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.
Jessica Keller: [00:00:00] Speeding.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, do me a favor, state and spell your first name. I mean, your whole name.
Tom Dyer: Tom Dyer. T-O-M D-Y-E-R.
Mason Funk: Okay. The dog just started up. Should we just try putting the dog out back?
Jessica Keller: Yeah. You know what, yeah, let's try it.
Jessica Keller: All right. I'm speeding.
Jessica Keller: Speeding.
Mason Funk: Okay. So let's just start over again. If you can state and spell your first and last names.
Tom Dyer: Tom Dyer. T-O-M D-Y-E-R.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Okey dokey. And where were you born, and on what date?
Jessica Keller: Real quick, before we continue, just to double-check, UHD was the preference that you had from before? I believe that's what you said. But then- Do 4K, but I can, so... We'll keep it with that.
Mason Funk: Alrighty.
Jessica Keller: Beautiful.
Mason Funk: Alrighty. We're still speeding?
Jessica Keller: Still speeding.
Jessica Keller: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Where were you born, and on what date? Please.
Tom Dyer: I was born in Lancaster, Ohio. And I was born on July 30th, 1955.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Okey dokey. I loved your questionnaire, by the way. It was one of the most detailed questionnaires I've ever received. The stories were great. And one of the ones I wanted to have you tell me... kind of paint a little bit of a portrait of your childhood, was the story of the Barbies, your next door neighbor friends and the Barbies, and kind of what you took away from that story.
Tom Dyer: Well, when I was in elementary school, when I was a young person in Madison, Wisconsin, I had four brothers and sisters,
Tom Dyer: [00:01:30] but my two best friends, there were two girls my age, who lived on either side of me, same age as me, and they were my best friends. And sometimes we would play with their Barbie dolls. And one time we were playing with the Barbie dolls, and my dad and my older brother kind of stumbled into the room and saw us, and saw me there, dressing Barbie, doing whatever, and they just had a very palpable negative reaction.
Tom Dyer: [00:02:00] And actually, both of them made fun of me, not in a mean way, but in a way that as a seven, six-year-old kid hurt a lot. And so I, later that day, went to my mom, and I said, "I was playing Barbies with my friends, Kelly and Karen, and Dad and Matt saw me,
Tom Dyer: [00:02:30] and they made fun of me, and I just don't know what to do. I mean, does that mean I shouldn't play Barbies?" It just really upset me. And she thought about it, and she said, "Well, what's more important to you? What they think, or what you think?" And I remember it so vividly, we were sitting at our kitchen table. And I thought about it.
Tom Dyer: [00:03:00] I really took a long time to think about it, and I ultimately came to the conclusion that what they thought was most important to me.And I remember that so vividly, because I really feel like that defined the way I reacted to my sexual orientation to being gay for decades to come thereafter. What other people thought was more important than what I was feeling.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Want to take a break. So yeah, I'm definitely... Can I hear what you're hearing?
Jessica Keller: Yeah, definitely.
Mason Funk: So I can just get a sense of...
Jessica Keller: Here's [inaudible]. That's just his [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Okay, so just talk a little bit so I can hear what you sound like.
Tom Dyer: Test, one, two, three.
Mason Funk: What did you have for breakfast?
Tom Dyer: I had a banana for breakfast, and a Diet Coke.
Jessica Keller: [00:04:00] [inaudible] She's not [inaudible].
Jessica Keller: Of course.
Mason Funk: She's not whining right now?
Jessica Keller: I don't hear it.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. I'm waiting for the dog to kick in.
Jessica Keller: Figures.
Mason Funk: How did it sound in that answer when Tom was talking? I mean, I could hear her.
Jessica Keller: Yeah, I could hear her in between when he was talking about it. Yeah, just like those breaths towards the end of it. So I don't know if maybe that's like a...
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] Okay.
Jessica Keller: Just like a-
Mason Funk: Let's keep going. She may have even settled down a little bit.
Jessica Keller: Mostly.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Let's keep going. There's always some little thing like that. One of the things I find interesting about that story, it's so interesting how you were in your... You were in kind of a happy place. You were in your sweet spot. You were playing with Barbies. I look back on my own childhood, there's things we do and we have no idea that they have ramifications, or that other people might perceive them differently. And... oops.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] So, how do you feel like you eventually... Do you remember a moment when you started to question the decision you made at the age of six or seven, that other people's opinions matter more than your own?
Tom Dyer: Well, you know, if I'm being perfectly honest, I think I'm still questioning it. I think those kinds of thought processes get inculcated in who you are. I think it's something that I've been trying to let go of, probably my whole life.
Tom Dyer: [00:05:30] I think my mother, I think she was very happy with my answer, by the way. I think that she agreed. I could tell, "Good answer." Because she also bought into the fact that little boys should not play with dolls, and she just thought that was a good answer. But you're absolutely right, I do think when we're young,
Tom Dyer: [00:06:00] especially if we're so sensitive to the way other people react. And I think lesbians and gay men learn very quickly, in the most subtle ways, that which approved of, and that which is disapproved of. And you pick it up, and you learn very quickly what kinds of things, and what kinds of behaviors are going to be frowned on, and what aren't. I think that's part of who you are.
Mason Funk: [00:06:30] Do you think that for many of us, if we're honest, as you're being honest, in some ways we live with those internalized tensions for the rest of our lives, that maybe to a certain extent we never get over that experience of being told what you... your happy place is not really a good place for the rest of the world? Do you think we ever... That internalized homophobia, basically, are we ever able to really fully overcome that, or how do we manage it?
Tom Dyer: [00:07:00] Well, that's a really good question, and I'm not sure I know the answer to it. I mean, my experience, I've certainly let go of a lot of it, but I have to guess that if someone with tremendous insight into psychology knew me well, they might say that Tom is still dealing with that. And I hope... and I think that's one of the reasons we all do what we do as activists, is that the generations coming up behind us don't experience that so much,
Tom Dyer: [00:07:30] aren't so wounded, aren't so filled with shame, aren't denying themselves the full experience of who they are. I think that's the biggest goal that there is, is to prevent that from happening to future generations.
Mason Funk: Right. Right. Did you ever have any conversations later on, with your mom, or your dad, or your brother, about that story?
Tom Dyer: No, I don't think I ever did. I don't think I ever did.
