03.28.24 Editor’s Desk

I’m not someone who puts a lot of stock in traditions. While I love the idea behind them, I have found in most instances they are just a way for people to say, “that’s just the way we have always done it” without having to answer follow-up questions.

Perhaps it’s because throughout my life the word tradition has been used to attack the LGBTQ+ community. “Same-sex couples can’t get married, that’s not traditional marriage” or “two men or two women can’t raise kids, that’s not the traditional family unit.”

That being said, there are a few traditions that I have embraced and cherish today, almost all of them tied to the holidays. My favorites are usually the ones that center around family and food, or as I call them, the Big Three: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Growing up, we celebrated all the other holidays too — Halloween, Fourth of July, New Years Eve, etc. — but the Big Three felt like huge events where family and friends came from all over and we celebrated late into the night. The spread always consisted of a turkey or ham, sometimes both, baked macaroni, meatballs, dozens of sides and what felt like hundreds of pies, cakes and “salads” made of whipped cream, nuts and fruit.

The gatherings were so spectacular that even today, as family members have passed or moved across the country, it still feels weird not to be home for each of the Big Three holidays, which is why I will make the trek home this year for Easter even though the dinner table will just be me and my Mama.

While I have tried to be home for every major holiday, I have missed a few but for good reason. I was recently thinking about the first Easter I spent away from the family. I had joined the Air Force and was stationed at my first base in Aviano, Italy. Not a bad first assignment if you can get it. Most of the people in the dorms with me were spending their first Easter away from family, so a group of us decided to do something we probably would never get the chance to do again in our lives, we took the train down to Vatican City to hear Pope John Paul II give his annual Easter sermon.

I am not Catholic, nor am I overtly religious, but this seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity and as they say, “When in Rome.”

The city was packed with thousands of people lining up hours ahead of the service. Massive screens were set up throughout the crowd so even the people in the back could see what was happening. It was like a rock concert but instead of music fans, the crowd was filled with the obsessed masses, many of whom were in tears, vying for a spot close enough so they could see the eyes of their idol. So a lot like a Taylor Swift concert.

Along the outskirts of the crowd were dozens of vendors who were selling anything and everything with the pope’s face on it, and people were lining up to each of the carts to buy it all. They had T-shirts, towels, hats, playing cards, bottle openers; you name it, they had it with Pope John Paul II’s face on it smiling back at you.

They also had an array of religious paraphernalia such as rosary beads, Bibles and small prayer boxes with a picture of the Blessed Mother in it. I made sure to buy several rosaries and prayer boxes as gifts for the family, then we made our way into the crowd for the sermon.

It was in a language I did not speak, Latin I believe, and it was relatively short. The pope came out and read something, threw some holy water into the crowd and went back inside. This was in Pope John Paul II’s final years so I’m sure the last few Easter concerts were condensed versions but more than what he said or did, what I remember the most was the energy of that crowd. It was part inspiring and part scary, knowing how much sway this man had over many of these people, over their thoughts and their beliefs.

The craziest part, as the crowd dispersed and we made our way back into the city of Rome, me and my friends swore we saw Robert Redford walking through the crowd. We couldn’t make our way over to him to verify but it looked a lot like him. It seemed odd to us that Hollywood legend Robert Redford would just be walking through the crowd like a regular person so perhaps it was just a lookalike, or perhaps it was an Easter miracle.

Anyways, in this issue, we look at a few events coming to our area that many people see as religious experiences. Drag legends will come together in Tampa for the 2024 Florida Entertainer of the Year pageant. We talk to several queens involved. In Orlando, The Florida Film Festival brings more than 170 films to its 33rd outing.

However you and yours celebrate, I hope you all have a happy and food-filled Easter.

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