Watermark 25: Tampa Bay Bureau Chief’s Desk

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Watermark began covering Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ community in 1995, not long after its 1994 founding in Orlando.

It was more than a decade before I would move to Florida and more than two before I would be fortunate enough to become Watermark’s Tampa Bay Bureau Chief, but it’s a decision I’m very thankful that our founder Tom Dyer made just the same.

I don’t say that solely as a journalist who loves his job; I also say it as someone who loves the community Watermark serves, of which I’m proudly a part. Watermark’s expansion magnified Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ population and our allies in remarkable ways, detailing the triumphs and tragedies facing our community as only members of our community could. Our stories matter and deserve to be told. Watermark told them.

I was first introduced to the newspaper in 2011, when I discovered a copy inside of St. Petersburg’s former LGBTQ hot spot Georgie’s Alibi. It was the same locale where I’d eventually meet my husband and the majority of our friends-turned-family, so I’ll always be grateful for the safe space it provided in addition to its impeccable reading materials.

As an Ohio transplant, it was through Watermark that I found a community of other safe spaces in Florida. In its pages and on its website were stories by and for the LGBTQ community and its allies—news features, opinion pieces and more—all supported by advertisers who supported us. Tom’s decision to head to Tampa Bay had a profound impact on me, all those years later.

While I’ve never worked directly with him, I’ve been lucky enough to interact with Tom throughout my time here. It’s an honor to play even a small role in cultivating what he created—and as you’ll see in this commemorative 25th anniversary issue, his presence is always welcome and felt in our pages past and present. To many in Tampa Bay and Central Florida, and to this newspaper, he is a guiding light.

Rick Claggett, who purchased Watermark in 2016, is one of mine. As our current owner, publisher and editor, he hired me in 2017—allowing me to serve this community in ways I never knew were possible and proving he makes excellent decisions in the process. I say that last part jokingly, but he really does; Watermark’s staff is a family dedicated to this community. That dedication starts with Rick and I can’t imagine Watermark without his leadership.

We live in a time when both journalism and the LGBTQ community are under constant assault from Washington, D.C., frequently via Twitter tantrums at 280 characters at a time. In this age of alternative facts, journalists are the enemies of the people and members of the LGBTQ community are unfit to serve, but we will not be silenced and we will not be erased.

For 25 years, Watermark has been dedicated to showcasing your LGBTQ life and that remains the case today. Our truth matters and deserves to be told. Watermark will tell it.

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