’ eight seasons. “Rosario is one of my all-time favorite characters,” Morrison said recently. Morrison is survived by her husband of more than 40 years.

counties and


Same-sex couple wins Denmark’s ‘Dancing With the Stars’

ban it, D

20 of which are in Florida, the most of any state without a

statewide ban. — Associated Press

enmark’s version of “Dancing With the Stars” has made history by featuring a same-sex couple – and this time, they’re not only included, they’ve won the competition. Jakob Fauerby and Silas Holst were paired together on the show – which is called “Vild med dans”- after Fauerby, an openly gay actor, decided he would ask to be paired with a man if he was selected for the show. The pair are the first all-male combo in the history of the show, which has run for 16 seasons after debuting in spring of 2005. Fauerby is best known as a member of the Danish satirical comedy troupe, Platt-Form. He and his husband, Anders, are fathers to two children.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

Billy Porter and Idina Menzel team up for A holiday classic


ony Award-winning superstars Idina Menzel and Billy Porter joined their considerable forces to record a duet of the Irving Berlin-penned wintertime standard, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” The star of “Pose” and the voice of Elsa posted a video for the classic tune in which they put both their spectacular talents on full display. The track is featured on Menzel’s new album, “Christmas: A Season of Love,” on which she also performs duets with husband Aaron Lohr, Ariana Grande and fellow Broadway veteran and “Frozen” franchise alum Josh Gad. Porter is set to join Menzel onstage for a Dec. 11 concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Vogue Mexico to use third-gender cover model for the first time


or the first time, a third-gender model has been used on the cover of Vogue Mexico. The cover, which will be the December edition of the magazine, features 37-year-old Zapoteca muxe model, Estrella Vazquez. The photoshoot was a collaboration between Vogue Mexico and British Vogue, with the images to be used in both magazines. Vogue Mexico will run two covers from the shoot on its December edition, and one will feature the image of Vazquez. Vazquez said that Vogue’s decision to include a third-gender model is a reflection of the increasing awareness and acceptance of trans and gender nonconforming people in Mexico.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com





MYE_Watermark_110619.indd 1


11/6/19 2:14 PM

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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


Jazell Barbie Royale Miss International Queen 2019

By Darcel Stevens Parliament House Entertainment Director

2019 has been a remarkable year for a remarkable lady! From finding a meaningful purpose to unexpectedly becoming a trailblazer, I’m honored to talk about Jazell Barbie Royale’s incredible 2019 journey. Often the best intentions are foiled by the daily riggers of life, yet through it all this native of Jacksonville has been blessed thanks in part to life lessons instilled in her by three dominate women: her great grandmother, Gladys Kyle; her grandmother, Kathy; and her mother, Petria Chisholm. All taught her the importance of wisdom, perseverance, humility and, most importantly, failure. As an Outreach & Prevention/HIV Tester at Bliss Cares — a local healthcare service provider that provides doctors’ visits, testing, access to medication, labs, mental health, community linkage and referrals, as well as educational and awareness activities — Jazell was presented a unique opportunity to help young LGBTQ men and women unaware of their HIV status. Through Bliss Cares’ multitude of services, along with her seven year employment at The World Famous Parliament House Orlando, she has become a proud advocate, making a difference in the lives of those who have little or no access to testing, treatment or STD education. As a trans woman living her truth, Jazell’s activism in bringing trans issues to the forefront of Orlando’s diverse community has been instrumental in promoting trans rights and visibility. I was proud to witness her and many local transgender women as they took to the streets of our nation’s capital participating in the first National Trans Visibility March on D.C., marking a huge

Photo by Dylan Todd

milestone in the ongoing struggle for equality. There are times when preparation, opportunity and knowledge come together in a perfect moment. In such a moment, Jazell was honored to represent the U.S.A. at The Miss International Queen 2019 Pageant; a worldwide transgender pageant presented annually in Pattaya, Thailand. Only once, in 2005, has the U.S. won this prestigious honor. She, along with countless others, were ecstatic as we witnessed Jazell crowned Miss International Queen 2019. Her win made history as Jazell became the first transgender woman of African descent to win Miss International Queen. With her title, Jazell is committed to using her platform to bring HIV awareness of PEP and PrEP to countries with little or no resources. Realizing this huge endeavor and its many obstacles, the Miss International Queen organization has taken steps in making her efforts successful. Finally, in my long association with Jazell, I’ve seen tremendous growth in all aspects of her life. I’m proud to bear witness to her multi-fascinated journey for it has truly been an inspiring, remarkable year. Mindful of her past, grateful in the present and optimistic about the future; I expect more extraordinary things from Orlando’s Jazell Barbie Royal for which I’m truly excited.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Photo by Dylan Todd

Photo Courtesy Barbara Poma

Barbara Poma

MSgt. Grace Peek-Harris

CEO and Executive Director, onePULSE Foundation

Orlando Police Department

By Mark Cady-Archilla, Corporate Sponsorship Officer, onePULSE Foundation

By Capt. Jim Young, Orlando Police Department


met Barbara nearly 10 years ago

when I was in advertising sales at Watermark to discuss advertising Pulse in one of the Pride guides we were publishing.

Though she is of small stature, when she walked into the room she commanded attention which I soon came to understand was because of her confidence, sincerity and warmth. In 1991 Barbara’s brother John lost his fight against AIDS. Barbara was determined to ensure that his legacy would not be forgotten. She made the risky decision to open Pulse, to ensure John’s pulse would live on. It was risky in that there were already two major gay nightclubs in Orlando and in that most gay nightclubs fail. But her business plan was different. It focused on inclusivity, love and compassion. Pulse was community. Barbara made sure Pulse was a place of unity. Fast forward to June 12, 2016. It was the night of the worst attack on the LGBTQ community in U.S. history. The monument that Barbara had created to honor her brother, was suddenly and viciously ripped from her arms. Orlando and the world grieved for 49 lives taken. Barbara grieved for those 49 precious souls and again for her brother John. Barbara had the opportunity to walk away, pack up and go — but she didn’t. Barbara looked inward and committed herself to ensuring the legacy of 49 Angels would be honored. She committed herself to ensure that the stories and acts of heroism of the survivors and the first responders would be told. She wanted to help those living with the emotional scars associated with the attack to find hope. As a daughter, mother, sister and educator, Barbara recognized the need to ensure that this act of hate would not be forgotten and to use the tragedy as a cornerstone of education. The seeds of inclusivity, hope, love, compassion and charity that Barbara planted decades ago require nurturing on a daily basis, still to this day. A garden faces the intrusion of weeds, insects, extreme temperatures, disease, it can sometimes be a very unpleasant job. A gardener must be patient and deliberate to nurture each flowering plant individually so collectively they can become a field of beauty. Barbara is our gardener.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


aster Sergeant Grace Peek-

Harris has served the citizens of Orlando for 20 years. During the past three years, in addition to her role as a police supervisor, she has served as the department’s LGBTQ Liaison.

Grace has worked tirelessly to build on the continued relationships between the police department and the LGBTQ community, as well as enhance the partnerships within law enforcement since joining the Orlando Police Department (OPD) in 1999. She has been in public service her entire adult life, starting out by serving her country in the U.S. Navy. She has served with the Zebra Coalition as the law enforcement representative, currently serves on the board of The LGBT+ Center and is the founder and president of the Gay Officers Action League Central Florida (GOALcfl). Grace has served as OPD’s lead LGBTQ Liaison for the last two years and, over the past year, expanded the liaison program to include four additional officers. At the beginning of this year, Grace started GOALcfl to ensure a safe place for LGBTQ officers and their ally’s as well as promote positive images to the community we serve. In 2011, Grace and her significant other at the time, had a child together. In 2012, an intense legal proceeding began over custody for the child when Grace and her partner separated. Grace had adopted their son prior to the separation; however, a court overturned the adoption, and that ruling seemed to give the opinion that same-sex couples may have difficulty in joint adoptions and would prevent the non-birth parent from having any rights. At the time there was no marriage equality. The case eventually was heard by the 5th District Court of Appeals, presented by Lambda Legal, and in a landmark decision, Grace was re-awarded joint custody of their son in 2014. Grace’s courage, and love for her son, paved the way for other same-sex adoptions co-parenting. In 2018, Grace married Ellie Harris. Together, Grace and Ellie Peek-Harris are both actively involved in helping other LGBTQ community members and law enforcement. They reside in Central Florida, with their son. Grace has always been a true leader and I am proud to call her my friend. She truly represents the best of our community.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Photo by Dylan Todd

Photo courtesy Ashley Figueroa

Ashley Figueroa

Yasmin Flasterstein

Project Manager, Bliss CARES

Co-founder Executive Director, Peer Support Space

By Maggie L. King, Director of Development and Community Relations, Bliss CARES

By Dani Hill, Co-founder and Director of Peer Services, Peer Support Space


f you knew Ashley like I know

Ashley, you would know that she is an open and proud Latina American transgender woman.

