Marking 21 years at Florida’s Watermark
by Rick Todd
(Rick Todd is publisher of Watermark, based in Orlando, Fla. The following piece appeared in the newspaper’s March 2, 2023, issue and appears here with permission.)
Today is a milestone day for me. Today I celebrate 21 years as an employee of Watermark.
It’s a big number, and yes it makes me feel old. I have no doubt that Day One Rick would look at 21-years-later Rick and think, “Wow, you’re old.” A child born on the day I started working here is preparing to get wasted at a bar tonight, legally. I think my husband was 11 when I got my first Watermark paycheck.
It’s not all woe is me. One way to look at it is that I am now the longest-running employee in the company’s history. That’s pretty cool, right? It is truly an honor to be part of this organization and I am grateful for the many, many, many years I have been able to work here.
You can track the history of my adult life through Watermark’s online photo galleries. It started with the bleached-hair phase with a handful of facial piercings. Somewhere along the way I picked up a goatee. That look lasted way longer than it needed to. Clearly I didn’t have any friends at the time willing to tell me to just stop. In retrospect, I feel like the gay Guy Fieri ready to welcome you as the Mayor of Queertown.
You can also see my many attempts to add a “Watermark wife” to the company’s repertoire. A Watermark wife was any of our partners willing to work events with us. With my job, it was a necessity. Maybe that’s why they never stuck around. I had a boyfriend break up with me once, literally right after working a weekend of events for St. Pete Pride. I finally had to just marry an employee. I’d say that was a win-win.
I’ve had the opportunity to build a family here over the past 21 years, both literally with my husband, and figuratively with the rest of the staff. We have our moments, like any other family, where we are at each other’s throats, but we are bonded together in this amazing cause that we are all so passionate about and grateful to be part of. I really can’t imagine my life without this Watermark team and I am so proud of the work they do.
Watermark was recently awarded LGBTBE (LGBT Business Enterprise) of the Year by the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber of Commerce at their Annual State of the Chamber Luncheon. It was a complete surprise and I was overwhelmed with pride when I was called on stage to accept it. The staff here works so hard to make this job seem so simple and it brings me so much joy to see them recognized for that.
I’ve been through some tough times at Watermark, both personally and professionally. I won’t get too in the weeds with the negative, but I’m looking at you beer and Stratosphere! However, the good exponentially outweighs the bad.
My favorite thing I have done here is one of the most recent. At the end of 2022, we wrapped up a project called “Greetings from Queertown: Orlando.” It’s a documentary about the LGBTQ history of Central Florida. It’s been years in the making and a very long journey that started out with me, Jeremy Williams and Sandi Hulon sitting at Miller’s Ale House dreaming about the possibility. After years of setbacks and triumphs, we teamed up with Adrenaline Films who introduced me to the talented storyteller and director Jess Keller. With Jess, producers Martin Olarte and the stunning Tiona Langley carried me over the finish line. I am so excited to be able to announce that our documentary has been accepted to the Florida Film Festival and the story of this community will be seen on the big screen. It is a dream come true.
Continuing what I hope is a string of entertainment, Watermark editor in chief Jeremy Williams and I have started a podcast. Since starting this endeavor I have said “podcast” more than I care to; it’s kind of like CrossFit I think. It’s called “Wine, Wine Not: A Queer Podcast” and we highlight what’s going on in our favorite types of media: movies, television and regional LGBTQ newspapers. It’s a fun hour where Jeremy drinks wine and tries to form sentences while I, the alcoholic, sit back and judge. You can check us out on The Culture Radio app live on Mondays at 6 p.m. (Eastern time), or you can listen to it anywhere where you listen to podcasts.
While I celebrate my 21 years here, let’s take time to celebrate the winners of the Watermark Awards for Variety and Excellence. You voted for them, and here they are. We had more categories this year than we have ever had before and there were record breaking numbers in voting. It’s bigly! We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your story.