In these very pages one year ago we proclaimed 2016 to be the worst year ever. It started off with so much promise and optimism, with the official passing of the torch as the former owner of Watermark turned the reins over to new owner Rick Claggett and Watermark Media became Watermark Publishing Group.
President Barack Obama was heading into the final year of his second term and everything seemed in place for another torch to be passed, that of the first black president passing the country off to the first female president.
Of course that did not happen. The shooting at Pulse Orlando in June and the election of Donald Trump in November were a one-two punch to the gut in 2016 we didn’t see coming. That blind optimism is what made 2016 the worst year ever. But if 2016 was the year that knocked us down, then 2017 was the year where we got back up and tried to find our footing.
In our next issue we will take a deep dive into the first year of Trump and his effect on the LGBTQ community, but in these pages we will look back on just some of the events that occured in a year where we learned to breathe again.
The year begins with the final weeks of the Obama administration, as the country and the world prepare themselves for the incoming Trump train which will try and “Make America Great Again.”
In Central Florida, the community is still dealing with the tragic events at Pulse. State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and State Sen. Linda Stewart take to the steps of the Orange County Courthouse and introduce their companion bills which look to limit the availability of assault weapons in Florida.
The Orlando City Soccer Club releases a video of their rainbow section in the new stadium, dedicated to those taken at the Pulse shooting.
In Tampa Bay, after many months of rumors, St. Pete Pride’s board votes to move the pride parade and festival from the Grand Central District to downtown St. Petersburg. The decision causes Mayor Rick Kriseman to threaten to pull city funds. The board compromises and agrees to keep the festival in Grand Central and only move the parade downtown.
The Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce celebrates a year of LGBTQ business with the annual Diamonds in Diversity Awards dinner.
On the national stage, one of Obama’s final decisions before leaving office is to shorten the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the transgender solider who leaked classified material and was arrested in 2010. Manning is seven years into her 35 year sentence and is told she will now be released in May 2017.
Orlando’s LGBTQ Alliance, an organizing of more than 20 LGBTQ groups in Central Florida that came together after the Pulse shooting, hold their first public town hall, “Your Voice, Our Future.” The group will go on to rename themselves the One Orlando Alliance and by year’s end will be home to more than 30 LGBTQ organizations.
St. Petersburg Council Chair Darden Rice announces in a press release that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She takes a few weeks off in February to consult with her doctors but comes back stronger than ever for her re-election campaign. By the end of the year her cancer will be in remission and she will have easily been re-elected to her seat.
The Boy Scouts of America in New Jersey welcome the first group of transgender kids into the boys-only programs for the first time. While not a competition, the national Girl Scouts organization take a moment to remind everyone that they have been accepting transgender members for years.
The Orlando Magic hold their first ever Pride Night as they face off against the New York Knicks. The crowd is a sea of Magic Pride Night t-shirts and the Orlando Gay Chorus performs the National Anthem. The evening isn’t even soured by the fact that the Magic lost to the Knicks 113-105.
The One Orlando Alliance, the City of Orlando and many government officials announce that June 12, the Pulse tragedy’s one-year mark, will be designated “A Day of Love and Kindness.”
The GaYbor District is home to the year’s first major Pride parade and festival as Tampa Pride rides through Ybor City. The event is the most attended since its reemergence three years ago. Crowds gather not only to watch the parade but to also watch singing sensation Steve Grand perform.
A week before the parade in Tampa, Manatee Pride kicks off their wildly popular Pride festival at Bradenton’s Riverwalk.
Watermark honors the best in LGBTQ businesses, organizations and individuals with the annual WAVE Awards. The winners are announced after tallying the largest number of votes we have ever had and we celebrate with huge parties—one for the Central Florida winners at the Parliament House and another for the Tampa Bay winners at Flamingo Resort.
The Orlando chapter of Gays Against Guns is launched. They plan to step up pressure on gun retailers, lobbyists and elected officials to stop enabling gun violence.
The Orlando Youth Alliance fundraiser Babes in Bonnets sets a fundraising record bringing in $28,000.
