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Erasure ‘Flaming’ again on new album, tour

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Erasure, gay news, Washington Blade
Erasure, Andy Bell, gay news, Washington Blade

Andy Bell, left, and Vince Clarke of Erasure. They say Pet Shop Boys and Donna Summer were influences on their new album ‘The Violet Flame.’ (Photo by Phil Sharpe; courtesy Mitch Schneider Organization)

Erasure

 

The Violet Flame Tour

 

Sept. 19-20

 

Doors, 8 p.m.

 

Both nights sold out

 

Nina opens

 

9:30 Club

 

815 V St., N.W.

 

930.com

 

For Erasure singer Andy Bell, the band’s new album “The Violet Flame,” slated for a Sept. 23 release, is reflective of a new lease on life.

“I always think about music in a healing context,” the 50-year-old singer/songwriter said in a press release. He cites creative partner Vince Clarke, 54, for much of that.

“I’ve found a lot of Vince’s music is like holistic laser beams — it’s like acupuncture for the soul,” Bell said.

Having survived the death of his partner of 25 years, Paul Hickey, who died in 2012, the new album (their 16th studio effort) finds Bell celebrating a new relationship, transformation and new beginnings. The title is a spiritual term for transforming negative energy into positive.

The Brit synth-pop veterans who’ve had 40 hit singles and sold 25 million albums will celebrate their 30th anniversary next year and are touring this fall. Their two D.C. shows next weekend at the 9:30 Club are sold out.

Having interviewed Bell last time they were in town — touring on their 2011 release “Tomorrow’s World” — we caught up with the more low-key Clarke this time. From his Brooklyn studio, the droll studio wizard waxed calmly on a wide range of topics.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: EDM has been so big in the U.S. the last couple years. It may have crested between Erasure cycles but did you guys get any mileage out of it?

VINCE CLARKE: I don’t know that we did really. I don’t think that we are kind of considered primarily a dance act. I think we’re considered more just a modern pop group really. It might have affected things a bit with the remixes … but not really in regard to making records, I don’t think.

 

BLADE: Would you say synth pop and EDM are musically related?

CLARKE: I have always felt that Erasure is really like a songwriting duo. We write songs and we happen to use synthesizers to make records. So we’re related to EDM to the degree that we both use synthesizers.

 

BLADE: That’s the extent of it?

CLARKE: I think so. If you strip it back, that’s what it is. We’ve been doing this for 30 years so this explosion you speak of in musical production that uses that kind of gear now, it’s very exciting.

 

BLADE: Did you hear the Daft Punk album “Random Access Memories?”

CLARKE? Yes.

 

BLADE: Did you like it?

CLARKE: Ehhhh — it was OK. You know, it wasn’t like an instant thing of, “Oh, I love this record”-kind of vibe. I guess I would really give it like a B-minus to be fair.

 

BLADE: When did you record “The Violet Flame” and about how long did it take to make?

CLARKE: We started writing in about April of this year. Andy and I both met up in Miami because he has a place there so we spent maybe four or five weeks writing the basic tunes. This time around it was a little different because usually we’d start writing with just nothing, maybe an acoustic guitar or piano, but this time around I had kind of prepared some parts, some loops and vibes and some general grooves for Andy to work with, so we had a starting point. I wasn’t sure about working that way, but it worked and we had a very successful meting and things started to come quickly. That part was quite successful. As far as the concept for the record, it was more of our usual concept — Andy wants to make a dance record and I want to make something electronic.

 

BLADE: What did (producer) Richard X bring to the sessions?

CLARKE: We made a Christmas record with him (2013’s “Snow Globe”), which he mixed for us in London so we knew him and the kind of stuff he was doing so he was a natural person for us to work with on this new record. The music was recorded here in my studio in Brooklyn and Andy did the vocals in Richard’s studio in South London and it was mixed there also. He didn’t ask why, he was just on our wavelength.

 

BLADE: But since you’re so involved in crafting the sound and texture of an album, what does Richard do exactly? Or any producer you might work with for Erasure?

CLARKE: It’s a little different every time but I think mostly what we’re looking for in a producer is someone who will tell us to stop working or we’d never finish a record. Someone who really has an overall idea of how this record should sound. When Andy and I go in and start making a record, we don’t really have that kind of a vision. We just do things as they happen and as they come along, we record them. So it’s good to have someone there to kind of — someone who’s in charge.

