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Queery: Stephen Decker

The 20 year Scarlet’s Bake Sale veteran on LGBT DC, charity and not being vanilla

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Stephen Decker, Queery, gay news, Washington Blade
Stephen Decker, Queery, gay news, Washington Blade

Stephen Decker (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stephen Decker always knows the day of Scarlet’s Bake Sale is going to be a long one. He’s typically on site at the Eagle from noon until about 9 p.m. but he says it’s always worth the effort. And he should know — he’s been one of the volunteers for about 20 years. For the last three years, he’s been the chair.

“It’s so much fun to watch the competition,” he says. “Trying to see them all outbid each other for that cake or item. It’s just full of fun.”

Scarlet’s Bake Sale, named after the late Ed Nesbitt (whose drag name was Scarlet), is now in its 42nd year. This year’s event is Sunday from 5-8:30 p.m. at the D.C. Eagle (639 New York Ave., N.W.). Look for the event page by searching “Scarlet’s Foundation” on Facebook. This year’s proceeds will benefit SMYAL. Typically about 80 people attend. In addition to the auction, four awards are presented each year. Last year, Decker says about $8,800 was raised for LGBT charities.

The most memorable entry over the years?

“Oh my goodness, there’ve been so many,” Decker says. “One year we had a group bring in a watersports-themed cake. It actually had a figure standing up and a recycling pump in it, so he would actually be peeing on a man down in a pond. It, to me, was the most spectacular.”

Another year, an elaborate 3-D chocolate sculpture of a tree was so impressive it raised $2,400 in three different auctions (each winner kept putting it back up for auction knowing it was a hot item) only to be destroyed on the ride home.

Decker, a Scenery Hill, Pa., native, came to Washington for work in 1980 and has been here ever since. He previously lived in Maryland, Virginia, Mississippi and elsewhere during his growing up years and a stint in the Air Force.

He and husband Ed Moore live together in Brookland. After a long stint as a grant manager with the International Association of Firefighters, he’s looking for a new job.

He enjoys baking, cooking, the leather community and times with friends and extended family in his free time.

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out to myself since high school, but could never do so as the community would have never allowed it and I may not be here now if I did. One of my favorite statements when asked when I knew — it was in seventh grade with the cutest ass that sat in front of me in most all of my classes. I came out to myself in the 1980s but the hardest person to come out was more a fear of my own, it was my mother, who politely told me, “This is supposed to be news to me?” I came out to her in 1995.

Who’s your LGBT hero?
Leonard Matlovich. He received a medal of honor for killing two men and a dishonorable discharge for loving one.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Loved the old DC Eagle on 7th Street before it closed. Today you will find me quite often at the Green Lantern.

Describe your dream wedding.
Our wedding was a dream. Who would ever guess that after being with my love for 22 years we would be able to wed in 2010? I wanted to elope, but our friends would not hear of that. We had an engagement party, two bachelor’s parties and a wedding with two receptions. We had about 30 great and close friends with us at the wedding and over 100 other friends that celebrated us in the other events. We were surrounded by love and it was worth every second.

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Children with no love or home. Everyone deserves love, no matter who provides it.

What historical outcome would you change?
DOMA

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The first Liza with a Z Concert I attended in the 1970s with another Air Force buddy who I think may have liked me for the same reason I liked him.

On what do you insist?
I insist that all are honest with me. I have always stated we can solve all issues.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
It was about the Scarlet’s Bake Sale. Ask everyone to come and have fun with us.

If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Vanilla? I Don’t Think So”

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Hide from it. I am happy to be who I am and with whom I have chosen to live.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
That we are created by God to be who and what we are.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Keep moving forward, the job is not done. We should all have the equal rights just like every other person. Thank you, so far as we have made major movements.

What would you walk across hot coals for?
The love of my life and maybe a cup of hot chocolate on this cold day.

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
People who feel they have to be “straight acting.”

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Rent” — it tackled AIDS, which affects everyone.

What’s the most overrated social custom?
The handshake — why not a warm hug?

What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Black Roses Community Service Award

What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That it was OK to be who I am and not ashamed of it. I let so much get away from me.

Why Washington?
I guess it is the only place I know that the museums are free and that there is so much history here. It’s hard to believe that the Supreme Court area has so much history itself. Check it out sometime.

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Real Estate

Thinking of renting your place short-term in D.C.?

Here are some key factors to consider

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You’ll need a license if renting your place in D.C.

Summer is coming, and in D.C., many homeowners turn their attention to generating revenue from their primary D.C. residence while they are away for the summer. Due to the way some D.C. employers enable staff to work remotely and permit longer vacation schedules in the summer months, many owners can find extra income annually by considering short-term rentals. Here are a few key things you should know before getting started.  

