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Actor/singer savoring regional run in ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’

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Levi Kreis, gay news, Washington Blade
Levi Kreis, gay news, Washington Blade

Levi Kreis says singing and recording are his first love. His passions collide with ‘Smokey Joe’s Café,’ the Broadway hit re-imagined at Arena Stage. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Levi Kreis

‘Smokey Joe’s Café’

Through June 8

Arena Stage

1101 6th St., S.W.

$50-99

202-488-3300

arenastage.org

Levi Kreis will be the first to tell you that his heart does not belong to Broadway. But that doesn’t mean the out singer/actor has turned his back on musical theater. Currently he’s starring in Arena Stage’s production of the Broadway hit “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and loving every minute of it.

At a sit-down in one of Arena’s aquarium-like conference rooms, Kreis shares his thoughts on life, career and working in D.C. Settling into his chair, he takes in the view — sailboats glide past on the calm Washington Channel and pink blossoms move in the breeze. The sun is bright. He squints slightly and says, “Really beautiful. This is my first time seeing this. I’ve been in rehearsal all day.”

The longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, “Smokey Joe’s Café” is a hard-driving tribute to the legendary rock ‘n roll songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. With almost 40 songs, it features huge hits like “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” “Love Potion #9” and “On Broadway.”

Though he’d never seen the show, Kreis was eager to be a part of this production. “I’d heard great things about our director Randy Johnson (who staged the terrific ‘One Night with Janis Joplin’ that played at Arena before moving to New York). Also my representatives were enthusiastic about me starting relationship with Arena. But mostly it was because I feel a special connection to Leiber and Stoller’s music.”

“There’s a story behind this,” says Kreis putting on a strong Tennessee accent. “As a teenager in small town Oliver Springs, Tennessee, my mother, Connie Lee, was president of the Brenda Lee fan club. They met, and by the time I was born they were really good friends. At 8 or 9, I’d seen 36 of her performances. She sang Leiber and Stoller songs like ‘Kansas City’ and ‘Saved.’ I cut my teeth on this stuff. So it’s a real thrill for me to be doing it now.”

Working with Johnson has proved to be even better than he’d hoped, says Kreis, 32. “This version of the show is definitely not the same show that people saw in New York. Randy has re-imagined a sexier, edgier, more soulful version, assigning songs to different characters. He’s really created his own vision.” Kreis adds that Johnson carefully selected a nine-person cast whose three leads (Kreis, E. Faye Butler and Nova Y. Paton) know how to make a song their own.

“Randy and our musical director Victor Simonson have been very generous in allowing us to find our own interpretations of these well-known songs. It’s very challenging and exciting to make songs like ‘Stand By Me’ your own, but that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

He’s equally stoked about sharing a stage with the versatile Butler and big-voiced Payton, two Helen Hayes Award-winning D.C. favorites: “I have to make myself stay in the moment on stage. When I’m facing off singing with either of these women I want to forget I’m an actor and simply enjoy them. They’re so good. I have to resist to getting totally enamored.”

His favorite moment of the show is a singing “Kansas City” with Butler and Payton. Kreis says they’ve created a great sound with a Manhattan Transfer vibe. Another favorite is his solo “I Keep Forgettin’,” a tune about lost love. “Finding where that is from an emotional standpoint has been really intense,” he says. “And I like intense.”

Whether gospel, rhythm and blues, rock or show tunes, music has always come naturally for Kreis. He tells a story about coming home from kindergarten graduation back in Oliver Springs, and picking out “Pomp and Circumstance” on the family’s old upright piano. Family lore says he got it from his great grandmother who played banjo by ear. At 12, he was performing in a different church every weekend, and by 15, he was touring the south with his own gospel album.

