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Back to School

How it got better at American University



Fay Jacobs, Salina Rivera, American University, gay news, Washington Blade
Fay Jacobs, American University, gay news, Washington Blade

Fay Jacobs (AU, circa 1970) strumming in the dorm, at a very different time for gay students. (Photo courtesy of Jacobs)

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in our “Back To School” series assessing the LGBT climate on university campuses as told by alumni we’re pairing with current students to tell their stories. This week: Fay Jacobs and American University. Visit for previous installments. 

On May 4, 1970, when the tragedy at Kent State burst onto the screen, Neil Young wrote the unforgettable anti-war lyrics “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming.” Fay Jacobs, a senior at American University was accustomed to participating in anti-war rallies on campus in front of the Mary Graydon Center. The news came only twice daily back then — broadcast on console TVs the size of today’s Mini Cooper. But the pot boiled over the next day on Cinco de Mayo with AU students protesting more vociferously than ever. Typically, the protests were handled by campus police, but this time, the D.C. police showed up with noxious tear gas.

Jacobs was in rehearsal for a French Operetta in the campus theater. When the tear gas missed the activists and landed on the steps of the theater, the actors, singers, musicians and men in tights all went running in different directions.

“I hid in the bushes with my pal Rob,” she recalls. “It was all very frightening.  Except for the guys in tights running amok. Come on, that’s funny.”

You’d expect nothing less from a renowned comedy writer who’s published two books: “As I Lay Frying” and “Fried and True” — a woman whose favorite movie was “Funny Girl” and whose father taught her that no experience should be considered bad if you can tell a good story about it later. And so we sit to talk about her experiences at AU “back in the day” and the trek that brought her out of the closet and into the bright light of lesbianism.

It would be decades before Melissa Etheridge would walk across fire for another woman. So, like most of us in those days without visible gays, Jacobs focused on textbooks and the bard, lived isolated in the closet, conforming to hetero ideals and dated men.

Her focus was on politics and social justice. Long before RFK was a stadium named in memoriam, she campaigned for Robert F. Kennedy, the man. She vividly recalls the candlelight vigil the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. And the many war protests. She could wage a full-throated protest against the war but remain mute about the war within. It was just too risky. Her own struggle for authenticity would be deferred for a decade, until after she graduated and kicked down the closet door.

Salina Rivera, American University, gay news, Washington Blade

Salina Rivera (class of 2014) benefits from an LGBT student center on campus. (Photo by Josh Halprin)

AU senior Salina Rivera stands on the same steps of Mary Graydon Center 43 years later and points north.

“My girlfriend and I live about a five-minute walk that way,” she says. Ironically, it’s not far from where Jacobs’ closet was. Out since age 13, and so grateful for her loving parents, she’s only sorry that her father died before she could tell him.

“He was a corrections officer in that male-dominated environment, and yet he never made me feel odd for being the Tom Boy,” Rivera said. “We always played basketball together. I know he’d understand me.” After his untimely death, her mother carried the torch of accepting parent and is, today, Rivera’s straight hero. “I have never met a stronger, more loving person.”

With such solid loving support, the Bronx native blossomed.  She was class president in high school and today she is proud to be one of seven founding sisters of AU’s chapter of the lesbian Gamma Rho Lambda sorority — one of five LGBTQ organizations on campus. Her queer peers can join other active organizations and have access to “Safe Space 2.0” and a course named “Trans 101.”  She and her girlfriend attend campus events together — usually rallies for social justice. Holding hands. Ho hum. “It’s hard to believe students were ever in the closet here at AU,” Rivera said. “It’s so progressive and inclusive today, but I realize it’s a privilege not to be taken lightly.”

Erin Fuller, immediate past president of the AU Alumni Association, and a straight ally agreed.

“As a student in the 80’s, I watched in awe this year as the campus greeted the coming out of their immediate past president of student government as a transgender person with a collective, supportive shrug. I see the amazing work that the entire division of Student Life does to support everyone from first-generation college attendees to students celebrating their cultural, ethnic and sexual identities, and it makes me incredibly proud to be a part of something so wonderful and so important.”

In hindsight, Jacobs’ life blossomed quickly after she came out. She’s not at all bitter about the late start in life and that in her 31st year, it was time to write her own story.   Today she’s driving back to her home in Rehoboth Beach from Dover, Del., where she’s celebrating the movement toward marriage equality with her straight hero, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. She’s a local celebrity in Rehoboth. Her zany wife Bonnie is the love of her life and the subject of many of her regular columns in Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. From their madcap adventures in the RV, to their frequent visits to the ER, Jacobs chronicles their hysterical antics.