Tom Dyer: [00:08:00] I know that when I finally came out to them in my mid-20s, when everybody's... every person I've ever talked to, their coming out story is interesting and dramatic. There's not an uninteresting coming out story. But I know when I finally worked up the courage to tell them, when I was in my mid-20s, I started to tell them, and then I started to sob. And I couldn't stop sobbing for, gosh, five minutes. I mean, they just watched me sob,
Tom Dyer: [00:08:30] thinking, "He'll get through this." And I know now it was because I was so afraid that after this conversation had taken place, that our relationship could never be the same, and I was terrified of that. It's giving me goosebumps talking about it right now. And it wasn't the same for a little while, but ultimately, their love of me, and their... they learned, and I learned, going forward,
Tom Dyer: [00:09:00] that I could have a wonderful life as a gay man. But you know, it took some time.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay. How did you make your way to Orlando?
Tom Dyer: Well, we lived in-
Mason Funk: And by the way, take my question and kind of weave it into your answer. So, the question of how I made my way to Orlando, or something like that.
Tom Dyer: [00:09:30] How the family ended up moving to Orlando is kind of an interesting story. We lived in Madison, Wisconsin. I was one of five kids, all under the age of 14. It was cold up there. We got sick a lot. But mostly, my dad had fallen in with some friends, and they very much liked hanging out in Madison's many, many bars. And I think my mom, and my dad probably too, reached the decision that the solution to
Tom Dyer: [00:10:00] that problem was to move, to get out. So they did a very brave thing. Neither of them had jobs. And they knew that Orlando... They wanted to move somewhere that was warm. They knew Disney World was just opening, and that the job market would be good, and so they packed us up and moved us to Orlando.
Mason Funk: Sorry. So they just... Back it up and just continue on. So they packed you up and moved you to Orlando, and what happened? How did you all settle in?
Tom Dyer: [00:10:30] So they packed us up and moved us to Orlando, and we ended up getting a house in a little bedroom community of Orlando called Maitland. It was a great place. It was actually a really good move. My dad got a good job, and the school system was really good. We really liked it. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] Huh. Huh. So your family and your siblings, you all sort of stayed more or less around here?
Tom Dyer: All of my siblings but one live in Central Florida. I have a brother who lives in North Carolina.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Tom Dyer: I have nine nieces and nephews, and being Uncle Tom is probably my favorite thing in the world.
Mason Funk: What do you like about it? Being Uncle Tom?
Tom Dyer: [00:11:30] Well, you know, I'm the guncle. I'm the gay uncle, so I have had the pleasure of introducing them to theater as they grow up. Last year, I took my North Carolina nieces to their first Broadway play. And it's just seeing their sheer delight at being exposed to these things. And I of course, get associated with that, so I'm... We have a close relationship. And texting makes staying in touch with nieces
Tom Dyer: [00:12:00] and nephews so easy. So we'll sit there and watch the Miss Universe Pageant, and you know, "Oh my goodness, look at Miss Afghanistan." Just that kind of repartee. It's really fun to maintain that.
Mason Funk: Aha, that's great. Yeah, I have the same with seven, seven nieces and nephews. Yeah. Although, watching Miss Universe, that's a good idea. I'll have to follow-up on that one. So how did you decide along the way, to become a lawyer? Or to go to law school, anyway? Why did you decide to go to law school?
Tom Dyer: [00:12:30] Well, why did I decide to go to law school? Wow. That's hard to answer in a brief way. When I was a senior in college, I was not in a very good place. I was having panic attacks. I had a very serious drinking problem. And really,
Tom Dyer: [00:13:00] I was imploding, because I had not accepted, even in myself, being gay. And I wasn't out. And so I was uncomfortable living as who I was. I mean, it was kind of a formula for all kinds of issues. So I really, trying to plod forward, I had good grades, and I had done very well on the LSAT. And so, honestly, going to law school was the path of least resistance. I got accepted to the University of Florida.
Tom Dyer: [00:13:30] My best friend of high school did as well. We got an apartment. And I just kind of plodded on. But law school was not a good experience for me. It was a very difficult time in my life. I was avoiding dealing with anything. And I continued to drink very heavily. So that all... Not the recommended path. But eventually, I did... I dropped out of law school.
Tom Dyer: [00:14:00] I kind of continued to drink, and continued to avoid. Eventually, I reached a point where I realized I did need to quit, and I went into an outpatient treatment program, and got sober. And as a result of that, decided to go back to law school, and started practicing law. I mean, it was really, again, not just...
Tom Dyer: [00:14:30] It's not like I had a passion for the law. It just... I needed to have a job, and that seemed like a good path to go. I do have an interesting story though. I dropped out of law school, and it was 10 years before I got my act together, and wanted to go back and finish. And I didn't know how to approach the law school administration and ask for that. Law school was not a very warm and nurturing place. And I remember thinking,
Tom Dyer: [00:15:00] "What story can I come up with? What can I tell them about why I had to drop out, and why I wanted to come back?" And then that light bulb went off, and I thought, "You know what, I'm just going to tell them the truth." So I wrote them a letter and I said that I was a closeted gay man when I was in school. I had many difficulties with that. I had a drinking problem. I've addressed that. I've been in counseling. I'm comfortable being gay now. And I want to come back and finish my law degree. And I fully expected them to say, "It's been 10 years.
Tom Dyer: [00:15:30] That's just not how it works." But, lo and behold, actually the dean of the law school called me. I get goosebumps when I tell this story too. And he said, "We got your letter. We are so proud of you. We absolutely want you to come back and finish your law degree. And we welcome you with open arms." And it was just great. It was a lesson learned. People can relate to the truth. When you tell the truth, people can relate to it.
Tom Dyer: [00:16:00] And I'm not sure as a closeted gay man who'd been lying most of his life, that... That lesson came late to me.
Mason Funk: It's an amazing story. And when you say that lesson came late to you, I mean, of course, A, that lesson never gets to some people, ever. But I mean, when I think about the moment when you must've said, "You know what, I'm just going to lay it out there." Can you remember what led you to that decision?
Tom Dyer: [00:16:30] Probably what led me to that decision was that the lies I was coming up with, none of them were good. None of them were plausible. None of them seemed to me like anything that... And I just... I think in that letter, I just came across as someone who was not substantial, coming up with excuses, lying. And it became very easy to write the letter, when I decided to just tell the truth.
Mason Funk: Yeah. So often the case. The truth is so much easier. And then you don't carry around that burden of wondering if your lies line up, and all that crazy stuff.
Tom Dyer: [00:17:00] All that crazy stuff.
Mason Funk: But backing up a little further, prior to this decision to write the letter, you had also gotten sober. And you had also... Which is, of course, a huge decision in and of itself. Do you remember the moment when you said, "You know what, this life isn't working for me. This drinking too much. This hiding from who I am." Was that a kind of a light bulb moment, or a dawning? How did that happen?
Tom Dyer: [00:17:30] I think for me, it was an accumulation.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, just stop and say what was an accumulation.