 

BLADE: “Snow Globe” was kind of viewed as this little side project but was it as labor intensive to make as a regular studio album?

CLARKE: A lot of forethought went into it. Since everybody’s made a Christmas record, we wanted to do something a little bit different. So a lot of thought was put into the way it should sound. We wanted to keep it as minimal as possible, which I think is what sets it apart from all the other Christmas records out there.

 

BLADE: Is there are lot of discussion about what the first single will be or does one cut just kind of emerge as the obvious choice?

CLARKE: Well, to be honest we usually lave that to other people. When you’ve been working on something for a long time and you hear it over and over again, it’s hard to be objective. So usually you leave it to the record company or the producer. There might be something we really hope will be a single, but usually we hand that decision over to somebody else.

 

BLADE: What does (first single) “Elevation” mean to you? U2 had a song with that title as well. It suggests a lot of possible meanings.

CLARKE: Like most of the stuff on the record, it’s very forward thinking, kind of like Andy going to these kinds of places spiritually. “Elevation” is one of those kind of happy, very positive-sounding songs. Very celebratory.

 

BLADE: How many synthesizers would you guess you own?

CLARKE: I’m in the studio right now. Maybe about 70.

 

BLADE: Have you kept them all over the years or pared down at times?

CLARKE: I’m not very good at throwing stuff away. I throw old socks away, but I’m not so good with synthesizers. I’ve been collecting them for about 30 years, so I have quite a collection. My studio right at the moment, well, it’s always in a state of being renovated. Some of these are quite old and I’ve had a very long time. Some I’ve kind of revamped. I keep what I use. You know, I’m sorry — if it’s not something I’m using, I’ll get rid of it.

 

BLADE: Erasure is rather synonymous with a big ‘80s dance/pop sound and now that’s far enough back that there’s some nostalgia for it and you see those sounds referenced in current pop. Has that phenomenon informed your creative process to any degree?

CLARKE: No, I don’t think so. I’m certainly not the kind of person to look back. It’s all about the next project really. Even with this project we’ve just done, I’m not listening to that now. I’m thinking about the next thing. That’s the wonderful thing about this job. It’s always something new and different.

 

BLADE: Audiences today seem rather sophisticated because they hear so much. When you’re figuring out the colors and textures for a track, do you consider what references certain sounds — like maybe a vintage Fender Rhodes keyboard — might have for the listener?

CLARKE: No. It’s just about what fits. Even with the synthesizers I have that are quite old, they don’t have any memory, so when I’m creating something, I’m starting from scratch each time and hopefully I’m not repeating myself. I’m certainly not trying to emulate sounds from a particular era. I’m trying to find a sound that’s hopefully unique and fits the vibe of the song.

 

BLADE: Erasure has been so reliable and steadfast over the years. Do you ever feel taken for granted?

CLARKE: No, I don’t think so. We’re very grateful. We’ve had an amazing career and we’ve got some really dedicated followings out there, you know. People who’ve been buying our records since we started so for that I’m forever grateful. I can’t knock it. I used to work in factories, in production lines, so this is a long way from that.

 

BLADE: Do Erasure albums get released on vinyl?

CLARKE: Yes. At the moment, I don’t know about the new record but just very recently once again they are more interested in that kind of thing so I hope eventually they will release it on vinyl.

 

BLADE: It seems to be a medium that suits you well.

CLARKE: Well I’m biased. I love vinyl. I collect records and I still think they sound better than CDs.

 

BLADE: Do you still live in Maine?

CLARKE: No, I live in Brooklyn now.

 

BLADE: Why did you move?

CLARKE: My wife’s twin sister lives in New York so we have to be near her.

 

BLADE: You and Tracy are still married?

CLARKE: Yes

 

BLADE: And how old is your son?

CLARKE: He turned 9 on Monday.

 

BLADE: I understand Andy is in a new relationship. Do your spouses get along?

CLARKE: Well we socialize when we’re together, if we’re working on a project or on tour, then we’ll go out and socialize but when we’re not working he lives partly in Spain and in the UK so we don’t see each other each week at the pub or anything.

 

BLADE: Was Andy out when you first met him?

CLARKE: Yes, he’s always been very up front and forward about his sexuality.