The day that I met Ashley, I knew that she was a force to be reckoned with. Almost instantly, I knew that she was kind, compassionate, intelligent and had a great sense of humor. Her compassion for others is what really makes her stand out. Because of her displayed strong leadership abilities, she was a natural fit for Bliss Cares. Ashley was hired as a community liaison where she was responsible for implementing the TRANSformation Program, a seven-part lifestyle education series geared toward the transgender community. Today, Ashley is still involved with the TRANSformation group, attending all the sessions and even attends name change court hearings with our group members who graduate from the program. She knows that the name change process is nerve racking as well as emotional and wants to be there to offer her love and support. That’s our Ashley! Ashley was quickly promoted to project manager, working on special projects for the agency. In July she danced her heart out as a backup dancer to our executive director, Juan Rodriguez, at our Sweet Dreams fundraiser. She was also an integral part of the Sweet Dreams volunteer planning committee, helping the agency raise over $72,000 for emergency housing for the transgender community. If you know Ashley, you know that anything she does, she does it with class, style and passion. It is obvious that her desire to help the community is extremely important to her. Ashley serves as a board member for various agencies throughout Central Florida and is a voice and champion for equality. I was not surprised when she was recently honored by Equality Florida, receiving the Voice of Equality Award at their 2019 Greater Orlando Gala. While Ashley loves her Central Florida community, and is always out and about making a positive impact in the community, her true love is her fiancé, Robert, and their son, Aiden, as well as her loving and supportive family. I am thrilled to call Ashley my friend and team member at Bliss Cares. I am proud of her and all of her accomplishments. If you do not know Ashley, you should. She will light up your life.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


’ve had the pleasure and

privilege to know Yasmin Flasterstein for a little over half a decade now as both a colleague and dear friend.

After Pulse, we worked collaboratively at the Mental Health Association for the Orlando United Counseling program. Her commitment ensuring survivors and those impacted had access to free mental health counseling has had a lasting impact. Her passion to challenging mental health stigma that acts to isolate and harm those who are vulnerable is palpable. I can genuinely say, she has saved lives with her compassion. In January 2019, with her vision as a guide, we co-founded Peer Support Space. At Peer Support Space, we strive to uplift and empower communities that too often are stifled and who have limited access to approachable resources. Yasmin will always pass the megaphone to voices that need to be heard and strives personally to ensure that the services provided through Peer Support Space are informed and led by the population served. She has a unique perspective – having had both professional exposure to traditional mental health systems and personal lived experience with PTSD, Dissociative Disorder and as a candid suicide survivor. This vantage point helps her in identifying gaps in our mental health community so that equity can be achieved for those that have been excluded. Because of her dedication as a founder and executive director, Peer Support Space has been able to provide 2,500 with free, peer-led services in its inaugural year. Under her care, we will only continue to grow and change our mental health system for the better. Her other contributions to the community include being a founding member of Orlando Trans Collective, acting as a facilitator for Butterfly Talks and sitting as an active board member for the Peer Support Coalition of Florida and Central Florida Cares. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include her highest accolade – being an exceptional dog mom to Dee Dee, our mascot and group emotional support animal.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



This is only a brief summary of important information about BIKTARVY and does not replace talking to your healthcare provider about your condition and your treatment.

MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT BIKTARVY BIKTARVY may cause serious side effects, including: } Worsening of Hepatitis B (HBV) infection. If you have both HIV-1 and HBV, your HBV may suddenly get worse if you stop taking BIKTARVY. Do not stop taking BIKTARVY without first talking to your healthcare provider, as they will need to check your health regularly for several months.

ABOUT BIKTARVY BIKTARVY is a complete, 1-pill, once-a-day prescription medicine used to treat HIV-1 in adults. It can either be used in people who have never taken HIV-1 medicines before, or people who are replacing their current HIV-1 medicines and whose healthcare provider determines they meet certain requirements. BIKTARVY does not cure HIV-1 or AIDS. HIV-1 is the virus that causes AIDS. Do NOT take BIKTARVY if you also take a medicine that contains: } dofetilide } rifampin } any other medicines to treat HIV-1

BEFORE TAKING BIKTARVY Tell your healthcare provider if you: } Have or have had any kidney or liver problems, including hepatitis infection. } Have any other health problems. } Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. It is not known if BIKTARVY can harm your unborn baby. Tell your healthcare provider if you become pregnant while taking BIKTARVY. } Are breastfeeding (nursing) or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed. HIV-1 can be passed to the baby in breast milk. Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take: } Keep a list that includes all prescription and over-the-counter medicines, antacids, laxatives, vitamins, and herbal supplements, and show it to your healthcare provider and pharmacist. } BIKTARVY and other medicines may affect each other. Ask your healthcare provider and pharmacist about medicines that interact with BIKTARVY, and ask if it is safe to take BIKTARVY with all your other medicines.

Get HIV support by downloading a free app at

BVYC0103_BIKTARVY_B_9-25x10-1_Watermark_KeepCreating_DR4_r1v1jl.indd All Pages


watermark Your LGBTQ life.


POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS OF BIKTARVY BIKTARVY may cause serious side effects, including: } Those in the “Most Important Information About BIKTARVY” section. } Changes in your immune system. Your immune system may get stronger and begin to fight infections. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any new symptoms after you start taking BIKTARVY. } Kidney problems, including kidney failure. Your healthcare provider should do blood and urine tests to check your kidneys. If you develop new or worse kidney problems, they may tell you to stop taking BIKTARVY. } Too much lactic acid in your blood (lactic acidosis), which is a serious but rare medical emergency that can lead to death. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get these symptoms: weakness or being more tired than usual, unusual muscle pain, being short of breath or fast breathing, stomach pain with nausea and vomiting, cold or blue hands and feet, feel dizzy or lightheaded, or a fast or abnormal heartbeat. } Severe liver problems, which in rare cases can lead to death. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get these symptoms: skin or the white part of your eyes turns yellow, dark “tea-colored” urine, light-colored stools, loss of appetite for several days or longer, nausea, or stomach-area pain. } The most common side effects of BIKTARVY in clinical studies were diarrhea (6%), nausea (6%), and headache (5%). These are not all the possible side effects of BIKTARVY. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any new symptoms while taking BIKTARVY. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit, or call 1-800-FDA-1088. Your healthcare provider will need to do tests to monitor your health before and during treatment with BIKTARVY. HOW TO TAKE BIKTARVY Take BIKTARVY 1 time each day with or without food. GET MORE INFORMATION } This is only a brief summary of important information about BIKTARVY. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to learn more. } Go to or call 1-800-GILEAD-5. } If you need help paying for your medicine, visit for program information.

BIKTARVY, the BIKTARVY Logo, DAILY CHARGE, the DAILY CHARGE Logo, KEEP CREATING, LOVE WHAT’S INSIDE, GILEAD, and the GILEAD Logo are trademarks of Gilead Sciences, Inc., or its related companies. Version date: December 2018 © 2019 Gilead Sciences, Inc. All rights reserved. BVYC0103 02/19

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



h, r

ut t




Because HIV doesn’t change who you are. BIKTARVY® is a complete, 1-pill, once-a-day prescription medicine used to treat HIV-1 in certain adults. BIKTARVY does not cure HIV-1 or AIDS.

