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Put the blame on Mame

Academy denizen Dennis leads group in golden anniversary



Sting, front left, and Kelly Garrett, the Academy’s current best actor and actress perform at an Academy event last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Actress Sally Field, whose much-lampooned “you like me” Oscar acceptance speech has been in the pop culture vernacular for decades now, had a clever retort to those still eager to scorn her earnestness when Entertainment Weekly invited her in 2007 to remember her career.

“You know what,” she said. “I invite you to say what you like when you win your second Oscar, because the chances of that are slim to none.”

Members of Washington’s drag community have known that for eons and in part stung by both familial ostracism and an early ‘60s lack of venue — even in the city’s gay bars of the day — for drag performing and socializing, a handful of gender-bending enthusiasts formed The Academy of Washington and gave each other Oscar-esque statuettes among dozens of other titles and trophies. The annual “best actress” and “best actor” prizes — despite the title, no acting is required to get them — are the group’s highest honors and have gained prominence within the Academy since they were first awarded in 1962, less than a year after the group formalized under the direction of the late Allen Kress, who, in the Academy, was known as Elizabeth Taylor.

Formerly known as The Academy Awards of Washington Inc., — when the group went online about 10 years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insisted they stop using its name — the group is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. On Saturday, current best actor Sting (Karl La Cour) and his “real life” partner Kelly Garrett (Joey King) will pass the torch to two other members (Ophelia Bottoms and Carlton Stephyns) in an elaborate ceremony that, like many Academy functions, is likely to run several hours.

The awarding of the statuettes — now known safely as “Golden Boys” — is a big deal to members. They gathered Sunday at Ziegfeld’s, as they do most weekends, for a nearly five-hour marathon performance to honor Sting and Garrett with performances lip synced to pop standards like “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and “You Light Up My Life.”

Den mother Mame Dennis (Carl Rizzi) says she’s proud the organization has endured and thrived under her leadership. “The Godfather” (Bill Oates) convinced she and Fanny Brice (the late Alex Carlino) to rejoin after a tumultuous period and lead the group with Taylor in 1973. Taylor was “chairman of the board,” Dennis president and Brice vice president.

“It’s organized and people like that,” Dennis says. “A lot of these newer people like the feeling of belonging to something and not just floundering along on their own. A lot have been ostracized from their families, so it’s a second family.”

The scene Sunday about 40 minutes before show time is both bustling and relaxed. Most who will be on stage today are in the opening number and run through a rehearsal before doors open to the public. Most of the queens have been in full makeup for a half hour or so by now. Destiny B. Childs (Ric Legg) saunters around looking regal in a bright orange, floor-length gown, an elaborate cake featuring figurines representing all the former best actress winners is set up on a table to the side of the stage and folks from all walks of LGBT life — from butch lesbians to Academy members who perform as men — mingle and share laughs and gossip.

Dennis, 70, points to a group of three guys not yet in makeup in their early 20s and are smoking at the front door, and says despite a bounty of outlets, the Academy is thriving and is more popular than ever with about 150 members.

“The young people are just coming out of the woodwork,” she says. “Like those boys right there, they’re all brand new. They see the performers at the bars, they get involved with them, they come to us and they like it and they stay. It’s a credit to us. We must be doing something right.”

The Academy’s history is also Dennis’ story to a large degree. The Milford, N.H., native came here in the Navy in 1959 and first did drag for Halloween 1965, just four years after Taylor started the Academy. She wrote in the program for the group’s 25th anniversary that she “never wanted to be alone” and “strived to mold an elite group of people whose social life would center around drag. By creating parties and activities, I knew that I would always be surrounded by people wanting to attend them.”

Taylor invited Dennis — they’d met at a gay bar — to a party at her house. Even now, though, Dennis is hard pressed to articulate the appeal.

“Oh I don’t know,” she says. “I just don’t know how to explain it. I had seen it at North Beach at the shows on Sundays and it was just something I wanted to do.”

Within a year she was dressing in drag on a regular basis. She remembers a radically different social climate both for drag queens and gays in general.

“Liz had these parties mostly at her home. No bars had shows. Now you can go out every night of the week. These people now, it’s quite available. Then there was just no other place to go so we had these social parties.”

Records are sketchy for the Academy’s early years, though they know 14 statuettes were presented at the first awards in ’62. Queens going by names like Lucille Ball, Marlena Dietrich, Tippi Hedren, Jackie Kennedy and Vivian Leigh were on the executive board. Interest increased and the Academy started hosting pageants, balls and parties, though the Oscars, as they were then known, was always the group’s highest honor, or, as Taylor put it, “the ultimate, the necessary proof that a person was a star … [it was] an open ticket to the numerous parties the Academy held.”

