David Lett understands that people see his two jobs — he’s a priest with the North American Old Catholic Church but is better known in the D.C. gay world as Lena Lett, drag hostess of the weekly shows at Town — as wildly dissimilar. He doesn’t find them as polar opposite as others, though.
“I don’t know that I’ve done enough introspection to think it all through fully, but I think in many ways, these roles exist equally,” he says. “To be a drag performer, you have to be confident, you have to be able to put yourself in front of people, sometimes you make a fool of yourself, but you take them from wherever they are and take them to a different place. A priest does a lot of the same thing, there’s just not as much liquor going around. But you take them from where they are, hopefully, to transcend to a better spot. The basic tenets of the roles are identical, it’s just the means by which they are done is completely different.”
Lett, a D.C. native, grew up Roman Catholic and immediately after high school went on a trajectory to become ordained in the Roman Church. He studied philosophy and theology and did post-graduate work in Italy — the only one from his Scranton, Pa., class to be chosen to study in Rome, where he was for about three years. But shortly before taking vows, the gravity of it all started to hit home and Lett had major reservations.
“I was reaching a point shortly before ordination and I know it sounds crazy, but it was close enough that you could almost taste it and … it was really starting to hit home. I knew in my heart I could not stand before God and make those promises if I didn’t think I could keep them.”
Part of it was being gay, he says, but another concern was having not had enough life experience of his own, yet, to feel he’d be an effective pastor.
In the following years, Lett worked in fundraising, for the Red Cross and then managed a Washington Video franchise where, about 18 years ago, Lena was born. Lett never lost his faith or stopped going to church but in the last few years discovered he could have an outlet for his pastoral aspirations in the North American Old Catholic Church, a liberal, progressive Catholic group that parted with the Vatican over doctrinal differences. Lett was ordained — no celibacy vows required — in December 2011. He fills in at Masses all over the region at Old Catholic parishes that need clergy.
Lett is single and lives in Silver Spring. He enjoys cooking and photo editing in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Twenty-four years and the hardest person I had to tell was myself. Everyone else seemed to already have known.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
All those who have lost their lives because of what they are at the hands of ignorance and hatred.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Describe your dream wedding.
One in which I am a guest.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Feeding the hungry.
What historical outcome would you change?
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Seeing gay characters on mainstream television that were not the murderers, child molesters or deviants of the plot.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A Palm Sunday preparation photo.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“A Work in Progress”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Nothing. I was made this way. Just because one can do something does not mean one should.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
A spiritual world. Death does not end life, it merely changes it.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Be careful not to sacrifice our diversity for the sake of trying to gai
gain equality. Otherwise you have lost both.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
I try not to find myself in that situation.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
Gay men are sissies, drag queens are stupid and that if you are part of the LGBT community you are faithless and flawed.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“The Sound of Music”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I am not motivated by awards. I am pleased when I receive one, however it has been my experience that when one seeks an award, one loses sight of all the other things good going on.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
The things that seemed so absolutely important and necessary at the time would eventually become not important at all later in life.
There’s no place like Rome, I mean home.