Tom Dyer: My decision to stop drinking, I think, came as a result of just an accumulation of experiences. You wake up so many times hungover. And you disappoint so many people when you don't show up for things that you're obligated to show up for, that you promised to do.
Tom Dyer: [00:18:00] You withdraw from people, because you don't want them to see how much you're drinking. And you lose respect for yourself. And in my case, I tried to quit on my own many times. I had a calendar that I would mark, this is how many days sober I was. And I really could never get past more than three or four days. I mean, I'd look at that, and I'd just think... But of course, any alcoholic will tell you that it's scary. You think, "If I quit drinking,
Tom Dyer: [00:18:30] I'll never be able to relax. I'll never be able to have fun." It's all so wrong, but it is truly what you believe. So I think for me, it was just an accumulation of just... to use an AA clich, sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was somebody who did well in high school and college, and was active,
Tom Dyer: [00:19:00] and was voted most likely to succeed in my high school yearbook, and all that. And boy, I was not succeeding. So I think my own lack of comfort with-
Jessica Keller: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Let's have a pause there. Patty's coming in, and the dog starting barking. We'll back up. I'm so sorry.
Tom Dyer: That's okay.
Mason Funk: That was a great answer. Hello?
Tom Dyer: It's the mailman.
Mason Funk: Oh, it's the mailman.
Jessica Keller: Oh.
Mason Funk: All right. So, hopefully the dog...
Mason Funk: [00:19:30] And was that a trash truck. That was a trash truck?
Jessica Keller: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sounds like it.
Jessica Keller: I heard a trash truck.
Tom Dyer: It is trash day.
Jessica Keller: Or a truck. But we were behind... or unless it's two different trash trucks.
Mason Funk: Maybe going down the other side of the street, or a different whatever.
Jessica Keller: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. If you could just back up a little bit, you mentioned the phrase, sick and tired of being sick and tired. Not quite sure if you can pick up the thread there.
Tom Dyer: [00:20:00] Yeah, I mean, it's AA clich, but I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. But I also was someone who had... I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school. And boy, I was not succeeding at life. And I think there was something in me that just sort of... an internal barometer that just knew that I was way off course. And it was very uncomfortable. And I didn't really know what to do about it,
Tom Dyer: [00:20:30] but ultimately, thank goodness, reached a decision that nothing was going to get fixed until I quit drinking.
Mason Funk: And then along the way, how did the coming out to yourself and then eventually coming out to your parents and so on, how did that piece... Was that part of just coming to terms with yourself, the truth-telling of getting sober?
Tom Dyer: Well, I mean, when you're gay, even as much as you may want to, you can't deny yourself. You can't deny your thoughts.
Tom Dyer: [00:21:00] You can't deny your drives. I mean, it is something that you experience every minute of every day. And so, reluctantly, I had to allow that to manifest in some ways. And I would go to bars, of course, usually after having a lot to drink. But I also, at some point in my mid, late 20s, began to sort of connect with the LGBT community, the gay community, as the person that I am,
Tom Dyer: [00:21:30] who was somewhere, something deeply buried at that time. But I started to go to... There was something called The Center in Orlando, and I started to meet people through that, and get involved in that. I went to a rap group. I joined a bowling league. Those kinds of things. Sort of both feet in, but still, to go back to what we talked about earlier, still dealing with a lot of internalized shame.
Tom Dyer: [00:22:00] And just trying to make my way, as so many LGBT people do. Just trying to find a comfort zone. Trying to fulfill who I was.
Mason Funk: Great. So let's see. Jumping forward a little bit,
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] because I think Watermark has been an incredible... I did have the chance to read the 25th anniversary edition. Unbelievable how much work went into that edition alone. I can't even imagine. But when... You kind of referenced it a little bit in your questionnaire, but how did the idea of creating a publication... how did that take shape?
Jessica Keller: Actually, just hold on a second.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Jessica Keller: Okay.
Tom Dyer: [00:23:00] The idea for starting a newspaper came up... A couple of things happened. I went to a meeting of what was the gay chamber of commerce here in town, the Metropolitan Business Association. And the Orange County mayor, very bravely, because she didn't have to, but she agreed to come to the meeting and speak, which was maybe the first time a major elected official had even addressed the LGBT community, or even acknowledged an LGBT community in town. But she was there, and-
Mason Funk: Tell me what time. What year this is.
Tom Dyer: [00:23:30] This would've been 1993. She was well-meaning. And you can tell that she thought she was saying all the right things, but boy, was she not. It was very condescending. She was saying things like, "I love gay people. In our neighborhood, they keep the nicest lawns." And she very specifically said that she really didn't...
Tom Dyer: [00:24:00] If there was discrimination against LGBT people on any level, she had never seen it, and she would be very interested in hearing about it. She just didn't think. Because gay people didn't have to announce who they were, she didn't see where the discrimination was. And it was kind of like, on the one hand I acknowledged that in her heart she was open and a friend, but boy, she had a long way to go. And it made me realize our community had so far to go.
Tom Dyer: [00:24:30] I mean, it was just kind of like a splash in the face. And I thought, "Nobody knows about this. Nobody is experiencing this. Nobody's seeing this, except for the 20 to 30 people who are in the room, and there's no way to communicate it." So that was one start. And then very soon after that, I went to Atlanta. I was sitting in a restaurant in the Virginia Highlands area, and they delivered Southern Voice while I was having lunch. And I picked one up, and it was a good newspaper, way back even in the '90s.
Tom Dyer: [00:25:00] Southern Voice is the LGBT newspaper in Atlanta, or was at that time. I saw everybody in the restaurant picking it up. And I just thought, "Wow. You know what, I think Orlando's ready for this." How great it would be to be in Orlando and walk into a restaurant and see everybody reading an LGBT newspaper. Actually, that night, or that day, I called the publishers of Southern Voice and I said,
Tom Dyer: [00:25:30] "Can I come talk to you?" And I think they... I could see them roll their eyes on the other end of the phone, but they were like, "Sure, let's have lunch, whatever." But they were so great. I had a million questions and they walked me through how much they paid the writers, and this is where they got their cartoons, that I used to watch out for. I don't know if you remember that. And this is how much they paid. And this was their circulation. This is where they distributed.
Tom Dyer: [00:26:00] I mean, they really gave me a primer. I'm sure they thought nothing would come of it, but from that point on, I almost could think about nothing else but this newspaper that I wanted to start. Now, my law practice was very young at that time, but I was obsessed. I mean, it made no sense for me, career-wise. And I ultimately thought that what I would do is I would get it started. I would hire an editor, and I would just sort of... But I really was so passionate about this newspaper.