Ask your healthcare provider if BIKTARVY is right for you. To learn more, visit

Please see Important Facts about BIKTARVY, including important warnings, on the previous page and visit

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

6/12/19 12:00 PM



Kristian Cosme

CFL realtor

AT&T Community Impact Award winner

By State Sen. Linda Stewart, District 13

By Ayme Rodriguez Smith

have known Eric rollings for

almost a decade and I am so proud of all he has accomplished. He is a close friend, and for as long as I have known him he has been fighting for just causes and been dedicated to issues such as climate change and LGBTQ rights. He has been at the forefront of the community as a representative for our area locally and at the national level.

Eric has served as a delegate of the first-ever delegation from Orlando to the United Nations General Assembly this year, advocating for the city’s place on the international stage at the forefront of fighting climate change and progressing the rights of the LGBTQ community. He has been a leader on the team effort to ban the practice of conversion therapy in Orange County with Because of his advocacy, Congressman Darren Soto entered Eric into the Congressional Record as a “Distinguished LGBTQ Leader for Pride Month.” Having perfected his ability to integrate his diverse advocacy issues into one, Eric has promoted and shaped Central Florida into a sustainable and inclusive region. Just this year, as the founder of the Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection, Eric led the sustainability team to make Come Out With Pride the largest sustainable event in Florida’s history. His dedication to the environment has been ongoing as he was one of the appointees of the City of Orlando’s Green Works sustainability plan making Orlando one of the nation’s major cities committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2050. He was also instrumental in passing Orlando’s policy change banning single-use plastic straws, foam containers and plastic bags from city property and parks. He is passionate and talented, working as a realtor for over 16 years and serving as one of the Florida Realtors appointed Directors. I am honored to call Eric one of my friends and to have the privilege to fight alongside him in our community in making this a better place for all to live in and call home.


Photo Courtesy Kristian CosmE

Photo by Dylan Todd

Eric Rollings

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


ristian Cosme is a force of

nature. From his time at Colonial High School to his graduation from UCF to his career with AT&T, Kristian has supported his community through volunteerism and political action.

I met Kristian in 2002 working together to elect democrats in Orange County. We bonded over phone banking and door-to-door canvassing. I had the honor of being the first person Kristian came out to. It is a moment I cherish; the moment that made Kristian family. In 2003, he was an integral part of the newly elected leadership of the Orange County Young Democrats which helped grow the organization from a handful of members to over 100 members in under one year. His horizons expanded nationally in 2011 when he was elected Chair of the LGBTQ Caucus of the Young Democrats of America. In September 2019, Kristian was the recipient of the first annual AT&T Community Impact Award for his work mentoring teenagers. For the past eight years, he has led the local AT&T Aspire program partnership with Junior Achievement of Central Florida, Jobs for Florida’s Graduates, Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida, Special Olympics of Central Florida and DECA. Kristian grew up in a working-class family with parents who fostered in him the idea that there is no limit on what he could achieve. They inspired him to excel and instilled in him that education was the greatest pursuit. Kristian understands how vital it is for youth to have supportive relationships with people who understand and accept them. The AT&T Community Impact Award provided Kristian the opportunity to select a nonprofit to receive $10,000 from the AT&T Foundation. Zebra Coalition is an organization whose mission is to provide mentoring, counseling, education services and most importantly, safe housing to homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Their mission to safeguard this vulnerable population at this crucial age speaks to Kristian’s passion which is why he selected them. Kristian is a shining example of volunteer spirit and community service and he has earned his place as Watermark’s Most Remarkable People of 2019.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Photo Courtesy Billy Looper

Photo Courtesy Marc Espeso

Marc Espeso

Billy Looper and Tom Crist

LGBTQ Liaison, Orange County

Founders of KindRED Pride Foundation and owners of One Magical Weekend

By Mayor Jerry L. Demings, Orange County

By Roxy Santiago, Board President, The LGBT+ Center Orlando/Kissimmee


e strive to make Orange County a place that truly works for everyone.

Marc Espeso wholeheartedly embraces our diverse community because he is proudly a part of it. He works with me, and all Orange County staff members, to ensure everyone has a seat at the table and all residents have a voice in my administration. He brings a unique perspective, not only as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, but as an Asian-American, downtown Orlando resident and a young communications professional – at 29 years old. But more importantly, he cares about the community in which he serves and is a dedicated public servant. For several years, he has volunteered with Come Out With Pride Orlando and currently serves on its board as communications director. This year’s parade and festival recently celebrated its highest attendance on record. Additionally, he has worked with the One Orlando Alliance to produce its 2018 Annual Report, Alliance Agenda: 10 issues affecting LGBTQ+ inclusiveness in Central Florida, as well as its Acts of Love and Kindness campaign for the third-year remembrance of Pulse. His activism and dedication to the LGBTQ+ community are apparent in everything he does. Marc works to continue to meet with residents and find out exactly what the major concerns of the community are, and how Orange County can assist. He is a top-notch communicator who understands the importance of strength through collaboration and gaining various perspectives. As the first official LGBTQ+ liaison in Orange County, the position is long overdue, but will continue to be necessary as we work to serve citizens and promote inclusiveness. Thank you to Watermark for recognizing key players in the LGBTQ+ community, like Marc. We are a strong community because of our diversity and inclusion.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


’ve known of Billy Looper and Tom

Crist for years as the guys who founded, run and operate One Magical Weekend. I personally met them when they came to The LGBT+ Center in Orlando for the Santa’s Bike Force giveaways.

Now in its 16th year, Santa’s Bike Force was Billy and Tom’s way of helping to give less fortunate kids that feeling of receiving your first bicycle. Through their efforts, dozens upon dozens of bikes have been handed out to kids during the holidays. They are warm gentlemen with huge hearts and souls for the community, especially the LGBTQ community. It’s truly remarkable how many years they have been an active part of the Orlando community and honoring the first weekend in June at Disney every year with One Magical Weekend. I was beyond happy and surprised it took this long for them to come up with such an amazing nonprofit, The KindRED Pride Foundation. This year, Tom and Billy were committed to remembering the first Saturday of June as Red Shirt Pride Day and established their amazing nonprofit not only to get people around the world to wear red shirts on that first Friday but to support the endeavors of like-minded charities for the education, promotion and celebration of diversity, inclusion, equality, safe expression and kindness. It’s almost 30 years since the first red shirt pride started at Disney and I’m so happy these two guys continue to let us have fun and be kids at Disney every year. Our community is better with these two in it and I am honored to call them friends.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


THE STRAZ ©Di D sne s y




“The hilarity never lets up.”


– The Village Voice

SAT • JAN 11• 8PM

FRI • JAN 3 • 7:30PM





A Straz Center Production



by Ed Howard, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears



Big-band sound meets marching-band style in this nonstop musical extravaganza!




Gift cards now available

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

813.229.STAR (7827) • STRAZCENTER.ORG

Events, days, dates, times, performers and prices are subject to change without notice. Handling fees will apply.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


Cole Foust

Metro Inclusive Health LGBTQ+ Division Manager

By Hannah Powell Metro Inclusive Health LGBTQ+ Program Specialist

Step into the Metro LGBTQ Welcome

Center in St. Petersburg or take a stroll down Central Avenue, and chances are you’ll see a powerful message delivered on shirts and stickers bearing the signature FOUST logo: “Love is my philosophy.” If you live in Tampa Bay, I can guarantee that the love, empathy and leadership of Cole Foust has touched your life somehow.

