Every year, we ask the LGBTQ community of Central Florida and Tampa Bay to tell us who they think are the best of the best in dozens of categories in Watermark’s Awards for Variety and Excellence (WAVEs) and every year they pick the most amazing people, groups, places, things and organizations both areas have to offer.

While we are on board for every one of their picks, the editorial team here at Watermark has a few of our favorite things that we love to tell people about. So below we offer you our 2019 WAVE Editorial Picks.

Central Florida

Favorite Local Booty: The Lady Boys of the Peek-A-Boo Lounge

Blue Star has become a huge … well, star (pun intended) in Orlando because she is an entertainer who takes risks and has a feel for what her audience wants. Her love and understanding of the sensual art of burlesque has given Central Florida the pleasure of seeing amazing troupes like VarieTEASE and The Ladies of the Peek-A-Boo Lounge perform. But in the fall of 2017, Star gave us something different and just as pleasurable, The Lady Boys of the Peek-A-Boo Lounge.

With the Lady Boys, Star—or Mama, as they call her—gave a stage to an amazing group of performers who bend and mold the lines of “gender norms” and in the process bend the audience to their will. As the Lady Boys show off their talents, skills and skin you realize that it doesn’t matter how you identified when you came into the show, while you are there you identify to the beauty on stage.

You can check out The Lady Boys on the first Monday of each month at The Venue Orlando.

Favorite Local Ambassador of Global Love: “The Ribbon Maker” Ben Johansen

Many symbols of love and community came out of the tragedy at Pulse in June 2016, but arguably none have had the same impact and reach as that small rainbow ribbon with the black band across it seen pinned onto hundreds of thousands of people. The birth of that ribbon was started on one of Orlando’s darkest days by Ben Johansen, or as he has come to be known throughout the world — The Ribbon Maker.

“The ribbon came from a conversation with my dad,” Johansen says. “He was a police officer for 30 years and he told me ‘Even if I don’t know what to do, do something.’”
Johansen took a symbol used by police officers in mourning. To honor the fallen, fellow officers will wrap a black band around their shield.

What started out as a project to keep his mind busy became a worldwide movement. Since June 2016, Johansen has made 715,000 ribbons. That is enough ribbon to stretch 66 miles. He has also sent them to all 50 states, as well as 65 countries on six different continents.

“I have sent them to China, Japan, Iceland, Istanbul,” he says. “All these different countries, even ones I have never heard of. I had to look them up.”
Johansen even gets requests from places like Russia, a country that has laws that would consider having a rainbow ribbon to be illegal.

“It’s considered gay contraband but they still insist I send it,” he says. “For them it has become a symbol as well.”

Favorite Local Buried Treasure: One-Eyed Willy’s “Never Say Die” Lounge at Joysticks Retro Bar

Any child of the 80s knows No matter how bad things get, goonies never say die. So our inner geek started buzzing when we visited Joysticks in downtown Orlando and saw Joystick’s “Never Say Die” Goonies Lounge.

Where else can you order a specialty cocktail called the Chester Copperpot—a Moscow Mule made with ginger beer, Captain Morgan spiced rum and blackberries—and settle in with One-Eyed Willy himself? The “Never Say Die” Goonies Lounge recreates the pirate captain in the treasure chamber of his ship putting you right in the middle of one of the movies most exciting scenes.

So gather your Goonies crew, practice your Truffle Shuffle and get ready for an adventure of your own downtown. Just keep an eye out for the Fratellis.

Tampa Bay

Favorite Local Reading Rainbows: Drag Queen Story Hour

Drag Queen Story Hour has confirmed nationwide that reading is fundamental. It’s also proven that it’s for everyone, including LGBTQ community advocates, allies and young readers throughout Tampa Bay.

The educational hour features drag entertainers reading stories to children in schools, stores and other safe spaces. While taking a fabulous look inside an all-inclusive book, it aims to capture the imagination and play of childhood while giving children glamorous, positive role models.

Currently, Drag Queen Story Hour Tampa Bay holds monthly readings in St. Petersburg, often at Community Cafe, and Pasco Pride presents monthly sessions at The Paperback Exchange Bookstore in Port Richey.

Read on, ladies. You can find out more by searching for “Drag Queen Story Hour Tampa Bay” or “Pasco Pride” on Facebook.

Favorite Local Place to Take it Cheesy: Central Melt

We love a grilled cheese. Thankfully, so does Ed Allen—who moved to St. Pete in 2010, had always dreamed of owning a sandwich shop and opened Central Melt on the 600 Block in St. Petersburg in July 2016.

The sandwich staple has one goal: to provide gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with fresh ingredients.

To do that, they offer “a no frills spot in the heart of Downtown St. Pete,” Central Melt shares, “serving up sammies from your childhood and creating some new memories with our specialty sandwiches. Our bread is fresh and the fries are hand-cut—soft inside and fried twice for a crispy exterior.” What’s more, “they are affordable!”

You can #TakeItCheesy with them at 685 Central Ave. and visit CentralMelt.com to learn more.

Favorite Local Sign of the Times: Allendale United Methodist Church

Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg calls itself a reconciling congregation, one that affirms the sacred worth of all people. That’s evident in the congregation’s frequently updated, often buzzworthy church sign.

After it was vandalized with anti-LGBTQ messaging in 2018, it was updated to feature rainbow-colored hearts and “Love Always Wins!”

After the general conference of the United Methodist Church voted to uphold its opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy in February, Allendale spoke out again. Beneath the same rainbow-colored hearts, the sign was updated to advise “For harm done by the church, we are sorry.”

“Dissent not departure,” Rev. Andy Oliver shared. “Allendale will not conform to the bigotry of The United Methodist Church, but will continue to be a voice crying in the wilderness of our denomination that LGBTQ people are beloved!” For more information about Allendale, visit AllendaleUMC.org.

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