2022’s impact on the LGBTQ communities of Central Florida and Tampa Bay

What a year this turned out to be. More so than any recent year, 2022 felt like we were all on a roller coaster – with not only its ups and downs but its barrel rolls, loop de loops and corkscrews.

We celebrated major wins in the LGBTQ community including President Joe Biden signing the Respect for Marriage Act into law to provide federal protections to same-sex and interracial marriages. We saw parties during the first weekend of June return from GayDays, One Magical Weekend, Girls in Wonderland and Tidal Wave Party and marked 20 years of St Pete Pride. We celebrated the return of Brittney Griner, the election of Maxwell Alejandro Frost as the first Gen Zer elected to Congress and watched Ginger Minj in “Hocus Pocus 2.”

We also saw Florida Republicans, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, attack the LGBTQ community with the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law, blocking gender-affirming care and school sports from trans youth and feeding into the “groomers” lie that led Nazis to protest Drag Queen Story Hours, Pride events and anywhere our community gathered. We also watched as a gunman attacked an LGBTQ club in Colorado, bringing up memories of the 2016 attack on Pulse.

Through all of it — the good and the bad — the LGBTQ community stood together, proud and strong. Join us as we look 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 2022 was a year for the history books.


Watermark begins the year with a focus on health care for the LGBTQ community. We detail local services from 26Health, Bliss Health, CAN Community Health, CrewHealth, Empath Partners in Care, Diversity Health Center of Tampa Bay, Harmony Healthcare, Metro Inclusive Health, Orlando Immunology Center, Spektrum Health and more. We also speak with drag icon Leigh Shannon who reflects on his health and highlight organizations which hold proms for LGBTQ youth, among them ALSO Youth and Zebra Coalition.

Stonewall Orlando closes its doors as the bar searches for a new owner and Central Florida organizations make big announcements. Dr. George Wallace, the LGBT+ Center Orlando’s executive director, is promoted to the nonprofit’s first-ever Chief Executive Officer. The Central Florida chapter of the Gay Officers Action League also shares that Ashley Figueroa will be the group’s new executive director.

Sarasota Pride plans its 31st celebration, ultimately postponing until October due to continued COVID-19 concerns. Tampa drag legend Gerald J. Mayes, Tiffani Middlesexx, dies at 73. The longtime entertainer captivated audiences throughout Florida for decades. EPIC is also awarded a check for $60,000 for participating in The SMART Ride 2021 while being named a beneficiary of the fundraiser in 2022.

Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide-elected Democrat in Florida, continues to cultivate the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ new online resource for LGBTQ Floridians. Its addition followed the removal of a similar resource by the Florida Department of Education in late 2021, which she calls another attack on LGBTQ Floridians from DeSantis’ administration. Tallahassee police confirm that prominent LGBTQ activist Jorge Diaz-Johnston is found dead in a Florida landfill and Duval Princess, a hairstylist who was 24 and transgender, is killed in Jacksonville.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announces that his department will allow the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other when veterans select their gender in medical records and healthcare documentation. “All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” he says. France and Greece also end their restrictions on gay and bisexual blood donations and Canada officially bans the discredited practice of conversion therapy.


As conservative groups work to ban diverse and inclusive books nationwide, Watermark highlights Black, queer authors everyone should read. They include works from Jasmine Mans, Danez Smith, Jericho Brown, Audre Lorde and George M. Johnson. We also speak with Broadway legend Audra McDonald as she visits Sarasota and set the stage for 2022’s LGBTQ celebrations happening worldwide, from the White Party in Palm Springs to EuroPride.

After more than 15 years under The Pride Chamber, Come Out With Pride announces that it will begin operating independently. Orlando Veterans Affairs also names Keri Griffin as the medical center’s fulltime LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Program Coordinator and Special Emphasis Program Manager. Meanwhile, the onePULSE Foundation begins its search for an executive director as Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse and founding CEO, steps away from the title.

Equality Florida unveils its first LGBTQ mural in Tampa, designed by fan favorite artist Chad Mize. The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus plans their winter conference in St. Petersburg, focusing on voter registration and turnout ahead of the midterm election. Hot 101.5’s “The Miguel & Holly Show” also ends after seven years as hosts Miguel Fuller and Holly O’Connor announce its cross-country move.

LGBTQ advocates throughout the state prepare for what Equality Florida calls “the most dangerous 60 days in our state,” already underway in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. The organization warns supporters about anti-LGBTQ bills including HB 1557, “Parental Rights in Education.” As it limits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, it’s dubbed “Don’t Say Gay or Trans.”

