It’s often argued that one shouldn’t discuss religion or politics,

so I’d like to talk about both.

When I was in high school, I learned through friends in my Southern Baptist youth group that the deacons of my small-town, smaller-minded church were trying to pray my gay away. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.

I didn’t grow up in a religious family, which explains why even now I don’t understand why some of my friends gather for Easter dinner with theirs or why businesses take the day off. If everything’s about the opening of a tomb, why is Publix closed?

It was in my teenage years that I latched onto friends who were churchgoers. I sought out religion, not the other way around. I even enjoyed it for a few years, and occasionally I still find myself humming some of the music. There was a lot of free food, I got to take road trips and hang out with my friends. But after I came out, several of my prayer pals told their deacon parents and thus began my departure from regularly attending church.

I didn’t give up on religion entirely. I took an interesting college course a few years later on the world’s religions to learn about other options, and I even attended a non-denominational church for years.

It was in that period of time that I realized what I believed was doing my best to not be an awful person, sans Bible, and maybe in life after love. If any of those deacons are reading, that’s a Cher reference. Your prayers remain unanswered.

I take absolutely no issue with those who believe prayer works or those who pray, so long as it isn’t interfering with my life as a human being or my constitutional rights as an American. What people pew behind closed doors is their own business.

But as I grew older, I began to see that it was interfering. Those in politics were using their personal, prayerful agendas to limit my rights; people like those deacons were electing them to do it. I’d mostly stayed out of politics as a young man, thinking change wasn’t possible, until states began recognizing same-sex marriage and Barack Obama was elected president.

I quickly moved from the religious to the political when someone from a marginalized minority assumed the presidency. No Bush was going to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community—but in Obama, we had a chance. Advocates worked tirelessly to change minds and laws across the country, and marriage equality eventually became the law of the land with presidential support.

I realized I’d found in politics what I’d been searching for when I sought out religion. It quickly became my view that meaningful change comes from work, not words—and from heading to polls, not pews.

That realization came from questioning the world around me, something gun reform advocates have begun to do following the tragic school shooting in Parkland. In this issue, we examine the differences between the public and political response to Parkland, already resulting in legislation, and the mass shooting at Pulse, which often culminated in thoughts and prayers.

In Tampa Bay news, we talk to actress and national spokesperson Pam Grier and Empath Partners in Care’s Joy Winheim about the 13th annual Dining Out for Life. We also check in with local author Rob Sanders, who has created the first picture book detailing the history of the Pride flag for Random House.

In Central Florida news, we examine the response from community leaders to the wife of the Pulse gunman’s acquittal from charges linking her to the tragedy. We also take a look at Come Out with Pride’s new board president.

In Arts and Entertainment, we visit St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum, which is currently detailing the unlikely friendship between Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp. We also preview the plethora of LGBTQ films heading to the 27th annual Florida Film Festival.

Watermark strives to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

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