It wasn’t always a bed of roses for Jacobs. Shortly after graduation she married Bob, a classmate, who made a living playing the accordion. It wasn’t long before they both knew something was amiss. I ask if they got together after the break up to watch Lawrence Welk, where accordions ruled.

“No, I moved on, man-free and accordion-less.”

Barbara Gittings, the lesbian activist who picketed the White House in 1967 and founded Daughters of Bilitis is her gay hero.

“She was relentless, brave, determined and most importantly, a heck of a lot of fun,” Jacobs said. Pre-Stonewall, Barbara was one of several brave souls that demonstrated each year on the Fourth of July in Philadelphia. Asked about her gay hero, Rivera thinks for a moment and then points to the office of the coordinator of the LGBTQ Center where we are chatting: “It would be Matt Bruno. He’s unbelievable. Whether it’s help with a cover letter or a fight with my girlfriend, he’s always there for me.”

The Center of campus has an interesting story. Mary Graydon was a generous benefactor of AU until her death in 1926. She’s famous for focusing on the education of women, once saying, “I prefer to put money into brains rather than stone and mortar.”  And so after many years of supporting women’s academics, the university honored her with stone and mortar. Her famous building is considered the center of campus and houses our LGBTQ Center.

Salina is reading Jacobs’ current column about how tiring the marriage fight is when you’re 60 something.

“I think Fay needs to come here and put her feet up and let us do some of the heavy lifting now,” Rivera said. She is planning to host Jacobs for a reading of her short stories in the LGBTQ Center this fall. Time has moved on. Jacobs graduated and came out. Nixon’s long gone. “Tin soldiers” include LGBT citizens. Nixon once lamented that “you can’t appreciate the view from the mountaintop until you’ve been in the darkest valley.” For entirely different reasons, Jacobs can relate.

So, hosted by Rivera and her queer peers, Jacobs can prop her feet up on Matt’s desk in a center that didn’t exist in her day. Holding her wife’s hand, she will read aloud her AU/GayU retrospective: “The tear gas was scary. I hid in the bushes for the riot and in the closet by necessity. But there were these men in tights running hither and yon and somehow I knew this story would be funny one day.”

Jacobs’ dad would be proud of her finding a good story in this. Mary Graydon’s investment in the brain trust of AU’s women has paid off in both gray matter and stone and mortar. We will tell our own stories from an LGBTQ Center.

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Surprise rides of 2022

Fun, frugal, and full of frills



Nissan Frontier

Each January, I list my top vehicle picks of the year. But with so many contenders this year, the focus this time is on surprise rides: Three solid choices that are unexpectedly fun, frugal and full of frills.

Mpg: 18 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Sure, Tesla, Rivian and other newcomers may be garnering lots of press these days. But other automakers also have been upping their game. Cue the Nissan Frontier pickup, completely redesigned with bold, bad-boy styling. This includes a pugnacious grill, menacing headlights and sleek LED taillights. Inside, new laminated side windows reduce wind and road noise. Refined, soft-touch surfaces are a pleasant surprise, as are various clever storage spaces. And then there are the zero-gravity seats, built to alleviate driver fatigue. Despite the space-age description, these NASA-inspired seats have a traditional design but are built with 14 different pressure points to reduce stress on tired muscles. They may not be as fancy as massaging seats in luxury vehicles, but they feel just as effective. Other cabin niceties include large easy-to-read gauges and an optional 9-inch touchscreen, along with wireless charging, Wi-Fi and 10-speaker Fender stereo. One minor annoyance: the steering column tilts but has no telescopic function. While there may be a few less-expensive pickups on dealer lots, none come with as many features. As for performance, the 310-horsepower V6 is the best in its class, and overall handling is more akin to a well-mannered SUV than a workhorse hauler. For off-road enthusiasts, a Pro-4X model comes with heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear differential for better grip and beefy all-terrain tires.

16 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Jeep Wagoneer

While oversized rides don’t really fit my urban identity, the all-new Jeep Wagoneer had me almost pining for a Brady Bunch lifestyle in the burbs. Out of production since 1991, this resurrected land yacht made me feel safe and secure on the road. It also tapped into my love of a beloved cruiser: the Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon that I drove across country in my 20s. (Alas, those tawdry travel tales are another story.) But while such behemoths may be described as big and boxy, the Wagoneer is definitely chic, echoing many of the more sculpted elements of a ritzy Range Rover. Powered by a gutsy V8 Hemi engine, this super-sized SUV quickly hustles down the road. A mild-hybrid system not only helps conserve fuel but also adds some extra oomph. Front-wheel drive comes standard, though many buyers will prefer one of the four-wheel-drive options for even better drivability. Air suspension lets you raise and lower the Wagoneer, which has up to 10 inches of ground clearance and can trek through two feet of water. Along with offering more standard features than most competitors, there’s also more second- and third-row legroom. The rich interior, with contrast piping and stitching on the seats, includes a wraparound dashboard with up to three large screens. Two more screens are available for rear-seat passengers, who can stream thousands of programs via the Wi-Fi. Notable amenities include automated parking, rear-seat monitoring camera and premium 19-speaker McIntosh stereo. Fully loaded, a Wagoneer can reach $75,000. That’s still less than the primo Grand Wagoneer ($89,000), which can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in a wickedly fast 5.7 seconds. That glam model, with goodies such as a refrigerated front console and a hidden touchpad safe to store valuables, can easily top $100,000.