Tom Dyer: [00:26:30] I actually remember going to my mom and dad and saying, "I don't know what to do. I can't stop thinking about this. I'll have to raise money. And I don't have time. I mean, I'm just starting a law practice, but I cannot stop thinking about it." And they both said, "You know what, this is powerful. This is a rare moment in your life, and you need to grasp it and see where it goes." So they had come a long way by that time.
Tom Dyer: [00:27:00] And honestly, probably for the next, oh boy, 10, 15 years, I lived and breathed that newspaper. Every moment of my life was, could this be a new distribution site, could this person be a writer? This would make a great story. This would be a good advertiser. I mean, I just... It was actually exhausting, but very... most exciting time in my life.
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] For sure. How did you... I mean, OUTWORDS is a small business, as in the organization that I created to do all these interviews, and so I've experienced all those things you're describing. So, business owner to business owner, how did you raise your first round of money just to get yourself up off the ground?
Tom Dyer: I mean, I had never done it before, and I learned very-
Mason Funk: You'd never done what before?
Tom Dyer: ... quickly that you had-
Mason Funk: Sorry. What had you never done before?
Tom Dyer: I had never started a business before. I had never capitalized before. I learned quickly that if I was going to raise money,
Tom Dyer: [00:28:00] I had to have an offering. I had to have all these documents. And I was lucky enough to find a wonderful corporate attorney who was willing to do it for me. But I went out, I raised money in 1,000, 2,000, $4,000 increments. Ultimately, I was only able to raise about 25-$30,000. It was enough to buy a computer and pay staff for a few months.
Tom Dyer: [00:28:30] But the raising of the money was so time-consuming on top of getting everything started and practicing law, that I ultimately said, "Okay, I'm just going to have to make a go with what I've raised." And I was grossly under capitalized. Didn't pay myself for at least a couple of years. Just thank goodness I had another career to fall back on, but they were lean times.
Tom Dyer: [00:29:00] I think I just powered through it because I was so passionate about this newspaper. I loved it so much that I knew that no matter what it took, I would do it. And you get, when you know that, it instills confidence. You know that if you have to work 30 straight hours to meet a deadline, which I did many times, you'll do it. If the person who distributes the paper in Tampa Bay doesn't show up,
Tom Dyer: [00:29:30] you'll deliver them yourself, even if you don't know where the places are, and it takes you all day. You'll just do what it takes.
Mason Funk: And it's interesting, because I mean, Central Florida, [inaudible] in Orlando, but I remember reading, very quickly you decided, "We have to be in Tampa as well." What's that, probably a couple of hours, hour and a half away?
Tom Dyer: Hour and a half away.
Mason Funk: It's a big region.
Tom Dyer: It's a big region.
Mason Funk: It's not like you're doing eastern, northeastern Washington State, you're covering a chunk.
Tom Dyer: [00:30:00] It's a huge region. Yeah. Which creates many challenges. But also, I'm so happy that we expanded to Tampa Bay. And it was necessarily, because it's only an hour and a half away, and so much was going on over there, and it was also not being covered in any meaningful way. And boy, Tampa Bay, I've gotten to meet so many people over there, and so many close friends
Tom Dyer: [00:30:30] and close relationships. And their journey and Orlando's journey at the same time, gave Watermark a really interesting perspective. Two close but very different metro areas.
Mason Funk: Interesting. Speaking of Watermark, that's the first time you mentioned the actual name. How did you come up with the name Watermark?
Tom Dyer: I came up with the name Watermark... I mean, I started with a list of what sounded good. What did I want? And there were 150 names on there at one point.
Tom Dyer: [00:31:00] I knew I wanted it to be classy sounding. I knew I wanted it to be somewhat sophisticated. I knew I didn't want it to be a clich. I didn't want it to be the rainbow this, or the triangle that. For many months, the working name was Coast to Coast, because the initial thought was that it would go from Daytona Beach all the way over to Tampa Bay. But ultimately, I settled on Watermark because I thought, water,
Tom Dyer: [00:31:30] that has kind of a Florida feel, and I thought it sounded classy, and I just liked the sound of it. The neat part of that story though, is after the newspaper had been published, somebody came to me and said, "Your name is genius, because it's such a wonderful metaphor." And it was something I had never considered. A watermark is a sign of quality in paper,
Tom Dyer: [00:32:00] but you can't see it unless you hold it up to the light. And so, it's just a great metaphor for the LGBT experience.
Mason Funk: Do you remember any of the other... Was there a close second or close third, when you were down to finally settling on Watermark? Other names.
Tom Dyer: The only one I remember now, 25 years later, that was Coast to Coast. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Gotcha.
Tom Dyer: Don't remember what the other ones were. Oh, somebody wanted it to be the Gay City News.
Tom Dyer: [00:32:30] A good friend of mine was just really pushing for that. Of course now, if I had been able to look into the future with Google, Watermark's not a great name if you're googling gay Orlando. It would've been better to be the Central Florida Gay News, or the Orlando Gay... but back in 1994, those things were not factors.
Mason Funk: [00:33:00] Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, little story here. The very, very, very first interview that I ever shot for OUTWORDS was actually not with an LGBT person, it was with a 90-year-old lawyer, who in the 1950s took on the case of a small publication called One, O-N, one, like the number one, in Los Angeles, which was a small gay magazine, that the L.A. postmaster was refusing to mail, because he deemed it obscene.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] And this young lawyer, Eric Julber, fresh out of law school, not gay, but wanting to do something meaningful, took on this case, and took it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Tom Dyer: Oh, wow. I'm not even familiar with that.
Mason Funk: I'll send you some information about it. Great story. And the Supreme Court said, "Yeah." They told the postmaster, "You have to mail this magazine." Which leads me to the question of, if we can really think about the role of publications in our community's evolution,
Mason Funk: [00:34:00] where would we be? In other words, you're part of a great noble tradition of how we've managed to get to kind of establish ourselves, by being able to write about ourselves. Do you want to wax philosophical about that a little bit? Because I certainly feel it.
Tom Dyer: Yeah, I mean, I think the publication has served a number of roles in Central Florida. And for me personally, I mean, I-
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] Do me a favor, start over by just saying Watermark, as opposed to publication.
Tom Dyer: I think Watermark has fulfilled a number of roles in Central Florida, and it's certainly been a big part of my journey as well. I don't think people in Central Florida... I mean, I came to learn that my experience as a gay man was a rich one, and a positive one. And that everything I had thought about
Tom Dyer: [00:35:00] what it was like to be gay was wrong, that it was seedy, and that it was subterranean, that it would lead to loneliness, all kind of things that I had just somehow inculcated from our culture. And I had learned that that was not true. And Watermark's purpose was to share that that was not true. So Watermark was designed to show the richness of the LGBT experience in addition to sharing news
Tom Dyer: [00:35:30] that was happening at the same time. And I hope, and I believe, that people picking up Watermark saw interesting stories, positive stories, and hopefully saw that the LGBT experience in Central Florida was positive. And I also think that when I started Watermark, part of it was to convince myself, or to reassure myself, to prove to myself that the LGBT experience was in fact what I hoped it would be.
