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Goin’ to the chapel

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Maybe it’s because they already lived together. Maybe it’s because they were already registered as domestic partners. Or it could just be that they were in their 30s. But for two D.C. same-sex couples planning to take advantage of the District’s newly won marriage law — set to take effect next month barring congressional intervention — popping the proverbial question was more of a logical progression in a series of ever-increasing commitments as opposed to a starry-eyed shock.

Both couples were making plans before Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the Council-approved same-sex marriage bill in December. Aisha Mills, 32, and her partner of six years, Danielle Moodie, 30, have lived together for four years in Columbia Heights and started thinking marriage last May when the Council passed a measure recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

“It was a little bit of happenstance that our engagement coordinated with that,” Mills says. “As we thought about picking a date, we weren’t realizing that D.C. would have marriage soon.”

The two, who met through mutual friends at Chaos, planned to wed in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage is legal, then have it recognized in Washington.

By the time Paul Heins, 36, asked Matt DelNero, 33, to marry him at Blue Duck Tavern in D.C.’s west end in August, 2008, they were on their second home and had been together about eight years.

“Paul asked me just after my birthday and of course I said yes,” DelNero says. “At this point there was no doubt. We’d already established a life, bought a condo, he got me a ring, then I followed up later with a ring for him.”

The two met in 2001. DelNero, a telecommunications attorney, was in law school in Boston but spent the summer of 2001 in Washington. He went on a date with a friend of Heins’ but they didn’t hit it off. He soon met Heins, a musician, and the possibility for something long term became apparent.

“Not to sound corny, but we knew pretty quickly that we had each found the one,” DelNero says. “Everything proceeded quite naturally from that.”

Their first two years together were long distance. Twice monthly they’d take turns visiting each other in Boston and Washington. Those were happy but also slightly frustrating times.

“Those were the first two years of our relationship so there’s always that va va va voom factor,” Heins says. “It made those weekends all the more special and passionate and exciting.”

“But it also put pressure on those times because you wanted it all to work out,” DelNero says. “You wouldn’t want to squabble on those days.”

Living in the same town and house made sense, they say.

“It just got sort of more natural and normal being in the same space,” DelNero says.

“It’s nice,” Heins adds, “to be able to enjoy each other every day.”

Marriage options increased over time. In the early years after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, it wasn’t an option for out-of-state couples. That eventually changed and the couple considered marrying there and, like Mills and Moodie, having it recognized in D.C. But getting married at home is more meaningful, both couples say.

“We were there when Council voted and it was extremely exciting,” Moodie, who works for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says. “That 11 of the members had voted for marriage was extremely exciting and not at all surprising because D.C. is very progressive … we were thrilled to be able to get married at home.”

DelNero and Heins had been exploring venues in Massachusetts when D.C. approved its new law.

“We feel lucky and excited to get married in our own jurisdiction,” Heins says.

Mills is the president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families and was active in the effort to secure same-sex marriage rights in Washington. She’d previously worked for Human Rights Campaign. She’s confident the law will go into effect as expected in March.

“We have certainly done our due diligence with our friends on Capitol Hill,” she says. “They’ve repeatedly told us they support home rule and there’s no sign of any real energy in supporting any type of intervention on Capitol Hill.”

DelNero and Heins weren’t directly involved, though they’ve donated money to activist causes.

“We’re very aware that we’re benefitting from other people’s hard work and we’re grateful for that,” DelNero says.

Neither couple has chosen a date but both say their weddings will be sometime this year. Mills and Moodie plan to get legally married in D.C. but have a small ceremony in Long Island, where Moodie’s from. They’re thinking late spring/early summer. They’re not religious but will have an interfaith minister preside. They each plan to wear gowns and have a maid of honor but not a large wedding party. They’re writing their own vows.

“For us it’s really important for our wedding to be a reflection of our lives together,” Moodie says. “So yes, we’ll have a small bridal party but not in cookie cutter dresses and outfits following us around. It will be people who’ve been really instrumental in our relationship being successful. We’re very involved in how we want our ceremony to look. Not, ‘Do you take so-and-so,’-insert-name-here-type of ceremony. It will be very much created for the two of us.”

DelNero and Heins joke that their engagement has been prolonged because there’s no bride to take over the planning. They recently started attending a Lutheran church near their Beekman Place residence but aren’t sure if they’ll get married there or at another church. They can’t remember offhand what all they’ve discussed.

“Oh, what we’re going to wear. We talked about that a little, didn’t we Paul?,” DelNero says. “I think we said simple elegant suits rather than tuxes.”

Heins says he likes the thought of getting a new suit but says it’s not as important as who’s there.

