“Guys in Orlando suck!” “The gay community in Orlando is so transient.” I heard these phrases way too often in the early 2000s, but I never bought into that way of thinking.

I moved to Central Florida in 1986. This was back in the days when the 408 was just two lanes each way, The Winter Park Village was an enclosed Mall and Ronnie’s was serving the Mogambo Extravaganza (a sixth grade ice cream lover’s dream dessert). I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on track to meet some amazing people with incredible stories to tell, and who would disprove the notion that Orlando was not a strong LGBTQ community.

Flash forward to June 12, 2016.

Within days of the Pulse massacre, 18 organizations banded together to help meet the needs of a grieving community – now a 30+ member coalition. Countless volunteers and donations poured into the The Center. Strong political leaders, like City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith, Mayor Buddy Dyer and Mayor Theresa Jacobs, spoke out for our community.

New organizations like QLatinx, Pulse of Orlando and the onePulse Foundation formed to help a marginalized community, fill gaps with financial support and honor the victims. The community stepped up. Ben Johansen, Blue Star, Barbara Poma, Jennifer Foster, Carlos Carbonell and Robin Maynard-Harris – just to name a few. These people didn’t come out of nowhere; these organizations didn’t come out of nowhere. They just gave more, proving Orlando was strong.

Flash forward to February 27, 2017.

I sat in front of my TV and watched the first episode of “When We Rise,” the NBC mini-series chronicling the rise of the LGBTQ rights movement. I was in awe of those early pioneers. Knowing they would be beaten, knowing they would be arrested and knowing they were hated, they stood on the front lines and fought for their rights. It was truly inspiring.

It made me think, though. Central Florida has that same story to tell. Every city does. We had to fight for our rights here. We had to navigate the HIV/AIDS crisis here. We created the foundation for a strong Orlando, allowing us to work together in the face of tragedy–and that story needs to be told.

I am happy to announce that Watermark is working to tell that story. I have created a sister company to Watermark Publishing Group called Watermark Film Company. We have begun work on a documentary, “Greetings from Queertown: Orlando,” to tell the incredible history of the LGBTQ community in Central Florida.

It’s important for our community to understand its local history. It’s important for us to know the truth about how we got where we are and who those people are that fought against insurmountable odds. There are many stories to tell, and some of those will be difficult. It’s not all sunshine in the City Beautiful. There were pockets of bad leadership and in-fighting, but we have to talk about the bad to understand the good. We need to know our fight so we can overcome it in case it resurfaces. Our community deserves that.

How can you be part of it all? Dig into your closets for old photos and videos because we will be asking for your stories. Dig into your wallets because producing something worthy of this town will not be cheap, and NBC isn’t backing this one (not yet, anyway).

We will launch our fundraising efforts and website Aug. 24. Follow Watermark on Facebook and Twitter to get updates on how you can participate. The dream is to continue this project by telling the coming out stories of St. Pete and Tampa, launching those efforts in 2019.

In this issue of Watermark, we take a look at those looking to make a little history of their own in our primary preview. Our team covers the issues that matter to the LGBTQ community for the midterm primaries and outlines our options for Florida’s next governor. In news, we welcome the National Center for Transgender Equality to Tampa and highlight changes in Come Out St. Pete.

Come Out With Pride announces its weeklong schedule of events and we update you on the Orlando paintball shooting. For A&E we bring to the stage Winter Park Playhouse’s musical festival while our Tampa Bay Bureau Chief has a one-on-one with George Takei.

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

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