Ebone Bell, 28, has vivid memories of her first performance. The lifelong Michael Jackson fan was prepping a routine for her pre-school talent show and worked out a routine aping Jackson’s moves — complete with crotch grabs — to “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
“My mother was horrified,” Bell recalls with a laugh. “She went to the other extreme and put me in a pink polka-dot dress with a bow in my hair, but it was still fun.”
Bell, who was born in Pittsburgh but since age 2 has been in the D.C. area, joined the D.C. Drag Kings in 2002 and formed her alter ego E-Cleff who lip syncs to songs by Usher, Justin Timberlake, and, of course, the late Mr. Jackson.
“I love the illusion,” she says. “I like it because first of all it’s fun, but I also like the idea of being very fluid about gender. I’m very comfortable as Ebone, but I also like another persona so instead of being nerdy, straight-laced Ebone, I can be E-Cleff, who’s a womanizer and very smooth. It’s really cool to be something you’re not.”
Bell started an eponymous marketing company in 2005 but changed it to B.O.I. Marketing & Promotions (“Bringing Out Ideas”) in 2006 with a business partner who eventually moved out of the area leaving it fully in her hands again. About 95 percent of her clients are from the LGBT community. And in March she plans the fifth anniversary of Capital Queer Prom, an event she began that’s become one of the District’s signature LGBT events each year.
She also does ladies’ night events at various bars (every Wednesday at Fab Lounge and the first Friday of each month at MOVA). She worked B.O.I. full time in 2008 but rougher financial waters since then have required supplemental income. She’s temping now doing marketing work for AARP. Bell met her partner Angell Garrigan three years ago at Rehab, a now-closed queer bar that was in Wheaton, Md. They relax by going to happy hours together a few times a week and going to the movies.
“We’re so boring,” she says. They live together in Alexandria, Va., and Bell enjoys dancing, writing and planning events in her spare time. “It’s hard for me to relax,” she says. “To truly relax, I have to go on vacation.”
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since I was 19. The hardest person to tell was my mother because I thought she would be disappointed in me.
Who’s your gay hero?
The young kids who come out in middle school and high school every day. It warms my heart to see so much courage and pride in our LGBT youth. I wish I had enough courage to come out earlier in high school like them. They are our future heroes!
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I think Chaos was a great nightspot, especially for the women’s community. It’s been hard to recreate that same vibe and sense of community.
What’s your dream gay wedding?
All-expense-paid wedding in Hawaii
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Animal cruelty and domestic violence.
What historical outcome would you change?
Any celebrity or athlete who has gotten away with murder or rape because he or she is famous. I still can’t believe that we still allow these people to get away with anything and everything.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The recent passing of Michael Jackson. His life and music has had a huge influence on my life.
On what do you insist?
Honesty and respect.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Eboné Bell is up and at ’em! Groceries, gym and cleaning.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“A Class by Myself”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Absolutely nothing. I love who I am and I’m proud of it!
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe in a higher power. I don’t believe in the God that religious organizations have changed through time. I believe in the God who loves all his people no matter what. I believe if you do right in this world, then that’s exactly what you’ll get back.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Continue to stay visible and vigilant. The best thing we can do to fight homophobia is continue to educate, be positive and be visible.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My partner. She is not only my lover, but my number one supporter and best friend. She believes in me when I don’t believe in myself. I can’t imagine life without her.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
That someone is the “boy” in the relationship and someone is the “girl.”
What’s your favorite gay movie?
“Boys Don’t Cry.” Though the story itself is very sad, this movie helped me with dealing with my identity and being comfortable in my own skin.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Calling people ma’am or sir. I think people equate it with age so immediately people tell you not to call them that.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
To be on “Oprah.” I love her!
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I should have started saving money more wisely.
I grew up in the area and I feel I still have a lot to offer the city.