It’s been two years since we, as a country, entered into the reality that is the Trump Administration. The country feels more divided than ever and the phrases “fake news” and “it’s all a witch hunt” are commonplace.
The violence that seems to define who Americans are these days is also there, particularly in Florida, where there has been no justice for the five transgender women of color who were murdered and yet another mass shooting—this time at a high school in Parkland, Fla.—pulled the focus of the world to our state.
Through the tragedy heroes and leaders emerged. Parkland students helped spark a movement across the country that ignited their generation to take a stand. Last year’s #MeToo movement helped more women to run, and get elected, to political office in local, state and national elections. Additionally, Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump White House is proving this witch hunt is loaded with witches.
Look back with us on a year that was anything but calm, but remember we’re half way there—we’ll make it, we swear.
Watermark begins the year by examining how the LGBTQ community is impacted by 365 days of Donald Trump’s presidency. We speak with political candidates Anna Eskamani and Jennifer Webb, now both elected to the Florida House, about how to shape a brighter 2018.
In Central Florida, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith kicks off his re-election campaign in Orlando. “It has been a heck of a year serving you all in the Florida House of Representatives,” Smith says, something he continues to do given the campaign’s success.
In Tampa Bay, Mayor Rick Kriseman and the city’s first female-majority city council are sworn in at St. Petersburg City Hall. Brandi Gabbard, Gina Driscoll, Darden Rice and Amy Foster assemble at the city dais. “Women bring a different negotiating style,” Rice says, “and typically, a different perspective.”
The ugly side of politics also rears its head early in 2018. Fallout continues from Donald Trump’s unexplained decision to terminate all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS via a letter from FedEx.
Love is in the air and on our pages in February. Watermark chooses 10 bachelors and bachelorettes from Central Florida and Tampa Bay to give them their due for our inaugural “most eligible” issue. We also celebrate with our first “Swipe Right” party. The month continues with an homage to five generations of black entertainers in Orlando.
The Human Rights Campaign comes to Central Florida to host Time to THRIVE in Orlando. The organization presents the fifth annual LGBTQ youth conference in partnership with the National Education Association and the American Counseling Association, even as an anti-LGBTQ ministry announces it would host an adoption event in the same city later in 2018.
Tampa Bay agrees that children are the future. Metro Wellness and Community Centers partners with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of Tampa Bay to hold its annual LGBTQ+ Youth Leadership and Empowerment Summit.
Celine Walker becomes the fourth reported transgender homicide victim of the year in Jacksonville, a disturbing trend that will continue throughout 2018.
U.S. lawmakers, led by Massachusetts Democrat Joseph Kennedy III, demands a meeting on Trump’s anti-transgender policies.
Variety and excellence kick off March with Watermark’s annual WAVE Awards, celebrating readers’ favorites from Central Florida and Tampa Bay. Students from the latter area also march for their lives at the fourth annual Tampa Pride, demanding an end to gun violence.
With an eye on November, the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence—America’s only LGBTQ organization solely focused on gun policy reform—looks to the midterms for answers in Central Florida. The organization backs Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna Eskamani.
In Tampa Bay, Republican Ronda Storms—who spearheaded Hillsborough County’s now-defunct ban on recognizing LGBTQ Pride—announces her candidacy for Florida House District 59. Asked for her message to LGBTQ voters, she tells Watermark to look at her record.
Dean Trantalis becomes Fort Lauderdale’s first openly gay mayor following a heated election season, signaling a Rainbow Wave could follow in November. Community advocates call it a win for the entire LGBTQ community.
News quickly spreads that the U.S. military accepts an openly transgender recruit, a first. It’s a development that follows federal court rulings against Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.
In April, Watermark examines the differences between the public and political responses to the mass shootings in Parkland and at Pulse.
The LGBT+ Center Orlando, Inc.’s board of directors announces that it will expand into Osceola County with an LGBT+ Center in Kissimmee. The expansion was a result of a grant from The Contigo Fund, which emerged in the aftermath of the Pulse tragedy.
The University of South Florida in Tampa holds its inaugural Lavender Graduation ceremony, honoring students within the LGBTQ community and their allies. Over 150 undergraduate and graduate students, staff members and community advocates gather for the ceremony.
