8.13.15 Editor’s Desk

By : Billy Manes
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Billy Manes

Here comes that sinking feeling. Surely you remember the itch of the blanket that turned your Sunday night fears into an anxiety burrito – the tossing, the turning, the worrying about your external outfit and your internal self-worth. Would there be pimples, would there be cameltoe, would there be fat rolls, would there be sweat-stain-inducing derision as you walked down the corridors of first-day-of-school judgment? Or, worse, would nobody even notice you? Would you be completely invisible?

This week, we take the whole “back to school” theme – one typically associated with backpacks and new jeans and Trapper Keepers – and turn it on its head a bit. That sales-tax holiday isn’t going to save everyone, after all. Some people exist in the margins that don’t involve finance, devils dancing and performing inside of their own heads while walking face down through a life that doesn’t accept them. It gets better? Maybe, but current teen suicide rates don’t exactly indicate that, nor do some of the messages being perniciously broadcast by conservative politicians beneath the afterglow of recent LGBT victories in the courts.

It’s not all bad news, though. There are survivors like our cover star Peter Ruiz, a young man who came up through Orlando’s Zebra Coalition after years of familial neglect only to make a name for himself as Zebra’s first college graduate. He’s now a stage actor in Sarasota who is pursuing the dream that always guided him, obstacles be damned. Along with Ruiz, we profile three other success stories from both the Gulf Coast and Orlando, all worthy of the honor roll. These aren’t easy times for authentic young individuals, but blazing trails through all of the handed-down bullying and discrimination, that’s exactly the light show that the next generation needs to see.

We also, somewhat selfishly, go back to our own school days – the good parts – to have a talk with Jon Moss of Culture Club about the posters that used to adorn our walls when we sulked, the songs that used to sing about the “victims we know so well.” Talk about trails blazed! Boy George was challenging social and sexual norms in a way that even David Bowie before him couldn’t. Moss reveals that George really wasn’t aware of his impact, somehow silenced into his own celebrity. That caged existence in the screams of the public zoo led to the old music-industry tropes of addiction and self-abuse. But these days, things have mellowed, voices have lowered, and Culture Club is back with a new album and shows in Madeira Beach and Orlando! Happy endings are the best!

But uneducated vitriol masked in religious pretense isn’t. On Aug. 10, State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, launched the “pastor protection act” as a means of forbidding lawsuits against pastors that won’t solemnize gay marriages. Really? We’ll be following the progress of this bill in the future, as it will have a companion bill in the Senate (and promises to keep hate alive in next year’s legislative session). But, a quick lesson for you, Plakon – a man who prayed on my shoulder at the memorial for my deceased former partner – marriages don’t need to be solemnized, so you’re wasting everyone’s time and anger. This sacrament you speak of doesn’t even carry over into the prosperity gospel of “I’ve got mine” and “I’ll lie to you about your pregnancy” (he is affiliated with a maligned crisis pregnancy center). You and your buddy John Stemberger should know better by now, but you don’t. Go back to school.

Finally, this week we bid an Orlando farewell to beauty school dropout and staff writer Jeremy Williams. He’ll be taking over the reins in the St. Pete and Tampa area, covering anything that sticks to his shoe-leather or anything that you, our dear readers, see fit. So he’s not really leaving Watermark High School; he’s just transferring to our satellite school out west. Make sure to give him a warm welcome. He’s not one to walk down the hallways unnoticed, after all. You’ll hear him from a mile away.

You’ll be missed, Jeremy. Stay sweet!

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