Cole is an activist, community organizer, artist, musician and incredible friend and coworker. When I think of him, I recall the Harvey Milk quote: “If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of human activities – the expression of love – then life itself loses meaning.” Cole has dedicated his life to making sure people across our community have access to resources, support networks and community spaces that allow them to safely and authentically be themselves. From his impact as Metro’s LGBTQ+ Division Manager to his passion for art that elevates LGBTQ+ voices, Cole is a powerhouse. He is propelled by love and a vision of equality and justice. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, Cole organized “From Stonewall to Pulse: A Community Discussion,” which invited panelists from across our community to discuss the history and future of LGBTQ+ activism. From a veteran of the Stonewall Riots to a survivor of the 2016 Pulse Massacre, the dialogue spanned generations. The conversation was vulnerable, moving and revolutionary.

Cole also led the expansion of Metro’s Inclusivity and Awareness Trainings this year, which allow local businesses and organizations to create safer, more welcoming environments for LGBTQ+ customers. He shares the story of his own transition, encouraging people to explore how systems of oppression and inequality have influenced their own lives. This November, Cole captained a young adult SMART Ride team that raised over $10,000 for HIV service organizations in Florida and focused on youth HIV education, access to prevention and care, and ending the stigma around HIV. Cole is currently pursuing his Masters of Social Work, working on a book featuring painted portraits and interviews of trans and gender diverse people across our community, and continuing his tireless work toward making Tampa Bay an inclusive community for all. As Cole would say, change happens one compassionate conversation at a time. To one of the sweetest, softest, most driven people I know: Cole, I’m so lucky to call you a friend.

Photo by Dylan Todd

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Photo by Dylan Todd

photo by kyle zedaker


Lorenzo Gilbert

Jane Castor

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader

Tampa’s 59th Mayor

By Elizabeth Lentz, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader

By the City of Tampa Staff

first met Lorenzo a few years ago,

when we were booked for a dance gig together. I didn’t know much about him, just that he was a phenomenal dancer and full of talent.

Fast forward to April of this year. I heard that he was debating trying out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders and I could not have been more excited! Having been part of the organization for three years, I knew how much the team meant to me and was excited for him to share that. Only our experiences would be slightly different. The audition process and the road to becoming a cheerleader is much more difficult than most perceive – but I was a woman, and this process had been completed by women before me for generations. Men had auditioned to become cheerleaders in years prior, but until now, there had never been a male cheerleader on our team. I was so proud of him as I saw him walk through the training facility when the day came for being brave enough to go after his dreams. Lorenzo has an exemplary list of qualifications that would deem him most notable, but this is something more. It is without a doubt that being the “first” of any kind is not an easy feat. To pave the way, to lead where no one else has gone before you is an adventure most of us would easily shy away from. Lorenzo is exceptionally one of a kind – a friend, a performer and to so many, an inspiration. He encourages those around him to follow their dreams, lifting others up when they need it, pushing them to be their very best, while doing the same for himself. He is someone who has been through life’s toughest trials and learned how to overcome. He holds no grudges or judgment. He sets high goals for himself and does all he can to see them through. Lorenzo is our first male cheerleader, but one day the “male” descriptor will no longer be necessary. Lorenzo is changing our future, paving the way for generations to come.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


fter serving 31 years with the

Tampa Police Department, Jane Castor became the 59th and first openly LGBTQ mayor of the city of Tampa this year.

She worked her way from a beat cop to the first female Chief of Police. Castor helped reduce major crime by 70% citywide, oversaw the security plan for Super Bowl XLIII and led the Department of Homeland Security’s Tampa Bay Urban Area Security Initiative. It was announced this year that Super Bowl LV will return to Tampa in 2021, its fifth time. Community outreach has always been a cornerstone of Castor’s career. As a cop, Jane knew the families, business owners and community leaders in her neighborhood and as Chief, she expected every officer to do the same. Under her watch, everyone was to be treated with dignity and respect. On a national and local level, Castor is recognized for her leadership in law enforcement and community involvement. In November, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) awarded her the Courage in Government Award for her dedication to equality. In August, she announced an executive order that the city of Tampa would recognize LGBT-certified businesses in contracting and procurement opportunities. Castor has also received the USF President’s Distinguished Citizen Award, Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of Influence Award and more. Under her leadership, Tampa has also received several recognitions. Reports found in 2019 that Tampa Bay was amongst the top areas for woman-owned business growth and that Tampa was one of the Top 10 metro areas for startup businesses. Tampa also ranked as the best small tech market in North America and the fifth best city for recreation. The city also received its fifth consecutive score of 100 in the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index in November. Jane is a proud born and raised Tampanian and the city is proud of her.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com





watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



Photo by denzel johnson-green

Photo courtesy justice gennari

Justice Gennari

Alex Jones

Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce President/CEO

ProjectAlchemy Dance Artistic Director

By Bob Sanders, Manager at Regions, Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber Corporate Partner

By Fernando Chonqui, Dance Artist and St Pete Pride Development Director


ampa was fortunate to host

the 2019 NGLCC Conference in August for the first time and the sold out gathering was a huge success.

It brought thousands of attendees to Tampa Bay to spotlight the LGBTQ+ community and the significant contributions they make. This event would not have happened without the contributions and hard work of Justice Gennari. Attracting the conference to Tampa Bay took years of work, with site visits and planning by many members of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber (TBDCC). During that time period Justice served as the point person to answer questions and coordinate the massive efforts required. Justice joined the Chamber in April of 2017 as the president. His background made him an extremely qualified candidate. With the approach of the NGLCC Conference the local chamber realized that the amount of time and efforts could not be served by a totally volunteer organization. In April 2019 Justice was made the first paid employee of the TBDCC and he took on the role of president and CEO at that time. Shortly after Justice was hired he became an integral part of the planning and implementation for this world wide conference. He quickly connected local businesses into the planning of the conference with opportunities for them highlight themselves and advance their brands. Justice effectively organized the conference kickoff party at the Italian Club in Ybor City on August 13. Conference attendees were joined by local businesses and political leaders from throughout Tampa Bay. Throughout the conference you could find Justice networking with business leaders and attendees from all over the world. He represented the TBDCC as the organization that it is, one of the oldest LGBTQ+ chambers in the United States with a mission to promote the success and economic growth of the LGBTQ+ and allied business community in the Tampa Bay region. With the work and planning put forth by Justice during this time, he is truly one of the Most Remarkable People of 2019.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


s Artistic Director of

ProjectAlchemy Dance and the resident choreographer at the Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg, Alex applies his passion for dance as a tool for education and advocacy.

His mission is to challenge the current connotation of dance and make all genres of dance more accessible in Tampa Bay. He founded ProjectAlchemy at the end of 2018 with a premiere performance of his one-man show, Voices, a multidisciplinary dance piece about his experiences he represents as a Queer, Black man. Alex’s work and impact were so well executed and influential that in February of this year, he was asked to reprise the show at the Studio@620 for yet another packed audience. This led to an international opportunity for Alex and his company. In July 2019, ProjectAlchemy was invited to perform in Amsterdam for the beginning of a new cultural and arts exchange program harnessed by the Studio@620. Alex’s professional career also took him to Vietnam in April, where he participated in “Holding Common Ground: Pathways to Cultural Exchange in Vietnam,” sponsored by Soul Music & Performing Arts, the Dept. of State and the Movement Kitchen. His participation, yet again, left its mark and he will reprise his attendance to this program in April 2020. Alex’s dance background , academically and professionally, extends from his M.F.A. candidature from Hollins University, to his Adjunct Professor position at the University of Tampa, as well as his upcoming 2020 Guest Artist Residency at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus. He believes in the transformative power of dance, which has led him to work and support local organizations like EPIC, Tampa Pride and many more. Furthermore, Alex contributed with the foundation of “Dance Hall,” a three-week event hosted at the Studio@620 commemorating the dance arts of the Tampa Bay area. He’s also an even more devoted friend than he is a professional dance artist. Alex’s kindness is immeasurable: he is thoughtful, loving and generous. Indeed, Alex is a remarkable person.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


Photo by Dylan Todd

Photo courtesy nina borders

nina Borders Pasco Pride President

Harvey Milk Festival Executive Director/Founder

By Diana Shanks, Pasco Pride Director of Marketing and Social Media

By Grace Korley, Shannon’s Partner and Harvey Milk Festival Internship Supervisor/Grant Writer


ina Borders is the hero I

needed in Pasco County when I was growing up.

