There are moments in our lives that stick with us—defining who we were, who we are or who we want to be.

Among my list of essentials are a summer with my grandmother, probably my favorite person that I’ve ever known. The two of us would take turns telling one another stories we’d make up on the spot, finishing each other’s dangling plot threads well into the wee hours of the night. She also helped cement my role as a night owl.

In the fourth grade I had my first “published” work, another key moment. It was a pretty traumatic year, given that I’d switched schools halfway through the year and children can be terrible little people to those rocking their best Wal-Mart couture. But it did have a highlight: my teacher gave each student a bound, blank book and advised us we had to fill it with words and pictures.

I didn’t have many friends but I did have ideas, so I was thrilled. “X-Men: The New Class” was a hit with Mrs. Adams, who included a balloon-shaped post-it in the back that told me to keep writing. I still have it.

I spent high school discovering journalism, helping to found our school’s newspaper “The Torch” my freshman year and closing out my senior year as its Editor-in-Chief. It gave me a creative outlet and I developed a passion for it that continued into college and beyond.

Years later I’d write my wedding vows in Nov. 2016, just days after an ominously orange cloud swept the nation and threatened to overshadow years of LGBTQ progress. In light of that and still in the infancy of marriage equality, reading them to my husband and our guests forever changed me.

July 26 is another key moment in my life, one of the more recent. It’s the day this issue hits newsstands, sure, but it’s also the one-year anniversary of when I started writing for Watermark. It’s been an engaging and rewarding year.

Working with our team at Watermark has been an amazing experience. There’s the fun stuff—celebrating community Pride events, galas and gatherings—and it’s given me the opportunity to interview a range of celebrities from the local and national stage. I geek-out constantly.

More importantly though, it’s allowed me to get to know the LGBTQ community in Tampa Bay and Central Florida in ways I never thought possible.

Our stories matter. They’re often overlooked, even in 2018, and I’m grateful that so many members of our vast and growing LGBTQ community have trusted Watermark to share their tragedies and triumphs. That I’ve been even a small part of that is humbling and I aim to never take it for granted. Thank you.

In this issue’s cover story we examine how Central Florida’s Middle Eastern and Muslim LGBTQ community has found its voice after the tragedy at Pulse. In Tampa Bay news, we preview Balance Tampa Bay’s masquerade ball benefiting Empath Partners in Care (EPIC) and take a look at the Gay Men’s Chorus of Tampa Bay’s call for singers.

In Central Florida news, we examine the misgendering of Sasha Garden, the fourth transgender woman of color murdered in Florida and introduce you to openly gay Seminole County school board candidate Bobby Agagnina.

In Arts and Entertainment, we croon with “Britain’s Got Talent” alum Calum Scott ahead of his stop in Tampa and check in with k.d. lang ahead of her latest tour.

We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of that—I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

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