Blade reporter Michael K. Lavers and I earlier this year pitched the idea of going to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to see what LGBT life is like in the South. Living in D.C., we wanted to see for ourselves just how different the experience was for our brothers and sisters who make their homes in places not known for LGBT inclusiveness. Our editor sent us out to gather stories and pictures. We had absolutely no idea what was in store for us.
The Dandelion Project
Our first stop after landing at Medgar Evers International Airport in Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, was in Laurel, Miss. where we met with Dandelion Project founder Rev. Brandiilyne Dear. She told us about her life: how she had been addicted to meth, but then found a calling to the pulpit and got sober. She founded a ministry to help the many addicts who live in the Mississippi Pine Belt. Despite all that she had done through the years for her church, when it was found out that she was a lesbian, everyone — even her own family — turned against her and she “lost everything.”
Dear found her calling elsewhere with the Dandelion Project, a social support group and activist organization for LGBT people in Mississippi. She explained that dandelions are seen as weeds; something to be destroyed, yet are beautiful, ubiquitous and “a good thing.”
We spoke with members of the Dandelion Project, including several gender non-conforming youth who were eager to share their stories of social isolation and the violence and hatred they face.
Despite the daily discrimination they all said they experience, most members of the Dandelion project were proud to continue the fight for equality in their home state. One young person, however, who had just been through a harrowing run for her life from a group intent on doing her harm wished for Mississippi to “fall into the Gulf” of Mexico.
Our next stop was in the verdant but poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta. After passing small farming towns and long stretches of countryside, we arrived at the “Gateway to the Delta,” Yazoo City, where we had an appointment with the newly elected Mayor Diane Delaware. A cosmopolitan woman who had worked “all around the world,” Delaware told us that she had “no problem” with same-sex marriage.
Yazoo City, and indeed the entire Mississippi Delta, seemed to have much bigger things to worry about than marriage equality. Abject poverty was compounded with joblessness to make for a grim future for many residents. A tornado had passed through Yazoo City four years before, leaving vast swaths of the city in ruins. The city didn’t have money or private investment to repair its downtown.
We drove deep into the Mississippi Delta to Greenville on the the Mississippi River. There, we met with an out school teacher, Ryvell Fitzpatrick.
The reluctant pioneer described his life to us as someone who has managed to thrive, despite the difficulties.
We Don’t Discriminate Campaign
Back in Laurel, Dear pointed out the “We Don’t Discriminate” signs on select local businesses. The signs had been placed in store windows following the passage of SB-2681 — the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or so-called “Turn Away the Gays Bill.”
We went to Jackson to track down the organizers of the We Don’t Discriminate Campaign.
We spoke with the founder: a self-described “straight, married, Republican, Christian” entrepreneur named Mitchell Moore who was disgusted that his bakery, the only wedding cake bakery within the Jackson city limits, would be used as a rallying cry for homophobes in the state Senate to justify the anti-gay bill. Following the interview, Moore gave us a large box of confections.
My reporter traveling companion got a beard trim as he interviewed salon and barbershop owner Eddie Outlaw. Outlaw and his husband Justin McPherson, the subjects of the documentary, “A Mississippi Love Story,” told us about their involvement in the campaign.
We met with a group of LGBT rights advocates who spent their evening drinking beer, eating hors d’oeuvres and stuffing envelopes with “We Don’t Discriminate” stickers.
They were all excited by the success of the campaign in generating buzz around the nation, and hopeful about change to come.
Late at night, we met with performance artist Constance Gordon in the dressing room of a club frequented by LGBT people of color. She explained to us the intersection of race, class and gender and other dynamics in play in Mississippi. Like most we spoke with, she was proud to be from Mississippi, though she acknowledged the rampant discrimination that LGBT people face in her home state.
The next day, before moving on to Louisiana, we met with HIV/AIDS service providers and advocates at Open Arms Healthcare Center in Jackson. We met the “AIDS Lady,” as she referred to herself, Charlotte “Dot” Norwood. She told us of the struggles that many clients face, including accessing healthcare, finding jobs and even getting enough to eat.
We also had the pleasure of meeting client-turned-advocate Antwan Matthews. He related to us his story of being a great student but being kicked out of his home when his family found out that he is gay and HIV positive. Despite all of that, he managed to become a peer HIV educator and put himself through college. He is looking forward to graduating with a degree in biology soon.