Nina took over as President of Pasco Pride in its second year, and has brought it to a new level of brilliance and power. Under her leadership, Pride has developed a regular presence in local politics, created a Metro fund for low income patients, attended regional and national conferences, and even adopted a road formerly adopted by the KKK. The organization is also launching a scholarship, LGBTQ+ foster family support system and Human Rights Ordinance campaign. While working as a full time firefighter paramedic, and in the face of direct threats, racism and homophobia, Nina taught herself how to run a nonprofit, file 501(c)(3) taxes and certification, effectively track social media engagement, navigate press and politics and accounting software, and master graphic design. Without fanfare or public recognition, she has brought together a powerful team of activists, businesses, nonprofits, media and volunteers who regularly challenge politicians, school boards and social norms. Nina is always reading, always learning from other organizers and always asking how she can improve. She doesn’t sit still for a minute; she is constantly generating new ideas, forming new community contacts and developing new creative strategies to serve the most vulnerable. It is easy to forget the small towns of Pasco County, like the poor, conservative neighborhoods of New Port Richey I grew up in. In a time when Prides are becoming more and more commercialized, and in the face of a challenging local culture rife with vitriolic protesters, Nina has not let us become apolitical. Under her guidance, Pride explicitly centers those who need it most – houseless folks, children, small LGBTQA+ owned businesses and people of color. All of this during just her first year in charge.


Shannon Fortner

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


elfless. Focused. Resilient.

Remarkable. These are the words that describe Shannon Fortner.

Shannon is the founder and president of the Harvey Milk Festival (HMF), a Sarasota nonprofit dedicated to sharing the power of the arts as a catalyst for social and political change. It celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, consisting of a history and art component, performance art and dance, and culminating with its annual music festival. The gathering drew a crowd of more than 5,000 people. The festival also screens the Fabulous Independent Film Festival, which celebrates its 10th year in 2020. The HMF has grown to include community engagement and education initiatives to leave a more sustainable impact on local communities. Our #WeSupport campaign was launched this year in response to an emerging need in Sarasota, aiming to educate local businesses about unique diversity issues faced by the LGBTQ+ population and its allies. In exchange for making a commitment to preserving an inclusive workplace, HMF will provide local businesses with education and supplemental training to better cater to its LGBTQ+ patrons. Shannon’s vision for this organization directly honors Harvey Milk’s legacy by educating, empowering and creating opportunities for others. In addition to her work as an activist, Shannon is a talented vocalist and musician. She writes and performs original music with synth punk/pop band, MeteorEYES, and electro-dreampop solo set, Moxie-Moxie. Shannon seamlessly merges her passion for music with her career in activism and dreams of one day debuting a performing arts center. I am both honored and deeply grateful to call Shannon my partner in life and in advocacy. Her activism is bold, brave, and comes from a place of gratitude and service for the community that has given her so much. Shannon is truly remarkable in her dedication to community activism and outreach, and I do not know anyone more deserving of this great distinction.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

Photo by Dylan Todd

Photo courtesy city of st. petersburg


Gina Driscoll

Susan Gore

St. Petersburg City Council Woman

LGBTQ Resource Center and Circle of Friends Chair

By Jim Nixon, City of St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office LGBTQ Liaison

By Greg Stemm, LGBTQ Resource Center Board Member

n every sense of the word, Gina

Driscoll is an advocate. For her community, for her family – and yes, even for her dogs.

She is a longtime St. Pete transplant from Dade City, where she grew up as the oldest of six. Her work has taken her to Orlando and North Carolina, but she has spent the last 13 years advocating for issues here in St Pete. I suspect Gina’s focus comes from her many years working in the hospitality industry and sales. She understands that not everyone sees eye to eye but has an innate ability to traverse differences in opinions to help guide us to fair decisions that are good for the whole. Gina is always looking for innovative ways to make our city better today, tomorrow and far beyond her term on City Council. Early in her term she took on the usage of single-use plastics throughout St. Pete, joining with local businesses to launch “NoStrawStPete” to reduce the use of plastic drinking straws. Gina sits on the Resiliency and Sustainability committee, perfect for this initiative. Early in her career and during her campaign, Gina was quickly embraced by the LGBTQ community. It was no surprise then that when she heard Orlando had proposed a resolution to recognize LGBTQ-certified businesses in its city procurement that she said, “Let’s do that, but make it better!” Gina reached out to St. Pete’s Small Business Liaison and Greenhouse Manager and to myself to determine how we might include and track LGBTQ businesses in our Small Business Enterprise program. In June, all seven members of City Council voted unanimously to recognize LGBTQ-owned businesses in the small business program. The resolution gave the business owners access to training, workshops and assistance as they grow their businesses. It takes empathy, understanding and allies to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and those who may not understand us. Gina Driscoll works day in and day out to bridge these and other gaps. She is a true advocate and is very worthy of the remarkable title.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.


usan Gore has become the de

facto “Miss Gulfport Library,” serving as the chair of both the Circle of Friends and the LGBTQ Resource Center.

The Circle of Friends is the philanthropic group that supports the Gulfport Public Library. When they started the LGBTQ Resource Center about five years ago, they had no idea it would lead the library into two prominent and prestigious national awards in just one year. The LGBTQ Resource Center, the only one of its kind at a public library in Florida, first won the Newlan-Symons award. The American Library Association used it to name the Center the best of its kind in North America. The library then went on to receive the nation’s highest possible honor given to libraries and museums, the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The Institute pointed to the Resource Center as one of the main criteria for the honor. The general circulation of the library has also more than doubled since the center was introduced and the collection now exceeds 7,000 volumes of both LGBTQ fiction and nonfiction. It includes an ever-expanding collection of LGBTQ themed DVDs. In 2019, the LGBTQ Resource Center proudly became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It’s there that Susan oversees a dedicated board of directors which produces at least one event per month. Things really kicking into high gear during Pride Month, when at least one event per week is held. Susan is proud that the Resource Center has been able to accomplish so much in just a few years and even prouder that the city of Gulfport and its residents have been so supportive. She’s said that when she discovered Gulfport a few years ago, she fell in love with it and “packed up the truck and the cats” to move to this small artsy community. The city has also fallen in love with her.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

community calendar

event planner arts+entertainment Orlando Deck the Halls Charity Ball 2019, Dec. 13, The Abbey, Orlando. 407-704-6103; It Was a Very Good Yule: Rat Pack, Dec. 13-22, Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando. 407-297-8788; “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” Dec. 1329, Shakespeare Theater, Orlando. 407-447-1700;

Warmer in Winter

Ugly Sweater Party, Dec. 14, SAVOY, Orlando. Sleigh Queen, Dec. 14-15, Rosen JCC, Orlando. 407-308-5119; ISSUES: The Beautiful Oblivion Tour, Dec. 15, House of Blues, Orlando. 407-934-2583;

Trans-Siberian Orchestra will bring holiday cheer to the Amway Center in Orlando Dec. 14 and the Amalie Arena in Tampa Dec. 15.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical, Dec. 21, Bob Carr Theater, Orlando. 844-513-2014;

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Dec. 15, Amalie Arena, Tampa. 813-301-6500;

Tampa Bay

The 2nd Annual Holiday Soiree, Dec. 18, Bear Den, Orlando. 407-425-7571;

The Lion in Winter, Dec. 13-22, freeFall Theatre, Saint Petersburg. 727-498-5205;

Lashes & Staches, Dec. 15, Punky’s Bar and Grill, Saint Petersburg. 727-201-4712;

HoliGAY Drag Party, Dec. 19, Sun on the Beach - Old Town, Kissimmee. 407-201-2544;

Dylan Todd @ The Arts Exchange, Dec. 14, Warehouse Arts District, St. Petersburg. 727-310-1212;

The Wind in the Willows Tour, Dec. 15, American Stage, Saint Petersburg. 727-823-7529;

Grinchmas, Dec. 19, Southern Nights, Orlando. 407-412-5039; SouthernNightsOrlando Toy Drive, Dec. 21, 26Health, Orlando. 321-800-2922; Nightmare Before Christmas at Savoy, Dec. 21, SAVOY, Orlando.