After college in Tennessee, Kreis left for Los Angeles to pursue a music career.  Recording companies didn’t quite know what to do with the good-looking, charming southerner whose strong voice was soulful yet versatile. But the musical theater world happily snapped him up. At a casting call for the West Coast tour of the musical “Rent,” he landed the plumb part of ex-junkie Roger. He got into film too. He played Matthew McConaughey’s troubled brother in the 2001 indie thriller “Frailty” and had a big part in 2002’s “Don’t Let Go” with Katharine Ross.

But Kreis is best known for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” For his efforts, he won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

“I initially got involved because I needed grocery money,” he says. “It started out as workshops that seemed to go on forever. Then there were runs in Seattle and Chicago. Over time I really got into the role. When we learned the show going to Broadway, I was shocked. But winning the Tony was a real eye opener. It taught me that musical theater was something that even if it wasn’t my ultimate goal, it was something I needed to take seriously.”

For many actors winning the Tony is a life’s dream. “What can I say? You feel what you feel. I wish I was a fierce dancer on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ but that’s someone else’s reality.”

For Keis, the experience was intensely personal — the Tony win was the culmination of the toughest year of his life. In May of 2009 he gave up drugs, alcohol and a pack-and-a-half-a-day cigarette habit. He’s been clean and sober ever since. “It’s beyond anything the proudest achievement of my life,” he says, emotion swelling in his voice. “I had really reached a do-or-die moment. I could no longer live that way. The tension and conflict was too scary for me.”

That same year, Kreis met his partner, whom he declines to name. The couple is based in Chicago.

“At the core of every addiction is self-loathing. And drugs weren’t my only vice. It all came from a place of having learned to hate myself,” he says. Kreis was raised a fundamentalist Baptist. In his youth, he endured six years of conversion therapy with the hope of becoming straight. “That process was psychologically and emotionally damaging and planted deep-seeded feelings of self loathing. It breaks my heart that it still goes on.”

At 24, Kreis officially came out through his album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. “I made the decision at a time when I was very broke. I was waiting for my guest appearance on NBC’s ‘The Apprentice’ to air. In a week I’d moved from Manhattan’s Upper Eastside to Hoboken, New Jersey. So, I took my last $200 and went to a recording studio and recorded the album of straight through. It’s been my most successful album to date.”

There’s been no downside to his coming out, Kreis says. “Before coming out, I was hiding my life. I couldn’t be my authentic self. Eight record labels didn’t know what to do with me. Most wanted me to be a teen heartthrob. Now I can present myself as I am, my truth. The LGBT community has accepted me wholeheartedly.”

Future plans include concert dates and more recordings. There’ll be more theater, but he’d also like to bring his talents together by acting and singing in films. For his upcoming yet-unnamed album, Kreis will return to piano vocals. It’s what his fans want. “I’m grateful there’s a corner of the world that hears what I do. My music career hasn’t screamed as loud as a Tony Award on Broadway, but my fans are there and they’re my family.”

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What’s new at Rehoboth Beach for summer 2024

Higher parking fees, Pamala moves to Diego’s, and more

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Rehoboth favorites Magnolia Applebottom and Pamala Stanley are reunited this summer at Diego’s. (Blade file photo by John Bator)

Another Rehoboth Beach season is upon us. I have been going to the beach for more years than I can count, and always love it. Some now consider Rehoboth a year-round community, and in many ways they are right. But summer still brings out tens of thousands of tourists, from day-trippers, to those with second homes at the beach. Others book a weekend, or longer, at the many great hotels. They all come to the beach for the sun and sand, food, and drink. Some like to relax, others to party, and you can do both in Rehoboth. 

So here is some of the good (and a little of the bad) of what’s new this season. First the bad: Parking at a meter will now cost you $4 an hour. Meters are in effect May 15-Sept. 15. Parking permits for all the non-metered spaces in town are also fairly expensive. You can find information on both transferable and individual permits, online.