After the Florida Legislature advances it, the White House speaks out. Biden’s administration says it is “designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most.” Other anti-LGBTQ bills mount across the nation as France bans conversion therapy and Germany appoints its first commissioner for the acceptance of sexual and gender diversity.


The Watermark Awards for Variety and Excellence return with new categories and major, in-person celebrations. Central Florida and Tampa Bay readers vote in record numbers, making it one of the biggest WAVEs ever. After the Florida Legislature passes and DeSantis signs “Parental Rights in Education” into law, we speak with LGBTQ advocates who say “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” silences LGBTQ youth. We also speak with Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees founder Arsham Parsi whose advocacy brings him to Florida.

The LGBT+ Center Orlando creates a performing arts scholarship named after the late Sam Singhaus, also known as legendary drag performer Miss Sammy, and his sister-in-law, costume designer Marcy Singhaus. By July, 10 recipients are awarded a total of $10,000. Come Out With Pride hosts its first adult-only prom, allowing LGBTQ attendees to attend prom the way they originally wanted, and GayDayS sets its June return with news that it’s been sold to Joseph Clark and Thomas Souriya.

Manatee Pride returns for its seventh celebration, its first from new presenter ALSO Youth. St Pete Pride also welcomes its new executive director and board, committing to strengthen the organization in and beyond its 20th year, and Metro Inclusive Health launches pediatric care. Tampa Pride holds its eighth celebration in Ybor City while the Tampa Police charge a suspect in the murder of Jenny De Leon, a 25-year-old transgender woman who was found dead in late 2021.

The Walt Disney Company pauses political contributions in Florida due to “Parental Rights in Education.” CEO Bob Chapek, who will be replaced by his predecessor later in the year, apologizes to LGBTQ employees for not speaking out against it sooner. LGBTQ advocates statewide continue to decry its passage and support from DeSantis; Equality Florida says “he has attacked parents and children in our state by invoking hateful anti-LGBTQ stereotypes all to pander to his right-wing base as he prepares to run for President in 2024.”

Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who will become a target of DeSantis and other conservative voices in the months to come, makes history when she becomes the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. Phoenix Mercury WNBA player and a two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner’s detainment by Russian authorities on drug charges is also made public as her wife Cherelle speaks out. Two gay men become the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Chile.


Watermark plants roots in April, highlighting gardeners, sustainable living organizations and likeminded enthusiasts in Central Florida and Tampa Bay. In arts coverage, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts sinks its teeth into “Little Shop of Horrors” in Tampa and we preview the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival’s 31st year.

B-52 frontman Fred Schneider co-launches his philanthropic roastery in DeLand, donating a portion of every coffee’s purchase to worthy causes. Dining Out for Life returns to benefit The LGBT+ Center in Orlando as Mayor Buddy Dyer, District 4 City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and members of the One Orlando Alliance kickoff the fifth annual Acts of Love and Kindness.

Dining Out for Life also returns to Tampa Bay, once again benefiting EPIC. An executive councilmember of the Suncoast Softball League, the region’s largest LGBTQ sports organization, also draws the ire of some members for publicly sharing anti-LGBTQ content from his social media account. He resigns two days after leadership voted he could retain his position as secretary and subsequently loses re-election for another position.

Equality Florida celebrates 25 years as the state’s largest LGBTQ-focused civil rights organization, doing so in St. Petersburg. The organization is also among the plaintiffs in the first lawsuit challenging Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law. A Florida grand jury charges Steven Yinger with the murder of his roommate, LGBTQ activist Jorge Diaz-Johnston.

In a first, Biden meets with lawmakers in the LGBTQ Equality Caucus to reiterate his support for the community. The State Department releases its annual human rights report, noting that anti-LGBTQ persecution and violence remains commonplace in many countries around the world. The nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, Human Rights Campaign removes Fox News as a preferred employer, citing their coverage of LGBTQ issues, and the British government cancels a global LGBTQ rights conference.


As Orlando prepares for its celebratory Red weekend, we detail upcoming LGBTQ pool parties, circuits and events from GayDayS, Girls in Wonderland, KindRED Pride, One Magical Weekend and Tidal Wave Party. We subsequently preview Pride Month as a whole, as major events throughout Central Florida, Tampa Bay and beyond prepare for their 2022 returns.

Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School student who helped organize the statewide “Say Gay” student walkout in March, receives honors for his advocacy. An openly gay firefighter files a lawsuit against the City of Orlando alleging he has been discriminated against by the Orlando Fire Department because of his sexual orientation, and the Seminole County Public Schools board votes not cover up LGBTQ images in a school’s yearbook that were taken during a student protest.