Dec. 19-21 & 23, 7-9 p.m. Parliament House, Orlando Drag queens Gidget Galore, Divine Grace, MRMS Adrien and Ginger Minj reunite for another Golden Girls-themed musical show at Parliament House. The show is 18+ and general admission is $25. VIP admission is $50 and includes seating in the first four rows, a meet and greet, early seating and a Golden Gals

Saturday, Dec. 21, 7:30-9 p.m. Lake Eola Park, Orlando

GaYBOR Holiday Pub Crawl, Dec. 15, Ybor City Historic District, Tampa. GaYborDistrictCoalition

Anuel AA Emmanuel World Tour, Dec. 19, Amway Center, Orlando. 407-440-7900;

“The Golden Gals - A Christmas Musical”

Nutcracker at Lake Eola

Baldwin Park Winter Spark Parade, Dec. 14, Downtown Baldwin Park, Orlando. 407-801-9562; Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Dec. 14, Amway Center, Orlando. 407-440-7900;

Central Florida

Invasion of the Ginjas Party, Dec. 14, Southern Nights, Tampa. 813-559-8625; SouthernNightsTampa Ybor Snow on 7th Parade, Dec. 14, Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, Tampa. 813-248-3712; SnowOn7th Holiday Classics: Sing-ALong White Christmas, Dec. 14-15, Tampa Theatre, Tampa. 813-274-8981;

A Very Mary Merry Xmas Spectacular, Dec. 16, Hamburger Mary’s, Clearwater. 727-400-6996; Drag Queen Bingo FUN-draiser, Dec. 17, Punky’s Bar and Grill, Saint Petersburg. 727-201-4712; The Isley Brothers, Dec. 19, Mahaffey Theater, Saint Petersburg. 727-300-2000;

Pasco Party, Dec. 19, Hamburger Mary’s, Clearwater. 727-400-6996; Aladdin, Dec. 19 - Jan. 5, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. 813-229-7827; Lindsey Stirling Warmer in Winter Tour, Dec. 20, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. 727-791-7400; “A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 21, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. 727-791-7400; Downtown Tampa Holiday Lighted Boat Parade 2019, Dec. 21, The Tampa Riverwalk, Tampa. 813-221-1539;

Sarasota “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” Dec. 13-15, Van Wezel, Sarasota. 941-953-3368; A Motown Christmas, Dec. 18-20, Sarasota Opera House, Sarasota. 941-366-1505;

Russian Ballet Orlando presents a community performance of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” The event is free to the public and will take place at Lake Eola Park’s Walt Disney Ampitheatre. The ballet will feature ballet dancers of all ages and “dazzling costumes, onstage blizzards and timeless choreography.” Seating opens at 6 p.m.

Central Florida Meet n Grease Movie Sing-A-Long with Danny and Sandy Saturday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m. MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Ampitheatre, Tampa “Grease” stars Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta will make their way to Tampa to relive one of their most famous roles with this sing-a-long screening followed by a Q&A with the actors. Tickets prices range from $25-$125, with VIP meet-and-greet tickets available. All attendees are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite character from the film.

Trans Holiday Cabaret Saturday, Dec. 21, 7-10 p.m. Metro Inclusive Health, Saint Petersburg Tampa Bay health provider Metro Inclusive Health hosts its first ever Trans Holiday Cabaret. The event will begin with a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres and a donation bar, then follow with a “special burlesque performance” and a talent competition. Metro Inclusive Health welcome any transgender, non-binary or otherwise gender-diverse people as well as allied loved ones to come.

To submit your upcoming event, concert, performance, or fundraiser visit

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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


tampa bay out+about



ore than 650 festive St Pete Pride supporters filled Sunken Gardens Dec. 7 for the organization’s annual Red & Green Party. Sunken Gardens houses some of the region’s oldest botanical treasures. Attendees of the 10th annual holiday party explored its growing collection while enjoying a silent auction, appetizers, an open bar and a four-queen drag competition hosted by Tampa Bay entertainer Adriana Sparkle. Ticket sales benefited St Pete Pride’s Community Grants program, which St Pete Pride President Chrys Bundy highlighted between performances by presenting a check for $1,000 to Family Resources President Lisa Davis. The organization works with vulnerable and often homeless LGBTQ youth throughout Pinellas County. He also presented EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim with a check for $2,000 to benefit the organization’s food pantry. The organization accepts donations in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa for those impacted by chronic illnesses throughout Tampa Bay. As the winner of the evening’s drag competition, Ashlee T. Bangkx received another check for $1,000 to donate to the charity of her choice. The entertainer chose Project No Labels, which seeks to unite Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ community through community engagement. “I want to thank everyone that’s here tonight for celebrating with us,” Bundy shared. “I hope that you give of your heart to our amazing awardees tonight.” For more information about 2019’s awardees, visit, and View a full photo gallery of the event at



ore than 100 LGBTQ advocates and allies attended a Pasco County School Board meeting in support of LGBTQ youth on Dec. 3. The effort was organized by Pasco Pride cultural liaison Myndee Washington. Supporters wore purple to show solidarity with bullied LGBTQ youth and Pasco County Schools’ use of a best practices guide designed to assist educators in better understanding LGBTQ students. Anti-LGBTQ activists have targeted school board members for more than a year to protest its usage. Washington is also the creator of Safe Schools for All Students, or SSAS, a group dedicated to safe and inclusive schools in Pasco County. For each anti-LGBTQ activist speaker, the group donated funds to The Trevor Project, raising nearly $300. “We overwhelmingly outnumbered the hate group’s speakers!” Pasco Pride shared Dec. 5. “It was a night of joy and tears as older speakers relayed their own traumas from navigating the school system without any protections, and current students begged for their rights to be upheld and their safety to be protected.” Pasco Pride urged supporters to join them for the school board’s next meeting on Dec. 17. For more information, visit


2 3


TALENTED TWO: Mya Valentine (L) and Jaeda Fuentes host Enigma’s talent night on Thanksgiving eve Nov. 27. PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMS-JENT


PARADE POSSE: John Simon (L) and Shannon Fortner represent LGBTQ Sarasota at the 24th annual Sarasota Holiday Parade Dec. 7. PHOTO BY RUSS MARTIN




EPIC DONATION: EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim (L) accepts a $2,000 community grant from St Pete Pride President Chrys Bundy at Red & Green 2019.



ELF CARE: The Balance Tampa Bay elves strike a pose at Hollander Hotel for the 9th annual Party for Presents Dec. 8. PHOTO BY RUSS MARTIN


GAL PALS: (L-R) Lindsey Burkholder, Jacie Ramsey, Lorae Malec and Tammy Benjamin kick back at MacDinton’s St. Pete Dec. 6. PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMS-JENT


PURPLE REIGN: Safe Schools for All Students mobilizes during the Pasco County School Board meeting Dec. 3.




DYNAMIC DUO: Beneva Fruitville (L) and Trixie Liemont reunite for an LGBTQ night at Umbrellas1296 Dec. 5. PHOTO BY RUSS MARTIN


LIT NIGHT: (L-R) Matt Craft, Alexis Bek and Brian Craft celebrate G2H2 Sarasota at Sage Dec. 5. PHOTO BY RUSS MARTIN

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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


central florida out+about

Jorge Estevez departs Orlando for Atlanta


ward-winning Central Florida newscaster Jorge Estevez announced on Facebook Nov. 26 that he would be leaving his position at WFTV Channel 9 for Atlanta’s WSB-TV. Estevez, who is an out and proud member of Orlando’s LGBTQ community, first came to WFTV in 2001 gaining attention with his coverage of the 9/11 attacks and how they impacted Central Florida’s tourism industry. He went on to become one of most well-known and respected journalists in Florida, anchoring newscasts for both WFTV and its sister station WRDQ TV 27. In 2006, Estevez left Orlando to work for the CBS affiliate in Miami, where won the first of nine Emmy Awards. He made his way back to Central Florida where over the last few years he has covered stories that have impacted Central Florida, specifically covering the LGBTQ community from marriage equality to the Pulse tragedy. Among the long list of awards and accolades Estevez has won during his time in Central Florida Watermark readers have consistently named him Favorite Local TV News Anchor in our annual WAVE Awards and earlier this year The LGBT+ Center named him the Champion of Equality at its annual Harvey Milk Breakfast. Estevez joins WSB-TV as that station’s first openly gay newscaster.