 

BLADE: You’re straight but Erasure has always been such a gay band in many ways. Is there gay musical sensibility somewhere there in your DNA?

CLARKE: I don’t know about musical sensibility. … Andy and I have had, as you can imagine, lots of discussions about sexuality over the years and I don’t know — it’s never been an issue because with Andy it’s never been an issue. So then it’s never been an issue with me either.

 

BLADE: You’ve been in other bands and done lots of side projects. What sense do you have of how rare the partnership between the two of you is? Could it have happened with somebody else under different circumstances or do you think of it as a one-in-a-million-type thing?

CLARKE: I think it’s incredibly rare. I think we’re very lucky to have met and we started working together almost immediately after we met and I think being creative together, we both realized there was a special thing between us. Andy is the first and only person I’ve actually been able to sit down and write a song with. Songwriting is a very personal thing and to that extent, you have to kind of bare your soul a little and you can only do that with the right person. Over the years, our relationship has only gotten better and better an there’s an incredible amount of trust between us, which I think is a very rare thing. Not that many bands can say they’ve been together the amount of time we have.

 

BLADE: Erasure records always feel like these very tight affairs — 10 or 11 cuts and no flab. It could fit on an LP usually, even though you’re not confined by that. Do you purposefully keep them tight?

CLARKE: Well yeah, we always try to write more than we need generally. … It’s usually just a case of Andy and I sitting down and saying, “OK, I think that idea is a strong one and this one maybe not so much.” We basically just pick the best of what we’ve done and that usually ends up being 10 or 11 songs.

 

BLADE: You’ve played the 9:30 Club many times. Good venue, good audiences here?

CLARKE: Yes, we know it quite well. I’m really looking forward to it. You seem to get a very receptive crowd in Washington. I think we played there on a very first U.S. Erasure tour many years ago, some tiny little place I don’t even remember. … So far, no one’s asked for their money back.

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Corcoran Street Group: LGBTQ lobbyists fighting for our rights

‘The most pro-LGBTQ+ thing you can do this election is to vote Democrat’

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Brad Howard is founder and president of the Corcoran Street Group

We often hear the term lobbyist associated with negative connotations. Think oil and gas initiatives that often seek to curtail environmental protections to further their industries. Consider “big pharma,” which is often vilified for keeping healthcare costs high. However, there are lobbyists fighting for our rights – not just LGBTQ rights, but human rights as well. Brad Howard, founder and president of the Corcoran Street Group (CSG) is one such out, gay lobbyist advocating for equality and equity. 

To start, Howard shares his definition of a lobbyist, which transcends the stereotype that the term originates with politicos literally waiting in D.C. hotel lobbies hoping to hobnob with politicians to foster their interests, often with cash in hand.

“Understanding how government works can be incredibly difficult, even to those on the inside,” he shared. “Lobbying is a constitutionally protected right explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment – the right to petition our government. At its most basic level, lobbying is essentially contacting a public official to express your opinion or ask them to take a certain action. So, if you have ever emailed or called your city council rep or Member of Congress – or even tagged them on social media – you lobbied.”

Howard, who came to Washington from a conservative background in Arkansas, had a journey from working with Republican leaders and causes to being more libertarian before eventually joining with the Blue Dog Democrats. This is quite a change for a young man who founded a teenage GOP group in high school, chaired the college Republicans group at Hendrix University, and became vice chair of Arkansas College Republicans. 

So, how did a nice conservative Christian Republican whose parents voted for Ross Perot instead of Bill Clinton from the Bible Belt end up as a gay lobbyist? 

“I was subconsciously rejecting any attempt to live my life the way someone told me to … a Libertarian streak if you will,” Howard said. “I was always pro-choice and pro-marriage equality as I didn’t want the government anywhere near me. Throughout all of this, I was starting to understand that I was gay and what that meant for my future in politics, it was bleak. Then the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 started pushing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in states across the country to drive evangelical turnout. That ran counter to my politics – to the basic principle of promoting individual liberty. So I left the party then and graduated college as an independent in 2006 with the goal of moving to Washington as quickly as possible.”

