03.28.24 Editor’s Desk

My first Pride was in 2005. I was a 20-year-old college student living away from home for the first time, so I was pretty excited about new experiences.

I also had a crush, so I can’t say that didn’t play a part in getting me there. A boy I liked asked me to volunteer with him at that year’s festival and it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing.

Up until then I had no idea my hometown even had a Pride. I grew up in a suburb outside of Cincinnati, long before dating apps or social media had such a stranglehold on our lives, and so I hadn’t yet found my place among the LGBTQ+ locals.

Pride celebrations also felt like they were meant for larger cities than mine, like Chicago or New York, or maybe just for TV. At that point I’d only seen them on “Queer as Folk,” a series I watched when my parents were asleep that was about as far away from my life as an LGBTQ+ Ohioian as I could imagine.

I learned very quickly that Pride belonged close to home, as it had for some time. Cincinnati Pride formed in 1973, just a few years after Stonewall launched the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, and it’s elevated the fight for equality ever since. The nonprofit marked 50 years in 2023, a major milestone for any kind of celebration.

It never fit, but I still have the Cincinnati Pride T-shirt organizers gave me to wear while volunteering. I have virtually no memory of what I did to help that year — I think it had something to do with collecting tickets of some sort — but I do remember how Pride made me feel. Like I was a part of something bigger.

That event was my first real sense of community. Being surrounded by LGBTQ+ advocates and allies en masse, folks who celebrated what made us different instead of ignoring or tempering it, gave me a glimpse of what an equitable future could look like for us all. I loved it.

That feeling is something I still try to carry with me personally, and that I’m lucky enough to celebrate professionally. Watermark attends and seeks to sponsor Pride celebrations throughout our coverage area, from Orlando to Sarasota and in-between, and there’s certainly no shortage of them here in Tampa Bay.

I’ve lost count of how many Prides I’ve attended these days, a “problem” I could’ve never imagined at 20, and I’ll admit that occasionally some of the luster is lost under the Florida sun. But one thing I never tire of is connecting with our community, which I was most recently given the chance to do during Tampa Pride.

This year’s event marked a decade of its current iteration, seven of which I’ve attended. Most often that’s been while proudly representing Watermark as a sponsor, an opportunity we weren’t afforded this year after publishing the news feature “Former Tampa Pride board members call for change, new leadership” on June 7, 2023.

Tampa Pride’s leadership declined to participate in the story and Watermark’s relationship with the organization has been strained since then, but our commitment to unbiased reporting and Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ+ community has never wavered. It’s why we happily attended Tampa Pride 2024 as a vendor. You can view our photos here.

Given the circumstances I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew right away we were where we belonged. That’s because being surrounded by so many LGBTQ+ advocates and allies honoring what makes us different still fills me with joy, whatever the circumstances. It gave me another glimpse of what an equitable future could look like and that’s always worth celebrating.

In the days since I’ve seen discourse of all sorts from Tampa Pride supporters and detractors, but my takeaway remains this. Pride is bigger than any one person. It belongs to us all, and I was thankful yet again for the reminder.

Tampa will host another major LGBTQ+ event soon, Florida Entertainer of the Year. We detail the drag competition ahead of its impending return in this issue, speaking with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum and pageant co-owner Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor, the system’s reigning queen Twila Holiday and more.

In Tampa Bay news, the City of St. Petersburg formally recognizes Transgender Day of Visibility 2024 and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts details its upcoming Broadway season. We also examine Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” settlement and preview the Florida Film Festival.

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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