The Closing Agent’s Barry Miller announces the launch of The 49 Fund, an organization that looks to raise money for LGBTQ youth scholarships.
After St. Pete Pride’s announcement to move the parade downtown, the Grand Central District announces a new event to take place the week of National Coming Out Day in October. Come Out St. Pete will feature a march, street festival and a week full of events, many tied into the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which is the same week.
As Tampa is celebrating banning conversion therapy, openly gay State Rep. David Richardson declares victory against conversion therapy in South Florida. His entire district bans conversion therapy against minors.
The creator of the rainbow flag, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, Gilbert Baker passes away at the age of 65.
A report comes out from a respected Russian newspaper that police in Chechnya have rounded up 100 gay men, killed three of them and put the remaining men into concentration camps. Chechnya denies these claims. More and more reports will come out, leading many to condemn these acts. President Trump does not address the reports.
Central Florida blood bank OneBlood starts to use the images of five Pulse survivors in an advertising campaign. This upsets many in the community since gay men who are sexually active are still banned from donating blood in the U.S.
Members of the LGBTQ community gather on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall to say “No” to ex-mayor Rick Baker who announces that he is seeking to once again become the mayor of St. Pete.
Senator Marco Rubio denounces the gay Chechnya arrests from the Senate floor, surprising many. Rubio has been opposed to many pro-LGBTQ policy changes. Trump still has not mentioned Chechnya.
The World OutGames, scheduled to take place in Miami the last weekend of May, are abruptly cancelled the day before the first events. A fraud investigation is opened and it’s found that no criminal charges will be brought against the organizers.
Connecticut is the latest state to ban conversion therapy on minors statewide, making them the seventh to do so. Nevada will follow suit a week later, although their ban will not take effect until Jan. 2018, and Rhode Island will join the list in July. This brings the total number of states to ban the practice to nine.
Tens of thousands of LGBTQ people flock to Orlando for Gay Days, one of the world’s largest LGBTQ events. Millions of dollars are pumped into the local community as they visit theme parks, pool parties and bars.
The Orlando Gay Chorus holds their first youth camp. Voices United! brings more than 20 kids together for a week to learn about music, take voice lessons and put on a big concert at the end of the week.
For the first time ever, a TransPride March takes place right before the St. Pete Pride parade. Hundreds of people march in the name of transgender rights.
The week before St. Pete Pride, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum re-launches Gay Black Pride after a six-year hiatus. The centerpiece of the celebration is the exhibit “As Black as They Were Gay: The Harlem Renaissance” on display at the museum.
Polk Pride kicks off their third year celebration of Pride in the Park at Munn Park in Lakeland.
State Rep. David Richardson announces he will pursue the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Miami-based seat which she vacated is an important one to Richardson as his current district is virtually enclosed within the congressional district.
The Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C., draws thousands from across the country. The Equality March is one of many rallies, protests and marches that take place in 2017 to send a message to the current administration that we are here and we are not going away. The march makes celebrities out of Tampa Bay photographer Nick Cardello and his husband, Kurt English, as a side-by-side photo of the two of them kissing at the Equality March in 1993 and at the Equality March in 2017 goes viral.
The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida releases a statement that Executive Director Terry DeCarlo would be stepping down from his current role and would become The Center’s new chief communications officer, a position created specifically for him. DeCarlo says in the statement that he is changing roles for his health and relationship. The statement also says the position of executive director will not be filled; however, by the end of the year a new E.D. will be named.
Orlando journalist and former Watermark editor Billy Manes passes away suddenly at the age of 45. Manes spent decades covering Central Florida news and had become a voice for a grieving community after the tragedy at Pulse.
Tampa Police chief and LGBTQ ally, Eric Ward, announces he is retiring in September 2018. The same time he announces his retirement he also establishes Safe Places for victims of hate crimes and bullying around Tampa. Locations that serve as Safe Places are identified by a rainbow-colored police badge sticker in the front windows of local businesses.
