2019 was a year for the LGBTQ record books

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Of course not! That’s why after a historical 365 days, Watermark has assembled our annual year in review.

2019 was a landmark year for us here at Watermark. In August, we proudly celebrated 25 years of serving Central Florida and Tampa Bay’s ever-expanding LGBTQ communities.

“Watermark is your LGBTQ life, wherever you fall on the spectrum,” owner, publisher and editor Rick Claggett shared at the time. “Watermark is the voice of the LGBTQ community and that is vital. This makes Watermark more important than any one person – it’s a collective, it’s all of you.”

We think you’ll see that here. We’ve compiled a community calendar that looks back on some of the biggest moments of the year – recapping the headlines in Central Florida, Tampa Bay and across the state, nation and world that prove 2019 was a year for the LGBTQ record books.

So bid your LGBTQ year goodbye one final time and from all of us here at Watermark, Happy New Year!


In the pages of Watermark, we start off 2019 on a healthy note. We look at the local LGBTQ community and the road to addiction recovery, as well as gather some LGBTQ-specific healthcare questions you should be discussing with your provider.

In Tampa Bay, Metro announces its state-of-the art health and community center in St. Petersburg will be having its grand re-opening. They also unveil their new company name, Metro Inclusive Health.

In Orlando, entertainer Blue Star announces that after six years in the Ivanhoe Village, her theater space, The Venue, would be closing in September. Speaking of The Venue, it plays host to Come Out With Pride as they release the news that they intend to bid for WorldPride in 2026.

On the state level, it was good news/bad news to start the year as newly sworn in Gov. Ron DeSantis issues an executive order to reaffirm the state’s commitment to diversity, but fails to mention anything about sexual orientation or gender identity. New Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, however, takes the start of her term in office to add sexual orientation and gender identity to her department’s list of workplace protections.

Nationally, the news looks pretty grim as the Supreme Court lets the Trump administration’s transgender military ban go into effect, Grindr shutters its digital publication and Vice President Mike Pence applauds mother’s new job as a teacher at an anti-LGBTQ school (in case you were wondering, the VP refers to his wife, Karen Pence, as mother).


Florida lawmakers introduce two differing LGBTQ Equality Bills which divide statewide activists. State Rep. Jennifer Webb and state Sen. Darryl Rouson introduce the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA) which was backed by Equality Florida, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and others. Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters introduces the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act (FIWA), which is backed by Miami-based LGBTQ group SAVE, the Palm Beach HRC, TransLatina and others. Shortly after both bills are introduced, Watermark devotes an in-depth look at each bill in our second February issue.

Along with Watermark’s in-depth look at the Florida Equality bills, we feature 10 eligible singles in Central Florida and Tampa Bay for our annual Valentine’s Day Singles issue.

Tampa sees a setback in its citywide conversion therapy ban when a federal magistrate recommends Tampa be barred from enforcing parts of its ban. The magistrate judge’s report will be sent to a federal judge to issue a ruling on the ban.

In Orlando, Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf accepts a position at Equality Florida as the Central Florida development officer and the organization’s statewide media relations manager.

In Chicago, the openly gay star of “Empire,” Jussie Smollett, reports that he was attacked by two masked men who yelled racial and anti-gay slurs at him. Smollett claims the men wrapped a rope around his neck and poured a chemical on him. Through the month, Chicago police will eventually turn to Smollett who they say faked the attack as a way to advance his name and career.


Watermark celebrates its local LGBTQ favorites on the covers of our annual WAVES issue. We also showcase Tampa’s soon-to-be first openly gay mayor, Jane Castor.

In Orlando, One Magical Weekend owners Billy Looper and Tom Christ announce the creation of the KindRED Pride Foundation, a nonprofit formed to help other LGBTQ nonprofits and to help keep the spirit of the first weekend of June in Central Florida alive as Red Shirt Pride Days.

Parliament House entertainer Jazell Barbie Royale is crowned Miss International Queen in Thailand. She is only the second U.S. contestant and the first black trans woman to win the pageant.

