01.23.19 Tampa Bay Bureau Chief’s Desk

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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To celebrate the 25th year of Watermark and my first column of 2019, I want to share an exclusive with readers. It’s something that you’ve likely never read anywhere else, so feel free to take a moment and mentally prepare because this is big.

Smoking is bad for you.This may come as a surprise, particularly if you’re a smoker, and many of us in the LGBTQ community are. In fact, studies have shown that LGBTQ adults are two and a half times more likely to smoke than our heterosexual peers.

I experienced that first hand (and helped others experience it secondhand) for years, smoking up until Dec. 17, 2018. As I write this, it’s been one month, five days, twelve hours and some change since my last cigarette – so long ago that Donald Trump hadn’t even shut down the government yet. (Which, by the way, is more of a threat to our national security than transgender men and women serving in the military.)

As you read this, it will have been even longer since I’ve lit up. I don’t share that to boast or preach – because I realize every smoker knows it’s bad for them – but rather to hold myself accountable. This quit is my second and I intend it to be my last.

I never thought I’d smoke in the first place. Who does, I suppose, but as a child I grew up loathing cigarettes. Smoking sections in restaurants were the absolute worst – how was that ever a thing? – and I was constantly in trouble at home for flushing my parents’ packs down the toilet. Like I considered the cigarettes to be, I was kind of a turd.

Still, college had different plans and I eventually lit up. I wanted the extra breaks while I was bartending and I figured I wouldn’t get addicted.

I smoked for over a decade until I quit several years ago for six months, my initial attempt at being smoke free that ended when my father died. The emotional stress was enough of an excuse for me to light up again.

I utilized a range of other excuses to keep smoking, including that I now knew how hard quitting could be, until I was fed up enough with myself to make a change. That happened in November, when I talked to my doctor for the first time about quitting.

He recommended Chantix. While I’d known several people who were successful with the cessation drug, I’d also known a handful that had horror stories. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to try it, but I knew I wanted to quit and gave it a shot.

As a gift to myself, I started the drug on my 34th birthday Dec. 3. I joke that I gave myself the gift of life, but even after this short amount of time I feel so much better. I owed it to myself, my husband and even to our dogs to stick around as long as I can.

While I was ultimately able to quit smoking because I genuinely wanted to, I was able to learn about Chantix and how it could work for me because of the open dialogue I had with my doctor. The importance of that is something we look at in this issue’s cover story, which dives into the many health issues impacting the LGBTQ community.

If you’re not sure how to discuss those issues, we have sections that are easy to cut out if you’re reading in print or are easy to view on your phone if you’re reading online. Bring the information with you the next time you’re visiting your doctor to get the conversation started – because your health matters.

It certainly matters to Metro Wellness and Community Centers. In Tampa Bay news, we preview the upcoming grand opening of their renovated, 47,000-square-foot campus. We also check in with Pasco County Schools, currently under assault from anti-LGBTQ activists.

In Central Florida news, the show goes on for The Venue, an LGBTQ-inclusive hotspot searching for a new home. We also examine claims of discrimination in Apopka after a transgender woman was evicted from her home.

Discrimination in Tallahassee and in Washington can be found in both state and national headlines this issue. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis excludes LGBTQ protections from his executive order and in D.C., the Supreme Court allows Donald Trump’s transgender military ban to take effect.

After detailing the losses we focus on laughs in Arts & Entertainment. Out comedian Michele Balan dishes on the Orlando stop of “Queer Queens of Quomedy” and we crack open the history books with “Perfect Arrangement” at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Watermark strives to bring you a variety of stories each issue, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

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