There has been drama over the years — in ’75, a few members attempted to drive a wedge between Brice and Dennis, but weren’t successful.

“Who knows why that stuff happens,” Dennis says. “Just difference of opinion about the direction things should go.”

Today, Dennis is Academy royalty and members practically fall on top of each other in an effort to heap praise on her.

“It’s a tremendous triumph that she’s kept the organization going for so long,” says Sarah Lee Garrett (Michael Folks). “She comes from an era when police would go beat the crap out of people just for fun. They wouldn’t even bother to arrest you, they just beat you for fun. The fact that we have her as our leader to connect us to that history is absolutely important and gives us a sense of being the heirs to a very old tradition and something much larger than ourselves.”

There are several drag enclaves in Washington, widely seen as a drag-rich city. Though Childs has her own show at Freddie’s and Ziegfeld’s legend Ella Fitzgerald (Donnell Robertson) is an Academy member, most Academy regulars don’t perform outside of Academy functions. They say it’s a less rigorous, more welcoming environment that offers nurturing and tutelage.

“It’s an avenue where any queen can go and entertain,” Childs says. “You don’t have to audition, you don’t have to be the best. You get many titles just by virtue of your time and dedication and participation. … not every queen is talented enough to be on the Ziegfeld’s stage, but the Academy allows them to come and be themselves and perform. They don’t really judge and anybody is welcome.”

New members become one of four Academy “families” and have drag mothers, sometimes fathers, siblings and even grandparents.

“That family-oriented network is what appeals to me,” says Cameron Carrington (Cameron Hibshman), a member most famous for the “Queen of Hearts” crown she won in February. “This network of people really do become your family over the course of several years.”

Dennis chooses the Golden Boy winners herself and looks for people who are willing to get involved, stay loyal and help in practical ways, from sharing makeup with young members to running sound. And becoming best actress or actor is a deliberate decision — members are in the running for years and say Dennis’ selections follow a logical line of succession.

“It’s something you look forward to for a long time,” Garrett says. “You sort of get in line, so there’s a lot of anticipation and as it gets closer to your year, you become incredibly excited to get that.”

Despite being a largely social organization, Dennis is proud of the group’s philanthropic efforts. Proceeds — stemming mostly from dues and ticket sales — often go to charitable efforts. Dennis is uber-excited the group just came up with nearly $3,000 for a local LGBT cause she’ll announce soon.

Ultimately, though, the Academy, members say, is about more than make believe, fantasy, awards, pageants and dress up. What it’s done for their sense of self-expression, they say, is priceless.

“Growing up, you’re sort of this ambiguous, androgynous little queen that doesn’t really have a place,” Sarah Lee Garrett says. “Your family doesn’t really know what to do with you, your friends see you being girly and they don’t necessarily even know what to make of you. The Academy has given me a space where someone like myself is something to be celebrated and nurtured and allowed to grow into something greater than what they ever would have had the opportunity to grow into elsewhere … It’s important to get past the horrible treatment so many people have endured and say, ‘Wow, I do have something of value. I can go out into the world and be something.”

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The evolution of the open house

The more sophisticated the advertising, the more the events flourished



From car giveaways in the 1950s to today’s QR codes and virtual events, agents have used diverse strategies to draw buyers to open houses.

In the early 20th century, there were no exclusive agreements between a seller and a real estate agent. Any broker who knew of someone wanting to sell could participate in an “open listing” by planting his sign in the yard of that person and competing with agents from other brokerages who did the same. To the victor who obtained a buyer went the spoils of commission.

The rules began to change in 1919, when being a real estate broker now required a license. An agent might handle only one property at a time exclusively, but an “open for inspection” period could be used to introduce a model home or new community to the buying population. 

According to the National Association of Realtors, Dallas homebuilder, Howdy Howard, hosted one of the most successful open houses of all time in the 1950s. During the first 12 days of the event, an estimated 100,000 people attended, drawn by free sodas and the ultimate prize for the buyer – a new Cadillac.

Soon, brokers began hiring additional agents who could handle multiple properties. Unlike Howard’s marathon open house, agents would now host them for a few hours at a time, usually on a Sunday, to whet the appetite of the buyer pool. 

Classified advertisements with a description of a property would be placed in a local newspaper and potential buyers would review them with their morning coffee to decide which houses to visit later in the day. 

Marketing in newspapers went from a few lines of black and white text to a photo of a home’s exterior, to a multi-page spread that included both photos of houses and the agents who represented them.

