Polk Pride looks to make its third year the biggest one yet

By : Jeremy Williams
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LAKELAND – Nestled on the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa, many visitors don’t realize that Lakeland has quite an LGBTQ presence in Polk County.

“That was never more evident than that first year we held Polk Pride in 2015,” Dustin Shay, a Polk Pride executive committee member, says. “We were thinking we would have like 200 people and it ended up being 3,000. It was great. The following year Pride in 2016 we ended up having around 5,000, so this year we are really hoping to blow it out since we have gotten a little bit more exposure.”

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3.23.17 Editor’s Desk

By : Billy Manes
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Billy Manes

“Eat the rich” is the common parlance for societal injustice mostly attributed to 18th Century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau; “Let them eat cake!” is but another foodie rallying call through political revolution that has often been (falsely) assigned to Marie Antoinette in a French Revolution fit – though it, too, has its roots in Rousseau’s philosophically hyperbolic oeuvre. At any rate, the message is clear: When we’re not voting with our ballots or simply our wallets, we are voting with our stomachs.

In this issue, Watermark takes on the daunting task of breaking down the politics of eating. Before you even flip to our cover story, “Love Bites,” please understand that we know that it is impossible for us to be absolute and comprehensive when there are restaurants, food joints – some even on wheels! – and means of masticating in nearly every urban peripheral glance. I’m sure we’ll catch hell for some exclusions, but let’s just consider this a starting point.

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Polk County shows their Pride at Munn Park in Lakeland

By : Jeremy Williams
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Lakeland hosted the first Central Florida Pride event since the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando June 12.

Polk Pride’s main event, Pride in the Park, was held in Munn Park in Lakeland’s historic district June 18.

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Polk County is letting their Pride flag fly for the second year

By : Jeremy Williams
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Gather the family together, because Polk Pride is coming back.

Polk County, nestled between two metropolitan areas with huge Pride celebrations of their own, has always been viewed as more conservative than its surrounding locations. So, it came as a surprise to some when the Lakeland Youth Alliance and PFLAG of Polk County came together in 2015 to throw a Pride celebration in Lakeland’s Munn Park.

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Tampa Bay teacher arrested for watching gay porn in classroom

By : Jeremy Williams
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Mulberry, Fla. – A Tampa Bay area high school teacher is charged with four counts of showing obscene materials to minors after students caught him looking at gay porn on his cellphone.

Vadi Velez-Gonzalez, a ninth grade reading teacher at Mulberry High School, is accused of having the pornographic images pulled up on his phone during class. Four different students saw adult male pornography on the 47-year-old teacher’s iPhone Oct. 28 which he had on his desk in plain view, according to a police report.

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Tampa Bay teacher arrested for watching gay porn in classroom

By : Staff Report
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MULBERRY, Fla. – A Tampa Bay area high school teacher was charged with four counts of showing obscene materials to minors have students caught him watching gay porn on his cellphone in class.

Vadi Velez-Gonzalez, a ninth grade reading teacher at Mulberry High School, is accused of having the pornographic video pulled up on his phone during class. A female student observed Gonzalez’s phone while at his desk asking him a question.

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Words to Live by: Tops and Bottoms

By : Rick Claggett
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Rick Claggett

Rick Claggett

The release of this issue of Watermark is a milestone for me. It marks the one-year anniversary since I officially became publisher of Watermark Media. The past 12 months have been an interesting ride – and, although I’ve been here more than a decade, I’ve recently learned a great deal about our staff, our readers and the big picture of LGBT news.

We were not without amazing stories this past year. It’s been a downpour of fantastic triumphs and outlandish setbacks. Here, on this special occasion, I will commemorate some moments that were tops in my book, as well as those populating the bottom of the barrel.

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WORDS TO LIVE BY: Pride

By : Rick Claggett
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Rick Claggett

Rick Claggett

The word “pride” has been everywhere lately. It started this month with Gay Days Weekend/One Magical Weekend, then came the Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, and finally St. Pete Pride rounded out the month.

Pride, though, is a yearlong event here at Watermark. It begins in March with the newly resurrected Tampa Pride and ends late October with Volusia County Pride. Along the way we make stops in St. Pete, Orlando, Sarasota, Volusia County and Polk County.

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Polk County brings huge Pride with small town charm

By : Jeremy Williams
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Lakeland, Fla. – PFLAG of Polk County and the Lakeland Youth Alliance came together to bring a Pride event like never seen before in Polk County June 19-21.

The Lakeland area has had a Polk County Pride in the past, but this was the first year the two organizations came together to bring an event of this size to the LGBT community.

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Orlando’s ultimate rides (and they’re not in the theme parks!)

By : Kirk Hartlage
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Welcome to the debut of a brand-new column that we anticipate running annually for at least the next six years! It’s the launch of important information you’ll need to know about driving around Orlando during Gay Days Weekend while navigating Central Florida’s I-4 Ultimate Project: perhaps the most heart-pounding and adrenaline-pumping ride in town!

For the unfamiliar, I-4 Ultimate is a 21-mile reconstruction and widening of Central Florida’s main transportation artery which will add four new express lanes – complete with tolls – in the center of the highway. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) project covers the area of I-4 from west of Kirkman Road to east of SR 434. Of the 142 bridges along the corridor, 13 will be widened, 74 will be replaced, 53 will be new and 4 will be temporary. In addition, 15 major interchanges will undergo complete reconstruction.

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West/Central Florida marriage equality by the numbers

By : Jamie Hyman
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Here is a breakdown of number off marriage licenses issued Jan. 6, 2015, the first day same-sex marriage was legally available in Florida.

When available, we included number of couples married on-site, whether at the clerk’s office or courthouse.

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Watermark’s Guide to Getting Married

By : Staff Report
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Florida’s fight for same-sex marriage has a victor – equality!

The hold on same-sex marriages in the state of Florida expires at end of the day Jan. 5, which will open the door to same-sex couples first thing Jan. 6.

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