We left Mississippi behind and drove south to Baton Rouge. We stopped at Bistro Byronz to meet with members of PFLAG Baton Rouge, Equality Louisiana, Louisiana Trans Advocates and Baton Rouge Pride. Michael tried to start the interviews, but the ebullient Carol Frazier of PFLAG insisted that in the South, people eat together before they get down to business. We polished off our crawfish étouffée and listened to stories from the gathered activists about their lives and work.
Many of those gathered at our table struggled with poverty and employment, like transgender woman Ksaa Zair who had difficulty in finding a job because of her gender presentation and had to resort to illegally attaining hormones over the Internet because she could not afford proper medical care in the U.S., or her roommate Sergio Oramas who worked as many overtime hours as he could at a warehouse, yet struggled to pay rent.
Other advocates we spoke with dealt with loss, like Frazier: her gay son had committed suicide. She then dedicated her life to helping LGBT people as the president of PFLAG Baton Rouge until health issues forced her to take a less active role.
All of the assembled activists had come together as a close-knit community. After Hurricane Katrina, tens of thousands of people moved to Baton Rouge and the nascent LGBT community began to solidify. The city’s first Pride celebration was held in 2007, organized by Tom Merrill and other members of Baton Rouge Pride.
After many hugs and farewells to our friendly dining companions, Michael and I left the sweltering heat of Baton Rouge and drove through the swamps of Louisiana to New Orleans.
After spending an evening touring the French Quarter and sampling crawfish pie and signature “hand grenade” drinks on Bourbon Street, Michael and I got some much-needed rest.
The next day, we met with activists in Metairie, La. who told us of the ups and downs of LGBT life in the New Orleans area. PFLAG New Orleans Co-President Julie Thompson, who had lost her gay son due to a medical emergency in the middle of a hurricane, beamed proudly about the time she went to Southern Decadence with him and how nice everyone was to her at gay bars. She, and the others gathered, spoke of how different everything was after Katrina and how the once-vibrant LGBT community of New Orleans was only now getting to where it was before the levees burst.
Louisiana Trans Advocates President Elizabeth Anne Jenkins told us how the destruction of the city meant the wholesale dismantling of an infrastructure for support for the local trans population, from doctors to support networks.
Michael and I wanted to see the devastated Lower Ninth Ward for ourselves. There were rows and rows of foundations with no houses, empty streets with only weeds on the block. But there were bright spots. The Make It Right Foundation had rebuilt a portion of the neighborhood with gleaming, eco-friendly, hurricane resistant homes.
But, it only took a trip across the bridge to the Upper Ninth Ward to see that the region is far from recovered. Many homes remain boarded shut, overgrown with creeping vines.
HIV in New Orleans
That evening, we met with peer educator Timothy Thompson of the New Orleans AIDS Task Force for dinner in the French Quarter. He told us of the problem of the stigma of an HIV-positive diagnosis driving many to avoid being tested. Many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS persist among people that Thompson had met with, including fears that HIV could be spread by sharing a meal.
In the morning, we made our last stop in New Orleans: Belle Reve. Belle Reve is a residence for people with HIV that provides medical care and helps residents to get back on their feet. Vicki Weeks, its executive director, told us of all of the programs offered at the center and proudly guided us around. She, and other staff and residents, had been through a traumatic several months living as refugees in the aftermath of Katrina. But the center is now restored and provides life-saving treatment to people who are often at the end of their rope.
One such resident was Carl Green who had lost his job after it was discovered that he was HIV positive. He became homeless and without access to medical treatment, deteriorated rapidly. Belle Reve took him in and nursed him back to health.
We also met with Miss Eddie who had ridden out Katrina in New Orleans before becoming a resident at Belle Reve.
We left New Orleans and drove to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Where houses once stood along the shore, now only foundations remained. Many had rebuilt, but the scars of the hurricane were ever present.
Our first stop on the coast was to meet Jeff White and John Perkins, co-founders of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center. We shared queso and a margarita with them at a Mexican restaurant in Gulfport. They told us of how it was difficult for LGBT people to be out in any capacity in the area. They were even worried that the people in the restaurant might be looking at us. White then related a horrifying story about how he had been repeatedly raped by a teacher at his private Baptist school as an openly gay teenager to make him “hate men and change.”