The more sophisticated the advertising became, the more the open house flourished as a marketing tool, not only for the home itself, but also for the agent and the brokerage. It allowed agents to prospect for buyers for that home and others, and converse with neighbors who might want to sell their homes as well. 

Soon, the sign-in sheet was born, used by the agent to capture the contact information of a potential client or customer and to let the seller know who had visited his home. While sign-in sheets or cards are still used, some agents have gravitated to electronic applications, using a tablet computer instead of paper for the same purpose.

Fast forward to the early 2000s in D.C., when open houses became the primary source of showing property. An agent would enter a property into the multiple listing service (MLS) on a Thursday, entertain no showings until Saturday, host an open house on Sunday afternoon, and call for offers either Sunday night or Monday. The open house allowed agents to send their buyers rather than accompany them and serve multiple clients at once.  

The delayed showing day strategy referenced above has since been supplanted by the MLS’s Coming Soon status. Agents can now email or text links to upcoming properties to their clients in advance of showing availability and the clients can view photos, read property descriptions and disclosures, and schedule future visits accordingly.

Enter COVID-19. Due to the proliferation of the virus and the subsequent lockdown, the real estate world had to accommodate new public health requirements. 

One of the first things to go was the open house. Even agent showings were constrained, with visitors limited to an agent plus two people and additional requirements for wearing masks and disposable shoe covers and gloves. 

Overlapping appointments were not allowed, showings were limited to 15 to 30 minutes, and bottles of hand sanitizer sprung up on kitchen counters everywhere.

Ultimately, technology and ingenuity provided new marketing avenues for agents that included 3-D virtual open houses, Facetime and Duo viewings, videos, property websites and QR codes. Many of these marketing techniques remain, even though traditional open houses are coming back post-lockdown.

But are they really necessary? Certainly not for all types of properties. 

I believe the days of using a public open house to procure a buyer are limited. Agent security has become a concern and the desire for in-person viewings during a specific day or time has waned. 

On the other hand, Internet marketing and social media have a much wider reach, so much so that some people now feel comfortable buying a home – probably the most expensive item they will ever purchase – without even stepping into it until after closing.

After all, if we can work in sweatpants or pajamas while Zooming corporate meetings, how can naked virtual reality house hunting be far behind?

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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D.C. homebuyers face hyper competitive market

Sellers in driver’s seat as region faces record low inventory



housing market, gay news, Washington Blade

With job growth rising during a period of aggressive government spending and historically low mortgage rates, the spring 2021 market sits at the lowest level of inventory since 1983.

Homebuyers in the D.C. area continue to face an incredibly competitive market. This is truly a seller’s market.

Lack of Inventory: Washington, D.C. has been in a gradually worsening housing shortage since the Great Recession. The area hasn’t had a six-month supply of homes for sale for almost 12 years. Now, we add a global pandemic that seriously altered what homeowners want out of their home, Wall Street on fire, and insanely low interest rates and we get a surge in motivated homebuyers.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the number of homes nationwide reached a record low in December 2020, with just 1.07 million properties on the market. The DC metro area is even worse off than the national average with only one month’s supply of homes. That means if new listings were completely dried up, there would be no homes available in four weeks. On average, D.C. homes have been selling within 11 days, which is 15 days faster than this time in 2020.

Seller’s Market: The time is now for Washington, D.C. homeowners to seriously consider selling their homes if they have played with the idea. Experts predict 2021 will be another strong housing market with an increase in demand from existing homebuyers in search of larger homes and buyers who delayed purchasing a home due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Zillow forecasts a nearly 30 percent annual growth in homes for sale in 2021. This would be the largest home sales growth since 1983. Zillow’s annual report stated, “Home price appreciation will reach its fastest pace since the Great Recession, as the inventory crunch continues to pit buyers against each other, competing for a scarce number of homes for sale.”

D.C.’s Current Market: According to the NAR, in March of 2021, D.C. home prices had increased 4.1% compared to March 2020, for a median price of $635,000. There were 1,004 homes sold in March 2021, an increase from 842 at this time last year.

We are seeing many homes receive multiple offers within just a few days in the D.C. area. The average home is selling a little above 1% of the listing price and many hot homes are seeing large bidding wars and selling for 3% or more above the listing price; 42.7% of D.C. homes sold above list price in March of 2021. That is a 13.4% increase from last year at this time. Active inventory for March of 2021 was 1,457 homes, down 9% from March 2020. March 2021 also saw 991 homes sell in the D.C. area, an increase of 31% from February of 2021. March 2021’s total homes sold had a 19% increase from March 2020.