In 2021 the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs announced it was “finally ready to start implementing and enforcing ” a law passed three years earlier for short-term rentals (AirBnB, VRBO, etc.). According to DCist, the agency started accepting license applications for short-term rentals on Jan. 10 last year and started enforcing the law’s provisions in April 2022.

According to Martin Austermuhle’s “D.C. to Start Restricting Airbnb and Other Short-Term Rentals” he wrote for DCist, “The law applies specifically to short-term rentals, those lasting less than 30 days at a time. Under the new law, any D.C. homeowner who wants to rent out a bedroom, basement, or entire home on Airbnb or any other platform has to get a short-term rental license from DCRA. (The two-year license costs $104.50.)”

Charlotte Perry, owner of LUXbnb, a property manager specializing in furnished short-term rentals in D.C. for more than 15 years, is a trusted partner to Columbia Property Management. She shared her expertise and guidance with me on short-term rentals. Her business, LUXbnb, punches above its weight in the D.C. area, bringing owners greater opportunity to realize the gains they hope to make. She brings deep insight into what you can expect if you were to go down this path with your property. 

Companies like hers function like any other property manager might. LUXbnb collects the rents, “hotel” taxes, security deposits, departure cleaning, and any other applicable feeds on behalf of the owner. They manage turnover between guests including cleaning and any needed repairs. And at the end of each month, they release the rental income earned less the management fee and any repair costs or new purchases.

In the District, if the owner resides at the house during the rental, s/he can host short-term renters all year long with no consequence. However, if, like many of Charlotte’s clients, the owner is renting their property while they are gone during the summer or while on assignment for, say, the World Bank, those owners can only do so for a total of 90 days for the entire year. Owners like these will want to consider that under the new law, you cannot rent out your second home as an Airbnb/VRBO short term rental, and so knowing the regulations can save you a lot of headaches.

Registration Requirements  

Did you know all short-term rental hosts in D.C. are required to obtain a Short-term Rental License? 

According to the Office of Short-term Rental Licensing, “In order to operate a short-term or vacation rental in the District, the property must be owned by an individual, and serve as a homeowner’s primary residence – with the owner being eligible to receive the Homestead Tax Deduction. ”

To be eligible for such a license the home must be your primary residence and owner-occupied.  You will need to provide DC’s Office of Short-term Rental Licensing (DLCP) the following:

Specify whether you currently have a Homestead Exemption on the property.

Proof of your liability insurance with a minimum of $250,000 in coverage. (See below for more details).

A Certificate of Clean Hands issued within the last 30 days in the property owners name must be obtained from the Office of Tax and Revenue.

The owner, or “host,” must attest to the habitability of the property.

If the rental is a co-op, condo, or if the property is in a community where there is a homeowners’ association, the owner must attest that the bylaws, house rules, or other governing documents of the homeowner/condo/ cooperative governing board or association allow short-term and/or vacation rentals, do not prohibit owners from operating short-term rentals and/or vacation rentals, or that they have received written permission from the association to operate a short-term and/or vacation rental at the address.

Once you have successfully registered with DLCP, you will be provided with a license. You will then upload this Short-term Rental License number into your property profile in both Airbnb and VRBO. Those sites will then provide bookings for “under-31-nights” on your property.  

By working with an experienced rental property manager specializing in furnished temporary stays, you can ensure that you’re operating your short-term rental legally and safely. Better yet, you can avoid any penalties or fines that could result from non-compliance with District regulations.

Some factors you might want to consider on your journey to short-term rental success:

Cleaning Fee and Preparation Service

Perhaps you’ll want to have a cleaning service at-the-ready in case your renters have a slight disaster while they’re there. Or maybe you’ll want a service to clean prior to arrivals and directly after departures, so you can quickly turnaround the property for further rental. 

Pets

Do you want pets in your home while you’re away? If so, you might want to add in an automatic post-stay pet cleaning fee to cover the expense of hair and other less pleasant odor removal.

Insurance/Accidental Damage

Charlotte’s company takes out a $3,000 accidental damage insurance policy on every stay in lieu of holding a damage deposit. The cost to the guest is $39 per rental. This insurance is a safe-guard for the guest, property owner and her company, of course. This insurance policy “allows for the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another – in this case the insurance company. It is a simple way for all parties involved to mitigate risk, and most importantly, provides peace-of-mind.”

