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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.”



What it means to be an active ally to your LGBTQ+ co-workers TEST

Five easy tips to help you avoid common risks



Be sure to install baby gates if you have stairs in your home with young children. (Photo by Kasia Bialasiewicz/Bigstock)

Your home is more than just a place to eat and sleep; it’s your safe haven. As much as you might cherish your home, you should probably also recognize the potential hazards within its familiar walls. Accidents can happen in an instant, yet with a little foresight and some simple adjustments, you can transform your house into a safer haven. 

Accidents can happen anywhere, and with a few simple tweaks, you can lower risks in your space. Below you’ll find five tips for each room in your home to help prevent injuries, falls, and other mishaps. In short, home safety. 

This article was inspired by a shower in a rental we managed that began leaking through the kitchen ceiling below. If only the landlord had installed grab bars, right!? Below, we’ll guide you through the steps to fortify your bathroom, making it a place of relaxation without the fear of slips and falls. Then, we’ll venture into the room where the magic happens, where proper planning can ensure great nights and peaceful mornings. We’ll show you how to prevent accidents while you experiment becoming the next Gordon Ramsey. And we’ll include a few surprising solutions for those other rooms that hold their own unique hazards, offering solutions to safeguard against unexpected mishaps.

Bathroom Safety

Install Grab Bars: Adding grab bars near the shower and toilet can provide essential support for family members of all ages. Not only can they help with getting in and out, but they can help provide stability when washing. Make sure they are securely anchored to the wall.

Non-Slip Mats: Place non-slip mats inside the shower and bathtub to prevent slips. They’re a small investment that can save you from falls and head injuries.

Adjust Water Temperature:  Ensure your hot water is set to a safe temperature to avoid scalding. The hot water heater should be set to around 120°F (49°C)l, the middle setting on many water heater settings. 

Medicine Cabinet Locks: If you have young children, use childproof locks on your medicine cabinet to keep harmful substances out of reach.

Proper Lighting: Ensure there’s adequate lighting in the bathroom to avoid trips and falls during nighttime visits. Nightlights can be a simple and effective solution. 

Bedroom Safety

Clear Pathways: Keep pathways in the bedroom clutter free to prevent tripping. Ensure there’s enough space to move around comfortably, particularly getting around the bed.  Be aware where all furniture is when walking around to avoid stubbed toes, particularly at night.

Secure Rugs: If you have throw rugs, use rug grippers or double-sided tape to keep them from slipping. Loose rugs are a common trip hazard. 

Bed Rails: For anyone at risk of falling out of bed, consider installing bed rails to provide extra support and prevent falls.

Nightstands with Drawers: Opt for nightstands with drawers to keep essential items.  This reduces the need to get out of bed at night, minimizing the risk of falls, as you race to grab what you need and not lose a moment’s rest.

Fire Safety: Install battery-operated smoke detectors in the bedrooms if there are none. Make sure to install them 36 inches away from an air vent or the edge of a ceiling fan.  Also six inches away from the joint between the wall and ceiling.  And test smoke detectors regularly.

Kitchen Safety

Non-Slip Flooring: Choose slip-resistant rugs in the kitchen, especially in areas where spills are common. Mats near the sink and stove can also help and you can often buy them fairly cheaply at Costco.

Childproof Cabinets: If you have little ones, use childproof latches on cabinets and drawers to prevent them from accessing potentially hazardous items.

Anti-tip brackets: Install an anti-tip bracket behind the range. These are often used when children are in the home. Although they are less likely to open the oven door and use it as a step stool to get to the stove-top, adults can also benefit from installing these. 

Adequate Lighting: Proper lighting is crucial in the kitchen to avoid accidents. Under-cabinet lighting can illuminate work areas effectively.

Secure Heavy Items: Ensure heavy pots and pans are stored at waist level to prevent straining or dropping them from high shelves.

Sharp Object Storage: Keep knives and other sharp objects in a secure drawer or block. And handle all sharp items with extreme care, even when washing and drying. These steps reduce the risk of accidental cuts.  

Other Safety Tips

Furniture Anchors: Secure heavy furniture, like bookshelves and dressers, to the wall to prevent tip-overs, especially if you have young children.

Adequate Outlets: Check for damaged outlets and replace them promptly. Avoid overloading circuits with too many devices. Install placeholder plugs in outlets to prevent young curious fingers (or tongues?) from going inside an electrical outlet.

Stair Gates: If your home has stairs, install safety gates at the top and bottom to prevent falls, especially if you have toddlers or pets to keep them off of the stairs when you cannot monitor them.

Emergency Escape Plan: Develop and practice an emergency escape plan with your family, including a designated meeting place outside.

Carbon Monoxide Detector:  If your home burns any fossil fuels for heating or appliances, install carbon monoxide detectors in common areas of your home to detect this odorless gas. The D.C. building codes require this if you use a fireplace or if you have an attached garage. In essence, if there is any potential source of carbon monoxide in the home, be sure to install these detectors.

Remember, a safer home not only prevents accidents but also provides peace of mind for you and your family. Implement these simple tips to create a secure environment in every room of your house.

With these practical tips and a few adjustments, you can significantly reduce the risk of injuries and falls in your home. Enjoy peace of mind in your now much safer haven.

Scott Bloom is owner and senior property manager of Columbia Property Management.