State Rep. Michele Rayner announces the suspension of her congressional campaign to focus on another run for the state House. The lawmaker – the first Black, openly LGBTQ woman elected to the Florida Legislature – cites DeSantis’ redistricting map. Government watchdogs say DeSantis redrew the map to favor Republicans and disenfranchise minority voters. The City of Tampa prepares for a “Love is Love” wedding celebration in June, intending to marry up to 50 same-sex couples.

A plaintiff in the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” lawsuit is threatened with censorship in Sarasota. Zander Moricz, a senior at Pine View School, says it shows “they want me to be the last” openly gay class president. A Florida teacher in Cape Coral also says she was fired by Lee County Florida School District officials after discussing her pansexuality when answering a student’s question.

The State Department determines that Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. Biden, who vows to seek her release, also appoints Karine Jean-Pierre as White House press secretary. She becomes the first Black woman and first openly LGBTQ person to speak on behalf of a president of the United States. In Massachusetts, the U.S. reports its first case of monkeypox, a viral disease spread through fluids and other means.


Pride Month begins along with St Pete Pride’s landmark 20-year celebration. We look back at the organization’s beginnings as Florida’s largest Pride celebration prepares to mark two decades. Later in the month we examine the plight of the local drag queen, speaking with regional entertainers who detail their labor of love.

Orlando marks six years since Pulse with remembrance events and the Hispanic Federation announces a $1 million investment in the region’s LGBTQ Latinx organizations. After a successful outing, GayDayS announces its move back to its traditional host hotel in 2023 and Orange County reports its first case of monkeypox. LGBTQ-serving health care organizations prepare their response accordingly.

Tampa Bay remembers performer Star Montrese Love, also known as Star Hayes, who dies at 43. The performer had a longtime presence throughout the area. When the Tampa Bay Rays play the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field during the team’s 16th annual Pride Night, some Rays players decline to wear the team’s LGBTQ logo. Meanwhile, the second annual Pride at the Village makes history when Pinellas Park leaders officially recognize Pride Month.

A 17-year-old is charged with planning a mass shooting at West Palm Beach’s “Pride on the Block” event, an annual fundraiser in the region. Florida health officials also ask the state medical board to draft new policies to restrict treatment for transgender youth. It’s among the discrimination Biden decries while recognizing Pride Month.

“As I said in my State of the Union Address — especially to our younger transgender Americans — I will always have your back as your president so that you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential,” Biden addresses LGBTQ Americans. “Today and every day, my Administration stands with every LGBTQI+ American in the ongoing struggle against intolerance, discrimination and injustice.” The president subsequently signs an executive order expanding LGBTQ rights, directing U.S. agencies to develop policies to federally counter anti-LGBTQ laws.


Our July issues look at two hot topics from 2022 —abortion rights and mental health. In the first issue of the month, we reach out to abortion rights advocates and discuss how abortion rights are also LGBTQ rights. In our next issue, we chat with the team at Peer Support Space as they purchase space to turn into Florida’s first LGBTQ-focused respite.

In Central Florida, we say goodbye to legendary actor, entertainer, host and friend to Watermark Doug Ba’aser. He passes away on July 16 at the age of 62. Local LGBTQ organizations also announce new leadership as the onePULSE Foundation names Deborah Bowie as its new executive director and Harold Wright becomes the new executive director of the Orlando Gay Chorus.

St. Petersburg mayors — both past and present — come out to endorse Eunic Ortiz for the state Senate seat in District 18, Illusionists Chris and Ryan Zubrick celebrate the first year in business for Zubrick Magic Theatre and David Fischer’s hew LGBTQ hot spot, The Wet Spot Pool Bar and Day Club, starts its new membership program.

Statewide, the controversial “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill goes into effect, limiting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. By the end of the month, LGBTQ rights groups will file a lawsuit against it. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also starts recommending the meningococcal vaccine to gay and bisexual men following a meningitis outbreak in Florida.

Nationwide, lawmakers start the push to protect same-sex marriage after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade and around the world, the World Health Organization advises men who have sex with men to reduce the number of sex partners they have until the number of monkeypox cases can be reduced.


We kick off August with a photography-focused in-depth on LGBTQ people and their pets. Watermark photographer and designer Dylan Todd captures pet parents as they showcase their furever families. In the final issue of the summer, we look at local scholarships that are being offered to LGBTQ youth, including from organizations such as onePULSE Foundation, The Dru Project, Come OUT St. Pete, the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber of Commerce and more.