We drove along the coast to a mall in nearby Biloxi, where we met with Jennifer and Jena Pierce and a trans man who preferred to remain anonymous. The Pierces married in Connecticut last December, yet lived in Mississippi. They had considered moving to a place more accepting of their relationship, but decided to stay for the sake of their young daughter who is in school. The married couple had faced discrimination on a number of occasions. Jena Pierce told us that an employee at the DMV office loudly gathered her coworkers and told her she could not change the last name on her driver’s license because the state would not recognize her marriage. The DMV worker proceeded to publicly embarrass her, leaving her sobbing in her car.
Jennifer Pierce had also experienced discrimination when trying to take a family leave day to take their daughter to the doctor’s office. Her workplace wouldn’t let her go because their daughter isn’t her biological daughter — even though the people making the decision had been guests at the Pierces’ wedding reception.
It was in the early evening when we pulled into the parking lot of Laps on the Causeway, a sprawling restaurant along a thin stretch of land in the middle of Mobile Bay. Michael and I battled a swarm of gnats to meet with Lane Galbraith on the outdoor deck of his favorite restaurant. The trans man who had founded LGBT Wave of Hope, a Mobile LGBT advocacy organization, told us of the pervasive closet of Alabama and the struggles of the LGBT people who live there.
Our final leg of the trip was something that I had been looking forward to for weeks. We drove to Montgomery, Ala. to visit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). There was as much security at the SPLC as one would expect at the White House. After passing through many checkpoints, I wasn’t even allowed to take pictures inside the massive building. The SPLC’s precautions were well-founded however, as the watchdog organization had been targeted many times by hate groups resulting in fire bombings. We visited the Civil Rights Memorial and got background on the SPLC’s LGBT-specific cases. We met with SPLC lawyers David Dinielli and Sam Wolfe who specialize in LGBT issues.
After meeting with the lawyers, we were granted a visit to the SPLC’s Civil Rights Museum. Upon seeing a display that related the horrifying death of a man in an anti-gay attack, my traveling companion started sobbing. I felt a strange confluence of emotions from the mental and emotional toll our trip had taken as well. After we left the museum, we walked in silence around Montgomery. Signs of the Confederacy were all around us, including the Confederate “White House” of Jefferson Davis.
On the last day of our trip, Michael and I were both mentally exhausted, but we had one more important person to talk with. Kathie Heirs of AIDS Alabama met us in her offices in Birmingham to talk about the strides made in combatting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the state.
Michael and I dropped off the rental car at the airport in Birmingham and had a silent drink together while waiting on our flight back to D.C. The many stories I had heard were swirling around in my head and I was too close to it then to make sense of it. I did know two things: I would never take living in a place like Washington for granted again and I would never again succumb to the comforting lie that our full equality had already been won nationwide. The people we had met in the South were amazing and courageous and had built a community in difficult circumstances. Most all of the people we had spoken with had a sense of pride of place and felt a duty to make their town or city a more welcoming home for the next generation of LGBT people.
The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021
These handpicked presents will leave recipients jumping for joy
Stumped over what gifts to give your family, friends, and neighbors this year? Check this list then check it twice, because while you’ve been naughty, they’ve been nice.
YuJet Surfer Electric Jetboard
If ocean-based watersports scare the bejesus out of you – because sharks! – the YuJet Surfer Electronic Jetboard offers a compromise to satisfy your thrill seeking, all limbs intact. With a top speed of 24 mph, range of 16 miles, and a 40-minute ride time, users can sit or stand on the battery-powered, remote-operated board that quietly glides across lakes, rivers, canals, and other bodies of water devoid of man-eating monsters. $10,000, YuJetUSA.com
Mind-Pop Casserole Pans
Perfect for campground cooking or gourmet meals made at home, Darling Spring’s ultra-pretty Mind-Pop enamel casserole pans by Kapka add a Pollock-splashed joie de vivre to the meal-making experience, which seamlessly moves from stovetop to serving table without dirtying another dish. $45, DarlingSpring.com
Oclean Water Flosser