Mpg: 24 city/31 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.6 seconds

Mitsubishi Outlander

Of the three vehicles reviewed here, the updated Mitsubishi Outlander was the biggest surprise. After all, the automaker isn’t the most popular or reliable brand on the block. But like a washed-up diva making a stunning comeback, the Outlander is now taking its star turn in the highly competitive crossover market. The overall styling is dazzling, with sheet metal that has been stretched and pulled into an edgy origami design. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue, this new Outlander is taller, wider and longer than that popular compact. It also offers a third seat, even if legroom here is miniscule. And despite what is a capable but rather tepid engine, the Outlander handling is crisp and spirited. Driver visibility is especially good, and I found the cabin to be pleasantly quiet. But most notable are all the amenities, including head-up display, wireless smartphone integration, 10-speaker Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, heated steering wheel, heated seats (both front and back), a full slate of the latest safety gear and much more. Another plus: the 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. All in all, it’s nice to see Mitsubishi start to regain its footing—with the Outlander center stage.

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Real Estate

Is cash always king?

How to stay competitive in the face of all-cash offers



With more all-cash offers these days, there are still ways to stay competitive if you need a mortgage.

One of the frequently asked questions I get as a real estate agent serving the DC Metro area and Delaware beaches is: How can I be competitive in a market that is seeing an increase in all-cash offers? 

I get it, the real estate market is super competitive, but it’s not just because of the low inventory, it’s also because of the cash offers sellers are seeing.

Money is money right? Why would a seller be inclined to take a lower all-cash offer versus a higher offer with a mortgage. Let’s break it down a bit. 

An all-cash offer usually comes with very limited contingencies in addition to the more important piece, which is the timing. A cash sale can close in less than a week whereas a sale with a conventional mortgage can usually only be expedited to a 21-day close. Don’t lose hope! There are still a few ways you can have a competitive edge over cash offers with a few steps your agent can advise you through:

OFFER CASH – THEN ACQUIRE FINANCING: If the stars align and you are purchasing a home that the sellers currently reside in, you can expect that they will need some time to gather their items and move — they also have to gather their great great grandmother’s wedding dress and Uncle Fester’s golf clubs that they just HAVE to keep. This will allow you time to go the conventional mortgage route. Please note that this is a very detailed alteration and it is recommended fully that you speak with your real estate agent prior to doing this to ensure that you are fully educated with the pros and cons of this method and what is at risk. The biggest item to highlight is that a mortgage comes with the infamous appraisal. The appeal of an all-cash offer is that there is no appraisal. With a mortgage an appraisal is required. If the appraisal comes in low, you will need to be ready to come to the table with the difference in appraised value – in cash. For example: Appraised value is $100,000 and you are under contract for $200,000 – that is a delta of $100,000, which you will need to come up with in cash in order to continue with the transaction, separate from any other monies you have already placed down.

OFFER $$$ OVER LOW APPRAISAL: Following up on the appraisal aspect here – you can write a contract with financing in place from the onset and provide an addendum that you will pay the difference in low appraisal (referencing the example above) or you can offer an alternative that would be to pay up to XX over a low appraisal. In this example of paying a dollar amount over a low appraisal, you write into the contract that you are going to offer $50,000 over the appraisal if it is a low appraisal. So if the contract price is $150,000 and you offer to pay $25,000 over a low appraisal value and the property is valued with appraisal at $125k then you would have to pay a total of $150k for the home and that $25k difference would, again, need to be in cash. This allows a bit of leverage with lower cash amounts on hand – but again similar to the example of acquiring financing above, the sellers must allow for the timing of a mortgage application process to occur.

GIFTS FROM FAMILY: What is family for if it isn’t for providing you large sums of cash!? In all seriousness – this is a fully accepted method of cash funds. You will want to speak to a financial planner/tax individual to fully understand tax implications for both parties (giftor and giftee) to fully understand what this means, but there is always the ability to be gifted funds from parents, aunts, uncles etc., to ensure that you are liquid and can purchase the property of your dreams.