Parliament House’s courtyard gets lit


arliament House Orlando rang in the season with holiday cheer during its annual Light Up the Courtyard festivities Dec. 7. After a lively song and dance number from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” stars Jack Skellington and Sally, Parliament House Entertainment Director Ms. Darcel Stevens called for all the trees in the courtyard to be lit up. Dozens of trees and hundreds of twinkling lights illuminated the courtyard. Then attendees watched as Santa Claus, Mitzvah Moose, Krampus and other various holiday characters paraded down the courtyard with local LGBTQ organizations including the Central Florida Sounds of Freedom Band and Color Guard, Bliss Cares, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the Orlando Youth Alliance. Light up the courtyard is just the start of Parliament House’s holiday events. The popular LGBTQ nightclub will also play host to A Beary Merry Christmas 9, The Ladyboys of the Peek-aBoo Lounge’s Friday the 13th-themed holiday show, an ugly sweater party, the second annual Holiday Soiree & Toy Drive and “The Golden Gals Christmas Musical.” Information on all Parliament House’s holiday events can be found at and you can check out all our photos from Light Up the Courtyard at



Hot Holidays: Andrew Christian models Beaux Banks (L) and Arad Winwin attend the lighting of the courtyard at parliament House in Orlando Dec. 7. Photo by Jeremy Williams


Giving Back: State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (L) and Lane Blackwell embrace after Smith presents Blackwell with a city proclamation at Joy MCC’s 28th Annual Thanksgiving event Nov. 25. Photo by Danny Garcia


Rebel Resistance: Rob Ward (center) is captured by an army of Stormtroopers at the new Rise of the Resistance attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Dec. 5. Photo courtesy Rob Ward


Generous Donation: City Commissioner Patty Sheehan (L) with The Center’s Joel Morales as Sheehan presents The Center with a check donating the balance of her campaign funds to the LGBTQ organization Dec. 4.


Caring Community: (L-R) OCSO Deputy Brandon Regan, Ashley Figueroa, Deputy Robin Petrie and Nicole Parker at A BLISS Transgiving at East End Market in Orlando Nov. 23. Photo

courtesy Brandon Regan


Party Patrol: Sarah Wissig (L) and Jerick Mediavilla attend the third annual EskaMorani Holday Party in orlando Dec. 7. Photo


courtesy Sarah Wissig


Season’s Feast: The LGBT+ Center staff and boardmembers celebrate their Christmas party at Teatro Martini Dinner Show Dec. 7.

Photo courtesy Joel Morales


Holiday Business: Jeff Prystajko (L) and Tom Crist attend the Pride Chamber’s Holiday Business Connect and Board Elections at the Tupperware World Headquarters in Orlando Dec. 4. Photo by Dana Ng

Photo courtesy Patty Sheehan

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

8 December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

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Changing the lives of LGBTQ teens and young adults for over 25 years Social support groups Make friends Scholarships for college Weekly groups in Orange, Seminole & Polk counties

For more than 25 years Watermark has been the premiere source of LGBTQ news across Central Florida and Tampa Bay and we are expanding our team. For more than 25 years Watermark has been the premiere source Now you can be a part of the team that brings LGBTQ across Central Florida andpremiere Tampa source Bay Forofmore thannews 25 Watermark has been the theyears news to the LGBTQ community. weacross are expanding our and team. of LGBTQand news Central Florida Tampa Bay and we are expanding our team. Now you can be a part of the team that Are you motivated and outgoing?brings Now you can be a part of the team that brings news toorganized the LGBTQ community. Arethe you well starter with the anews to the LGBTQself community.


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Are motivated and outgoing? Areyou you Can you work well motivated by yourselfand as outgoing? well as with others? AreAre you selfstarter starterwith with youa awell wellorganized organized self Full time entry level position, great skills? greattime timemanagement management skills? health insurance benefits & 401K options. workwell wellby byyourself yourself as others? CanCan youyou work aswell wellasaswith with others? Fulltime timeentry entry level position, levelfor position, Watermark Publishing Group health is theFull premier media outlet the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender insurance benefits & 401K health insurance benefits & 401Koptions. options. community in Central and West Florida. Up to 20,000 copies of our biweekly newspaper are THOUSANDS of readers distributed every other Thursday throughout Central Florida, Tampa Bay and surrounding communities. would have just seen it. Watermark also produces a collection of high-gloss specialty publications, and a web site with a Watermark Publishing Group is the premier mediaonline outlet community. for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rapidly growing Watermarkcommunity PublishinginGroup isand theWest premier media outlet for the gay, andaretransgender Central Florida. Up to 20,000 copies of ourlesbian, biweeklybisexual newspaper Be see in the largest gay and lesbian market in the USA. other Thursday Central Florida, copies Tampa Bay and surrounding communities. distributed every community in Central and Westthroughout Florida. Up to 20,000 of our biweekly newspaper are Incoming mailbox size limit is 10MB per email. Emails larger than 10MB will not be received. Please optimize attachments accordingly. a collection of high-gloss specialty publications, and a web site with a Watermark also produces distributed every other Thursday throughout Central Florida, Tampa Bay and surrounding communities. Call for Rates rapidlyofgrowing onlinespecialty community. high-gloss publications, and a web site with a Watermark also produces a collection

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December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


wedding bells


Paul & Wesley Ray,

Richard Plummer and Russell Isenberg were engaged Nov. 29. Richard Furlow and Slade Dukes were engaged Nov. 30. Punky’s bar and grill in St. Pete celebrates its fourth anniversary Dec. 15.

from Gulfport, Florida

Marriage Date:

July 13, 2009


Vow Renewal and Wedding Date:

St. Petersburg’s Joseph R. battaglia passed away on Nov. 23. He was 50 years old. Dale Dees, world champion hair designer and owner of Central Florida’s The Salon, passed away Nov. 30.

Nov. 9, 2019


local bIrthDays

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Bill Yanson and Jackie Kreuter


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Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ, Island Flavors and Tings, Gulf Coast Seafood Florida

Photo by Larry Busby


fter the death of his

longtime partner in the late 1990s, Paul Ray didn’t think he would ever love again.

“I gave up,” he says. “I never wanted to go through anything like that ever again.” The Cape Cod native purchased an old RV and lived a nomadic life, taking on consulting jobs in different locales. Two years later, at the end of 1999, he traveled to Ocala to visit a friend. It was a trip that would forever change his life, as it’s when he first met his future husband. Paul met Wesley while shopping at Walmart with his friend – it turns out the individual he was visiting was a mutual friend. “We just hit it off,” Paul says. “It’s a fun story, meeting in a Walmart in Ocala. Usually, I tell the joke that he was a markdown. Then he says, no, he was a return.” He invited Wesley to dinner – he made vegetarian lasagna – and their relationship moved quickly. “We met and it clicked right away,” Wesley says. Paul adds, “It was like we were best friends as soon as we met.” Just weeks after meeting, though, Paul was offered a job in Silicon Valley. Wesley decided

to take a chance and go to California with him. “I went with him knowing that if it didn’t work out, I could go home,” he recalls. The couple has been together ever since. For nearly nine years, they traveled the country together. “From California to Massachusetts and everywhere in between,” Paul says. Eventually, they wanted to settle down somewhere. Since Wesley was born and raised in St. Petersburg, they often visited Florida. During these trips, Paul discovered the city of Gulfport and fell in love. It reminded him of home. “It’s very much like a lot of the small communities on Cape Cod,” he says. “I fell in love with the community. I fell in love with the people.” They moved to Gulfport in 2009 and immediately became involved in the community. Paul is the first openly gay man on Gulfport City Council and currently serves as vice mayor. The couple loves the Gulfport community so much that they

