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Whitman-Walker plans series of LGBT-specific health meetings

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Whitman-Walker's June Crenshaw and Don Blanchon at a previous event. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health is planning a series of LGBT-specific town hall-style events this year called Community Conversations. The first, slated for Thursday at the Clinic’s Elizabeth Taylor Center (1701 14th Street, NW), is dubbed “New Year, New Start: Substance Abuse.”

“Throughout our history, Whitman-Walker has worked to meet the unique health care needs of the LGBT community,” Don Blanchon, the Clinic’s executive director, said in a statement. “One of our goals … is to empower participants with the knowledge and resources to improve not only their health but the health of the family, friends and loved ones around them.”

Chip Lewis, the Clinic’s deputy director of communications, says the series was Blanchon’s idea and that he wanted “a mechanism to build this dialogue between Whitman-Walker and the community.” Chris Dyer, an LGBT liaison in former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration, suggested the format.

Lewis says the staff hopes the series is a two-way street.

“It’s an opportunity to start a dialogue with the community about health issues it faces,” he says. “It can help us present the LGBT health issues that we service but we also want to hear from them and find out what they’re seeing and hearing about. It’s an opportunity for a dialogue for Whitman-Walker and the larger LGBT community as a whole.”

Thursday’s panelists are treatment advocate Jimmy Garza, addictions counselor Christina Oseth and nightlife impresario Ed Bailey. Moderator Josh Reilly is manager of addiction treatment programs for Whitman-Walker. The discussion starts at 7 p.m. It’s free and open to the pubic and those interested in attending will be directed to the meeting room from the front lobby.

Nine conversations are planned. A Feb. 23 discussion on “healthier hookups” will also be at the Elizabeth Taylor Center. On March 29, “Why Safe Sex Matters” will be held at the True Reformer Building and on April 30, “Aging and the LGBT Community” will be at the D.C. Center. Dates and locations are still being set for the remaining installments. Topics slated include “Women’s Health,” “Take Pride in Your Health,” “HIV Testing,” “I’m a Survivor: Living Long Term With HIV” and “Transgender Health.” Go to whitman-walker.org for more information. The Blade will also run details as they are announced.

Lewis says things are going well for the Clinic overall and he expects that it will soon be announced that 2011 was another successful year. It’s now operating “in the black” (there was a half-million-dollar surplus in 2010 Lewis says) after finishing 2007 and 2008 millions in the hole. The numbers for 2009 found the Clinic running a $750,000 deficit. Revenue sources have changed and Medicare, Medicaid and pharmacy sales have provided a more stable source of revenue, he says.

But misconceptions abound about the Clinic, Lewis says. A broadening of services has “de-gayed” the Clinic, some critics have claimed, but Lewis says a higher percentage of those seeking services today self-identity as LGBT than a few years ago (it’s about half, he says).

“You can come here for mental health, support groups, primary care, gynecological care — there was a sense for a long time that this was just where you went if you were facing HIV and AIDS and that’s never really been the case,” Lewis says. “[These Conversations] are another opportunity for us to get across to people that we offer a lot of health services.”

The Community Conversations are expected to last between one and two hours depending on the number of questions and comments.

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PHOTOS: 2022 Baltimore Pride

Annual LGBTQ march held on Saturday

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Baltimore Pride 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

The 2022 Baltimore Pride Parade was held on Saturday, June 25. The march was followed by a block party and entertainment.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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Theater

Queer actor on new role: ‘Playing villains is a blast’

Jaye Ayres-Brown returns as a contemptible Londoner in ‘Red Velvet’

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Jaye Ayres-Brown in ‘Red Velvet’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography)

‘Red Velvet’
Through July 17
Shakespeare Theatre Company 
Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, 450 7th St., N.W.
$35-$120
Shakespearetheatre.org

After a five-year absence from the stage, actor Jaye Ayres-Brown (queer, gender fluid, non-binary, and trans-femme) returns to the boards as a contemptible cisgender Londoner in playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s “Red Velvet” at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Klein Theatre.

Possessed of presence and genuine warmth, Ayres-Brown, 27, is playing Charles Kean, the smug and dubiously talented son of legendary English actor Edmund Kean. Charles is also the essential antagonist in Chakrabarti’s exploration of the life and career of renowned early 19th century African-American Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge (Amari Cheatom).  