By 2007 he was living in Washington, D.C., interning for Simon Rosenberg’s New Democrat Network, and pursuing a master’s from American University. Coming out for Howard happened on the first day he entered college, quite a “daunting and scary” task summed up by him as: “I have blue eyes. I love playing cards. I’m a terrible, but very confident karaoke singer. Oh, by the way, I’m gay.”

The “it’s part of me, but not my whole identity,” is often expressed by those on the – shall we say – cusp of coming out. He cites a Foundry United Methodist pastor’s message as impetus for coming out as a defining part of his identity. 

“That seed of shame you feel for being gay – that was not planted there by God; it was planted there by the church, and I’m sorry,” here he’s referring to a sermon by Pastor Ginger Gaines-Cerelli. “I can’t describe what it [felt] like to be 33 years old and have your world completely upended like that. It wasn’t just the statement, which answered a question that had long haunted me; it was also the apology. I didn’t even know that I needed an apology, but I did, and it worked.” 

Before starting CSG, he worked at a bipartisan lobbyist group and was mentored by former Chief of Senate Staff Bob Van Heuvelen. Howard describes his mentor’s approach to lobbying as guided by a strong moral compass, and seeing people as people, not transactions. 

The way it should be: Since corporations are not people.

Howard also sits on the board of directors for Q Street, as treasurer. Q Street is an LGBTQ lobbyist organization. Yesenia Henninger, the out queer president of Q Street since January of this year – and board member for five years – explains in further detail what her group does to foster queer rights. 

“Q Street is the nonprofit, nonpartisan, professional association of LGBTQ lobbyists and public policy advocates. Q Street was formed to be the bridge between LGBTQ advocacy organizations, LGBTQ+ lobbyists on K Street,” District lingo for queer lobbyists, “and our colleagues and allies on Capitol Hill. Q Street has more than 3,000 recipients of our monthly newsletter, hundreds of attendees at our receptions, and our monthly luncheons have featured speakers such as Members of Congress, campaign managers, activists, plaintiffs in the most important LGBTQ+ Supreme Court cases of our time, and the Secretary of the Army. Q Street hosts nearly 25 receptions, lunches, and professional development events every year. Our goal is to provide the best networking opportunities and professional development trainings so our members continue to grow within the ranks of their field.”

According to Henninger there has been a growing population of queer lobbyists since the Obama years. Marriage equality, an impetus for Howard to perhaps “come out politically” equally spurred their growth. After Obama, this presence fought to maintain rights gained. This is amazing growth considering at one time people working for our equity did so in an almost secretive fashion. 

An aside here, Sean Strub the founder of POZ Magazine, wrote a powerful book in 2014 called “Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival,” which chronicles advocacy in D.C. in the years after Stonewall.

The majority of these K Street lobbyists are in their 30s and 40s. Although Henninger shares there are more junior and more senior-ranking lobbyists in terms of age or career. 

What do they do? Is it office-to-event, sleep, repeat? Henninger explained that a queer lobbyist’s lifestyle varies depending on the issue area they focus on. Her organization has lobbyists working in policy as well as members who focus on energy and transportation issues, and topics all across the spectrum.

“The lobbyists and advocates whose roles require them to engage in political activity may also have different lifestyles than those that do not. They likely have fundraisers (sometimes one, sometimes multiple) that they attend after work with Members of Congress or other politicians. However, we also have many public policy advocate members who spend their day talking to Members of Congress, or administration officials, trying to achieve their policy goals that do not have any fundraiser-related obligations. Q Street hopes to provide a great space for our members to network with one another and unite their social and professional experiences in the district.”

We are all aware what is at stake in the upcoming presidential election in what can only sadly be described as a deeply divided nation. What role will LGBTQ lobbyists play, I asked Brad Howard.  

“If you vote third party, if you leave the race blank, or if you stay home, you are helping to elect Donald Trump,” he said. “You are not punishing Joe Biden, you are punishing the millions of Americans, the millions of aspiring Americans who face deportation, millions of women who depend on access to reproductive health, and so many transgender young people who need protection – all of these people will be punished in a Trump presidency. And, Joe Biden is going to need a Democratic Congress – or we’ll need a Democratic Congress to stop Donald Trump. So to me, the most pro-LGBTQ+ thing you can do this election is to vote Democrat…because the choices have never been clearer.”

Visit Corcoran Street Group and Q Street to learn more about their work.