One Orlando Alliance launches an LGBTQ-focused, first-of-its-kind survey to gather comprehensive data on Central Florida’s queer community. The information will be used to assist coalition organizations in their advocacy efforts. The Kissimmee Police Department launches its Safe Space program, mirroring the Orlando Police Department’s LGBTQ Safe Place program established in 2016, and begins providing decals “as a visible symbol of safety” for businesses to place in their store fronts “to mark and identify locations that are accessible to LGBTQ members.”

In Tampa Bay, LGBTQ eatery Punky’s Bar and Grill announces its immediate and permanent closure after serving the community for more than six years. DeSantis suspends Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren from office, calling the elected official’s support for gender-affirming care and abortion rights a “neglect of duty.” In the world of sports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign a one-year deal with Carl Nassib, the first active NFL player to come out as gay.

The Florida Board of Medicine on Aug. 5 votes to accept a request by Florida’s State Surgeon General for the Board to promulgate a rule prohibiting medical professionals from providing gender-affirming medical care for trans youth. Fried appoints former State Rep. Jennifer Webb to serve on the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Republican State Rep. Randy Fine also takes to social media to allege sexual assault by a trans student in a Melbourne middle school bathroom; however, the school and police have no report that the attack ever happened.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announces he is declaring monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call Aug. 4. The CDC also echoes the advice from WHO, asking men who have sex with men to limit their number of sexual partners due to the outbreak. A Russian court finds Griner guilty of charges that she smuggled drugs into the country, sentencing her to nine years in a Russian penal colony.


September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and our first issue of the month examines this leading cause of death in and outside of the LGBTQ community to raise awareness, provide local resources and more. National Hispanic Heritage Month also kicks off in the month of September, leading to the in-depth feature of our next issue spotlighting and celebrating LGBTQ Latinx activists in Central Florida and Tampa Bay.

The month kicks off in Central Florida with Juan Rodriguez, the executive director of Bliss Cares since 2016, announcing he is stepping down from his position. The month also brings the Orlando Strong Symposium to UCF Downtown during Hispanic Heritage Month for the first time, the Central Florida Softball League kicked off its 25th season at the Lake Fairview Softball Complex in Orlando and Central Florida Community Arts announces Terrance Hunter as the organization’s new CEO.

Tampa Pride officially launches its 2023 season with its second annual Pride on the River event along the Tampa Riverwalk. In Sarasota, the Fabulous Arts Foundation celebrates its 12th Fabulous Independent Film Festival and CAN Community Health releases its annual report for 2021 and 2022, a first in the private, not-for-profit organization’s 30 years.

The Miami-Dade School Board overwhelming decides against recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month. Parents, teachers and students spoke for more than three hours Sept. 7 before the board voted 8-1 against the measure.

A federal judge rules Sept. 7 against a federal mandate that requires employer provided health plans to cover PrEP. The mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, violates tenets of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to the judge. The Boston Marathon announces Sept. 12 that starting next year nonbinary athletes will be able to run without having to register as members of the men’s or women’s divisions. Biden meets with Griner’s wife as the State Department works on trying to get Griner back home from Russia. Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is named the next president of the Human Rights Campaign.


On our first October cover, we look at two big events from our readership area — Come Out With Pride, which features Broadway star and Grand Marshal Michael James Scott on the cover, and the Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival’s 33rd year. We also feature drag icon Minj on the cover of our Halloween special edition, highlighting her work on the national stage, appearing in Disney+’s “Hocus Pocus 2” and Hulu’s “Dragstravaganza.”

In Orlando, a gay couple accuses a downtown bar of a hate crime assault only for video footage to reveal the couple initiated the incident and that no hate crime occurred. After a five-year absence, Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation returns with its Scooters 4 Hooters fundraiser, Orlando Fringe announces it is opening a year-round arts venue in the former home of Mad Cow and the LGBT+ Center Orlando cancels a Drag Queen Story Hour after Nazis threaten to protest. The Nazis don’t show but nearly 50 LGBTQ activists do.

Sarasota Pride returns with its 31st Pride celebration at J.D. Hamel Park after a more than two-year hiatus. During the festivities, it is announced that Sarasota Pride and Project Pride will be merging. Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith appears on the popular talk show “Dr. Phil” to debate co-founders of the anti-LGBTQ group Moms for Liberty on the merits of the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law. Halloween also comes to Tampa Bay with the returns of the All Hallows Ball in Tampa and Halloween on Central in St. Petersburg. New LGBTQ speakeasy Johnsons Tampa announces its grand opening as well. Watermark Managing Editor Ryan Williams-Jent makes his national TV debut on Investigation Discovery’s series “Disappeared” as the show looks into the disappearance of Lakeland gay man Brian Klecha.