In Tampa Bay, the atmosphere is less celebratory as Hamburger Mary’s owner Kurt King announces he will also be closing the Mary’s in Brandon and St. Petersburg, after shutting down his Ybor City Mary’s. King says it is due to the Florida Department of Health’s “slanderous assault on Mary’s good name” after a reported positive case of hepatitis A at the Ybor location.

The Florida House State Affairs Committee debate on a bill that would strip all local nondiscrimination ordinances and conversion therapy bans across Florida. After making its way through Legislative committees, the bill dies before making it to the full House or Senate.

In Washington, with the House now under Democratic control, the Equality Act returns with overwhelming support. It will go on to pass in the House but that’s as far as it goes as the U.S. Senate is still Republican country.


April brings about our first in a series of in-depth stories looking at those who are LGBTQ experiencing discrimination within their very own community. This issue looks at the racial divide within the LGBTQ community. Watermark also says all bodies are beach ready as we feature models with a variety of body types sporting fun swimwear.

Orlando becomes the first city in the state to recognize LGBTQ-certified businesses as Mayor Buddy Dyer signs the LGBTQ+ Business Inclusion Resolution which will allow the city to develop a database and registry of LGBTQ-certified businesses. The legendary Ms. Darcel Stevens, Parliament House’s drag sensation and entertainment director, is crowned Miss Continental Plus 2019.

In Tampa, Watermark chats with Lorenzo Gilbert, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers first openly gay, male cheerleader. Speaking of firsts, Tampa elects their former police chief, Jane Castor, as mayor and makes her the city’s first openly LGBTQ person to hold the office.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried continues to make us proud up in Tallahassee as she appoints the department’s first ever LGBTQ Liaison. The position is held by Nik Harris.

The LGBTQ community sees more firsts as openly gay Mayor Pete Buttigieg declares his candidacy for president of the United States. Even as there is much to celebrate, April brings with it a few showers as the Trump administration’s trans military ban officially goes into effect.


As we approach the summer months, Watermark shares stories from members of the community who express how they are able to live as their authentic selves while maintaining a religious relationship with church. We also take an in-depth look into what June’s Red Shirt Pride Days is all about from members of the KindRED Pride Foundation’s board.

The month kicks off in Tampa Bay with Mayor Jane Castor being sworn in, as well as the Gulfport Public Library being recognized with the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

The LGBT+ Center honors local heroes with the 2019 Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast. The organization recognizes newscaster Jorge Estevez, super ally Lynn Dictor, Osceola County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, the business team at Addition Financial and Watermark’s very own owner/publisher/editor Rick Claggett.

In Tallahassee, Florida’s 2019 Legislative session ends and, once again, the FCWA is not passed. This is the 10th year it has been introduced and the 10th year it has not been voted on.

Nationally, the House of Representatives passes the Equality Act. While it is a big win for the LGBTQ community, it is mostly for show as the Republican-led Senate will not even take it up in committee.

On the other side of the world, Taiwan becomes the first country in Asia to allow marriage equality after lawmakers approve a bill that would extend the rights to same-sex couples.


Watermark starts off the busiest month of the queer year — LGBTQ Pride Month — with Red Shirt Pride Days in Orlando. Australian pop duo The Veronicas grace our cover as they play to a packed house for Girls In Wonderland. Watermark’s other June cover features musical sensation Lisa Loeb, who takes the stage during St Pete Pride. Scheduled performer Rita Ora cancels.

In Central Florida, Environmental activist Eric Rollings leads a team of LGBTQ activists which helps get single-use straws, plastic bags and foam containers banned at all City of Orlando properties. MBA Orlando also announces a name change as the business group will now be known as The Pride Chamber. Orlando also remembers the three-year mark of the Pulse tragedy.

Tampa Bay gets into the business of LGBTQ certification as St. Petersburg recognizes LGBTQ-certified businesses. In New Port Richey, Pasco Pride adopts a one-mile stretch of Moon Lake Road, a section formerly claimed by the Ku Klux Klan.