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Rehoboth’s Purple Parrot still soaring after 25 years

Owners Hugh Fuller and Troy Roberts reflect on keys to their success

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Longtime Purple Parrot employee Chris Chandler. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Two buildings, one romance, and 25 years later, the Purple Parrot is busy as ever. 

If the tropical purple paint covering the outside with rainbow flags and walls covered with love notes, affirmations, and drunk wishes scribbled on dollar bills don’t indicate it already, the Purple Parrot is an institution in Rehoboth. The gay-owned and operated fixture is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. 

The Blade sat down with owners Hugh Fuller and Troy Roberts of the Rehoboth establishment to discuss the past 25 years and plans for the future. 

Fuller and Roberts, both gay, have been working together since before the Parrot was even an idea. Fuller was a co-owner of the Iguana, another restaurant and bar in the town.  

“I was in the Iguana first with another business partner,” Fuller said. “I was going to get out and move up to Pennsylvania with him [Roberts]. He decided that he was going to come down and said, ‘Well, what if I go in with you at the Iguana and we do it together?’ And I was like, ‘Alright,’ so we did, and it just snowballed from there. We were always in the restaurant business together from the beginning.” 

“Yeah, that was really luck, too,” Roberts began. “Because-” 

“Because Grindr wasn’t around then!” Fuller interjected, laughing as Roberts began to roll his eyes and smile. 

“I had a small place up in York,” Roberts continued. “Selling that kind of gave us some money to buy the other guy out. We just had friends supporting us and helping us along the way and it just kind of worked.” 

“Kind of worked” would be an understatement. The pair moved on from the Iguana and opened the Parrot. Then, after opening the Parrot, they decided to shift locations to a larger location down the street to accommodate the growing demand. Then in 2010, the Parrot expanded again, adding the land behind the Rehoboth Avenue location, which provided an additional 950 square feet as well as giving patrons access to Wilmington Avenue. 

The bar and restaurant, which serves American cuisine with a beach flair, has always focused on being a welcoming space to all regardless of sexuality, gender, race, nationality, or identity. This, the duo explains, is one of the reasons why the restaurant has had such a lasting impact on the Rehoboth restaurant and gay communities. 

The Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

“Back in the ‘90s when we first opened up, the amount of straight crossdressers that would come were like, ‘Oh, are we allowed to come in? Are we welcomed into a place like that?’ And we were like ‘Everybody that walks on this planet is welcome here!’” Fuller said. “Those are the kinds of things, you know, where people just felt comfortable. They would get stared at out on the street, but inside they would walk around and feel like they were in their own skin. It was just really cool to see.”

The feeling of acceptance has been a crucial part of the Parrot’s success.

“I got an email a couple of days ago — probably two weeks ago about a woman bringing her daughter down,” Roberts said. “She’s 16 and was bullied through school — hard times, depression, tried to harm herself a couple of times. It was just really sweet that she reached out and she’s like, ‘My daughter was a completely different person when I brought her into your bar. Everybody treated her nice — the bartenders, the waitstaff, I mean, everybody was friendly. She just doesn’t experience that often being an out 16-year-old lesbian. We just can’t even thank you enough.’ It’s those kinds of things that we get often.”

“[The mother] mainly wrote it because we put the Pride flag on the Parrot’s Facebook wall,” Fuller added. 

The colorful lights, disco balls, and staggering number of dollar bills stapled to the walls highlight that the Rehoboth community has embraced the Parrot. It’s not uncommon to see a group of gay patrons sitting at the bar in bathing suits sipping on orange crushes and talking about their day at Poodle Beach while a bachelorette party belts out Lady Gaga on karaoke night in the room next door. That is the vibe Fuller and Roberts have curated — a fun and friendly tropical oasis in the middle of Rehoboth Avenue.  

A crucial element of this curated vibe, the pair point out, is treating employees and guests with respect. When asked what they have learned that helped them be so successful over the past 25 years, Fuller and Roberts said the same thing.

“Patience, organization, and treating people well,” Roberts said.” I think that’s probably one of the bigger of the three — you treat them well and they treat you well. I think it’s just a mutual respect.” 

 “It took me about 30 years to learn that it’s not just all about work,” Fuller said. “I used to bust my butt in there all the time and the focus was [on] the restaurant. I know [Roberts] said patience, I would say mine was being patient too because I learned going in that it’s easier to deal with your employees without shouting at them. It took me a little while to get through that.” 

