Tom Dyer was born in Lancaster, Ohio in 1955. When he was 7 or 8, Tom was discovered by his brother and father playing Barbies with his two best friends, who were girls. Deeply upset by their taunts, Tom went to his mother, who asked him whose opinion mattered more: his own, or those of his brother and dad. Tom decided his brother and dad’s opinions of him mattered most. That decision, Tom says, shaped his life for the next 20 years—and to some extent, he’s still unraveling it today.
Notwithstanding that experience, Tom has been a remarkable force for LGBTQ equality and visibility in his adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida. But it took a while to get there. In college, still far from coming out, Tom started drinking heavily. He got into law school, but soon dropped out. It took a decade for him to get sober, and to come out, at which point, Tom decided to apply for re-admission to law school. But how would he explain his ten-year absence? Eventually Tom decided to simply tell the truth about who he had been, and who he was now. To his surprise, the law school dean welcomed him back with open arms. “People can relate to the truth,” Tom now says.
But the legal profession was not Tom’s ultimate destination. In 1993, Tom heard a respected Orlando elected official say a stupidly stereotypical thing about gay people. “I love when they move into my neighborhood, they keep such nice lawns.” Tom saw the need to educate—not just this one ignoramus, but the entire Orlando / Tampa Bay community—about LGBTQ people. His answer: start a gay newspaper. The paper was called Watermark. For 20 years, while still practicing law, Tom grew Watermark from a two-person staff with $25,000 in debt into a robust, respected publication for LGBTQ issues as well as general news throughout the Orlando / Tampa Bay region. In 2014, Tom was named a “Champion of Equality” by the Harvey Milk Foundation.
Today, Tom looks back to the day when his brother and father taunted him for playing with Barbie dolls and knows that in the long run, he learned to live for himself, to experience his life, and to trust his instincts. This has steered him on the right path.