Now for the good — and there is lots of it. First, Aqua Bar & Grill has reopened for the season. During Women’s Fest they were packed, with many sitting around the outdoor heaters, and that included lots of good looking men. I recommend taking advantage of the Tuesday Burger night. Then the Blue Moon just announced John Francis Flynn will be on the piano from May 26-June 26, Sunday to Thursday, 6-8:30 p.m. He will then be back again on the same schedule from July 30-Sept. 11. During July, Nate Buccieri returns to town for a month-long runs of shows.

My favorite place at the beach, The Coffee Mill, in the mews between Rehoboth and Baltimore Avenues, opens every morning at 7 a.m. Whenever I am at the beach I am there. Mel, who also owns Brashhh! on 1st Street, announced he is starting his own clothing line, called FEARLESS! 

The Purple Parrot, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year so be sure to spend some time there raising a glass. The Summer House last year opened the upscale Libation Room, with drinks like a Bacon Maple Old Fashioned. This year, they opened a nice garden looking out on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fountain. With the renewed interest in vinyl records you may want to stop in at Extended Play. Traveling a little beyond the town is the new 302 Local, located in Coastal Station behind Iron Hill Brewery. It is themed as a 1920s-era speakeasy. If you are in town on a Sunday for T-dance, you will have the chance to hear Pamala Stanley perform at Diego’s Bar and Nightclub. This is the perfect venue for Pamala’s talents in an indoor-outdoor setting that is already drawing packed crowds. Don’t miss it. Speaking of Diego’s, Pamala and Best Rehoboth Drag Queen winner Magnolia Applebottom are reunited there this summer. Don’t miss Magnolia’s Memorial Day Thursday party on May 23 from 8-10 p.m. featuring “naughtee bingo.”

If you are looking for culture Rehoboth has some of that as well. There’s Clear Space Theater on Baltimore Avenue. This year’s shows include The Bodyguard, The Roommates, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages and The Prom. Tickets sell fast so I suggest you book early and they are available online. Then there is the Pride Film Festival, June 14-16. More information on that can be found at CAMP Rehoboth, the LGBTQ community center. CAMP plans the annual Sunfestival each Labor Day weekend, a not-to-miss event each year. On the CAMP website you can also find information on its speaker series, concerts, and other special events that will be going on during summer. This year Rehoboth Beach Pride takes place July 18-21. Sussex Pride is taking the lead on the festival, which will happen at the Convention Center July 20 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. If you visit CAMP, or are just walking up Baltimore Avenue, make sure you pick up a copy of the Blade in the box in front of the building.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other restaurants and clubs in town. Just a reminder, during season you often need reservations. Come to the beach often enough, and you can try them all: The Pines (and their Monday steak night) and Top of the Pines are at the epicenter of the fun on Baltimore Avenue. Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant offers a busy summer of events and entertainment. Rigby’s remains a go-to spot for the LGBTQ community on Rehoboth Avenue. Bodhi Kitchen is back in its second year offering delicious modern Asian cuisine “with a twist.” These are only a few of the great places to eat and drink at the beach.

Remember to book your reservations for hotels and restaurants early. Rehoboth is a happening place and very busy. Here’s wishing you fun at the beach. 

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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars’ cast visits D.C.

8 queens vie for $200,000 prize for charity in new season, premiering May 17

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The cast of the latest ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ season sashayed on the National Mall to promote the reality show's ninth season on Monday. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV; used with permission)

Donning sparkling and star-studded red, white, and blue attire on a gloomy, humid D.C. Monday, the cast of the latest “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season sashayed on the National Mall to promote the reality show’s ninth season.  

This upcoming season is different than those in the past — eight queens are competing for a donation of $200,000 for the charity of their choosing, rather than a personal cash prize. 

Several cast members noted how it felt important to visit the nation’s capital, being authentically themselves and wearing drag. Nina West, who competed in season 11, likened drag to armor. 

“We’re here during a really specific time in history, that’s, I would say, markedly dark,” she told the Blade at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “And there’s an opportunity, as drag has always done, which is for our community as specifically LGBTQI+ people, to stand in our truth and be wonderful — like guardians and fighters for our community.” 