On Oct. 3, U.S. District Court Judge Allen Cothrel Winsor dismisses a lawsuit against Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the law. The Florida State Board of Education follows that up by formally adopting nearly a dozen administrative rules Oct. 19 that stem from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law. By the end of the month, the Florida Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine Joint Rules/Legislative Committee advances a rule that would effectively ban gender-affirming care for minors in the state. The rule is finalized a week later.

Same-sex couples in Cuba are able to get married under new law, Mexico approves same-sex marriage and Slovenia becomes the first country in Eastern Europe to legalize same-sex marriage and the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples. Titus Low, a bisexual man who is the most recognizable adult content creator on OnlyFans in Singapore, is sentenced to spend three weeks in jail and ordered to pay a fine of $3,000 over his OnlyFans account by a local court.


Progressives celebrate wins and reflect on losses as voters take to the polls for the midterms. Orlando’s Frost wins his bid to become the first Gen Zer to be elected to Congress. LGBTQ and ally candidates Rayner and Anna V. Eskamani also win their re-election to the Florida House. Unfortunately, openly LGBTQ Orlando State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith lost his re-election bid and Ortiz, who nearly became the first openly gay woman elected to the Florida State Senate, lost her run for State District 18. Statewide, Reps. Charlie Crist and Val Demings lost their races for governor and senator to Republican incumbents DeSantis and Marco Rubio. We also highlight two entertainment events coming — Orlando’s FusionFest and the Broadway tour of “Hadestown.”

The American Lung Association takes over Sak Comedy Lab in Orlando for its fifth installment of Lip Sync For Lungs Live Battle, hosted by drag sensation Lacie Browning. Orlando gets the news that the city will not host WorldPride 2026, as InterPride awards the celebration to Amsterdam for that year. The One Orlando Alliance completes its LGBTQ-focused survey in Central Florida, announcing its findings at a City Hall event Nov. 15. It is also the final act by Alliance executive director Josh Bell, who steps down from the position after the event.

Tampa Bay artist Mize announces that MIZE Gallery in St. Petersburg will be closing by the end of 2022. ALSO Youth also celebrates three decades of advocacy, leadership, support and outreach in the Sarasota area with its November gala. The Tampa Bay Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence mark 20 years of “necessary trouble” in the area and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor launches 2023 campaign.

After protests and debate from students, the University of Florida Board of Trustees appoint anti-LGBTQ former Nebraska U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as the school’s next president. The Human Rights Campaign releases its 11th Municipal Equality Index Nov. 30, revealing a record number of cities excelling in protecting LGBTQ rights this year – including Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

While the Republican “Red Wave” came to Florida, in most places in the country, Democrats did better than expected with more than 400 LGBTQ candidates winning on election day. Memories of Pulse come flooding back as news breaks that an LGBTQ club in Colorado was attacked. The gunman killed five people and injured dozens more at Club Q before being taken down by several patrons. WHO announces it will rename monkeypox as mpox, citing concerns that the original name could be construed as racist. Japan’s capital, Tokyo, begins issuing certificates recognizing same-sex couples on Nov. 1, becoming the largest municipality to do so in a country in which same-sex marriage is not allowed.


We start the final month of 2022 with a look at women in Central Florida and Tampa Bay who fought in the early days of the AIDS crisis. We also announce our 10 Most Remarkable People of 2022 in the next issue, highlighting some of the amazing work done in the community.

The Central Florida HIV Planning Council and Heart of Florida United Way host a World AIDS Day event at Orlando Shakes focusing on the stories of long-term HIV survivors. Local influencer Bryan the Diamond takes to TikTok to accuse Gilt Nightclub of homophobia after he and his friends are denied entry because a male member of their group had a purse. The community also says goodbye to longtime LGBTQ activist Ted Maines, who passes away at the age of 64.

Steven Lorenzo, who was convicted of drugging and raping nine men in 2005, asks the court to change his plea to guilty and sentence him to death. He is currently serving a 200-year federal prison sentence for his crimes. In Lakeland, a group of anti-LGBTQ, pro-Nazi protestors target the Rose Dynasty Foundation’s “Celebration of the Arts” fundraiser, an inclusive evening featuring drag entertainment and more. Controversy hits Tampa Pride after secretary and festival director Mark Bias makes a derogatory social media post regarding drag that leads Bias to resign his position with the organization.

Florida Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, is indicted on charges of defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses Dec. 7 leading him to resign from office.

Russian authorities release Griner Dec. 8 in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. After the passing in the House and the Senate, Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act into law Dec. 13, providing federal marriage protections for same-sex and interracial couples.

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