Traditional floss isn’t exactly a budget buster, but the Oclean W10 Water Flosser is a sleek, no-waste and, yes, cheaper-in-the-long-run alternative with five distinctive modes and four high-performance nozzles to keeps the crevices between those pearly whites crud- and cavity-free. $60, Oclean.com
Flat Brim Wines
Bring a trio of varietals to the holiday table with Flat Brim Wines’ Not Series, including the 2020 “Not Tragic” Pinot Noir, 2020 “Not Basic” Picpoul/Roussanne, and 2020 “Not Extra,” which, if it were Opposite Day, two out of three would describe you to a T. flatbrimwines.com
Playcraft Shuffleboard Table
Playcraft edges out its at-home gaming competition with the Georgetown Espresso Shuffleboard featuring solid wood construction, richly stained accent features, and furniture-grade finishes that are a far cry from the warped, frat boy-abused tables dying slow deaths in dive bars everywhere. $1,595, SawyerTwain.com
Round up your favorite rice, soybeans, nuts and oats for homemade vegan milk alternatives that cost pennies on the dollar compared to pre-packaged versions of the same at your local supermarket. Just add water and a handful of your desired ingredient to churn out 20 ounces of liquid health in about 15 minutes. $200, MyChefWave.com
Cambridge Audio Evo 75
You may not regard London as synonymous with audio innovation, but you’ll change that tune after listening to your favorite artists streaming through Cambridge Audio’s Evo 75, the sleek, cutting-edge, all-in-one system pumping out crystal-clear sound quality fit for a queen. $2,250, CambridgeAudio.com
Wild Roots Spirits
Wild Roots Spirits’ five-times filtered, five-times distilled corn-based vodkas – in seasonal flavors like pear, cranberry, and apple-cinnamon – will spice up your soft and hard holiday seltzers and sodas for a little added zip on your lips. $30, WildRootsSpirits.com
Takumi by Yokai Express
Not only can the Takumi machine cook ramen, dim sum, rice, dumplings, pasta and more, but it also has the dubious distinction of being the choice ramen-making machine of Tesla’s offices – because of course it is: Elon Musk wouldn’t be caught dead microwaving Oodles of Noodles like the rest of us. $400, YokaiExpress.com
Oliver Charles Sweater
What do you get when Tibetan yak wool meets the world’s most advanced 3D-knitting machines? An antimicrobial, soft-as-cashmere, day-to-night sweater that instantly becomes one of the most versatile and comfortable pieces in your closet that rarely needs washing. $220, Oliver-Charles.com
Knitting Knowledge Starter Kits
If the summer Olympics taught us anything it’s that Tom Daley is a multitalented athlete poised to take knitting gold someday, and you can train for your spot on the team with Knitting Knowledge starter kits, including beginner socks, baby blankets, and beanies that include everything you’ll need – from yarn to needles to patterns – to complete the project with a perfect score. $18-$80, KnittingKnowledge.com
If you’ve been on the fence about installing a backside-cleansing bidet in your bathroom, consider this: Toilet paper isn’t getting any cheaper, and it only takes a moderate COVID-induced run on the supermarkets before you’re forced to hunt it down on the black markets – again. $140-$650, Brondell.com
Stark Custom Kitchen Knives
Upgrade your store-bought block knives to a set of Stark Creations chef’s, paring, and nakiri custom knives, forged from scratch to complement your personality or overall kitchen aesthetic. $265-$515, StarkCreationsUS.com
American Blossom Organic Blanket
Roast your nuts by an open fire during an in-the-buff cuddle sesh featuring your fave holiday flicks in American Blossom’s herringbone weave blanket made from West Texas Organic Cotton. $195, AmericanBlossomLinens.com
Erica’s Tea Room Scones
Gild the proverbial lilies of your holiday breakfast spread with a selection of Erika’s Tea Room “Florida Famous” scones in comfort-food flavors like orange-cranberry, white chocolate-apricot, rum raisin, caramel-walnut, and piña colada, among other classic mashups. $36-$42/dozen, ErikasTeaRoom.com
RadRover 6 Plus
From a custom geared-hub motor that climbs hills 25 percent faster with more torque and extended range to all-new hydraulic brakes that provide superior stopping power, the best-in-class RadRover 6 Plus is basically the Range Rover of e-bikes – with far less depreciation per dollar. $2,000, RadPowerBikes.com
Hoppy Hanukkah Experience + Santa Clausthaler
Celebrate a “Hoppy Hanukkah” with Brewvana’s nontraditional advent calendar that conceals eight beers, one for the first night of the Festival of Lights and a full week after. If you’re laying off the hooch this holiday season but still want to participate in the spirit of it all, throw back a few non-alcoholic Santa Clausthalers, infused with cinnamon and cranberry for a cider-like refresher. $75, Brewvana.com; $10, Schofferhofer.us
Wildwood Candle Co.