She’s competing for the Trevor Project, which is focused on suicide prevention and crisis intervention for young LGBTQ people. This season’s pivot to compete for charity made Nina West want to come back on the show for the All Stars season. She’s been offered the spot two times before this, she said, and this twist aligned with what she wanted to do. 

Several of the other queens mentioned that it’s an honor to be featured in this season, including season 5’s Roxxxy Andrews. She also competed in two subsequent All-Stars seasons. 

She chose the organization Miracle of Love, which provides HIV/AIDS prevention programming and assistance in central Florida. It’s a smaller, more local organization, which is why Roxxxy Andrews chose it. She wants to make its work more nationally known. Also, vying to win during a charity season makes the competition feel more rewarding, she said. 

Plastique Tiara of season 11 also noted it’s different competing for charity. She’s competing for the Asian American Foundation, which launched in 2021 in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate and aims to curb discrimination and violence through education and investments in nonprofits. 

“It’s more competitive because then you’re fighting not just only for yourself, but your ideas and the things that you love,” she said. 

Vanessa Vanjie of seasons 10 and 11 agreed that competing for charity adds a bit more pressure — she chose the ASPCA. And as onlookers near the Lincoln Memorial took pictures of and with the queens, she said she was relieved. 

“I was a little bit worried somebody would yell some slurs at us,” Vanessa Vanjie said. “Nothing happened. Everybody came to take pictures like Santa Claus in the middle of the mall.”

There’s a range of contestants from different seasons for this round of All Stars. Some queens hail from recent seasons, but Shannel competed on the show’s first season. To be a part of this new season is surreal, she said. 

She’s competing for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which she has a close tie to. She’s dealt with anxiety her entire life. The association is focused on increasing awareness and improving diagnosis and treatment. 

“I always felt like I just wasn’t normal, sadly,” she said. “And so now being able to be able to do this season and to get back to that organization is like amazing to me.”

Gottmik, from season 13, is competing for Trans Lifeline — a nonprofit providing advocacy, a hotline and grants created by trans people, for trans people. Being able to do drag and give back is the “perfect scenario,” Gottmik said. 

Gottmik was the first openly trans man on Drag Race, which was overwhelming when first on the show. Gottmik felt pressure to be the “perfect example,” but later realized that they didn’t have to worry so much. 

“I just want to show people that trans people are real people. We can express ourselves however we want to express ourselves, through drag, through whatever it may be,” Gottmik said. 

The new season will be available to stream on Paramount+ on May 17. 

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race pose with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at The Little Gay Pub on Monday. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV; used with permission)
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Pride season has begun

LGBTQ parades, festivals to be held throughout region in coming months

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A scene from last Sunday’s Pride festival in Roanoke, Va. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ Pride festivals, parades and other events have been scheduled in large cities and small towns throughout the region. Pride events around the world culminate in June, but organizers in some municipalities have elected to hold celebrations in other months.

Pride in the region has already begun with last weekend’s Mr., Miss, and Mx. Capital Pride Pageant held at Penn Social as well as Roanoke Pride Festival held in Elmwood Park in Roanoke, Va.

Below is a list of Pride events coming to the region.

MAY

Capital Trans Pride is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library (901 G St., N.W.). The website for the event advertises workshops, panel discussions, a keynote address, a resource fair and more.  transpridewashingtondc.org

Equality Prince William Pride is scheduled for 12-4 p.m. on May 18 at the Harris Pavilion (9201 Center St.) in historic downtown Manassas, Va. equalityprincewilliam.org

D.C. Black Pride holds events throughout the city May 24-27. Highlights include an opening reception, dance parties and a community festival at Fort Dupont Park. The Westin Washington, DC Downtown (999 9th St., N.W.) is the host hotel, with several events scheduled there. dcblackpride.org

