These girls are glamazons. Their drag queen motto is simple: “hair and paint make a man what he ain’t.”
And their den mother, the inimitable Miss Shi-Queeta Lee, is a local phenomenon, an indefatigable impresaria who keeps them in line, ready for even more recognition if their D.C.-based reality TV show goes on area television later this year.
But in the meantime they appear every Sunday at Nellie’s Sports Bar — and for this weekend’s Capital Pride also on Saturday — as the stars of the weekly “drag brunch,” which continues to pack in people, into the big first floor corner room framed by big windows looking out onto U Street N.W. Shi-Queeta’s aim is always to keep them looking their best, and as the growing band of drag brunch regulars can attest, these girls do, each of them — five in all, including Shi-Queeta Lee (or SQL, for short).
But who is this Wonder Woman? She has been a Blade favorite, winning this paper’s reader’s choice as Best Drag Performer in 2006. In 2009 she appeared at the People’s Inaugural LGBT Gayla, on the eve of the swearing in of President Barack Obama. Now she appears to be nearly everywhere at once. She not only headlines the Sunday drag brunch but in addition hosts Tuesday night’s drag bingo, also at Nellie’s, and she is the “Diva of Town,” appearing there as a cast member of the Danceboutique’s drag shows every Friday and Saturday night. But where did it all begin, before the person born and raised as Jerry Van Hook became Shi-Queeta Lee, and how did this persona emerge?
“There ain’t too much to say about Jerry,” she says today, “because Shi-Queeta done took Jerry over.”
But the answer to his life in female impersonation is more complicated that that and it begins to unfold in Gretna, Va., on a farm near that small town south of Lynchburg. He was born there in 1964, the fifth of six siblings, and he seems always to have been conscious of his feminine side, saying, “I was a real country girl then, because I was a girl there, too!” But growing up, “No one called me fag or punk, and I wasn’t bullied,” he says. “They just didn’t know what to call me.”
He was a farm boy for sure. “We would get up at 5 a.m. to slop the hogs, feed the chickens and milk the cows,” he recalls. His father owned the farm but he was also a tobacco sharecropper. By high school, he recalls, “we were known as the black ‘Brady Brunch,’” since they had a live-in Alice (their aunt), like the TV sitcom of the early 1970s.
While he loved drama and music in high school, and excelled in art, he also played basketball and tennis, and in the first half of high school he played cornerback on the football team’s defensive line and ran the ball also as tailback. Later he also was a team cheerleader. After graduating, he went to the University of Pittsburgh Art Institute to study commercial art there, but two months later he returned home. He was, he says, “homesick” and he didn’t like the colder temperatures.
First he found work at a local show factory, learning how to make women’s shoes. He says that he continued to draw, especially family portraits, but he stopped pursuing it as a career, though he still has “that creative vision, which you have to have doing drag.” Eventually, an uncle who lived in Washington visited and told young Jerry that “you should live in D.C.” And so, the youth packed his bags on Christmas Day in 1985 and moved, living with his uncle for a few months, while he took several short-term jobs until he found his calling, in hospitality and food service, becoming first a busboy and then a waiter at Planet Hollywood.
Soon he was also helping train crews for the restaurant chain, which flowered in the mid-1990s backed by film stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. During its heyday, “That’s when I got to see the world for free,” he recalls, traveling to Atlanta and Orlando as well as to France and Indonesia. Later he worked for BET (Black Entertainment Television) when it opened its own Caribbean-style restaurants.
Later he began an acting career also, in road shows on what he calls the “chittlin’ circuit.”
He took a job as wardrobe and costume designer for a play starring the actor Billy Dee Williams, “The Maintenance Man,” and also as an extra in the play, which was about a high-priced male escort. Van Hook admits that later, as a drag queen, he also worked “for a few years” as a male escort. It’s something he says, that many drag queens do so “at some point, if you need some faster cash to make ends meet,” and there are always customers, generally straight men who sometimes frequent gay bars “to fulfill that sexual fantasy.”