Mason Funk: [00:36:00] It's funny, when you think about it, every single time you guys published a new edition, it's kind of like coming out all over again. You're putting out publicly again, "This is my life's work. This is my life's passion. This is really who I am."
Tom Dyer: Yes. Yes, you know, that's really true.
Tom Dyer: [00:36:30] I do think that Watermark reflected my hopes and my beliefs about what the LGBT community was. It feels very sort of selfish to say that, but I'm very proud of that, because it was warmly received in Orlando and Tampa Bay. I think the timing was right and the message was right.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay. I'm looking at the time. I'm always monitoring.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] I do love the story of the hiring of this woman from California to be your creative director, and what that story means to you, what you learned through that story. Can you tell us that story?
Tom Dyer: Yeah. I mean, publishing Watermark for as many years as I did, I learned a lot, and I grew a lot. And one of the things that stands out is, sometime in the early 2000s, we needed to hire a creative director,
Tom Dyer: [00:37:30] the person who put the newspaper together, very important position. I interviewed seven or eight people, none of them felt right at all. The last person to come in for an interview was a very big, sort of dramatic looking woman, quite obviously transgender. For anyone who knows, she looked a little bit like a tempered down Chi Chi LaRue.
Tom Dyer: [00:38:00] And boy, was she qualified. And boy, was she great. And boy, was she funny. And boy, did I like her. And she left the interview, and I remember thinking, "I don't know if Orlando's ready for this." Because this person had to meet advertisers, car dealerships, things like that. And it was the early 2000s, and I just thought, "I don't know if this is
Tom Dyer: [00:38:30] how I want to represent this newspaper in the community." And then again, a light bulb went off, and I thought, "Wow, you have some work to do. And if Watermark is not willing to be a leader in this, and show people how the world was supposed to be, then what is the point of even doing this publication?" So we of course hired Dana. She was fantastic. Worked for us for many years.
Tom Dyer: [00:39:00] And it really opened my eyes that I was still on my journey, still had a lot of prejudices that I had to overcome and deal with.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I mean, it's funny, you stated from the very beginning, you wanted your newspaper to be kind of classy, but for a lot of people, transgender... who are uncomfortable with transgender people, if you have an inclination to want to be classy, they might think the last thing that our advertisers...
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] I mean, I can so relate to your journey, that challenge of truly wrapping our arms around our entire community and not saying, "We're going to just serve this part of the community, or that part of the community."
Tom Dyer: Well, we all grew up in the same culture, and we're exposed to the same prejudices. And it's important to acknowledge that even as LGBT people, we harbor prejudices,
Tom Dyer: [00:40:00] and we have to look at those things. Dana, this creative director, she was the classiest person I knew. She was everything that Watermark was supposed to be.
Mason Funk: Where is she now?
Tom Dyer: I don't know.
Mason Funk: Really?
Tom Dyer: I mean, that was-
Mason Funk: Oh my god, I want to see her again so badly.
Tom Dyer: That was like 15 years ago. I know she moved... She got a better job, which almost always happens when you have a small business like Watermark. We can only pay so much.
Tom Dyer: [00:40:30] You attract talented people who want to work for an LGBT publication, and then they move on to better jobs. And it's always something I'm happy to see. And that's what happened with her.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I should mention, my family published a newspaper the entire time I was growing up.
Tom Dyer: No kidding.
Mason Funk: A small 30,000 person midsize daily newspaper in Los Angeles. And my dad used to talk about that phenomenon. He would train people, he'd give them their first or second job out of college, and then if they were good, off they went. And he was happy to have helped them in their careers, but he's like, "Dammit."
Tom Dyer: [00:41:00] When Watermark started, we were still in the age of paste-up. I'm sure you can relate to that. So, in addition to writing things, I also had to... We would print the publication out, print the ads out. I would have to cut them, wax the back, paste it onto a larger sheet of paper the size of the newspaper, deliver it to the printer, all of that put together, and have them take a picture of it, and then, I mean, that's how it was done.
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] Yeah. Yep. Yep. That was what my dad... I mean, that was his life. Yeah. Well, let's see. Okay. Now, there are a few people you want to talk about, Rob Eichberg. And interestingly, his mother was also one of our first interviewees.
Tom Dyer: Oh, no kidding.
Mason Funk: Shirley Greens. She's still alive, in her 90s, 97, 98 years old.
Tom Dyer: [00:42:00] Oh my gosh.
Mason Funk: A friend of mine turned me onto her. He said, "You can't interview Rob, but you can interview Rob's mom. So, tell me how you came across Rob Eichberg, and who was Rob Eichberg?
Tom Dyer: Well, of the many incredible people that I've met, one of the ones that had the biggest impact on me was Rob Eichberg. He was the founder of National Coming Out Day, and the Advocate Experience. On my journey, as I was trying to align myself,
Tom Dyer: [00:42:30] I did the Advocate Experience one weekend, but as I recall, I don't think I met him there. I knew he was the founder, but I don't think he was at that. But then later, he came to Orlando in conjunction with National Coming Out Day, and I interviewed him for the newspaper, and we had dinner together. And he was just one of the most remarkable, warm, insightful.
Tom Dyer: [00:43:00] He was one of those people who seemed to understand the way the world should work, and had a complete vision of how that should be, and so the answers, and the placement of himself in the world was just so easy for him. It was just so comfortable for him. And it was so inspiring to be with him. Just his warmth. I think everybody's met a few people in their lives that you just think,
Tom Dyer: [00:43:30] "This is somebody who's operating at a higher level." And he definitely struck me that way. Another person that struck me that way was Gloria Steinem, who, as the owner of the paper, I always took the best interviews. And when we had an opportunity to interview Gloria Steinem, I was like, "I'm doing that one." And she also... Her understanding of equality,
Tom Dyer: [00:44:00] and the way the world works, and the role of the patriarchy in keeping women and LGBT people down, and the reasons for that, it was just so profound, but also delivered with such love and such warmth. It just blew me away.
Mason Funk: Thank you. [inaudible] Oh, is that Patty?
Jessica Keller: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Let me see. Patty? Oh hey, you're here.
Patty: [00:44:30] Hey.
Mason Funk: Do you think that defeats that? Patty? Oh hey, you're here. Oh, I see. It's probably better just to leave that on, because otherwise [inaudible], beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.