They slip into finishing-each-other’s-sentences-mode when describing their ceremony.

“We do know it will be a relatively small gathering,” DelNero says. “We’ve been to a lot of weddings that …” He pauses to think of the right word and Heins finishes — “That have been ostentatious,” Heins says.

“The ones we’ve really enjoyed have been the celebrations of couples with their family and friends that aren’t so much … ” DelNero says, “… the glitz and glamour,” Heins interjects, “… overdone and, how to put it, overstated,” DelNero finishes. “But meaningful,” Heins adds.

They’re forgoing a gift registry and asking for donations to charity instead. They also say they feel guilty spending a lot of money to rent a large reception hall.

“We would like it to be simple,” Heins says. “Not cheap, but not so outrageous that it’s out of context with our lives in the world.”

The couples also agree that domestic partnerships didn’t cut it for them even though many of the legal rights are the same.

“Everyone knows what marriage means,” Moodie says. “You walk in a store with a wedding band and say, ‘No, I’m DP’ed, it means this, it means that. I still have to make adjustments but everybody knows the weight, recognition and value that comes with marriage.”

“We tried separate but equal before and we know it doesn’t work,” Mills says.

Entering a domestic partnership was anticlimactic for the men.

“What’s funny is we both met at an office at lunchtime in this stark room,” Heins says. “We signed some paper, said, ‘OK,’ and went on our separate ways. I don’t think we even had lunch together.”

“It certainly didn’t feel like a marriage and we didn’t treat it like one,” DelNero says.

Ultimately, though, it’s love that drives these relationships.

Moodie says “a lot of compromise” has sustained her relationship with Mills, who calls it “a genuine partnership.”

“We just knew early on this was it for the two of us. We were head-over-heels in love, knew this was our feeling and were ready for the ultimate commitment,” Mills says.

“It’s hard to put into words or define something that just fits,” DelNero says.

“There are just so many things we do together that really work for us,” Heins says. “The times we’re silly, the times we’re serious, the kinds of jokes we tell, the silly voices we use, the kinds of things I see other couples interact and I don’t necessarily see that, though maybe they have their own little quirks and things. When Matt and I are together, it’s like our language, verbal and nonverbal.”

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Bars & Parties

Blade’s summer closing party set for Sept. 17 in Rehoboth

Benefits journalism scholarship

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Rehoboth Beach Museum, Joe Maggio Realty, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

The Washington Blade’s 15-year tradition of hosting a summer kickoff party in Rehoboth Beach was disrupted due to COVID restrictions. In lieu of that May event, the Blade is hosting a summer closing party on Friday, Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at The Pines (56 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.). 

Tickets are $20, which includes two drinks and appetizers. The event benefits the Blade Foundation’s Steve Elkins Memorial Journalism Fellowship, a 12-week program in which an LGBTQ student journalist covers stories of interest to Delaware’s queer community each summer. 

All COVID safety protocols will be followed, including a requirement that attendees furnish proof of vaccination to gain entry. 

If you are unable to attend you can make a donation to the Blade Foundation at BladeFoundation.org. Sponsors of the event include Delmarva Power and The Pines.

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Bars & Parties

Rehoboth to close out summer with SunFest

Series of events to replace long-running Sundance due to pandemic

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This year’s Sundance in Rehoboth is renamed SunFest and will look different from this scene in 2019 due to the pandemic. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

SunFest will feature a week of live performances, dances, and a live auction, sponsored by non-profit LGBTQ+ center CAMP Rehoboth.

The weeklong festival runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5 and is a change from the annual SunDance that CAMP Rehoboth has sponsored since 1988. This transformation began last year when the event was forced to go digital due to the coronavirus and the in-person events scheduled this year are important, according to development director and co-coordinator of SunFest Anita Broccolino.

“We love that community feel and the in-person makes all the difference in the world for us. Not being able to do it last year just reminded everyone how important we all are to one another,” Broccolino said. “I think that bringing back these events this year is just huge for us and it will be extra celebratory as a result.”

The festival begins with a 5k race and online auction opening on Sunday. Monday night features a give-back event at Iron Hill Brewery while Tuesday’s agenda is still to be determined, said Broccolino. Diego’s will host a Studio 54 give-back dance party on Wednesday and Thursday is the Port 251 women’s give-back. 

Live performances featuring the Skivvies, Randy Harrison and Diane Huey are scheduled for Friday night and Jennifer Holiday will follow with a performance on Saturday night, both at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center. The festival closes out Sunday with auction pick-ups and Fun in the Sand and Sun, according to the CAMP Rehoboth website.

This event is also important to the organization’s contributions to the community, said Broccolino.