Gainesville becomes the first city in northern Florida to ban the discredited practice of conversion therapy for minors. The ordinance prohibits “licensed professionals from engaging in counseling efforts, practices or treatments with the goal to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
A decade after Caylee Anthony went missing in Central Florida, former Orange County CSI and openly LGBTQ Robin Maynard-Harris recalls the events that captivated a nation with Watermark. Maynard-Harris was in charge of sifting remains with the chief medical examiner.
Orlando remembers as the onePULSE Foundation opens the Pulse Interim Memorial to the public with a dedication ceremony. The foundation is joined by Pulse victims’ family members, survivors, first responders and community leaders for a special dedication.
Tampa’s former chief of police and openly LGBTQ Jane Castor announces her candidacy for Tampa mayor. “Voters have had 31 years to test drive me and I’ve been the same,” Castor tells Watermark.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signs the first anti-LGBTQ law of 2018, a “religious freedom” bill enabling taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placement into LGBTQ homes. Catholic adoption agencies who say they will have to close if forced to place children with LGBTQ adoptive parents support the law.
Pride month is in full effect. With changes coming to Orlando’s Big Gay Weekend in 2019, Watermark begins June by looking back at the history of Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom. The celebration continues in Tampa Bay as St. Pete Pride celebrates its Sweet 16 in downtown St. Petersburg and the Grand Central District.
The Orange County Regional History Center presents a special, limited exhibit “Another Year Passes: Orlando After the Pulse Nightclub Massacre” commemorating two years since the Pulse tragedy. It includes over 200 images and items collected at memorial sites throughout Orlando as well as community artwork and international tributes.
In Tampa Bay, Pinellas-Pasco circuit judgeship candidate Donald McBath reiterates his anti-LGBTQ views ahead of the 2018 primary election. McBath notes that “if the homosexual continues committing the sin of sodomy, his soul faces eternal damnation.”
Antash’a English, a 38-year-old transgender woman, is fatally shot in Jacksonville. She becomes the 12th reported transgender homicide victim in 2018 and continues the disturbing Florida trend.
In a 7-2 decision written by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court sidesteps a major ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The court issues a narrow decision based on the facts of the lawsuit in favor of a Colorado baker sued for refusing to make a wedding came for a same-sex couple.
Jacksonville’s LGBTQ community seeks justice and answers as three transgender women of color are murdered in the first half of 2018. Watermark devotes a July cover story to the investigation. Days after the issue is released, another trans woman of color is found murdered, this time at an apartment complex in Orlando.
In Winter Park, high school teacher Bobby Agagnina becomes the first openly gay person to run for Seminole County School Board. Across the state in Citrus County, 18-year-old high school student Adam York is running for that county’s school board.
In Tampa Bay, Metro Wellness and Community Centers announces a huge increase in patients who are beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy. Sylvie Griffiths, who will go on to contribute Viewpoint columns here at Watermark, begins publishing a blog about raising her transgender son.
Maine’s anti-LGBTQ Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoes a bill that would have banned conversion therapy statewide. In North Dakota, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, Rep. Josh Boschee, announces he will seek to be North Dakota’s first openly gay secretary of state.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces the creation of a “religious liberty task force” which would seek to protect people’s religious freedoms.
It’s midterm primaries across the nation and Watermark takes an in-depth look at each party’s potential candidates, including the top seven Florida gubernatorial candidates. Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis will become the Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively.
The LGBT+ Center expands across Central Florida as it opens a second location in Kissimmee. Mayor Buddy Dyer announces during his State of the City that Orlando City Hall will become the first government building statewide to have an all-gender, multi-stall restroom.
Anti-LGBTQ candidates don’t fare so well in Tampa Bay’s primaries as Ronda Storms and Donald McBath both lose their runs for public office. Seven community health organizations in Pinellas County partner to form Zero Pinellas, an initiative to reduce HIV infection rates by 50 percent over the next three years.
A Jacksonville teen who was kicked out of his home for being gay gains national attention after he raises nearly $130,000 to cover college tuition. Equality Florida Action PAC endorses Gillum for governor after he wins the Democratic nomination.
A bill to ban conversion therapy in Massachusetts fails in the final day of its 2018 legislative session when the state senate is unable to make needed changes by the session deadline.
Watermark looks at the taboo subject of money, and takes a deep dive into why not talking about it can cause shame, with author and “Money Coach” Tammy Lally.
