Words To Live By: Honored

By : Rick Claggett
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Rick Claggett

Rick Claggett

It was mid-November 2013 when Tom Dyer began the discussion with me that I might one day replace him as publisher of Watermark. A few happy expletives and a multitude of emotions flooded my thoughts. The most prevalent among them was “honored.”

I felt honored that the man by whose side I worked for more than 12 years trusted me with his baby, honored that the godfather of gay royalty had chosen me to carry out his legacy, and honored that I would get to work closely with this community in telling the story of our ongoing, yet-to-be-written history.

My love affair with the LGBT community began in the summer 1991. That’s when, at age 16, I decided to stop fighting the fact that I was gay. I was the pizza-faced sophomore drama kid at Winter Park High that used humor in every situation to mask the internal struggle that too many LGBT teenagers face. I was definitely a product of the 80s.

Nancy Reagan said one drag from a joint would turn you into a junkie and I believed her. The world said homosexuality was depraved and I believed that, too.

One carefully planned Saturday morning, I waited for my parents to leave the house before taking the city bus to Gay & Lesbian Community Services on Colonial Drive. Based on my misconceptions of the gay community, I expected to walk into a building that resembled a Turkish bathhouse from a movie I once saw. I thought that’s what gay people did.

I paced the streets for almost an hour before working up the nerve to walk up to the door. A huge sense of relief overcame me as I pulled the handle and the door was locked. At the time I had no concept that volunteers probably did not work that early on a Saturday.

I scurried home and decided to try to connect to the gay community in a more passive way—the phone. There were two listings in the phone book: Gay & Lesbian Community Services and Gay Plumbing. Now, of course, the older sophomore in me snickers when I read that, but the more serious kid that day called GLCS.

That phone call changed the course of my life. It introduced me to the Delta Youth Alliance and I was in awe. Certainly I expected to meet people like me, but an entire group of gay youth in 1991?

Finally I had an outlet. Sadly, I discovered something new about myself in the first few meetings: I was incredibly shy.

Most of the kids in the group were outgoing, good-looking freedom fighters. This proved to be so intimidating to me. Enter Jeff Horn, my first gay role model. Jeff was a founder of DYA, as we called it back then. He wasn’t just a mentor to me, he was my gay dad. Jeff taught me to play tennis and took interest in my life. I remember vividly the day Jeff came to me and said I could be anything I wanted. It seems simple now but it meant so much. It was the first time a gay man, passionate about his work, told this gay kid that he had a future. This was my first anchor in this community.

Jeff wasn’t the only mega-mentor I would meet through DYA.

In 1994, Tom Dyer, a mentor in the group, announced he would leave his position to start a newspaper for the local LBGT community. At the time I had no idea that this would be my second anchor and how influential Tom would become in my life.

Just over six years later I would start my career with Watermark. I had just moved back to Orlando from a three-year stay in New York City. Following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, I decided Orlando was where I wanted to be. If the world was going crazy then I wanted to be home with the people who raised me.

I began at Watermark as the administrative assistant. Shortly after that I found myself volunteering as a board member for the Metropolitan Business Association. Meeting then-president, Debbie Simmons, is without a doubt the third anchor. Debbie certainly taught me the value in selflessness.

This connection also led me to become a founding member of Come Out With Pride. Outside of Watermark, this is the accomplishment in which I am most honored to have had a helping hand.

In 2005, I was elevated to Watermark’s business manager, then chief financial officer and now publisher. Filling the shoes of Tom Dyer is a huge responsibility.

Tom has taught me patience, compassion and understanding. He has taught me the business of community service.

My passion for Watermark is deeply rooted in both my personal history and Tom Dyer’s bedrock principles. The foundation of what we do is to provide a medium for your story. This is what you can expect from me.

I look forward to celebrating what is good about our community while we fight for what is inalienable. I am honored to help you tell the story of your LGBT life.

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