State Rep. Mike Hill apologizes to the LGBTQ community after an audio recording is released of a public meeting in which Hill can be heard laughing after one of his constituents suggests Hill file legislation requiring LGBTQ people be put to death.

The end of June brings on a global celebration as the LGBTQ community remembers the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots. New York City is filled with millions as #Stonewall50 trends on social media and the Big Apple welcomes the year’s biggest party, WorldPride.


As drag entertainers enchant readers young and old with Drag Queen Story Hours across the nation, Watermark begins July with some light reading. We chat with Story Hour sensations from across Central Florida and Tampa Bay about the pride and prejudice surrounding their family-friendly gatherings.

In Central Florida, Embrace Families – an organization that manages the foster care and adoption system for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties – bolsters its efforts to reach same-sex couples. LGBTQ activist Joel Strack, a pioneer in Central Florida’s fight for equality, passes away at 59.

Another era ends in Tampa Bay as the Flamingo Resort announces its imminent closure after serving the area’s LGBTQ community for more than 10 years. The Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus, which has 19 statewide chapters and will rebrand later in the year, holds it summer conference in Tampa.

In South Florida, the LGBTQ advocacy organization SAVE terminates its executive director after four men charged with hate crimes in an anti-LGBTQ attack attended the group’s annual gala. Advocates also raise awareness about LGBTQ-related sexual assault and domestic violence.

Just days after celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the state of LGBTQ equality is called into question across the nation. The U.S. Supreme Court announces it will hear arguments on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination on Oct. 8, setting up a civil rights showdown.


Watermark proudly celebrates 25 years of serving Central Florida and Tampa Bay in August, reflecting on a quarter century of our community’s collective tragedies and triumphs. We review the heartbreaks, heroism and headlines that have filled our pages since 1994.

Traditionally held in June, Orlando’s GayDayS holds its first and possibly only August outing. Organizers announce a return to form in 2020. Activists also call for Orange County to ban conversion therapy.

The Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce welcomes the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to Tampa for the 2019 International Business & Leadership Conference mid-August, the largest gathering of LGBT business leaders and allies in the world. Mayor Jane Castor announces an executive order directing the city to recognize LGBT-certified businesses in contracting opportunities.

Florida Rep. Shevrin Jones, who will become Florida’s first openly-LGBTQ state senator in 2020 if elected, receives an early endorsement from Equality Florida. State officials also declare a public health emergency over the rising number of hepatitis A cases in Florida.

In a reversal from 2016, the National Log Cabin Republicans endorse Donald Trump for reelection in 2020. The group asserts the president “met his commitments” to members of the LGBTQ community in the same week his administration proposes a rule to allow federal contractors to fire and refuse to hire LGBTQ employees for religious objections.


Watermark turns to the future in September with our inaugural list of Tomorrow’s Leaders Today. We showcase 10 LGBTQ youth under 30 who are making a difference in their communities throughout Central Florida and Tampa Bay. We also preview the 30th annual Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Equality Florida Action PAC endorses Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s reelection efforts, calling him “a champion for our LGBTQ community.” The expanding Hope & Help Center of Central Florida also announces it will move to a new location.

Bipartisan Tampa Bay lawmakers lead the fight for statewide LGBTQ protections, vowing to pass the FCWA with widespread bipartisan support next year.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida elects Dr. Boyd Lindsley to chair its board of directors. The 23-member board consists of a 22-county region across the state and he becomes the first openly gay man to serve in the role. South Florida’s Bee Love Slater, a transgender woman of color, becomes the 18th transgender person killed in the U.S. this year. According to an investigative report, it’s also revealed that Sen. Rick Scott rejected $70 million in federal funds to address HIV in Florida while governor.

In mid-September, a same-sex married couple from Maryland files a federal lawsuit against the State Dept. over its refusal to recognize their daughter’s U.S. citizenship. Their daughter was born via surrogate in Canada in February.