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Celebrity News

Lizzo makes $50K donation to Marsha P. Johnson Institute

Singer is vocal LGBTQ ally



Lizzo at the 65th Grammy Awards (Screenshot from the Grammy Awards)

When Lizzo sings “If I’m shinin,’ everybody gonna shine,” in her hit song, “Juice,” she means it. Proof of that came this week on Instagram when the LGBTQ ally announced the first winner of her annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign is the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a national nonprofit based in Richmond, Calif., dedicated to the protection and defense of Black transgender people. 

And she did so in song: “On the first day of Juneteenth, Lizzo gave to me,” she sang in her video, posted Tuesday, as she revealed her $50,000 gift to MPJI.

“That’s right, we know who Marsha P. Johnson is. We know what Marsha P. Johnson has done for the LGBTQ, emphasis on that ‘T,’ Q community,” said Lizzo to her 13.5 million followers. “Thank you so much to the people at the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. You deserve this, and I hope this helps you so much as you help protect our Black trans family.” 

“What the Marsha P. Johnson Institute does is protects and defends the rights of Black transgender people. They do this by organizing community, advocating for the people, and creating an intentional healing community, developing transformative leadership and promoting collective power,” she said. 

“We are overjoyed for the shoutout from Lizzo today, the generosity of her sharing her platform and the recognition of MPJI and its work,” said Elle Moxley, MPJI’s executive director. “The resources from this campaign will ensure the protection and defense of Black transgender people continue at a time where it is so vitally needed. We are so grateful for the support of Lizzo and her fans.”

As one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2019 and a 2023 Grammy winner, Lizzo is more than a pop star but an inspiration to millions of fans for her body-positive attitude, her self-confidence on stage and in her videos, her empowering music and her activism. She’s also the founder of her own clothing line, Yitty. In 2021, she made headlines when she publicly corrected a paparazzo for using “she/her” pronouns and misgendering Demi Levato.

As part of her campaign, now in its 4th year, Lizzo recognizes Black-led grassroots organizations and businesses and encourages her fans to join her in supporting each of the five organizations she highlights this week. Fans who take action by donating are  entered into a drawing for an all-expenses paid trip to see her perform at Fuji Rock in Japan later this year. 

This week’s other nonprofits receiving gifts are: Black Girls Smile, Sphinx Music, the University of Houston and Save Our Sisters United.

Find out more about Lizzo’s 4th annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign by clicking here.

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Celebrity News

Anne Heche dies after removal from life support

Actress dated Ellen DeGeneres in late 1990s



(Screenshot/YouTube Inside Edition)

Actress Anne Heche died after she was removed from life support on Sunday, nearly two weeks after her Mini-Cooper crashed through a two-story house in Los Angeles’ Mar Vista neighborhood. Investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department believe she was intoxicated at the time.

She sustained a severe anoxic brain injury along with severe burns and was being treated at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, near Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

The 53-year-old actress who was a star of films like “Donnie Brasco,” the political satire “Wag the Dog” and the 1998 remake of “Psycho,” had been declared legally dead under California law on Friday, however, her family kept her alive long enough to be an organ donor.

In a statement Friday, the LAPD announced that: “As of today, there will be no further investigative efforts made in this case. Any information or records that have been requested prior to this turn of events will still be collected as they arrive as a matter of formalities and included in the overall case. When a person suspected of a crime expires, we do not present for filing consideration.” LAPD detectives had previously made public that investigators into the crash found narcotics in a blood sample taken from Heche.

The actress’s family released a statement on Friday:

“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact,” the statement added.

Heche was married to camera operator Coleman Laffoon from 2001 to 2009. The two had a son, Homer, together. She had another son, named Atlas, during a relationship with actor James Tupper, her co-star on the TV series “Men In Trees.”

Laffoon left a moving tribute on an Instagram reel in which he also gave an update on how their 20-year-old son Homer Laffoon is coping with the loss of his mother.

“I loved her and I miss her, and I’m always going to,” he said adding: “Homer is okay. He’s grieving, of course, and it’s rough. It’s really rough, as probably anybody can imagine. But he’s surrounded by family and he’s strong, and he’s gonna be okay.”

“Rest In Peace, Mom, I love you, Homer,” the actor’s 20-year-old son, Homer, said in a statement after Heche was declared legally dead on Friday.“ My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” read the statement. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully, my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom. Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you, Homer.”

Tupper, a Canadian actor who starred alongside Heche in “Men in Trees,” had a 13-year-old son, Atlas, with her. “Love you forever,” Tupper, 57, wrote on his Instagram post’s caption with a broken heart emoji, which shared an image of the actress from Men in Trees.

Between 1997 and 2000, Heche was also in a relationship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

“This is a sad day,” DeGeneres posted on Twitter. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.” The year after her break-up with the comedian, in September 2001, Heche recounted in her memoir “Call Me Crazy,” about her lifelong struggles with mental health and a childhood of abuse.

KTLA’s entertainment reporter Sam Rubin noted that over the past two decades, Heche’s career pivoted several times. In 2017, she hosted a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Jason Ellis called “Love and Heche.”

In 2020, Heche made her way into the podcast world. She launched “Better Together” which she cohosted alongside Heather Duffy Boylston. The show was described as a way to celebrate friendship. 

She also worked in smaller films, on Broadway, and on TV shows. She recently had recurring roles on the network series “Chicago P.D.,” and “All Rise” and was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

People magazine reported that several of Heche’s acting projects are expected to be released posthumously.

These include “Girl in Room 13,” expected to be released on Lifetime in September, “What Remains,” scheduled to be released in 2023, and HBO Max TV series “The Idol,” created by Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

In her Instagram post from earlier this year Heche stands between her sons Atlas, 13 and Homer, 20.

From KTLA:

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