Liability Insurance

As you saw above, the District requires all owners to possess a liability insurance policy with a minimum of $250,000 in coverage to gain a license in the District. A variety of companies can help, according to the Motley Fool’s “The Ascent” newsletter, but some do this faster and better than others. And they even recommend ones that are best for Airbnb and VRBO rental owners. The Ascent’s best homeowners insurance for short-term rentals include the following:

Allstate Insurance: Best for possessing a large network of agents

Proper Insurance: Best for Airbnb and VRBO owners

Nationwide Insurance : Best for bundling policies

Farmers Insurance : Best for vacation rentals

Steadily Insurance: Best for getting coverage quickly

Safely Insurance: Best for fast claims processing

Should you have further questions or seek to explore the option of short or mid-term rentals, do not hesitate to contact Charlotte Perry directly at 202-341-8799 or [email protected]

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

For more information and resources, visit ColumbiaPM.com.

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Business

Montgomery County supports LGBTQ businesses amid ‘headwinds’

Economic Development Corporation leader on overcoming barriers to success

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MCEDC President and CEO Bill Tompkins and Facility Logic Founder and President Pat Larrabee.

Growing up Black in the D.C. area, Bill Tompkins learned early to appreciate diversity. In Maryland, as president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, this understanding drives his support for LGBTQ-owned businesses. 

“With the headwinds that the LGBTQ community runs into, we want to make sure we’re giving everyone the right opportunity to do well here,” Tompkins said. 

The corporation, created in 2016 as a public-private economic development organization, helps businesses start, grow and relocate in Montgomery County. They are also tasked with supporting underserved communities.

“MCEDC staff know our capabilities very well and that we’re experts in what we do,” said Pat Larrabee, founder and president of Facility Logix, a firm assisting biotech companies with relocating to specialized facilities. “They’ve been very helpful to us and our clients, and on projects.”

Larrabee, a Vermont native, met her partner during a softball game in Montgomery County. They married and raised three daughters in the county in part because of the “favorable environment.”

In 2020, Montgomery County unanimously passed Maryland’s first LGBTQ Bill of Rights, which included adding gender expression and HIV status to existing anti-discrimination protections. 

“We’re always doing these things because it’s the right thing to do,”  Tompkins explained. 

However, across the country many LGBTQ businesses struggle to survive, citing access to capital as a significant problem. 

Challenges accessing capital 

Nationally, LGBTQ-owned small businesses were more likely to report operational and financial challenges, according to a 2022 report released by the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research and the Movement Advancement, using data from the Federal Reserve Bank’s annual Small Business Credit Survey. 

Inc. Magazine, in partnership with the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, StartOut and MasterCard, reported 82 percent of LGBTQ business owners said limited access to capital affected their day-to-day operations, and 93 percent stated it limited their ability to grow.   

“Small businesses, particularly those that are LGBTQ+ owned, often face unique challenges and barriers to success,” Larry G. Webb, the district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Washington Metropolitan Area District Office stated in an email to the Blade. 

Webb, who resides with his husband in the region, also stated LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and small business owners have access to all of the programs and services SBA offers, including counseling and training, loans and capital, contracting programs and disaster recovery assistance. 

“By providing support and resources, we can help to level the playing field that gives businesses a better chance at success, and help to strengthen the social bonds that hold our communities together,” he stated. 

Maryland is among 34 states without credit and lending nondiscrimination laws explicitly protecting LGBTQ borrowers, according to the Movement Advancement Project.  

“Obviously, this can create a difficult environment for LGBTQ+ businesses to thrive,” said Terri Hett, Maryland LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce Board President, also citing the current political environment as concerning for some chamber members. “Of course, additional economic support with the state and local governments would be extremely helpful. This could include grants or legislation that continues to support and protect these business owners.”

Tompkins agreed that “credit risk is a big challenge” facing many small business owners, including members of the LGBTQ community. 

But he also pointed to Denizens Brewing Co., co-founded by married partners Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti, as just one example where working together can help overcome those challenges. 

Denizens, like other businesses in the county, received support and resources from the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. 

Last year, the corporation was approved by the state to provide loans through Maryland’s Small, Minority and Women-Owned Business Account. 

The Accelerating Community Excellence (ACE) Loan fund will provide $1.5 million in financial assistance to assist eligible businesses in underserved communities. 

“We’re the only fund agent in Montgomery County to provide loans to underserved communities, to include LGBT-owned businesses,” Tompkins said. “People who apply to us may have been turned down by banks. But we know FICO scores are just a small part of the equation.”

These supports could help many LGBTQ-owned businesses, particularly bars and restaurants, in their struggle to survive. 

Jan Guttman, a MoCo Pride Center board member and parent of a nonbinary trans youth, has been working to create a local LGBTQ chamber of commerce to help local businesses network and share resources. 