NOVA Pride and Safe Space NOVA will hold NOVA Pride Prom from 7-11 p.m. on May 31 at Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va. The event is open to all high school students throughout the region, regardless of identity, from rising ninth grade students to graduating seniors. novapride.org

Capital Pride Honors will be held on May 31. The Capital Pride Alliance has announced on its website that nominations are open for awardees. The Honors celebrates excellence in the LGBTQ community and its allies. capitalpride.org

JUNE

Downtown Sykesville Connection is sponsoring Sykesville Pride Day in downtown Sykesville, Md. on June 1 from 12-4 p.m. downtownsykesville.com

Reston Pride will be held at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Va. on June 1 from 12-6 p.m. restonpride.org

Fairfax Pride, hosted by the City of Fairfax and George Mason University, will be held at Old Town Hall (3999 University Drive, Fairfax, Va.) on June 1 from 5-7 p.m. The event will include children’s activities and more. fairfaxva.gov

OEC Pride celebrates Pride with “art, dance, education, and fun” in Old Ellicott City.  The OEC Pride Festival is held along Main Street in Ellicott City, Md. on June 1 from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. visitoldellicottcity.com

Annapolis Pride has consistently drawn a giant crowd for a parade and festival in the quaint downtown of the Maryland capital. “The Voice” star L. Rodgers has been announced to headline the 2024 festival. The parade and festival will be held on June 1. annapolispride.org

The Alexandria LGBTQ+ Task Force Alexandria Pride is scheduled to be held at Alexandria City Hall from 3 – 6 p.m. on June 1 in Alexandria, Va. alexandriava.gov

The Portsmouth Pride Fest will be held at Festival Park adjacent to the Atlantic-Union Bank Pavilion in Portsmouth, Va. on June 1 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. portsmouthprideva.com

The Delaware Pride Festival is a free event scheduled for June 1 at Legislative Hall in Dover, Del. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.The event is billed as family friendly and open to people of all ages and sexual orientations. delawarepride.org

The City of Rockville is hosting Rockville Pride at Rockville Town Square (131 Gibbs St., Rockville, Md.) from 2-5 p.m. on June 2. The free event features live performances, information booths, and children’s activities. rockvillemd.gov

Equality Loudoun is hosting the ticketed Loudoun Pride Festival from 1-7 p.m. on June 2 at Claude Moore Park in Sterling, Va. The event features three stages, a “#Dragstravaganza,” a kid’s zone, an alcohol pavilion, a food hall and more. Tickets $5. eqloco.com

Culpepper Pride is slated to be held at Mountain Run Winery in Culpepper, Va. from 12-6 p.m. on June 2. The theme this year is “True Colors.” culpeperpride.org

The Southwest Virginia Pride Cookout Community Social is planned for 2 p.m. at the Charles R. Hill Senior Center in Vinton, Va. on June 2. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Capital Pride kicks off with the RIOT! Opening Party at Echostage starting at 9 p.m. on June 7. Tickets run from $27-$50 and can be purchased on the Capital Pride website. The event is set to feature Sapphire Cristál. capitalpride.org

Pride events continue over the weekend of June 8-9 in the nation’s capital with the Capital Pride Block Party featuring performers and a beverage garden, the massive Capital Pride Parade, Flashback: A totally Radical Tea Dance to be held at the end of the parade route, and the Capital Pride Festival and Concert. Visit capitalpride.org for more information. Other Pride events planned for the weekend in D.C. include a number of parties and the unforgettable (and free) Pride on the Pier & Fireworks Show at the Wharf sponsored by the Washington Blade from 2-10 p.m. prideonthepierdc.com

Pride in the ‘Peake will be held at Summit Pointe (580 Belaire Ave.) in Chesapeake, Va. on June 9 from 12-5 p.m. The family-focused Pride event does not serve alcohol, but will feature community organizations, food trucks and more in a street festival. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Celebrate with a drag show, dancing and a lot of wine at Two Twisted Posts Winery in Purcellville, Va. for a Pride Party from 2-5 p.m. on June 15. twotwistedposts.com

