Life has been insanely busy around the Watermark offices the past two months. In addition to producing our biweekly newspaper we completed two additional publications that are available to readers this week. The St. Pete Pride Program is available wherever Watermark is distributed and our GD2010 Guide is inside this issue. The GD2010 Guide offers the most complete roundup of everything surrounding Orlando’s Big Gay Weekend June 4-7.
I say that not to brag—okay, maybe there’s a little bit of bragging there—but to shine a spotlight on the thriving LGBT communities in Central and West Florida. June is undoubtedly the busiest month for me and the rest of the staff here at Watermark. We have a lot of news to cover, plenty of events to attend and this year we’re even throwing a party. (Check out the ad on page 38).
But despite the busy schedules ahead, it’s important to understand the driving force behind all of the activity. It’s about celebration and recognition. Thankfully, thanks to television shows featuring LGBT characters and mainstream newspapers covering our events, it’s more obvious than ever just how large a segment of society we are.
As Gay Days celebrates 20 years this month, it’s hard to believe that what started as a small gathering of LGBTs in 1991 has exploded into the event it is today. Twenty years ago, I was a teenager in Missouri still subjected to the opinions and whims of my parents. I remember them reminding me to boycott Disney products because of something happening “way down” in Florida. It was a confusing time, especially since my church group had a tradition of seeing the newest animated Disney adventure each summer. I clearly remember going to see The Lion King when it opened in theaters in 1994. I also remember secretly laughing when fellow church members realized how many of the films and television shows they loved were produced by or affiliated with the Mouse House. That “Touchstone” logo always cracked me up.
The “boycott” idea eventually lost steam sometime after I went off to college and most of those people now know I’m gay. (Thanks, Facebook.)
So today, instead of encouraging me to boycott a company that embraces diversity, I get asked one simple but persistent question by those outside of our community: “Why?”
“Why do you need to have a film festival devoted to LGBTs?”
“Why is there a newspaper that focuses on LGBTs?”
“Why do you have to have a street festival and parade to show your Pride?”
“Why do you want to get married?”
“Why do you have to gather at theme parks and attractions all on the same day just to show that you’re out there?”
The list of questions can go on-and-on, but the answers to all of these are the same—because we can, because we’re not going away and because until the rest of the world accepts us unconditionally, we’ll continue to celebrate who we are as publicly as possible.
Pride events, film festivals and yes, even Gay Days Weekend in Orlando, all serve these purposes. I’ve never been one for separating people into the “Us vs. Them” camps, but sometimes standing in solidarity is the only way to prove you exist and that you’re not going to hide in the background.
When I was a child and vacationing at Disney World with my parents, I am sure my parents would have freaked if they saw two men holding hands. I also know that I would have seen that the feelings I had toward other boys wasn’t something that I should hide, but rather, embrace.
I, like so many of my LGBT brothers and sisters, was terrified to come out of the closet because I knew I was the only one out there with same-sex attraction. Had I been allowed to see same-sex couples on television or in a theme park, I wouldn’t have felt so isolated.
So, while we are all enjoying the festivities throughout Orlando in early June and in Tampa Bay throughout the rest of the month, remember—the world is watching, and that’s a good thing.