Patty: Okay, sorry about that.
Mason Funk: No worries.
Patty: Actually, let me do this.
Mason Funk: You want to come on through?
Patty: Yeah, I'm going to come on through. Sorry, Tom. I thought that the... I didn't realize... I did not turn the phone off.
Tom Dyer: It didn't ring.
Patty: It didn't ring?
Mason Funk: Yeah, it didn't ring.
Patty: I'm sorry. I will take care of this now, where it will buzz, where you will not hear it.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Patty: [00:45:00] Then I'll get a water, and I'll go outside, and I'll be out of your hair.
Mason Funk: Alrighty.
Patty: Because here I am, freaked out about that, and I ended up screwing it up even worse. Sorry about that guys.
Mason Funk: That's all right. The dog is out in the backyard.
Patty: Oh she is? She was barking?
Mason Funk: She was whining a little bit. She whined a little bit and then she seemed to settle down, right?
Jessica Keller: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. She got comfy.
Patty: Awesome. Thank you. Sorry about that.
Mason Funk: Yeah. No worries. Thank you.
Patty: I'm out now.
Mason Funk: Yeah, Gloria Steinem, man. I've never really thought about her... She's not one of the names that people... When I say list three names of people, she's not anyone who's come up before.
Tom Dyer: [00:45:30] She completely...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, just start by saying Gloria Steinem, and keep on going.
Tom Dyer: Gloria Steinem is someone whose world view embraces everything, and so her understanding and her compassion for the LGBT community is complete and profound.
Tom Dyer: [00:46:00] She just gets that everybody should be encouraged to be everything that they can be. And she understands why that makes some people uncomfortable. Fascinating. The patriarchy.
Mason Funk: Yeah. The patriarchy. I'd love to hear her thoughts on that, because I mean, we hear the term much more recently in the say, past few years, the phrase, the patriarchy, has gotten talked about more, and thought about more,
Mason Funk: [00:46:30] but I'm sure her thinking about it, as you say, goes back decades. Decades. You know, the founding of Ms. Magazine, and everything she's done.
Tom Dyer: Yes.
Mason Funk: That's fascinating.
Tom Dyer: If I can find it, I'll send you a copy of the interview.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Tom Dyer: It's one of my... I think one of my best interviews.
Mason Funk: What inspires me to go out, see if we can... We're kind of in a phase where we're going to start thinking about some higher profile people to add to the archive. We didn't want to have all high profile people, but she's a name that we should really...
Tom Dyer: She would be amazing.
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] Yeah. So then lastly, I was so surprised to hear about Stuart Milk, I had no idea. No one's ever mentioned Stuart Milk before. So tell us about Stuart Milk.
Tom Dyer: Well, Stuart Milk, interestingly, somebody somewhere along my journey said, "You know, you really ought to meet Stuart Milk." I said, "Stuart Milk?" "Yeah, that's Harvey Milk's nephew. He lives in Fort Lauderdale." And I thought, "Okay, great, Harvey Milk's nephew. I'll waste a breakfast on that."
Tom Dyer: [00:47:30] And I went down to Fort Lauderdale. I was going there anyway, and we had breakfast. And he was another person who just blew me away. His passion for LGBT equality was just on a different level than I certainly experience. And his focus on going to the places where discrimination is at its most profound,
Tom Dyer: [00:48:00] not just in the United States, but throughout the world, and his sense of the impact of that discrimination is just also so deep and so profound that he just really impressed me. And he has taken his uncle's name, one of the most iconic names in all of LGBT history, with very good reason, and he has been able to parlay that into activism that is really doing an amazing amount of good in places like Eastern Europe,
Tom Dyer: [00:48:30] and Africa, and the Middle East. I mean, he goes into parliaments and governmental bodies and meets with the people who are discriminating. He marches in places where people are throwing tomatoes at the parade. He's just a remarkable, remarkable guy, and a good friend. He asked me to sit on the advisory board for the Harvey Milk Foundation. And I love Stuart.
Mason Funk: [00:49:00] Fascinating. Again, absolutely no idea. We'll put him on our list as well. Okay. Now. We of course want to spend a little time talking about Pulse, and what happened there over three years ago. It's so hard, I'm sure, for people who do not live in Orlando, if not impossible, to understand what it was like to have this happen in your city.
Mason Funk: [00:49:30] Can you tell us some of your memories of the day and the days following? What you remember.
Tom Dyer: Yeah. For those of us in Orlando, Pulse sort of... Our experience of it came in waves. I remember waking up and there were, I don't know, 50 text messages on my phone that alerted me to the fact that something awful had happened.
Tom Dyer: [00:50:00] I'm not someone who has my phone right next to me when I'm asleep. So I immediately turned the radio on, the news on. The waves came, because at first, they thought a dozen people had been killed. Then they thought maybe 20, 25 people had been killed. And then ultimately, when it was all over, and they'd gone inside, and the mayor announced that it was 49 people who had been killed. It just... Every time it seemed more and more impossible.
Tom Dyer: [00:50:30] And then of course, you're thinking, "Which of my friends may have been at Pulse?" Pulse was a very popular nightclub. I mean, even at my age, I certainly had friends who may have been there. I had friends who performed there. So you're immediately contacting people to check and see that they're okay. And then, because of my position with the newspaper came an onslaught of media.
Tom Dyer: [00:51:00] There were people from publications throughout the world really, who were looking for people to talk to, people... And so there was jumping into that. I remember the most difficult wave, and I think the one that hit me the most was... It took us a couple of days to find out who had actually died at Pulse. And the local newspaper published pictures of these 49 people,
Tom Dyer: [00:51:30] and told a little bit about them. And boy, that hit me hard, because these were mostly kids who were at that glorious time in their lives when they've just graduated from college, or they were still in college, but they had just moved out of home, and they were in their first apartments. And they were such beautiful, happy kids, you could see it the picture, and they were just out. And you really got a sense for what was lost.
Tom Dyer: [00:52:00] Those people who didn't deserve to have their lives cut short. And that hit me, I think, worse than anything, was really seeing the faces, and learning about the lives of the people who were lost. And then, then, the waves continued, and ultimately, the positive that can be taken out of it, although it came at way too high a cost, was
Tom Dyer: [00:52:30] that the City of Orlando showed up in a way that I don't think many of us thought was there, or thought possible. Our city leaders were loving and behind us 110%. There were rallies. There were just huge universal displays of support for the LGBT community. But also, because the person who perpetrated the attack was a Muslim,
Tom Dyer: [00:53:00] there was very sort of enlightened expression that we did not blame the Muslim community. And the Muslim community was an important part of Orlando's community. And we all just joined together, and it was just the most loving and inspiring time of coming together for Orlando that I honestly believe, and I think almost anyone here would tell you, changed the definition and the complexion of this city forever.
