02.29.24 Editor’s Desk

A lot happened in 1997. Bill Clinton was sworn in for a second term, probably sure it’d be shaped by U.S. policy; WebMD launched to plague hypochondriacs forever and Ellen DeGeneres told the nation “I’m gay,” right on primetime TV.

Her coming out wasn’t pop culture’s only highlight. Kenny kicked off his cycle of life and death with the “South Park” premiere, Celine Dion confirmed her heart would go on and on and J.K. Rowling published “Harry Potter,” way before we knew how awful she’d become.

The most impactful pop culture moment for me came on Sept. 20. That’s when the 76th and final episode of “X-Men: The Animated Series” aired, bringing my five-year tradition of Saturday morning matinees to a close.

I was only 12, so five years was a substantial investment for a preteen. I started watching the series a few months before I turned eight and never looked back — “Previously, on X-Men…” were my favorite three words for years, and still rank pretty high.

This was well before the world at large recognized Captain America or Iron Man or had a favorite Spider-Man, and you can forget about characters like Black Panther. Prior to Disney’s purchase of the company, the X-Men were undisputedly Marvel’s top property.

“In the Marvel Comics universe, mutants, people with genetically endowed superpowers, are persecuted by a hateful and fearful populace,” the 1992 series is now summarized on Disney+. Born differently and hated for it, Marvel’s mutants have served as an allegory for minorities since their inception in 1963.

It’s something that spoke to my little gay heart well before I understood why — and that their late co-creator Stan Lee, forever my hero, perfectly addressed back in 1968.

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today,” he wrote. “But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.

“The bigot … hates people he’s never seen — people he’s never known — with equal intensity — with equal venom,” he continued. “Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race — to despise an entire nation — to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later … if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance.”

That’s what the X-Men instilled in me from a very young age and a part of why I’m so excited for “X-Men ’97,” its sequel series coming to Disney+ March 20. The world needs that message more than ever.

Notably, it will pick up where the original left off and rely on more than allegory to make a statement. A fan favorite character will be portrayed as nonbinary, something that “X-Men ‘97” showrunner Beau DeMayo — a Black, gay man bringing his unique perspective to the show — has confirmed won’t be its only LGBTQ+ representation.

In a time when a 16-year-old nonbinary student can die after being bullied in school and anti-LGBTQ+ state legislatures are the new normal, positive visibility like that is more important than ever. It’s going to take a lot more than the X-Men to change things, but I’m thrilled they’ll be a part of the fight again. For my generation and the next.

We highlight local changemakers in our new issue with the results of 2024 Watermark Awards for Variety and Excellence. We share your favorite activists, entertainers and more.

In Tampa Bay that includes cover models Silver Foxx, favorite local drag king; Brianna Summers, favorite local drag queen and Dr. Byron Green-Calisch, president of St Pete Pride, favorite local LGBTQ+ event and more. We were also joined by Jordan Monroe Green, owner of Sunshine City Massage, the favorite local place to pamper yourself, and Mr. Vyn Suazion. He was voted favorite local musician.

The photo was taken by favorite local photographer Dylan Todd, Watermark’s creative designer, at the St. Pete Pier, favorite place to play tourist. Thank you to each of them for joining us and to readers for naming me your favorite local journalist. I’m so thankful to do what I love with your support.

Watermark is proud to be your LGBTQ+ news source, so thanks for reading and supporting our advertisers. Please stay safe, stay informed and enjoy this latest issue.

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