Baltimore Pride holds one of the largest Pride parades in the region on June 15 in Baltimore. (2418 Saint Paul St.). The parade concludes with a block party and festival. Pride events are scheduled from June 14-16. baltimorepride.org

The fourth annual Catonsville Pride Fest will be held at the Catonsville Presbyterian Church (1400 Frederick Rd.) in Catonsville, Md. on June 15 from 3-6 p.m. The event features a High Heel Race, pony rides, face painting, local cuisine and more. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

The Ghent Business District Palace Shops have announced a Ghent Pride event from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on June 17 at the Palace Shops and Station (301 W 21st Street) in Norfolk, Va. ghentnorfolk.org

An event dedicated to celebrating the elders in the LGBTQ community, Silver Pride is scheduled for June 20 at 5:30-8:30 p.m. Location and more information to be announced soon. capitalpride.org

Visit the Hampton Roads PrideFest and Boat Parade for a truly unique Pride experience along the Elizabeth River. The full day of entertainment, education and celebration will be held on June 22 from 12-7 p.m. at Town Point Park (113 Waterside Dr.) in Norfolk, Va. hamptonroadspride.org

Frederick, Md. will hold its annual Frederick Pride Festival at Carroll Creek Linear Park on June 22 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Entertainers include CoCo Montrese of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” frederickpride.org

The fourth annual Pride at the Beach is scheduled for 2-10 p.m. on June 23 at Neptune’s Park (3001 Atlantic Ave.) in Virginia Beach, Va. The event features entertainment, community vendors, beachside DJ sets, food trucks and offers a “perfect conclusion to an unforgettable Pride weekend.” hamptonroadspride.org

Winchester Pride will hold its Mx. Winchester Pride Pageant at 15 N. Loudoun St. in Winchester, Va. on June 23 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door. winchesterpride.com

The organizers of last year’s inaugural Ocean City Pride with a “parade” along the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md. have announced that they will be organizing a return this year with events from June 28-30. instagram.com

The third annual Arlington Pride Festival will be held at Long Bridge Park at National Landing (475 Long Bridge Dr.) in Arlington, Va. on June 29 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. arlvapride.com

FXBG Pride is holding its annual community Fredericksburg Pride March on June 29 from 10-11 a.m. at Riverfront Park (705 Sophia St.) in Fredericksburg, Va. Speeches begin at 10 a.m. and the procession starts at 10:30 a.m. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Salisbury Pride “90’s Edition” is scheduled for 3 – 7 p.m. on June 29 in Downtown Salisbury, Md. Magnolia Applebottom is listed as the headliner and grand marshal. salisburyprideparade.com

The 2024 Suffolk Pride Festival is scheduled for Bennett’s Creek Park in Suffolk, Va. on June 30 from 12-7 p.m. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.

Expect music, entertainment and drag performances in the picturesque mountain town of Cumberland, Md. at the Cumberland Pride Festival on June 30 from 12-4 p.m. at Canal Place. cumberlandpride.org

Montgomery County’s annual Pride in the Plaza will be held on June 30 from 12-8 p.m. at Veterans Plaza (1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring, Md. liveinyourtruth.org

JULY

The sixth annual Westminster Pride Festival is scheduled for downtown Westminster, Md. on July 13 from 12-6 p.m. westminsterpride.org

Hagerstown Hopes is holding its annual Hagerstown Pride Festival in Doubs Woods Park (1307 Maryland Ave.) in Hagerstown, Md. on July 13 at 11 a.m. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.

The Rehoboth Beach Pride Festival will be held on July 20 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., with other Sussex Pride events scheduled throughout the weekend of July 18-21. sussexpride.org

Us Giving Us Richmond hosts Black Pride RVA in Richmond, Va. with events on July 19-21. ugrcrva.org

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