Tom Dyer: [00:53:30] We learned that this city that has been so defined by theme parks and tourism, is really a place that over the years, and largely due to the hard work of members of the LGBT community, has become a place of acceptance and love and support. And it is truly a great place for people of all kinds of communities to be.
Mason Funk: [00:54:00] Wow. That's profound. Yeah. Yeah, I never thought of that. I really, I was so curious. I never gave a second thought to Orlando before I came here. So, I didn't realize it had two and a half million people. I didn't realize, as you say, it's dominated by these theme parks. For most people, that's Orlando.
Tom Dyer: And if you live here, if you live in Orlando, the theme parks are a half hour south. And they're not something that... I haven't been to a theme park in years.
Tom Dyer: [00:54:30] And I kind of avoid that part of town, because the traffic is so bad. For me, Orlando is this very beautiful, very welcoming, and very LGBT supportive community and city.
Mason Funk: How do you think... Do you have any ideas what makes Orlando Orlando? If you take away the theme parks and the tourism and the convention business. How do you think it has become that kind of a place
Mason Funk: [00:55:00] that is welcoming, even if you're not part of the LGBTQ community, you're the kind of town that's going to step up when something like Pulse happens, and really... And then recognize the Muslim community and not ostracize them. What ingredients make Orlando Orlando?
Jessica Keller: If you could just hold on.
Mason Funk: Sure. I know these are sometimes kind of abstract questions, but...
Tom Dyer: [00:55:30] Yeah, that's a hard one. I'll try and pull something out.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Jessica Keller: All right, now.
Mason Funk: Okay. I'm laughing at myself, thinking you've done so many of these interviews.
Tom Dyer: Oh.
Mason Funk: You've done so many interviews in your time. Are we good, you think?
Jessica Keller: I'm just afraid that it's going to-
Mason Funk: Get back up again.
Jessica Keller: And beep, and yeah, that.
Jessica Keller: That.
Jessica Keller: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Clunk. Clunk.
Tom Dyer: Well, the timing's perfect, because that was a tough question. It gives me a chance to think about it.
Mason Funk: Okay, good.
Jessica Keller: And this.
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] Yeah, there we go.
Jessica Keller: Yep.
Jessica Keller: [inaudible]
Jessica Keller: Yeah, exactly.
Tom Dyer: There it goes.
Speaker 6: Did you need to get anything from the car?
Jessica Keller: No. Thank you.
Mason Funk: I subscribe to [inaudible].
Jessica Keller: Before the next [crosstalk].
Mason Funk: [00:56:30] I subscribe to the daily Orlando Sentinel. That comes to my inbox. So I get to have a peak every morning. And this morning there's this amazing news about Orlando schools, right there on the front page.
Tom Dyer: Yeah. This is a very LGBT supportive community. I mean-
Mason Funk: Just hold that thought until we-
Jessica Keller: Yeah, I think we're clear.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, you can even just start with where you just were. As you were saying, it's a very... has become a very supportive community.
Tom Dyer: [00:57:00] Orlando has certainly become a very supportive LGBT community. I mean, it really is part of the fabric of who we are in Central Florida now. But I mean, it certainly has been a journey. I mean, this was pre-Disney, which means back in the '80s and '90s, this was a citrus town, it was an agricultural town, and it was very conservative, and run by a handful of prototypical white men. Very Republican.
Tom Dyer: [00:57:30] But many, many things, I think, have contributed to the evolution. One big one that can't be underestimated is the arrival of Disney World. Disney World brought a whole bunch of people into our community that were different than the ones who were here before. And even from the start, always employed many LGBT people. I think LGBT people are somehow drawn to Disney magic.
Tom Dyer: [00:58:00] In fact, I can tell you, when I was in high school, one of my summer jobs was as a sort of summer replacement character at Disney World. If Br'er Fox went on vacation for two weeks, I would be Br'er Fox for two weeks. Tigger, Tigger for two weeks. Winnie the Pooh for two weeks. And that, as a high school student, was very nave, very afraid of what I was feeling inside. It was my first exposure to openly gay people.
Tom Dyer: [00:58:30] I think the character department at Walt Disney World may have been one of the few places in the world where it was safe to be openly gay in 1970. I remember Chip 'n' Dale were two guys who were in love with each other, and would hold hands in the dressing room. They were two very nice, very handsome guys. And I looked at them, I was fascinated by them. I couldn't stop staring at them, because they were just... Really?
Tom Dyer: [00:59:00] These normal looking people. I didn't know how to react to that. That was back in high school. So there was Disney World coming, which brought a different element, a different character to the City of Orlando. And then, just over time, one step after another, after another. I remember what I think was a very key moment in Orlando's LGBT history was an employee at Watermark got the idea that it would be great to hang rainbow flags on the...
Tom Dyer: [00:59:30] The downtown had flagpoles that you could promote events and things like that. And so we actually went, and we got permission to do it. And we raised the money to buy the flags and hang them. And then at the last minute, some conservative churches got the ear of the mayor and the city council at that time, and they said that they wanted to change the rules.
Tom Dyer: [01:00:00] And they weren't going to hang the flags. So we contacted the ACLU, and we said, "We're going to fight you on this." And they ended up having this very public city council meeting that went on for four hours, where you had the conservatives saying the most awful ignorant things about the LGBT community. And we were there standing up. And ultimately, the city council voted to honor their contract. I think, not because
Tom Dyer: [01:00:30] they were all that enlightened, but because they were afraid that they would lose a lawsuit. But we won. I think all of a sudden, the City of Orlando realized that there was a substantial LGBT community. That we were going to ask to be treated equally. And then those flags flew for the entire month of June. And the world didn't fall. That was in 1998. I think that was a real turning point.
Tom Dyer: [01:01:00] So I think Orlando becoming such a welcoming place is just like one building block after another, just one step: gay pride, Gay Days at Disney developed into this huge economic force, and that attracted hundreds of thousands of people to Central Florida every year. Just a bunch of different stuff.
Mason Funk: Hmm. Great. That's all great stuff. All right. We're going to wrap up. We have four questions.
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] And this, on the plane yesterday, I changed these four questions. They were the same four questions from the first interview until the number 133. Today, officially, we are starting... We're changing two of the questions. So you are our guinea pig. Welcome. The first one will actually be fairly easy, because I think we sort of touched on this already. The first of the final four questions is, if you could tell your 13-year-old self one thing, what would it be? And start, please, by...
Tom Dyer: [01:02:00] If I could tell my 13-year-old self one thing, I think it would be to live for yourself and not for other people. Yeah, to experience life.