“It’s been difficult,” she admitted. “We’ve had businesses coming and going, and one that went under.”

Guttman, a former educator who worked with at-risk youth, said it’s important because these business owners and entrepreneurs serve as vital role models for LGBTQ youth.

“I started trying to gather Montgomery County owned and operated businesses that would want to share my vision of this workspace where the front part would be aimed at LGBTQ adults – to have a space to sit with their laptop – so kids could see them,” Guttman explained. “Because they often don’t see their future selves.”

Her goal is to secure a location and financing for a community co-working space, where LGBTQ professionals can network and, most importantly, where LGBTQ youth can see them and be inspired to succeed. They also serve as safe spaces for LGBTQ youth to work and be themselves. 

Small businesses as community ‘backbone’

Webb also pointed out that local small businesses are the “job creators and economic engine” for the country as a whole. 

“Small business owners not only earn a living for themselves,” he said. “They are the backbone of many communities that help drive our nation’s economic strength. Providing support and resources for small businesses, including those that are LGBTQ+ owned, is essential for their success and for the overall health of the economy.”

Similarly, the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation has supported LGBTQ-owned businesses across a variety of fields in an effort to support local diversity and their economy. 

Tompkins works closely with county government officials to coordinate their economic development priorities and short-term needs with MCEDC’s current business activities. He has a long record in business operations, strategic planning, marketing, and nonprofit management, serving for most of his career as a senior executive in the media and entertainment industries with Fortune 500 companies. He has worked for the Washington Post and served as president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents more than 200 Black-owned-and-operated newspapers across the nation.

“Where there is prejudice, there are barriers,” Tompkins said. “If you’re going to be a part of the DMV, then you should be very embracing of those with backgrounds that are similar to yours and different.”

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Real Estate

Multiple options for buying a beach house meant for rentals

Consider going in with friends, making use of the off season

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Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

As we near the summer season and you hear the beach calling and taste the orange crushes – let’s take a look at a few ways to make those dreams a reality. The real estate market across the U.S. is still very hot due to the lack of inventory and the higher interest rates. However, when looking at an investment property, it’s a little easier to stomach a higher interest rate when it is offset by rental income. Let’s take a look at a few of the options we have for rental styles.

The typical idea of a beach vacation is for a week right? While we wish it were longer (and it can be!) the usual summer beach vacation is a week long. In the Rehoboth and Delaware coast region – most homes rent for a week at a time in the summer season. While the idea here is to make the most you can in summer rentals – you as the owner, of course, can always block off weeks when you want to use the home for your personal use. Talk about the best of both worlds.

Short-term rentals are a great way to make some extra money. If you plan to use your beach house for most of the season but know you have a wedding weekend here and a week long vacation planned in the Bahamas – then put that on a short term rental site for those dates. This way you can make a little extra money. Most of the time, you can make as much or even more than a weekly rental scenario. Short-term rentals are great for the sporadic renter – if you want to use your home most of the time but you want to rent it out every other weekend and during the week all of August – you don’t have the need for the “my family rents this home the same week every week and has done so for three years now…” kind of dedicated renters. It is important to make sure that your community allows for short-term rentals or this option might not be possible for you.

If you know anything about the coastal regions in the Northeast – things in the winter are not like they are in the summer. In my humble opinion – they are better! But I digress. If you are looking at a rental pro-forma and wonder if it makes sense to winterize your beach house or to rent it out, I would say rent it. You can easily rent for long weekends in the “off season” and in most cases you can also rent to one person for the entire off season period as off-season rentals are hard to come by in most markets. In this case, you wouldn’t charge the same premium you do during the summer. 

I have mentioned this ownership option before. If you have a group of friends that love to kiki in Rehoboth then it might just be an option to get four together and buy a house. I would say this option is a risky one and one I would highly encourage you to speak to an attorney about. The idea here is that an arrangement would be formed to outline what party uses the home during which periods of time. Expenses would be split based on share of the home.

Oftentimes people forget that you can often provide your rental home to a charity event for example an item at a silent auction for your children’s school gala. A portion would be tax deductible and as such is a savings for you that year. Of course – speak with a CPA to ensure these items are true and correct for you.

The above options are all great ideas in black and white on paper — but what option will work best for you is based on what you want, where you want to be, and for the last option, how well you trust your friends who you might be interested in doing a group beach house option with. In this case I would highly recommend speaking with an attorney who can walk you through the pros and cons of a group purchase with multiple people on a deed and mortgage. 

Cheers to a happy, healthy, and fun 2023 summer season and hope you can make your beach house dream a reality – I’m here to help.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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