For LGBTQ History Month, Mayor Pete Buttigieg covers Watermark in an exclusive interview with the National LGBT Media Association, the coalition of LGBTQ print and web publications spanning coast-to-coast of which we are a part. He talks his historic bid for president and more.

In Orlando, Come Out With Pride makes history in its 15th year. The celebration is the most eco-friendly event in the City Beautiful’s history. Two Spirit Health Services rebrands as 26 Health and Central Florida mourns the loss of “Grand Ole Gal of the South” Carmella Marcella Garcia.

Tampa sustains another type of loss as a federal judge strikes down the city’s conversion therapy ban. Former Hamburger Mary’s owner Kurt King announces that he is suing the Florida Dept. of Health in Hillsborough County for discrimination after the closure of his Brandon, St. Petersburg and Tampa restaurants.

The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, formerly the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, deliberately unveils its new name on National Coming Out Day. In D.C., the Supreme Court weighs whether civil rights law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, with a decision expected by early summer 2020. Colombian Sen. Claudia Lopez becomes the first lesbian and woman elected mayor of her country’s capital city.

With a potential conversion therapy ban on the horizon in Central Florida and after the legal loss in Tampa, Watermark closes LGBTQ History Month by talking to survivors of the discredited practice. They bravely share their stories.


After attending the inaugural National Transgender Visibility March in D.C., a young transgender woman shares her journey to activism with readers. Watermark also examines U=U, or Undetectable = Untransmittable, ahead of World AIDS Day 2019.

In Orlando, details emerge about the winning design team for the Pulse Memorial & Museum, expected to be completed in 2022. The winning design will feature a fountain, shallow reflecting pool and a garden filled with 49 trees. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer is overwhelmingly re-elected.

The city of Tampa appeals the ruling striking down its conversion therapy ban, vowing to fight for LGBTQ youth. Its dedication to equality is also evident when the Human Rights Campaign unveils that the city – along with St. Petersburg and Orlando – received perfect scores of 100 in the organization’s annual Municipal Equality Index.

While more than 20 cities, counties and municipalities throughout Florida have enacted bans on conversion therapy, lawmakers move to ban it on the state level. The 16th annual SMART Ride also raises a record $1.3 million for HIV/AIDS services throughout Florida.

As a rainbow wave sweeps the U.S., with 81 openly LGBTQ candidates winning political races across the country, the Trans Murder Monitoring research project reports grimmer worldwide news. Ahead of International Transgender Day of Remembrance 2019, they note 331 murders of transgender and gender-diverse individuals occurred from Oct. 1, 2018 – Sept. 2019.


Watermark closes out 2019 by presenting 19 community advocates and allies who made the year such a remarkable one. We release our annual list of Most Remarkable People, showcasing individuals who made a difference in Central Florida and Tampa Bay throughout the year.

The Florida Puerto Rican Parade and Festival looks to make a difference in 2020 as the Orlando gathering announces its formation of a new LGBTQ+ committee. The onePULSE Foundation receives a $1 million donation from AdventHealth to fund a healthcare-focused scholarship and assist in the forthcoming museum’s educational curriculum.

The NFL looks to 2021 in Tampa, where planning for Super Bowl LV is underway. The organization announces it’s seeking LGBT-owned businesses for contracting opportunities ahead of their Tampa Bay touchdown. Pasco Pride looks to the future in another way, with more than 100 community advocates attending a Pasco County School Board meeting in support of LGBTQ youth.

Eyes turn to a federal court in Georgia as a judge weighs the restroom use by a transgender Florida student. The ruling could push the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Canadian Prime Minister and LGBTQ ally Justin Trudeau calls for a ban on conversion therapy across his country, the U.S. settles in for another election year. Donald Trump becomes the third president in U.S. history to be impeached in late December and 2020 Democratic hopeful Mayor Pete Buttigieg asserts that the U.S. is ready for a gay president.

More in Features

See More