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With 3 national titles in 4 years, Miss Gay D.C. winners leave big shoes to fill



Coti Collins being crowned Miss Gay America (Photo courtesy Robert York)

Miss Gay D.C. America pageant
March 24
6 to 11 p.m.
2009 8th St., N.W.
Admission: $10 (those who attend can stay at the club all evening)


When Jen Corey, a straight 24-year-old Chevy Chase resident, was asked to judge the Miss Gay D.C. pageant in 2010, she had no idea what to expect.

“I’d never even met a drag queen or female illusionist,” Corey, who was asked because of her Miss America success — she made the top 10 that year, says. “I’d seen ‘The Birdcage,’ that was about it. I didn’t know anything but it was refreshing to see how much it paralleled the Miss America pageant … and I was really impressed, impressed with how all the details work together. I mean, they know how to do hair and makeup better than I do. I was so impressed with how seriously they took it. I really thought it would be a little bit of a joke, but it wasn’t at all.”

Competing is a hardcore business — contestants, who must have had no augmentation from the neck down, bring an impressive level of talent and detail to the contests, both for the Miss D.C. title and the national Miss Gay America title. And the hard work and determination is paying off on the national level. Three of the last four national titleholders have represented D.C. in the contest. They aren’t all D.C. residents — the local title doesn’t have a residency requirement — but the District has an impressive track record at nationals.

In addition to four top 10 finishes at nationals, three Miss Gay D.C. America titleholders have taken the national crown — Victoria DePaula (Carl Glorioso) in 2008, Coti Collins (David Lowman) in 2010 and Kirby Kolby (Mark Smith) in 2011. Promoter Robert York bought the D.C. franchise in 2006 and helped increase its prominence nationally (prior to 2006, only one Miss D.C. winner had won nationals — Sabrina White in 2002).

York, a former Mr. Gay U.S.A. regional title holder, and a group of friends saw the potential within the region and thought it would be fun to try to raise its profile. The contest had been in existence since 1984 but next weekend’s event is its 25th (it wasn’t held a few years). Now York runs it with his friend Brian Alexander. He says the appeal for him is the chance the forum gives those involved to give back to the community in a fun way.

“We’ve seen some really talented people over the seven years who are deeply committed to the art form,” he says. “And who are equally committed to giving back to the community. We’ve been involved with Whitman-Walker Health, the Trevor Project and so on. Last year, Coti was really involved with speaking out against bullying and gay youth. Victoria did a lot with HIV and AIDS. It’s not just about winning the crown. It’s about doing something with it and giving back.”

A new Miss Gay D.C. will be crowned next weekend at Town. Admission is $10 and those who come to see the pageant can stay all evening at the club. It starts at 6 p.m. Contestants will compete in five categories — interview, evening gown, male interview, solo talent, group talent and on-stage question. He’s not sure how many will compete this year — registrations are accepted until the day before. Usually just five or fewer enter because it takes a lot of preparation. And though some past contestants have been in the house casts at Town or Ziegfeld’s or active in the Academy of Washington, the rigors of being a titleholder are often more than those who perform every weekend in the clubs can commit to. Winning on the national level, especially, can be an all-consuming endeavor. For Coti Collins, though, it was worth it.

Lowman, who has family in Virginia and went to college in West Virginia, now lives in Raleigh, N.C. where he’s been for about eight years. He works by day as a vet assistant but it’s a highly flexible work situation that allows him time to leave for months at a time and perform in Vegas or compete in pageants. He did “La Cage” in Vegas for seven years and does impersonations of Judy Garland and Dolly Parton on stage. For three years in the late ‘90s he was on tour with Reba McIntyre as a sort of drag version of herself. He eschews the drag label though and says he’s really an actor at heart.

He’d been in pageants years ago — he had a rather ignominious start placing 70 out of 71 in the ’87 contest. But the next year he made the top 30 and then in 1990 he was in the top 10. But years of professional work sidelined him and he took a long hiatus until 2005 when he decided to try again and take care of what he calls “unfinished business.” In 2010 he succeeded and was named Miss Gay America 2011.

“I felt complete,” he says. “It was a goal and a dream that was fulfilled. People said, ‘You’re too old to win a pageant,’ but never let anybody else determine your self worth and I never did. I promoted myself and I knew what I could do. It was an uphill battle — I was one of the older contestants, but I was still prepared to win and with the help of Robert and the D.C. family, I accomplished my goal.”

Former judge Sonya Gavankar-McKay, a Miss America vet, says she’s been pleasantly surprised at how professional the pageants are.

“These guys really have a sense of moral character and it’s impressive,” she says. “There’s the drag community and they’re always a little tongue in cheek and sassy and fun and that’s great, but there is an expectation in the pageants that these guys are expected to carry themselves with decorum and class and it speaks a lot to how they appreciate and respect their craft.”

Lowman says York helped him in some of his weaker categories of competition and says though the gowns and wigs can be expensive, winning was not something a dollar value could be put upon.

“Can you put a price on a dream? No, you can’t,” he says. “I’m a pretty passionate person and I try to do my best in everything I do whether it’s female impersonation, casino shows or mowing the grass. I want to be the best I can be. I want to be remembered for making a difference and changing people’s lives. Anybody can just rollercoaster through life, but it’s the ones who do it with passion who make the difference.”

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Arts & Entertainment

After COVID hiatus, John Waters resumes touring schedule

‘Every single thing is different after COVID’



John Watersis on the road again. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For the first time in nearly two years, writer and filmmaker John Waters will be appearing on stage this fall before live audiences in the Baltimore-Washington area, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, is scheduled to bring his spoken-word holiday show, “A John Waters Christmas,” to The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 15, and Baltimore Soundstage on Dec. 21. He’ll also be at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 29 and The Vermont Hollywood on Dec. 2.

Waters’ holiday shows were cancelled in 2020 due to the theater closings and travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some book signings for fans were converted to Zoom sessions. He last toured the country in November and December of 2019.

This year, with vaccinations on the rise, Waters has made a few in-person appearances, including a concert with gay country crooner Orville Peck in Colorado in July, where he was “special guest host”; a Q&A session with fans in Provincetown in August and a music festival last weekend in Oakland, Calif. He’s scheduled to visit another 18 cities between now and the end of the year, including a weekend in Wroclaw, Poland, where he’ll be honored during the American Film Festival there in November.

Waters said he has completely rewritten his spoken-word shows to reflect changes brought about by the COVID pandemic. “I haven’t done it in a year and a half,” he said in an interview with Town & Country magazine. “Every single thing is different after COVID. You cannot do the same show. Nothing’s the same.”

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‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater



Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers



‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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