In the meantime, he was also pitching for the D.C.-area gay softball team, the JR Gamecocks, and at the end of one season, in October 1998, he was chosen by the team to appear in a drag show, the Magic Tournament, a pageant sponsored by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. Looking back, Shi-Queeta says, “It was considered to be camp, like a Halloween costume, you just put on a wig and lipstick and you just did it yourself.” But Van Hook, as he was still then known, told his team that if he would appear in the show, he would take it seriously, “as a real drag queen.” So he decided “to hire a professional drag queen to put me together,” the late Chynna Pen Darvis who became what he calls his “drag mother.”
That first pageant appearance was Shi-Queeta’s “breakthrough moment.” The name Shi-Queeta was the choice of his softball team coach at the time, Chip Brown. This was because Jerry was still living in Anacostia at the time, and “Chip thought I needed, tongue-in-cheek, a ghetto-type name.” As Shi-Queeta, he won each of the four categories.
“I didn’t expect to win,” he says, “But when I did win, I couldn’t put a pump down because I was walking on air.”
She began appearing at several D.C. gay bars like Bachelor’s Mill, the original Ziegfeld’s, Omega and Chaos, where she hosted a drag bingo until it closed in 2008. Town co-owner Ed Bailey suggested she approach Doug Schantz, co-owner of Nellie’s Sports Bar.
“I talked to Doug,” she says, “and he gave me a trial basis on a Tuesday night, and when he saw what money we could make at 8 p.m. on that night, it was heaven sent.”
Next came the Sunday drag brunch, which began in January 2010 at Nellie’s, though Shi-Queeta had pioneered an earlier version at the old Cada Vez, then at 14th and U streets N.W. At Nellie’s, it’s become so popular that she says “it’s now hard to get a reservation.”
The six girls shimmy and sashay through their lip-synch numbers, bejeweled and in full and flawless makeup and plumage with get-ups like bright red Minnie Mouse hair bows and polka-dot sashes, and sequined skin-tight lavender minidresses. It’s all illusion of course, though one of them announces, “If there’s a plastic surgeon in the house, give me your card, I need a real rack!”
Schantz says Lee and his cooks make a great combination.
“She brims with vivacious entertainment,” he says. “(That and) the inspiriing dishes keep guests singing for more.”
Shi-Queeta herself appears at the end in a flared, floor-length evening gown singing the Diana Ross classic, “I’m coming out, I want the world to know, and want to let it show!” And that’s exactly what Shi-Queeta plans, as producer and creator of the proposed new reality TV series, “Drag City D.C.,” featuring her and five of her girls, Epiphany Bloomingdale, LaCountress Farrington, Chanel Devereaux, Tyria Iman and Raquel Savage Black, in a “Real Housewives”-stye show that has already completed production on three short pilots as “teasers.” Shi-Queeta hopes they will begin to air eight completed, 30-minute episodes later this year on local cable — DCTV public access on Comcast channel 95 and in Arlington, Va., on Comcast channel 69. She’s hoping the stations will also run more episodes of her talk show “Spill da Tea With Shi-Queeta Lee.”
“We will tell the ins and outs of our lives,” says Shi-Queeta, in her persona as CEO of Van Hook Productions. “But also how we are giving back to the community, one show at a time.” In one of the shows the girls put together 200 bags of groceries for Food and Friends, and in another they perform a drag show on roller-skates as a benefit for SMYAL. In the third, they join a pole-dancing and belly-dancing class, “to show us keeping fit,” says Shi-Queeta, “so we can fit into our girdles.”
Nellie’s Sports Bar is at the corner of 9th and U Streets, NW. For more information on the Sunday Drag Brunch, which is offered every Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm, for $20 per person, visit nelliessportsbar.com. For more information on the “Drag City DC” TV show, visit dragcitydc.com.
What it means to be an active ally to your LGBTQ+ co-workers TEST
Five easy tips to help you avoid common risks
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lizzo makes $50K donation to Marsha P. Johnson Institute
Singer is vocal LGBTQ ally
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.
Anne Heche dies after removal from life support
Actress dated Ellen DeGeneres in late 1990s
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.