OFFER “RENT BACK” TO SELLERS: Following the guise that the sellers must find a property to purchase or perhaps they are moving across the country and need a month or two in order to get their affairs in order. This allows you to provide a “rent back” to the sellers and basically become their landlord. In this scenario you would typically charge them rent, which would be equal to your carrying costs for your home expenses. For the purposes of being competitive in this market, you can offer a “rent FREE rent back” where you afford them the ability to sell the home to you and they still reside in the home for an established time post closing at no cost to them. This sounds silly — why would you let someone stay in your new home rent free for two months when that means that you are paying for your mortgage and other expenses in addition to rent for an apartment or maybe shacking up with mom and dad again? 

It’s important to remember that in order to get a property in this market there is the need to think creatively if you don’t have all the cash in the world — you can still be VERY competitive.

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

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Real Estate

Leather and lace in your home decor

From couches to countertops, add some flair



Leather isn’t just for couches anymore; you can find it in countertops and a wide range of décor.

When I was very young, I would visit my maternal grandmother and marvel at the hand-tatted and crocheted doilies that adorned the arms and backs of her sofa and chairs. They were also found on her dressers and side tables, and on the dining table as coasters and placemats, to prevent scratches on the furniture. Like snowflakes, the designs of the doilies were both intricate and individual.

I’m convinced that people had better posture in the early 20th century, because I never saw the remnants of men’s hair tonic, Macassar oil, or pomade on Nana’s doilies, even though they were there to keep the furniture from absorbing those hair products. Certainly, people weren’t the couch potatoes lounging on sofas then that we are today. Being able to Netflix and chill was a long way off.

I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone into such a little piece of fabric, so I later tried to learn to crochet. Sadly, all I was able to accomplish was string after string, never having been taught how to join those strings together to resemble a doily. At least with knitting, I was able to form squares large enough to be blankets for my Barbie.

In my mid-century childhood, doilies were put away and saved for grandchildren who, years later, would neither want them nor appreciate their historical value. The ‘50s saw polyvinyl chloride (PVC) go from a commercial substance used frequently in post-WWII construction to a residential fabric that we now refer to fondly as “pleather.” I can still remember the sound of my thighs peeling off the vinyl banquette at the diner when I would get up to leave a booth.

To be without a leather couch in the ‘60s was déclassé and, although styles have changed, such a couch remains a timeless piece. These days, if you are looking for a little more leather in your life and in your home, you can look beyond that couch and chair, where options range from the subdued to the highly decorative.

While vinyl is still the least expensive leather-look fabric, we now have “bonded” leather, made with scraps that are bonded together using polyurethane or latex. As you can tell from the prices of such furniture, the actual leather used in the process can vary from 10-90 percent.

Of course, top grain leather is the most expensive, and we have suede, die cut, embossed, patent, and a variety of other techniques used to change the look of a hide. In addition, there is now vegan leather.

For something unique for your kitchen or bar, check out the tooled leather countertop from Kosel Saddlery ( in Montana. They also make saddles and chaps.

Instead of the shiny granite counters that we all know, MSI Surfaces ( makes honed and leathered granite finishes for a more subtle appearance and has dealers throughout the DMV. 

For a do-it-yourself application, Amazon sells the Aspect brand eight-pack of leather glass, peel and stick subway tiles for backsplashes in five neutral colors for less than $20 each.

EcoDomo ( in Gaithersburg offers a variety of custom leather treatments, including countertops, door and cabinet panels, floor planks and tiles, and wall systems. Your color choices aren’t limited to black or brown either. They can manufacture pieces in blue, red, green, and even in custom colors to match other items in your décor.

Many online stores such as Wayfair and Overstock carry real and faux leather headboards, footstools, poufs and benches at affordable prices. 

There’s always something in leather at Pottery Barn, even for the conservative budget: pieced leather pillows, tufted stools, basket collections, and even a leather-bound coffee table book for cigar aficionados. 

If you’re looking for small accent pieces, try a leather coaster, placemat, napkin ring, or my personal favorite, a cutlery pouch for your tableware collection from Lucrin Geneva ( They also offer office accessories such as crocodile desk sets, wastebaskets and storage boxes.

And for the connoisseur of leather, vinyl, rubber, or even neoprene items of a more personal nature, head to the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency this Friday through Sunday for Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend. With plenty of specialty items, high-impact fashion, toys and games for all ages and yes, even custom-made furniture among the vendor exhibitions, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy.

Just remember that you (and your puppy) must both be vaccinated and masked to attend. We take COVID (and rabies) very seriously here in D.C.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate.  Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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