hosted a public celebration of their 20 years together and a vow renewal ceremony. Originally, they had a quick marriage by justice of the peace in July 2009 while visiting Massachusetts for his mother’s funeral. It was one of the few states that allowed same-sex marriage at the time. “It was one of those, ‘Hey, let’s get married.’ We signed the paperwork and went home,” Paul says. “We didn’t even understand what a wedding was until recently. After 20 years together, we decided to throw a party for the city of Gulfport and all of our friends.” On Nov. 9, the 20th anniversary of the date they met, they held their vow renewal ceremony on the beach in downtown Gulfport, followed by a Hawaiian-themed wedding reception at Salty’s bar. The public wedding and vow renewal “sends a really nice message to the community,” Paul says. “It’s significant to have been together for 20 years … It’s good for people to see that same-sex couples, and straight couples, can stay together a really long time. Gay or straight, it’s wonderful.” Wesley adds, “After 20 years, renewing our vows means a lot.” — Tiffany Razzano

Central Florida Ford-dealing bear Fred berliner (Dec. 11); Equality Florida’s Ed Lally, Florida House Rep. Jennifer Webb, Orlando Chorus baritone Jamie Decker, Sarasota realtor Jim Jablonski, St. Pete Twirler Jose Luis Perez, Altamonte Springs chiropractor Dr. bradford Levine (Dec. 12); Walt Disney’s Mark Catlett-Miller, 4 Corners writer Lawrence W. Caul (Dec. 13); Orlando Weekly publisher graham Jarrett, Come Out With Pride’s Joyce almeida, drag performer hunter holloway, Come Out With Pride’s holly Strout, Bradenton MAC makeup artist Joey Killmeyer (Dec. 14); Former Tampa MCC Pastor Rev. Phyllis hunt, St. Petersburg outdoor lover Dan Barrett, Clearwater softball stud gregory Toth, Orange County library’s ben garcia (Dec. 15); Watermark contributor and entertainer Divine grace, 26 Health’s brittani acuff, Tampa Bay lawyer David Schauer, St. Andrew UCC Sarasota’s Paul Werner (Dec. 16); OAK Central Florida’s Ken Terrell, Sage SRQ’s Christopher Covelli (Dec. 17); St. Petersburg sculptor Mark aeling, Spectrum News 9’s Trevor Ellerbroek-Pettiford, Honey Pot owner Stephen Moss (Dec. 18); GayDayS’ Chris Manley, IBEX puppetmaster heather henson, Tampa Bay entertainer Elaine Southern Belle (Dec. 19); St. Petersburg caterer Steve gallo, Parliament House drink slinger Tish, Watermark creative/ photographer Dylan Todd, Florist to the stars Jacob McCall, Orlando realtor Jeff Ritchie, The District at Mills 50 manager Jamey Harper, Woodfield Fine Art owner Jim Woodfield, Project No Labels’ Rosita Carazo, St. Petersburg loan officer Steven Robertson (Dec. 20); Tampa Bay entertainer Kathryn Nevets, Tampa Bay realtor gabe alves-Tomko, Universal Orlando’s Christian Conde, Orlando’s Hamburger Mary’s co-founder Tom Schneider (Dec. 21); Paintmix Central Florida’s Robert Ramos Carney, Academic tutor Cynthia Wurner (Dec. 22); Tampa Bay rocker Lisa Noe, Fundraising extraordinaire Jeffrey Lucas, Joel Schmitz CPA partner Mike Lang, (Dec. 23); Tampa writer Caitlin Jones, Orlando entrepreneur Eve hunt, PCYD president Johnny boykins (Dec. 24); Penguin Point Productions owner James brendlinger (Dec. 25).

Do you have an interesting wedding or engagement story you’d like to share with Watermark readers? If so, email the details to for consideration as a future feature on this page.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com


the last page I love the significant amount of talent found in our community. From drag performers to comedians and actors. Attending any LGBTQA entertainment event in Central Florida is guaranteed to be a good time.


Elmira, New York

Identifies As: Gay

What would you like to see improved in the local LGBTQ community?

Pronouns: He/Him/His

I would like to see better cohesiveness and teamwork between the LGBTQA organizations. If we work together we could accomplish so much more.

Out Year: 1999


Nurse Practitioner

What would you like our readers to know about you?

Professional role model:

I am a fast-paced, motivated individual who hides my sensitive side very well.

Dr. David Lyter

Autobiography Title:

What advice would you give your younger self?

“My Life As A Blooper Reel“ or “A Series Of Fortunate Gay Events”

Listen more, watch more, learn more, remember more. What inspired you want to get into the healthcare field?


Boating, traveling, shopping

Joseph Knoll

F ounder of S pektrum H ealth

T Recommend People to: Central Florida Bureau Chief Jeremy Williams at: Tampa Bay Bureau Chief Ryan Williams-Jent at:


he Last Page is dedicated

to individuals who are making a positive impact on the LGBTQ community in Central Florida and Tampa Bay. This issue, we check in with founder of SPEKTRUM Health Joseph Knoll from Central Florida. Keep an eye on this space to learn more about the movers and shakers of your community. What do you do professionally?

I am an Advance Practice Registered Nurse. I founded and run SPEKTRUM Health; a different type of LGBTQA health experience.

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

How do you champion for the local LGBTQ community?

I support improved physical and mental health goals for LGBTQA people. The organization I founded works hard to provide these services

to people local and throughout the country. We are a true charity, raising money to help people who could otherwise not afford the services they require to achieve peak health. What is your favorite thing to read in Watermark?

Out & About.

What is your favorite local LGBTQ event?

Light Up The Courtyard at Parliament House. It’s the gayest Christmas event around and I love it! What is your favorite thing about the local LGBTQ community?

I have always gotten a good feeling from helping people. As I have grown in the healthcare profession I realized there are other ways to help people that could be more impactful. By helping individuals make their own health goals and spending time coaching them I can empower them to maintain it. What does SPEKTRUM Health offer that patients can’t get anywhere else?

We offer a better health experience. There are lots of options for healthcare, but I can promise that no organization works as hard as mine to ensure that our patients are listened to, cared for and empowered to achieve — and most importantly maintain — their health goals. We work very hard to take the workload and burden off our patients and keep accessing healthcare in a simple, and sometimes fun, process. We have a variety of convenient and alternative ways to access our services and the best part is there is still way more to come!

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com

watermark Your LGBTQ life.

December 12 - Decemb er 25 , 2019 // Issue 26 . 25 wat e r m a r konline .com



YOUR LIFESTYLE. LIFESTYLE. YOUR Now Accepting Accepting New Now New Patients! Patients!

When you need a doctor, you want to count on a trusted healthcare provider who’s close, convenient When you need a doctor, you want to count on a trusted healthcare provider who’s close, convenient and caring. That’s why Orlando Health Physician Associates offers quality care for you and your family, and caring. That’s why Orlando Health Physician Associates offers quality care for you and your family, nearby and at flexible hours – plus online scheduling and same-day and next-day appointments. nearby and at flexible hours – plus online scheduling and same-day and next-day appointments. Adult Care | Family Medicine | Pediatrics | Women’s Health Adult Care | Family Medicine | Pediatrics | Women’s Health To schedule an appointment, call (321) 841-3724 or visit To schedule an appointment, call (321) 841-3724 or visit

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Watermark Issue 26.25: Remarkable People  

Watermark presents the 19 Most Remarkable People of 2019 from Central Florida and Tampa Bay, NFL seeks LGBT businesses for Tampa Bay Super B...

Watermark Issue 26.25: Remarkable People  

Watermark presents the 19 Most Remarkable People of 2019 from Central Florida and Tampa Bay, NFL seeks LGBT businesses for Tampa Bay Super B...