When Aldridge is tapped to play Othello on the London stage, Charles, who’s slated to act opposite the star as evil Iago, quits the show. It’s 1833 and Charles is deeply opposed to a Black actor playing a Black lead character, and he’s even less pleased that his real-life fiancée Ellen Tree (Emily DeForest) is assaying Othello’s romantic obsession Desdemona in the production.  

Offstage, Ayres-Brown is Aldridge’s biggest fan: “He was way ahead of his time. A hundred years before Stanislavsky, Aldridge was introducing a proto naturalist approach to acting. In retrospect, it’s hard to disentangle the public’s reaction to him. He was something so different. But were white audiences reacting to his innovative acting style or were they showing their racial bias?” 

“In the play, I’m that bias,” says the New York-based actor. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Joan Crawford famously said, “I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman — a lot in every man.” 

JAYE AYRES-BROWN: Oh yeah, playing villains is a blast. Ira Aldridge was such a spectacularly heroic person, an amazingly gifted and resourceful artist, he deserves a good villain to push against, a meaningful villain who makes us admire the hero even more. And Amari [Cheatom], the actor who plays Aldridge, is a great artist who deserves a strong antagonist too. 

BLADE: Are you enjoying your stay in London 1833? 

AYRES-BROWN: No, I hate it!  But my character loves it. Charles enjoys tremendous privilege – racial and professionally. He’s a cisgender white supremacist committed to the patriarchal power structure of the time. But me, Jaye as a person, is less than charmed by it.

BLADE: But aesthetically, it’s quite fine? 

AYRES-BROWN: Yes, You-Shin Chen’s sets are impeccable, and the period costumes are beautifully rendered by Rodrigo Muñoz. Sometimes, I do feel a little bit like a drag king in Charles’ attire. It’s a performance of masculinity. 

I have an expansive experience of gender in which I include masculinity and I think I have something interesting to say and a unique perspective. Language about gender nonconforming identity didn’t exist in 1833, but the people existed, getting by the best way they could. Everyone was either a man or a woman. Who knows today how any of these characters would identify? 

My objective is to cram as much humanity in the character as I can. The play is deeply considered with questions about who gets to play what roles. And I try to bring as much of myself to each role regardless of their gender.

BLADE: Charles is very far from who you are?

AYRES-BROWN: For me, the work of playing a character like this is derived largely from the racist lessons all Americans learn. The stereotypes are things that I’ve been exposed to as someone who grew up white in America. There’s the initial desire to distance and highlight contrasts, but ultimately you must mine your own experience even if it’s uncomfortable.

BLADE: How is it to be working in live theater again?

AYRES-BROWN: Like Christmas morning! It’s my first play in five years, and still my training kicks in. I re-balance on my bike and it’s like I’ve never stopped riding. But mostly, I’m trying to have as much fun as I can. 

BLADE: And how was working with young director Jade King Carroll? 

AYRES-BROWN: Wonderful! The play deals with some difficult moments, harmful language and ideas.  Jade created a space in our rehearsal room where people could be playful while engaging with that. Dealing with concepts of history requires the seriousness it demands, but there’s also a need for humor and lightness, and Jade made that possible.

BLADE:  Any thoughts on “Red Velvet” being stuck in time? 

AYRES-BORWN: No, I think this play is a shockingly contemporary telling of a lost history that feels overwhelmingly resonant as it’s related to identity politics and the push for representation. I hope the audience sees a period but appreciates the present-day dynamics, discussions, and language. It’s also surprisingly human and very entertaining. To me it’s a very funny show. Anyone interested in laughing at posh British folks being stupid might agree.

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Sports

Olympic champion Tom Daley ‘furious’ about bans on trans athletes

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not ok”

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Tom Daley (Screenshot via Channel 4 UK)

Olympic diving champion Tom Daley said he is “furious” about FINA, the world swimming body, banning some transgender athletes from women’s swimming, diving, and other competitions. 

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not OK,” Daley said to iNews at a press conference. “It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.”

Earlier this month, FINA released the new policy on eligibility, banning athletes who have experienced male puberty from women’s competitions.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said the new policy intended to protect athletes’ right to compete but also ensure competition fairness.

FINA intends to create an open category for athletes whose birth sex is different from their gender identity.

“This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.” Al-Musallam said.

The new policy was condemned by the Human Rights Campaign, which said that requiring athletes to transition before age 12 was unrealistic and unlikely. States such as Alabama regulate young people’s access to age-appropriate gender-affirming care.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s Interim President, “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer.”

The new policy will impact the career of trans swimmer Lia Thomas, the first trans woman to win a NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship, and may prevent her from participating and competing in the female category.

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