Buying a Home: In the current seller’s market, buying a home can be like playing a chess match. You need to know the rules and be strategic. It can seem more like winning than purchasing a home right now. If you find a home you want to buy, chances are you won’t be the only one making an offer. It is a seller’s market everywhere in the country right now and D.C. is no different. Be sure you know what you qualify for and what you can afford.

Conclusion: The NAR and the Mortgage Bankers Association both project prices of existing homes to increase 5.9% in 2021. This may mean buyers will have to be more flexible than in the past. For example, making an offer contingent upon the sale of a current home may be harder than before. It’s also possible you will pay more than the list price. The D.C. real estate market is on fire and many homes are off the market within 24 hours of listing. For sellers, if you have been thinking of selling your home there is no better time than the present.


Khalil El-Ghoul is Principal Broker for Glass House Real Estate. Reach him at [email protected] or 571-235-4821. Glass House Real Estate is a modern, more affordable way to buy and sell a home in the D.C. Metro area. Learn more about what makes us different at

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Kick-ass crossovers

Still the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms



crossovers, gay news, Washington Blade

Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Crossovers keep wending their way into our driveways—and our hearts. After overtaking sedans, station wagons and minivans as the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms, crossovers are now taking aim at the most quintessential of American rides: the muscle car. With naughty looks and hepped-up engines, the two dynamite crossovers below are sure to blow your mind—and just maybe your budget.

Mpg: 12 city/17 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.5 seconds

For more than 20 years, the Dodge Durango has been a solid if nondescript family hauler. But this year the automaker jazzed up its midsize crossover with brawnier styling and the latest tech toys. And for the first time, Dodge is offering a limited-edition Durango SRT Hellcat—a high-test model with the same hellacious Hemi V8 engine in the Challenger super coupe and Charger sport sedan. With 710 horsepower, this blazingly fast crossover can kick some serious ass, outrunning many a Ferrari and Lamborghini.

The upgraded suspension provides more dynamic handling and cornering, as well as selectable steering for better grip. For straight-line acceleration and to prevent nasty fish-tailing, I simply flipped the “launch control” toggle switch. The massive Brembo brakes also were stellar, with stop-on-a-dime performance and flaming red calipers on each wheel. Another plus: the iconic Hellcat exhaust rumble could be heard blocks away—music to the ears of any auto aficionado. As with all Durangos, this bruiser has best-in-class towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.

Inside, there’s plenty of space, including more room than expected for third-row passengers. The steering wheel, dash, and trim accents now have trendy Euro styling, though it’s more VW than upscale Audi. And you can opt for flashy seatbelts and premium seats in a color Dodge calls Demonic Red, along with black velour floor mats and a soft-touch headliner. Other features include heated/ventilated seats, a large 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone integration and the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices at once. Options include a 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and rear-seat entertainment with Blue-Ray player. Alas, this is a limited-edition model and all 2,000 of these speed demons quickly sold out months ago. But there’s still hope: Dodge allocated some of the racy Durangos to select dealerships, so you can call around to see if any are still available. And you can always try social media to find a lucky Durango Hellcat owner who just might be willing to sell this rollicking ride, if the price is right.

Mpg: 17 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds

For decades, both the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover have been ubiquitous in the United States. Not so the smaller and less ostentatious Defender, often seen as a work-horse vehicle in BritBox reruns or action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But last year the Defender returned to these shores after nearly a quarter-century hiatus.

Available in two- or four-door models, both Defenders start around $50,000. My test vehicle was the new top-of-the-line Defender X, which added—yikes!—another $35,000 to the sticker price. The look on these crossovers is boxy chic, which allows for a ginormous amount of headroom, legroom and cargo space. Land Rover also added extra stowage areas and cubby holes, as well as transom windows and a sliding panoramic sunroof to keep things airy. While the cabin may be sparse and full of solid plastics, the walnut trim on the center console and door panels is quite elegant.

Land Rovers have a somewhat infamous reputation for less-than-stellar electronics, but the 10-inch touchscreen was crystal clear and synced up seamlessly with the infotainment system. Tricked out with a jet-black roof, hood, and side cladding, the press vehicle I test drove was painted a haughty Eiger Gray Metallic. It also came with thick all-terrain tires, adding to a slightly menacing vibe. A full-size spare is conveniently mounted on the vertical tailgate, which swings completely open like a refrigerator door for easy access. The Defender X may not be as lightning quick as a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, but it’s still plenty fast. And this brute can tackle the toughest of terrains, thanks to locking differentials, hill-descent control and a standard air suspension that can raise the chassis 11.5 inches above the ground. Overall, the Defender X can’t quite hide its refined roots as a tony Land Rover. But as with the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, this burly crossover flexes some serious muscle.

Land Rover Defender X

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