Two inspiring individuals prove leaving the corporate world can really pay off

By : Holly Kapherr Alejos
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When I called Victor Bokas for an interview, he was in the middle of working on a five-foot-square commissioned painting for an art collector in Spain. “I could have never done this had I stayed in the corporate world,” he said to me with an incredulous half-laugh. Since being let go from his position as a senior graphic designer at Tupperware Brands in 2015, he has devoted his full energy to his craft, and it’s made all the difference.

Mandy Keyes, owner of Community Cafe in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg, also left her corporate position as an interior designer to open a storefront on Central Avenue, the area’s main thoroughfare. When I walked into the cafe for our interview, she was in the thick of taking orders, clearing tables, fielding questions – all the things you’d expect from a small-business owner – popping up at intervals during our conversation to tend to her customers. At 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, the place was packed. It’s working.

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PHOTOS: Equality Florida holds 2018 Suncoast Celebration

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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SARASOTA | Equality Florida held its annual Suncoast Celebration at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium Nov. 18, benefiting the organization’s work in fighting for statewide equality.

The evening featured live entertainment from Josh Walther and the Phase5 Band and honored community advocates throughout the celebration, beginning with Dr. Fred and Lee Brockmann. The duo, known for their outspoken advocacy, received the 2018 Voice for Equality honor. Dorothy Neufeld received the 2018 Spirit of Service and Leadership honor.

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PHOTOS: Tampa Pride gets wild for inaugural Pride-Zoo-La

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Tampa Pride kicked off fundraising for its fifth year with the organization’s inaugural Pride-Zoo-La at ZooTampa at Lowry Park Nov. 17.

The evening began with a performance by the Tampa Bay Pride Band. Guests subsequently moved to an artists’ showcase highlighting local talent, participated in over 50 raffles and were given the opportunity to participate in a giraffe feeding with ZooTampa staff.

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PHOTOS: Watermark Wednesday benefits Project No Labels

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Watermark’s bi-monthly Tampa Bay social networking event Watermark Wednesday benefited area nonprofit Project No Labels (PNL) at The Franklin Manor Nov. 14.

PNL exists to unite all LGBTQ+ supporters in Tampa Bay through positive activities and events, Development Director Jonathan Soots shared with attendees. The organization promotes volunteerism and activism for a fulfilling LGBTQ+ lifestyle.

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Jennifer Webb becomes first openly LGBTQ woman elected to Florida Legislature

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ST. PETERSBURG | Democrat Rep.-Elect Jennifer Webb defeated Republican Ray Blacklidge in the race to represent Florida House District 69 (HD69) Nov. 6, becoming the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to the Florida Legislature in the process.

Webb replaces Republican Kathleen Peters in representing HD69. The district includes Gulfport, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, parts of St. Petersburg and Treasure Island.

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EPIC Generations coalition forms to support aging LGBTQ community

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ST. PETERSBURG | Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), a member of Empath Health, has formed EPIC Generations—a new coalition dedicated to serving LGBTQ elders throughout Pinellas County.

EPIC Generations stems from the nonprofit’s partnership with the St. Petersburg-based Project Generations Coalition, an alliance of over a dozen elder care advocates. It was formed by area resident Chris Almvig, one of the founding members of SAGE, the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders.

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Metro, James Haley VA, CAN hold second annual Trans Fashion Expo

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Metro Wellness and Community Centers, CAN Community Health and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital will present the second annual Trans Fashion Expo at Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Tampa Nov. 17 from 12 – 6 p.m.

LGBTQ+ veterans, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are invited to step into the inclusive space for the free event. They’ll learn about available resources from local community leaders, advocates and vendors as they participate in raffles and select clothing from a full, professional boutique of attire in a safe and affirming venue.

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Hamburger Mary’s Tampa, Pub House announce same-day closure

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Hamburger Mary’s Tampa and Mary’s Pub House Tampa in Ybor will permanently close at the end of business Nov. 6, the restaurant and owner Kurt King shared on Facebook the same day.

“It is with great regret that Kurt King and Brian DeChane must announce that tonight will be the last day/night that Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill and Hamburger Mary’s Pub House in Ybor City will be open,” King and Hamburger Mary’s Tampa shared via social media.

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PHOTOS: Venice Pride holds inaugural celebration

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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VENICE, Fla. | Venice’s LGBTQ community and its allies celebrated diversity and visibility during the inaugural Venice Pride Nov. 3.

The celebration, which proclaimed “We Are Here” with its theme, was held on the five-acre campus of SunCoast Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church from 1 – 5 p.m. According to Senior Co-Pastor Rev. Vickie Miller, one of the organizers, the theme was chosen to make a statement that the LGBTQ community exists in the area. “We want our voices to be a part of the community,” she shared with Watermark. “We want to be unified and work together on issues that impact us.”

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PHOTOS: St. Petersburg holds ‘We Won’t Be Erased’ transgender support rally

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ST. PETERSBURG | LGBTQ community leaders and advocates gathered Nov. 4 at Williams Park for St. Petersburg’s “We Won’t Be Erased” transgender support rally.

Nathan Bruemmer organized the rally following reports that the Trump administration may attempt to define gender as an immutable condition determined at birth. Partner organizations included Equality Florida, TransAction Florida, Metro Wellness & Community Centers, St. Pete Pride, the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce and Project No Labels. “We rally for our rights, for our future and for our lives,” Bruemmer shared with Watermark ahead of the event. “These rallies are happening all over our country right now. I hope the politicians who need to hear this message do so and act.”

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The 2018 Amendment Guide

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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This year’s ballot lists 12 potential amendments to the Florida Constitution. Only two of those were proposed by Florida’s citizens, including Amendment 4. It is the only amendment Equality Florida has taken a stance on, advising that the eligibility to vote is fundamental to democracy and that voting yes “is the first step in helping LGBTQ people with former convictions.”

For more information about 2018’s proposed amendments, read on below.

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Equality-focused organizations, candidates and voters hope to turn the tide Nov. 6

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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The LGBTQ vote matters. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)—the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization—it made up five percent of the electorate in 2016’s general election.

The organization stresses that LGBTQ voters were one of the few voting blocs to increase its turnout following 2012’s cycle, noting one critical element. “Here’s the key thing to remember,” HRC President Chad Griffin tells Watermark. “Because we are intentionally excluded from the census—the Trump-Pence administration eliminated what would have been a census that included us—we know that number by independent exit polling data.

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