He added that compensating staff fairly was also one of their keys to success. 

 “Before we take a nickel out of our business, we put $1 back into our employees’ pockets,” Fuller said. We want the business to survive and it has been incredible.”  

Fuller added that this sentiment, of having patience and treating everyone with respect, goes both ways — it applies to the Parrot’s patrons as well. 

“If you leave the Parrot angry, it’s your own decision,” Fuller explained. “If we don’t make you happy there, it’s because you’re choosing not to be happy. We will go out of our way to correct anything and everything that we can. So if you leave [unhappy], it’s not because we couldn’t do it. It’s because you didn’t want us to.”

The two discussed their history together — anyone who has them interact can see their spirited energy and appreciation for each other. 

 “Troy and I used to be a couple when we first opened, and we were together for about 10 years,” Fuller said. “And then we kind of went our separate ways, but the restaurant kept us in very close contact. Sometimes I think we’re probably closer than most couples are because of the way that the restaurant has us tied together.” 

“Even during the worst of it, we never stopped communicating on a daily basis,” Roberts added. “Obviously, you can tell by his personality why that all went south,” he said laughing. 

“Well, you can tell by the way that he looks why it went south.” Fuller jabbed back, also laughing.

“Hey!” Roberts replied. 

“I wasn’t gonna continue dating my grandfather!” Fuller joked. 

Despite the end of their romantic relationship, there was still clear evidence of perpetual good energy between the business partners. The two then started to reminisce about the past 25 years and the struggles and successes they overcame to reach this milestone. 

The pair mentioned the two biggest struggles they have faced in the past quarter century. One was when Rehoboth Avenue was dug up for the Streetscape improvement project, and the second was the 2008 recession. 

“We were refinancing our houses several times to keep it afloat there for a little while,” Fuller said. 

“But hey, we got nice sidewalks now!” Roberts added. “So that’s good.”

 It’s not just the customers who grew up with the Parrot; so did the staff.

“I mean one of the kids who bussed for us is now our dentist,” Fuller said.

“One of the busboys from the Iguana days, he’s our dentist now,” Roberts explained. “They actually started dating in high school while working together at the Iguana. One of them followed us to the Parrot and her daughter just worked for us two summers ago as a host. He’s our dentist, and they’re still local. We just sold him a house over in Lewes, because we’re both Realtors on the side. When you look back at that, you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, you were just a kid. And now you have a kid graduating college!’ It goes fast.” 

It seems that many of the staff have a soft spot for the Parrot, and for good reason. An important aspect of keeping their employees happy is supporting them. At first, it was trips to Disney World with some of the servers and renting out the local waterpark to give kids time to enjoy the summer. Then it became Christmas bonuses, which are not common in the food service industry. 

The Parrot helped raise more than $10,000 for one of their employees dealing with fallout from the war in Ukraine. 

“One of our bartenders being from Ukraine, when all that went down, amazingly, how he was able to bring a lot of his family over,” Roberts said. “And until they actually got grounded, he had places for them to stay all lined up.”

“The reason that he was able to get them over is because we did a fundraiser at the restaurant and our customers raised over $10,000 to help sponsor his family and one of our other employees’ families,” Fuller said. “They brought them all the way up through Mexico and into the country and now they’re here with citizenship cards and working for us. We got them houses and apartments too.” 

“We don’t care what they are, whether they’re straight, Black, Chinese, Mexican. It’s like the Benetton of Rehoboth in here,” Fuller added. “It’s the United Nations. We support everybody and we’re not afraid to show our support for everybody.”

In addition to reminiscing about some of the good things the restaurant has done for its employees, they both talked about notable guests of the Parrot. 

“My mind went right to the guys from Manhattan, who would always come down,” Roberts said when asked if any guests have stuck out to him over the past 25 years. “They just happened to find us. They had never been to Rehoboth before. They walked into the original Parrot and had every single year after that until two of them passed away. It just became like a yearly week, then it turned into two weeks, and then it turned into two times a year. And it was all just because they came to one bar, and had so much fun. They would sit there all day, all night, go home take a nap, and come back for dinner. And it was just their place.” 

They have faced some objections from those who were not as receptive to their tolerance of different people.