“The essential services we provide for free to the community, which is a huge amount of health and wellness activities, as well as arts programming, a lot of youth programming and the community counts on us for those things. We never stopped during COVID, we made as much as we could virtual, but we took quite a hit not being able to raise those funds and awareness of the programs,” Broccolino said. “We invite the entire community to come celebrate with us and make it to Rehoboth Beach, and let’s make it joyful, and wonderful and make sure we’re living up to the standards of all the people who helped found CAMP Rehoboth and live up to their legacy and beyond.”

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Arts & Entertainment

Rehoboth Beach welcomes Christopher Peterson back

Drag legend to perform weekly beginning July 4

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Christopher Peterson, drag, gay news, Washington Blade
Drag legend Christopher Peterson. (Photo courtesy Peterson)

Christopher Peterson will celebrate 25 years of performing his brilliant show EYECONS when he brings it back to Rehoboth Beach this summer. He will be at Clear Space Theatre every Saturday at 10 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. from July 4 to Sept. 5.

I have seen the show a number of times over the years from when he performed at the Renegade showroom (youngsters may not remember the Renegade out on the highway) to now at the Clear Space Theatre, so I am biased in saying it is always worth the price of a ticket. In fact it is worth a lot more because Christopher is an amazing talent. In addition to his own show he can be seen in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at Clear Space.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Christopher. He has lived in Key West, Fla., for years and performs there during the winter and when he isn’t booked around the country. Christopher told me he was born Moncton, New Brunswick but grew up in Halifax (actually Dartmouth across the harbor) Nova Scotia, Canada 58 years ago.

We talked about gay life today and I asked him when he came out and he responded: “in the womb.” He told me he always knew who he was even before he knew you could call it gay. He told me he was lucky and grew up in a family that always accepted him for who he was. I asked him if he was excited about coming back to Rehoboth and he told me he sometimes thought of this as his final ‘widow tour’ as it is his first time back at the beach since he lost the love of his life, James Mill, in September of 2019. They were together for 35 years and James was not only his partner in life but in business. Many in Rehoboth knew James and will miss seeing him at Christopher’s side. He was a beautiful man.

Christopher has been called North America’s greatest female impersonator and though I haven’t seen all of them, I have seen enough to thoroughly concur with that. He not only impersonate the characters, he seems to become them. He never lip-syncs but sings their songs and talks in their voice. Christopher once said his only vocal training was in high school and in church choirs but you would never know that when listening to him sing. Christopher also designs all of his own costumes and they are incredible. It’s amazing how quickly he can change from Marilyn Monroe and become Cher with just a new gown and new wig that he has stashed in the closet at the side of the stage. The transformation is mesmerizing.

Over the years he has impersonated so many iconic women, including Marilyn Monroe, Carol Channing, Madonna, Joan Rivers, Reba McEntire, Bette Midler, Tina Turner, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Cher, Bette Davis, and Lucille Ball. He will add a new character once in a while if he feels comfortable having tried them out — one being Lady Gaga.

I asked him if he has a favorite character and he said, “That’s like asking me if I have a favorite child. These are all my children and they each represent something special to me.” He said, “as an example Streisand is the voice and Garland is the heart.” I remember he was once quoted as saying Judy Garland is his favorite to do and since he told me she represents the heart it didn’t surprise me as Christopher has a big heart. He often saves her for the end of the show and when you see her you leave wanting more.

I asked Christopher about the weirdest thing that ever happened during his show. He told me the story about an evening during the show, when he talks with an audience member, he leaned over the stage and began to chat with a table on the right of the stage and asked an older gentleman, Christopher called him Mary, how he liked the show. After saying he loved it the next thing Christopher saw was Mary keeling over. Turns out he had a heart attack. Christopher said he told the audience there would be a pause in the show and asked if there was a doctor in the house. One came forward and attended to the man and called 911. The gentleman seemed to recover and after they took him out on a stretcher the show went on. Christopher said this has happened more than once at his shows. Maybe it’s the excitement.

I asked him if any of the women he impersonates have been to see the show and was surprised when he said no. I would think any of those still alive would be honored to see how Christopher does them and shows them off so well.

This will be an exciting summer in Rehoboth and Christopher is prepared for visitors to come to the show and still follow any restrictions in effect for the pandemic. The theater has said it will continue to abide by all COVID restrictions in order to ensure the safety of both the actors and the audience. Clear Space Theatre has been doing this all winter and doing it safely.

I urge anyone who has never seen Christopher Peterson to get your tickets early as anyone who has seen him will be buying tickets to his shows and you don’t want to miss this chance to have a great fun evening in the theater.

Christopher Peterson as Lucille Ball. (Photo courtesy Peterson)

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