Some 17th Street N.W. lovers yearn for a day when businesses and residents can co-exist more peacefully. That’s part of why the Urban Neighborhood Alliance organized. The 17th Street Festival — a hit in its first outing last year — is designed to advance that cause and also to provide locals with a fun afternoon.
“I’m kind of the young person in the neighborhood,” says 24-year-old Stephen Rutgers, co-chair of the event and vice president of the Alliance. “It’s about 17th Street coming together as a community … some people aren’t interested in that, but I think they’re being swayed a little bit. We’re making a consistent effort to get people involved.”
The Festival is next weekend — Saturday the 24th from 2 to 6 p.m. — and will stretch on 17th from P to Riggs streets. There will be food, attractions for kids, entertainment and more. Rutgers guesses between 4,000 and 5,000 were there last year. He’s hoping to double that amount this year.
Rutgers grew up in a large Mormon family in Murrieta, Calif. He says he’s an East Coaster at heart and was recruited to George Washington University to run cross country. He graduated in May with both a bachelor’s and master’s in tourism and sports and event management. The victim of a buyout and downsizing earlier this year, he’s job hunting now.
He and his boyfriend, Mark Rutstein, have been together two years and live together in the U Street corridor. Rutstein’s work at Cobalt (he’s general manager) keeps them active on 17th Street.
Rutgers still enjoys running and also likes reading and volunteering for the festival in his free time. Visit 17thstreetfestival.org for details on that event.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
My mom found out the week before I left for college. The rest of the family found out the day I flew out. My dad was hardest because of his religious beliefs.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
There are so many, but Frank Kameny had a huge impact on the D.C. gay community and 17th Street. It was an honor to meet him last year when we recognized him at the 17th Street Festival. I was able to have dinner with him at the festival and he is one of the most fascinating individuals to talk to.
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Describe your dream wedding.
Something very simple surrounded by my closest friends and family.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
There are a lot of things, but changing the 17th Street neighborhood and the way it operates.
What historical outcome would you change?
The 2000 election of George W. Bush.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Michael Jackson’s death. His name is synonymous with success. He was an example of pure talent and he inspired the whole world.
On what do you insist?
“There are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” Indira Gandhi
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Something about the 17th Street Festival.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Taming The Crazy”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Nothing because I was born this way.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I don’t know if anyone truly knows, but at least the stars are nice to look at.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
I think there needs to be better outreach of the younger generation and building the movement from that and not just off of rich donors.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
That gays don’t like sports.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I don’t think there are any overrated social customs. I think people have forgotten to take the time and do things for others every once in a while.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I really don’t like receiving trophies or prizes, but knowing that I have made a positive impact on someone or the community is the best reward I could receive.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I didn’t need to worry about friends/family accepting me because if they truly loved me they would accept and be proud of me no matter what I do or who I was.
Why not Washington is the better question. No matter who you are or what you believe in there is a place for everyone here. If you ever feel like you don’t fit in you just walk a couple blocks over and you will probably fit in just fine.