Yes, it’s that time of year when everything is filtered through its appropriate way-back machine and Vaseline and all things are bright and beautiful and all that, and if you read one more retrospective account of how life happens and why it matters, you’ll be coughing up eggnog clichés with your spilt milk. Oh, we’ve all been there – wiry and wrought at the family gatherings, wishing sentimentality would find its deserved end at the ledge of the wet bar. But we’re also prone to appreciation of those who might have helped us and those who are helping others. We have to be buoyed by something other than gravity (which is really a downer, though), so it might as well be a brightly wrapped package of benevolence, right? Oh, come on. Put on your holiday pants and play along.
As we have in the past, Watermark has assembled a gaggle of deserving folk from across Central Florida to highlight in their best lights. Our tributes aren’t eulogies, though. Quite the contrary: They are celebrations of lives that make our own lives better. This is one of my favorite issues of Watermark, actually. If you’ll forgive the seeming senility, stories about people who are improving lives and adding to our culture are things of beauty to this guy. Remarkable? Maybe, but that term doesn’t seem to do any of our subjects justice. Incredible? That suggests that these folks are things of fiction. Wonderful? Yeah, I’ll go with that for now.
The LGBT community is a diverse bunch that has endured and celebrated a fairly intense year. If you look back at 2015, it’s difficult to pin down how it is we made such historic leaps – OK, Jan. 6 and June 26 are helpful guides in terms of marriage equality, but there is so much more to our community than that pomp and that circumstance. There is a connection, a brotherhood and sisterhood, and there will always be open arms awaiting those who live in the “other” space. Though it may feel like we’re racing through history, we’ve only just begun. That’s why we need advocates. That’s why we celebrate them in this issue.
In our Orlando issue (or, rather, on its cover … we’re not about to make two papers), you’ll find a profile in courage of one Carlos Smith, a former retail manager who has grown to encompass all things progressive in this community. As the former chairman of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee and as a former legislative aide to both Rep. Joe Saunders and Rep. Scott Randolph, Smith has paid his dues, made the rounds and fueled a political momentum in a way that only he could. He’s running for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives next year, but he’s also running from the inherently divisive nature of politics in the Sunshine State. He’s not running away, though. Talk to the guy sometime; he’s pretty available and always on point.
Another “remarkable” favorite in these offices is Tristan Byrnes, our Gulf Coast cover-man. Byrnes is a licensed mental-health counselor and accidental activist. He is also transgender and about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He’s been on the front lines of the trans fight in Florida, because he is trans and he cares enough about other people walking through other transitional battlegrounds. We honor Tristan for his work with Metro Wellness and Tampa Bay Trans Pride, but we also honor him for his honesty and initiative.
Elsewhere, you’ll find tributes to some of the citizens doing the legwork in our community to keep things sane and safe. It may feel like life has been corrected and equality is all around, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Without our soldiers – our advocates, our allies, our politicians, our activists – we would not have come half this far. This time, our time, dear readers, is the backlash. And without remarkable people like we’ve highlighted in this issue, our situation would be far more desperate.
So, happy holidays to you and yours, gracious appreciation to those looking out for us in the real world and please, please, please love when you want to not do so. They always said “hearts and minds.” Well, there are still hearts, and there are still minds. Let’s celebrate what is and then work our asses off for what will be. Cheers, then.