“We get the same hate that everybody else does — the same hate that the city got when they put the rainbow crossings in and the flag up,” Fuller said. “I was just telling Troy about a conversation I had yesterday with a guy. The front of our business for Pride month has flags on it and says ‘Happy Pride.’ And he said, ‘I was going to come in here but I see you’re supporting the gay community with your rainbow flags.’ And I said ‘Yes.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I don’t see why you don’t have flags for veterans.’ And I said,’ Well, as a veteran, I can tell you that we don’t serve to be recognized, we serve to protect and to give you guys your freedom. It’s not something that we want recognition for. But there is a flag, the American flag, that flies over the top of our business every day to represent the veterans of this country.’” 

Despite the opinions of some who are less than welcoming of the LGBTQ community, the Purple Parrot will always be a safe space to celebrate, the two affirmed. And celebrate they will. 

The Parrot already hosted one party to celebrate the milestone of the bar early in the summer, but will throw an even bigger bash at the end of the season to commemorate the history and hard work that has gone into making the Parrot ‘fly.’

“On May fifth we had a big party,” Fuller said. “We’ll have another one at the end of the summer in September. We did one at the beginning and then we’re going to do a really big one at the end of the summer. The first celebration, that weekend, turned out to be a little rainy, and misty so it wasn’t as big as it could have been. It was packed inside but it wasn’t packed outside like it normally is. We usually do a full cookout barbecue, all that stuff and we’ll do that again at the end of the summer. We’ll have another one of those with DJs. I am not sure about a drag show, but we’ll probably have something because the girls are trying to get something together. We don’t want to spoil anything but there will be a surprise.”  

When asked to give their final thoughts on owning and running one of Rehoboth’s most successful businesses as gay men, the two made it clear that it has to be a safe and welcoming space for all for it to succeed. 

“I think you have to be all-inclusive,” Roberts said. “I don’t think in today’s world you can just really limit it to the gay community. You have to be gay-friendly, and accepting as well. And I think that helps because it gets non-gays in there and everybody just starts to get along. It becomes more accepted and then becomes the norm.” 

Fuller agreed but emphasized being true to one’s character in collaboration with being inclusive is the key to their success.

“Being gay isn’t who we are, you know, it’s what we are,” Fuller said. “You can’t be afraid to be you. … If you’re going to open up a business, you want to make sure you lean on the community, because the community is going to be your biggest support. And that’s how we definitely lean on the gay community.”

The Purple Parrot is located at 134 Rehoboth Ave. in Rehoboth Beach and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and is open from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit their website at ppgrill.com.

Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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Queer TV anchors in Md. use their platform ‘to fight for what’s right’

Salisbury’s Hannah Cechini, Rob Petree are out and proud in Delmarva

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Hannah Cechini and Rob Petree anchor the 5:30 p.m. newscast at WMDT 47, the ABC affiliate in Salisbury, Md. (Photo courtesy WMDT)

Identity can be a tricky thing for journalists to navigate. The goal of the job is to inform the public with no bias, but this is difficult, if not impossible, to do in practice. Everything from your upbringing to the books you read can impact how you view and cover the world. But sometimes these factors can help shine a light on an underrepresented community or issue.  

Two broadcast journalists in Salisbury, Md., are using the subtle, yet impactful choice of sharing their queer identities to strengthen their reporting and connection to the community. 

Hannah Cechini, who is non-binary, and Rob Petree, who is gay, co-host the 5:30-6:30 p.m. newscast for WMDT 47. They are the only known anchor team that are not only both queer, but also open out about their identities on air and, as Petree put it, “always use [their] platform and power that [we] have to fight for what’s right.”

Cechini’s passion for journalism played an important role in the discovery of their gender identity. They knew they were meant to be in the newsroom before they figured out they were non-binary.

“I was doing this job before I started to identify as non-binary,” Cechini told the Blade. “I’d always watch the evening news with my dad growing up and thought it was the coolest thing. And throughout high school, I worked on the school paper.”

After graduating from Suffolk University in Boston, Cechini’s passion for journalism only grew as they began to work in the world of news media, eventually ending up in Salisbury. As they honed their writing, editing, and anchoring skills at WMDT, Cechini also started to take an introspective look into their gender identity.