After 28 years as the Headdress Ball, Central Florida’s Hope & Help changes the name of its annual event and holds the first ever Hope & Help Gala. In downtown Orlando, a 7-Eleven worker is accused of attacking a customer because he is gay.
Hosted by Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Youth Leadership Council, community advocates gather in Tampa for an educational forum to spotlight the unique challenges facing LGBTQ youth. In St. Petersburg, the LGBTQ-affirming Allendale United Methodist Church is vandalized when the church’s marquee is spray painted with the phrase “gay pastor.”
In North Port, Fla., Londonn Moore becomes the fifth transgender woman of color to be murdered in the state.
The endorsements for Gillum for governor continue as three major LGBTQ organizations gather in Miami to support the Tallahassee mayor.
This month marks 20 years since the tragic attack, and eventual death, of Matthew Shepard that would spark a worldwide cry for change to U.S. hate crime laws. It would take another 11 years before the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would be signed into law. At the end of the month, the ashes of Shepard will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral.
One Orlando Alliance announces former board member Jennifer Foster will become the organization’s first executive director. Orlando community leaders gather for National Coming Out Day to introduce “My Tio’s Pulse,” a children’s book meant to help kids understand tragedies such as the Pulse shooting.
LGBTQ Christians, theologians and allies gather for The Reformation Project’s sixth annual LGBTQ Inclusion Conference held at the First United Methodist Church in Orlando.
Pasco Pride makes history by holding its inaugural LGBTQ Pride Festival in New Port Richey. It is the first time a Pride celebration is held in Pasco County. Meanwhile in Sarasota County, PrideFest celebrates its 29th year.
In St. Petersburg, Metro Wellness relaunches the LGBTQ Welcome Center in the Grand Central District.
The Pride Center in Wilton Manors announces South Florida as the home for the state’s first affordable housing project for elderly LGBTQ residents.
A blue wave hits the country as the midterm elections bring the U.S. House of Representatives back under Democratic control. The wave is a bit more purple in Florida as Republicans hold the governor’s mansion and Gov. Rick Scott successfully unseats Sen. Bill Nelson. While the offices are in the red column, both races were so close they triggered automatic recounts.
Florida also elects to restore voting rights back to more than 1 million convicted felons who have completed their sentences.
The LGBT+ Center of Central Florida celebrates 40 years with a Studio 54-inspired concert at The Plaza Live. In Daytona Beach, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University responds to the vandalization of the campus’ Spirit Rock—which had been painted in the colors of the Rainbow and Transgender Pride flags but was defaced—with an investigation and an inclusion rally.
In Tampa, Hamburger Mary’s Ybor and its attached Pub House close permanently. The owners post an emotional letter to Facebook thanking the community for its years of service to the restaurant.
Tampa Pride kicks off its 2019 fundraising season with a Pride-Zoo-La event at ZooTampa. While there, Tampa Pride provided an opportunity for each Tampa mayoral candidate to highlight their stance on LGBTQ issues ahead of next year’s election.
The November midterm brings a first to Wilton Manors as voters elect the first all openly-LGBTQ city commission in Florida’s history.
As the year comes to a close, Watermark releases its annual list of the Most Remarkable People in Central Florida and Tampa Bay. The list consists of 18 (in honor of 2018) local unsung heroes and difference makers. In Central Florida, newly elected State Rep. Anna V. Eskamani is on the cover. In Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg’s LGBTQ liaison to the mayor’s office Jim Nixon is front and center.
In Orlando, a local activist starts a fundraising campaign to increase the reward money offered to find the killer of a local trans woman who was killed back in July.
Orlando’s Metropolitan Business Association (MBA Orlando) announces its 2019 board of directors at its annual holiday mixer.
FabStayz, an Airbnb-esque accommodations online platform for the LGBTQ community, launches in Tampa Bay. Local entertainer Kori Stevens holds her ninth annual Toys 4 Tots benefit. The two-part event started at Enigma in St. Petersburg and continued the following weekend at Bradley’s on 7th in Ybor City.
Florida legislators introduce a bill ahead of the 2019 session to ban conversion therapy statewide.
Boxer Patricio Manuel became the first U.S. professional transgender male boxer to win a match after he defeats Hugo Aguilar in Indio, Calif.
Three U.S. senators call upon the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to release documents related to the case of a transgender Honduran woman with HIV who died in their custody.