“Embrace,” a locally produced magazine, recently earned 22 awards, including Magazine of the Year and Best New Magazine, at the 2021 Charlie Awards, sponsored annually by the Florida Magazine Association (FMA). The award ceremony was held on July 16 as part of the 2021 Florida Media Conference in Sarasota.
“Embrace” is a first-of-its-kind magazine in North Central Florida that focuses on all things community related from the LGBTQ point of view. John Sotomayor is the creator, publisher, and editor in chief of “Embrace” as well as the CEO of Sotomayor Media Creations, which also includes the faith-based “Elevate” magazine (which is on indefinite hiatus).
Sotomayor, who has lived in Ocala since 2005, is originally from New York. He moved here to be closer to his family and has many years of experience writing and editing for publications throughout the state.
As an openly gay man, Sotomayor feels that certain complexities exist in association with choosing whether or not to be a vocal LGBTQ community member. He has used his knowledge and experience to address the gap in the LGBTQ editorial outlets with a mission to chip away at archaic beliefs and fear held about and by the LGBTQ community.
Sotomayor said he strategically utilizes a diverse range of writers with unique experiences from many different backgrounds and all different walks of life. By having community members openly share their stories, he hopes to ignite feelings of acceptance and unity.
“Embrace” covers the North Central Florida areas of Ocala, Gainesville, The Villages and Citrus County. Currently, “Embrace” is a mainly digital platform but produces a limited number of print issues, distributed to the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership. It is also delivered to select venues and to subscribers. Future goals involve expanding into additional Florida markets and focusing on the entire state, with an eye to eventually be published on a national level.
In addition to the uplifting and inspiring articles, there are resources for the local LGBTQ community in each issue. These resources are dual purposed in that they reinforce available support and connection opportunities for the LGBTQ community.
Sotomayor revealed he has faced some personal challenges on his road to success and admitted that his struggles with identity have affected his career journey.
“When I was a young man, I used to see being gay as a liability,” he said. “I no longer see it that way. It has become my greatest strength.”
He also has had an admittedly public struggle with addiction.
“One of the things I struggled with is alcoholism. It’s been a difficult thing for me. I relapse a lot,” he revealed. “So, that’s a personal struggle that I have and I work on. But the more and more life experiences I have, the more I am motivated to really work at it. I’ve been hurting myself for so long for no reason. No one was pushing me to hurt myself. It was my own self-sabotage that I had to get past.”
As proof of his ability to overcome, he is celebrating his recent Charlie award honors by looking at new ways to expand the magazine’s reach and editorial offerings, while continuing to grow “Embrace” as a place where local LGBTQ families, people and businesses can respectfully be highlighted and truly be accepted.
Since 1957, the FMA’s annual competition has recognized publishers, writers, editors, artists, photographers, printers, marketers and others who compete for first, second and third place awards — Charlie, Silver and Bronze. The awards are named for Charles G. “Charlie” Wellborn Jr., who was a graduate of and distinguished professor at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, as well as a veteran and recipient of two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Star medals. The competition is restricted to dues-paying FMA members who self-nominate for each award and pay a per-category entry fee to be considered.