A little more than two years ago Cechini came out as non-binary to their coworkers in the newsroom and was met with support all around. “It was definitely smoother than I anticipated,” they said.

“It is very freeing to be able to do this job as a non-binary person because I haven’t really seen much of that representation myself.” 

Petree, on the other hand, knew he was gay right around the same time he became interested in news media, at age 14. He started working for his high school news show and used it as a way to be open about his sexuality rather than hide it. 

“I broke into broadcasting doing the morning announcements,” he said. “I did the weather and started doing a segment called issues and insights,” Petree said, explaining his introduction to the news. Eventually, students would ask him questions about his sexuality after seeing him on the school TV. “It had gotten to the point in school, that if you’re going to come up and ask me if I’m gay, well shit, I’m going to tell you!”

To him, this was the exact reason he had come out. Petree wanted to motivate others to live honestly. 

“There are a lot of people who will spend most of their lives not being out so if they can see someone like me, who’s out and proud doing his thing, so to speak, then maybe that’s the inspiration for them,” Petree said. “To search their own soul, find out who they are, and live their full life.”

Petree explained that he got his start in a space that was not always welcoming to his queerness. This tested the delicate balance between being a journalist and holding your identity close.

“I’ve always been out and it was a challenge because I got my start in conservative talk radio,” Petree said. “I’m going to be honest, some of the things I heard from people I’ve worked with, from the callers to the radio stations were absolutely abhorrent. But I never let it discourage me. It made me work that much harder.” 

Cechini highlighted the same sentiment when explaining why it’s important to have out LGBTQ figures in news media. They want to show everyone that it is possible to be openly queer and successful.

“I just think that representation matters because if ‘Joe,’ who’s never seen a transgender person before, sees a transgender person or a non-binary person, doing a job that they’ve only ever seen straight cis people doing before, it kind of creates that understanding or bridges that gap,” Cechini said. “It’s like, ‘OK, maybe they’re not that different from me.’ And that facilitates being able to connect among different communities.”

Both Cechini and Petree agree that having a queer coworker has made their bond stronger. 

 “It’s great to have someone else next to me who I can relate to and work alongside,” Petree said. “And they’re a joy to work with, they really are. There is a tremendous amount of things that we relate to together — like we both share and have the same affinity for Lady Gaga,” he said laughing. “Although they’re more of a Lady Gaga fan than I am.”

“Hannah is a tremendous journalist who really goes out of their way to make sure that the stories that they do are on point 100% of the time,” he added. “They’ve been great to work with and to learn from and to grow alongside. I’m very happy to have them as my co-anchor.”

Cechini explained that the relationship between two co-anchors can make or break a newscast, and having Petree as their partner on air is a major part of the show’s success.

“Co-anchoring is not just the relationship that you have on camera,” Cechini said. “It’s really, really important to have a good relationship with your co-anchor off-camera as well because you have to have a level of trust between you.”

Cechini continued, saying that this relationship is crucial to working together, especially when things don’t go as planned. 

“Not everything always goes to script,” they said. “Sometimes you have to be able to work together without even really talking to each other and just kind of know what to do. When you have a relationship like that with someone who identifies similarly to you or has had similar life experience, I think that just only strengthens that [relationship].”

Although they have had similar experiences being from the LGBTQ community, Petree said it was a change for him to use “they/them” pronouns on air.

“Prior to working with Hannah, I’ve never worked with a non-binary individual who went by the pronouns ‘they/them,’” Petree said. “It was new for me to not use traditional pronouns on air, but I can say that I have never misgendered them on air and never will. You get conditioned to using traditional pronouns and it’s easy to make that mistake, but I never have.”

At the end of the day, they both explained, it is about doing the job right. For the duo, a part of that is understanding the diversity of people and issues in the community. 

“When you come from a more marginalized community, I think that kind of helps to inform you a little better as a journalist because you have a better understanding of what it’s like to be ‘the other guy,’” Cechini said.

“Our talent and our drive for journalism speaks for itself,” Petree said. “And that resonates with people. Have we shown ourselves to be an inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community here in Delmarva? Yes, we have. And that’s something that I’m proud of.”

The primetime nightly newscast with Hannah Cechini and Rob Petree airs weeknights from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on ABC affiliate WMDT 47.

From left, Rob Petree and Hannah Cechini. (Photo courtesy of WMDT)
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