TransAction Florida’s Nathan Bruemmer is named the new executive director of ALSO Youth in Sarasota.
The mother of a transgender student in St. Augustine sues the county school board when her son is told he cannot use the bathroom of his identified gender.
Hope & Help opens up in their brand new location and launches a new website, all less than two months before the Headdress Ball, the HIV organization’s biggest annual fundraiser.
After Trump’s trans military ban tweet storm, Central Florida elected officials gather at JOY MCC church to stand with the transgender community.
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman wins the primary election by 70 votes forcing a run-off with Rick Baker in November for the general election. Kriseman will go on to win that race by a larger margin.
St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains announces that he is resigning and moving to Texas. Skains’ departure follows a successful but controversial pride event as many in the community place the decision to move the parade out of the Grand Central District on Skains.
The onePulse Foundation launches the Pulse Memorial Survey asking for opinions on how the memorial should be constructed. The survey is kept up until Oct. 31 to allow for all suggestions to be heard.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina appoints Sgt. Grace Peek as the department’s new LGBT police/community liaison. Sgt. Peek takes over for Lt. Jim Young who steps into a new position with the OPD.
Hurricane Irma puts all of Florida on edge as the storm looks more and more likely to hit central and west Florida. The Category 4 storm leaves more than a million Floridians without power. The 14th annual SMART Ride and the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference in Fort Lauderdale are cancelled.
Gay adult film star Matthew Rush is arrested on drug-related charges in Wilton Manors. His mug shot goes viral as the once muscular actor looks thin and sickly.
The return of NBC’s Will & Grace has the community buzzing as watch parties are organized in bars and homes across the country.
The onePulse Foundation holds the first of what will be four town hall meetings, most likely with one town hall being held every quarter. The town hall is held at the Orlando Rep Theater and features a panel of experts from the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial in New York. The Orlando City Council approves a temporary memorial around Pulse while details for the permanent memorial are figured out.
Eric Rollings announces that he is running for the Orange County commissioner seat in District 3. If he wins he will become the first openly gay county commissioner in Orange County history.
Come Out With Pride celebrates Orlando with a parade and festival in Lake Eola and honors the memory of those lost at Pulse with the theme #KeepDancingOrlando.
Following some controversy, Sarasota Pride’s board members and community leaders renew focus and celebrate Pride Fest as a community at J.D. Hammel Park.
Come Out St. Pete celebrates their first year with a full schedule of more than 20 events that are either official COSP events or affiliated events. TIGLFF screens several films that are sponsored by COSP.
A report in the New Yorker says Trump joked that Pence “wants to hang” all the gay people, reminding everyone of Pence’s anti-LGBTQ history.
MBA Orlando holds their annual Pride in Business Awards Gala. The gala recognizes many local LGBTQ business owners and honors Stuart Milk with the Debbie Simmons Community Service Award.
Tim Evanicki announces he will be stepping down Jan. 6 after two years as the manager of the Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre.
Metro Health, Wellness and Community Centers celebrate 25 years of serving the community with a huge silver anniversary gala at Gatsby’s. The event raises $65,000 for LGBTQ youth, senior and trans services.
Three Florida legislators again file the Competitive Workforce Act to update the state’s Civil Rights Act of 1992. A form of this bill has been filed since 2007, however this bill is being done with bipartisan support.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith is recognized by the Victory Institute with the first ever Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award during the 2017 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C.
George Wallace is named the new executive Director to the GLBT Community Center in Central Florida.
The hate group Liberty Counsel files a suit against the city of Tampa stating the conversion therapy ban put in place earlier this year violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
David Ermond, a Kentucky gay man who was denied a marriage license by county clerk Kim Davis, files the appropriate paperwork to run against Davis in her bid for re-election next year. Ermold files his paperwork directly to Davis who replied, “may the best candidate win.”
After the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced a majority of voters believe same-sex marriage should be legal in the country, the Australian Senate and House of Representatives both approve bills to give the country marriage equality. Within days, many Australian same-sex couples begin to apply for marriage licenses.