Orlando LGBTQ icon and former Watermark editor, Billy Manes, dies at 45

By : Staff Report
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Billy Manes

Billy Manes

ORLANDO | Billy Manes, iconic Orlando LGBTQ activist, former longtime columnist for Orlando Weekly and former editor-in-chief of Watermark, died July 21 just after 4 p.m. from a sudden onset of pneumonia. He was 45. He is survived by his husband, Anthony Mauss.

Manes was from Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 1997. He began his career in journalism in the sales department at Orlando Weekly and eventually became a staple in the paper, writing the “B-List,” “Blister” and “Happytown” columns. He also attended Orlando city council meetings and recapped them in the column “Council Watch.”

In 2015, Manes was named editor-in-chief of Watermark. His position began with the onslaught of marriage equality and carried through Orlando’s most trying months during and after the shooting at Pulse that took 49 lives on July 12, 2016. Manes became the voice for Orlando’s LGBTQ community by appearing on national television and radio programs. His advocacy and activism, along with his provocative verbiage, made him a natural spokesperson.

Manes spoke to NPR’s Ari Shapiro, with whom he cultivated a friendship after Pulse, on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. “My role is not the defeatist or the defeated. What I do is try and love more.”

No stranger to tragedy, Manes was working on a memoir expanding on his Orlando Weekly story “Til Death Do Us Part,” published in 2013, about his eight-month legal battle following the suicide of his partner of 11 years, Alan Jordan. Because same-sex marriage was not yet legal, Manes fought to secure their mutual belongings, including Jordan’s ashes.

Shortly after publication of the article, filmmaker Vicki Nantz made a 37-minute documentary on Manes’ legal struggles while simultaneously dealing with the grief of losing his longtime partner. The film raised awareness to the plight of LGBTQ couples without legal protections, as well as those dealing with hospital visitation and estate planning issues.

Immediately after his death, tributes from city and state notables began pouring in, including from Manes’ friend of more than 20 years, Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan. U.S. Representatives Susannah Randolph (FL-9) and Carlos Guillermo-Smith (FL-49) and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer all memorialized Manes publicly for his service and as an integral member of the city’s fabric.

About 100 of Billy Manes’ admirers and friends came together for a grassroots-organized candlelight vigil in his honor at Lake Eola Park’s red pagoda July 22.

Manes’ love for music was unmatched, and in a tweet, the new-wave band Duran Duran honored Manes by name: “Thanks for all the kind words, the support, the passion & more. ‘I’ll see you in some other lifetime.’ @billymanes.” Frontwoman of the B-52s, Cindy Wilson, plans to dedicate her July 27 show at Will’s Pub to Manes. Just hours after his death, street art bearing Manes’ signature platinum hair and wraparound sunglasses appeared outside The Venue on Virginia Drive, immortalizing Manes.

Scott Maxwell, columnist for Orlando Sentinel, admired Manes as a fellow writer and voice for the city, “Billy lived much of his life without brakes or apologies. He was passionate and forceful in his writing. He was the only writer I knew who could use nouns as verbs and somehow make it work. Billy made us think. And laugh. And sometimes squirm. And Orlando is better because of that

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