09.20.18 Tampa Bay Bureau Chief’s Desk

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Thanks to the wonders of Facebook’s “On This Day,” a feature which allows users to grin or grimace at their social media posts from yesteryear, I recently discovered I’ve been living in Florida for 11 years.

For whatever reason, I still tell folks I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio when they ask. They tend to figure out that I’m from the North when I correctly describe Diet Coke as “pop,” but I suppose I should really start telling my Lyft drivers that I’m from St. Pete. I put too much thought into small talk, which is probably why I’m so bad at it.

I didn’t leave Ohio with much. I’d recently quit my terrible serving job, the lease was up on my apartment and I was finished with college. I had around a dollar in cash, a ride down I-75 and a place to live when I got here—so logic dictated that I tell my mom I was going on vacation and hit the highway.

In case you’re wondering, I told her once I got to Florida that I was here to stay. I know it’s awful and so does she. She still reminds me that this is the world’s longest vacation, but even at 22 she wouldn’t have let me leave.

Reflecting on the last 11 years led me to consider the importance of risk.

The move I made down the country isn’t one I think I’d make today. Not because I don’t love living here, because I do, but because I can be a pretty anxious guy. On top of that, I tend to (over and) overthink every decision I make; it’s a real gift.

I’d been to Florida a few times but had no idea what to expect as a resident. I knew it was the land of Disney, but I’d never shopped at 7-11, heard of Publix or purchased an umbrella. I just knew I’d be a lot closer to the beach. I was sure that’s where I’d spend most of my time, so that’s what mattered.

Spoiler alert: I rarely went and still barely go to the beach. I love it once I’m there, but getting there is too much work. I did spend a lot of time surfing for job applications, though, and found a few terrible fits.

There were some hard years in those 11, frequently offset in the beginning by my mother’s gracious trips to Western Union for her “vacationing” son. But within them, I kickstarted a freelance writing career and found myself surrounded by a growing group of the best friends anyone could ask for.

The majority of those friends show up in my “On This Day” in most of my 11 years here, and those early freelancing assignments tend to pop up as well. While I often cringe at some of the photos and posts, within them are the man that became my husband and the writing portfolio that eventually led me to Watermark.

Those are two things I never expected to find here when I left Ohio, and two very big reasons why I love Florida. Risk is scary, but it can be rewarding.

That’s something that Lakeland filmmaker Kevin O’Brien understood when he made “At the End of the Day,” a film exploring the complex relationship between the LGBTQ community and the church. It’s his entry for the 29th Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (TIGLFF) and the focus of our in-depth feature this issue.

In Tampa Bay news, community advocates take some rewarding risks of their own. We talked with New Port Richey’s Denise Johnson and her executive board ahead of the inaugural Pasco Pride, a first in Pasco County. We also check in with The Florida Orchestra as they prepare their first Pride Weekend.

In Central Florida, Bliss CARES announces a new eligibility card program to help patients experiencing financial hardships and The Center Orlando houses a permanent LGBTQ history exhibit.

In Arts and Entertainment, we speak with one of the editors of “Pulse/Pulso,” an anthology of poems honoring the victims of Pulse. We also highlight “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” ahead of its release in Orlando.

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

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