Tom Dyer: [01:02:30] To feel your instincts. To allow yourself to be fully who you are, and don't pay so much attention to what other people think. To know that in doing other than what other people think, that you're building a richer person, and a richer experience.
Mason Funk: And what if somebody says, "Yeah, but you're supposed to live for others, you're not supposed to live for yourself."
Tom Dyer: [01:03:00] Well, someone did say that. And I would tell my 13-year-old self that they were misguided and wrong.
Mason Funk: Okay. Great. Second of the revised final four questions is... What's that sound that happens?
Jessica Keller: I feel like... I don't know if it's a door chime, because whenever Patty comes in it chimes.
Mason Funk: [01:03:30] Ah, that must be it. Okay. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the LGBTQ community today? And that could be internal or external, or other.
Tom Dyer: I think the biggest challenge facing the LGBT community today may be a sense of complacency. I mean, I think we need to recognize that we will always be in the minority. We will always live our lives in a way that's different than the majority.
Tom Dyer: [01:04:00] And the majority, history has proven, will... some component of the majority will never be comfortable with difference. They will look for scapegoats for their own unhappiness, their own lack of fulfillment. And so we constantly have to drive home the message of dignity and equality, and not be complacent,
Tom Dyer: [01:04:30] because there's going to be a human tendency for some people to continue to marginalize us. I would just say, stay strong. Have the vision clear in your mind of equality and an equal world.
Mason Funk: Great. Third question. This is one we actually have asked every single person. Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Tom Dyer: [01:05:00] Well, I think it's important to tell my story because I... I don't mean to get all Buddhist on you, but we are all connected. We are all human beings. Our experience of life is so similar. And there are lessons to be learned from everybody's life. And I have certainly made mistakes, and learned lessons,
Tom Dyer: [01:05:30] and been surprised as life has unfolded. And so, anything that I can do to... any of us can do to sort of make it easier for other people, or easier for them to learn their lessons. Each person's going to learn their lessons in their own way, but by hearing other people talk about what their experience is, it gives you something to grasp onto. Something to say, "I remember hearing someone talk about that. And that sounds like what I'm experiencing too." It makes it a little easier.
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Great. And then lastly, this project, OUTWORDS, our mission is essentially traveling the country interviewing folks like yourself, and folks quite a bit older, actually, to record these stories of people from every pocket of the LGBTQ community across America. Why does that sound... Does that sound like a worthwhile mission to you, and if so, why? And if you could OUTWORDS in your answer.
Tom Dyer: [01:06:30] I think projects like OUTWORDS are important because you are going into communities that have very different dynamics, where the people within those communities are having very different experiences. And again, we are all connected. Our experiences may be different because of who we're surrounded by, and the geographic areas in which we are, but the human experience is the same.
Tom Dyer: [01:07:00] And I think there's so many lessons to be learned from people in big cities... for people in big cities, from people in small cities, and what they're experiencing. And it's important that we all know what everyone's experiencing, and share that, and learn from that.
Mason Funk: Do you think we, as a culture... This is a bit of a loaded question, I apologize, but do you think we value the wisdom of our so-called elders
Mason Funk: [01:07:30] the way other cultures around the world have done, and continue to do?
Tom Dyer: I don't know whether we value the wisdom of our elders. I mean, I guess I am an elder. I don't feel that way. If I'm not, I'm rapidly becoming one. I feel respected.
Tom Dyer: [01:08:00] I almost feel like you have to ask the younger generation whether they take lessons from their elders, or whether they're interested in their experience. I almost would flip the question around to the younger generation, and say, "Do you take lessons from the people who have come before you?" They certainly should. And certainly, the LGBT community has been around long enough that, I'm in my 60s now,
Tom Dyer: [01:08:30] but there were people that came before me, Stonewall. And even in Orlando, the people who endured being arrested at gay bars and things of that nature. And the brave people who came out when the cost was much much higher. So the people who came before us certainly deserve to be respected and learned from. Whether that's the case, I'll leave that up to somebody else to decide.
Mason Funk: And last question, I think. When I think about,
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] what single quality do you think most embodies, or most represents the LGBT community? What quality is it that kind of unites, on some level, LGBTQ people, that we give and can give, or at least what we can model to the world?
Tom Dyer: Well, I think there is a quality that LGBT people have in common. We have all, at some point in our lives, whether it's early adolescence,
Tom Dyer: [01:09:30] or middle age, we have all had to look at ourselves, and address the fact that our experience and what we're feeling, is different than the norm, and not accepted by many people. And we have to adapt to that. We have to develop a strategy about that. We have to grow from that. So all of us have had to sort of examine our lives
Tom Dyer: [01:10:00] and make some decisions about how we're going to muster the courage to face what we're facing. I often wonder, if I weren't gay, as a white male, middle class, whether I ever would've examined my life. Whether I just would've sort of fallen into a lifestyle that is unexamined.
Tom Dyer: [01:10:30] So I think that's what we share, and it's no small thing. It's no small thing. We've all had to... All of us have had to do that.
Mason Funk: Do you think there's one innate human quality, that impulse that is stronger? Is it the impulse to... Do you think every human being, on some level, wants to find that inner authenticity that so often remains hidden?
Mason Funk: [01:11:00] Or, on the other hand, do you think the impulse towards conformity, comfort, normalcy, wins out? I mean...
Tom Dyer: Well, my experience, my spirituality believes that there is some sort of internal universe-given thing inside of us that strives for maximum fulfillment and connection.
Tom Dyer: [01:11:30] And then we don't have that, it manifests as discomfort on some level, whether it's depression, anxiety, whatever it is. So that's the universe's gentle way of saying, "Look at that." But I do think LGBT people have... are kind of thrust into a classroom that other people are not. Where, ironically, it may be easier to... the motivation is greater to address that discomfort and learn from it.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] Yeah. Fantastic. It's been really, really great.
Tom Dyer: Oh, good.
Mason Funk: Thank you.
Tom Dyer: Good.
Mason Funk: Now, should we do room tone?
Jessica Keller: Yes, please.
Mason Funk: Okay. We're going to record the sound of this room for 30 seconds.
Tom Dyer: Okay.
Mason Funk: With nobody talking, just listening to the room.
Jessica Keller: Yeah, so you need to stay there. Stay still. And we're good. 30 seconds. This is room tone.
Jessica Keller: [01:12:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: Alrighty. Thank you very, very much.
Tom Dyer: I enjoyed it.
Mason Funk: That was enlightening and inspiring.
Tom Dyer: Well, I-

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Isabel Bethencourt
Date: June 19, 2018
Location: Home of Patty Sheehan, Orlando, FL