Sick of pumpkin spice stinkin’ up the joint? Fill your rooms with more nuanced fall scents – like maple, sandalwood, cypress, and birch – available in a bundled seasonal foursome from eco-friendly Wildwood Candle Co. and inspired by the enchanting, well-traveled trails of Portland, Ore.’s Forest Park. $88, WildwoodCandleCo.com
Whiskey lovers who grab life by the horns will count this hand-blown, lead-free bull decanter among their prized possessions this Christmas while you enjoy the holly-jolly feeling of knowing that each purchase plants a tree. $80, PresitgeHaus.com
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.
Sharon Gless on new memoir and connection to LGBTQ community
Beloved TV icon’s book was seven years in the making
Have you ever read a memoir that is so intimate, so revealing, so honest, that as you were turning the pages it felt like the writer was sitting next to you, speaking directly to you?
Kudos to multiple Emmy Award-winning actress Sharon Gless for making that a part of the experience of reading her new memoir “Apparently There Were Complaints” (Simon & Schuster, 2021). The Los Angeles native with Hollywood in her veins (her maternal grandfather was a hotshot entertainment lawyer), Gless rose to prominence via her portrayal of New York police detective Christine Cagney in the popular and groundbreaking 1980s TV series “Cagney & Lacey”(alongside Tyne Daly). As if she hadn’t already established an LGBTQ following through that show, she went on to play Debbie Novotny, the smart and sassy mother of Michael on Showtime’s equally groundbreaking “Queer As Folk”in the early 2000s. Gless sat down for an interview in advance of the publication of her book.
BLADE: Your new memoir, “Apparently There Were Complaints” opens on a serious note with your 2015 pancreatitis diagnosis. So, I’d like to begin by saying that, from one Gemini to another, I hope you are in good health.
SHARON GLESS: Thank you, honey, I’m in very good health. Thank you, my fellow Gemini.
BLADE: Why was now the time to write your memoir?
GLESS: Well, it’s taken seven years. It’s not like it was yesterday. I never actually intended to write a memoir, Gregg. I was called in to a meeting by CBS for what I thought was a conversation to offer me a new series. We talked for an hour and, apparently, I was so entertaining that at the end of the hour meeting, the president of CBS said, “You know we own Simon & Schuster.” I said, “I didn’t know that.” She said, “We do, and I think you’ve got a book in you.” I said, “I don’t usually write.” She said, “That doesn’t matter. You’re a storyteller, Sharon.” So I walked out with a book deal [laughs] with Simon & Schuster and not the series I was hoping for. Actually, I didn’t meet (with) Simon & Schuster for another year. I sort of let it go. The next day there was a text from the president of Simon & Schuster. I sort of ignored it because I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to act! A year went by, and I wasn’t so busy, and I was in New York, and I said, “What the hell!” I went to meet him. I read one chapter to him, one chapter that I had written in case he asked for anything. He signed me that day [laughs].
BLADE: Were you a journal or diary keeper or did you rely on your memory for the details?
GLESS: Never. No. My very best friend Dawn (LaFreeda), who’s been my best friend forever and … I’m a talker, a storyteller, and I would tell her stories about my life throughout our relationship. She kept them! She said, “You have a book in you.” So, there’s another person saying so. She kept the stories. When Simon & Schuster made me the offer, Dawn dragged out all my stories. A couple of times I had gatherings at my house where I had four people over, and I said, “Ask me some questions,” and put a recorder down. I’d just start talking. Then as more of my life coming out on the page, which is hard to do, I started remembering more and more. It took a form that I had always intended. I came up with the title, “Apparently There Were Complaints,” very early on. I made the book about all the complaints people had about me throughout my life. It helped that Dawn had kept records of all the stories I’ve told. Some of those I used in the book. It’s funny, as you write, as you keep going, you start remembering more and more and more because one emotion leads to the next emotion or the next time someone hurts your feelings or the next complaint.
BLADE: I’m glad you mentioned the emotional part of it, because writing a memoir means revisiting the past, including your complicated relationship with your grandmother, whom you called Grimmy, as well as your parents. Did you find it to be painful, freeing or both?
GLESS: Sometimes because some of the memories were painful. There were times when I was reading some of it that I would go back to that place. I just finished recording [the audio book] a couple of weeks ago. What surprised me is when I’d get to certain places, especially about Grimmy, you can hear on the recording, my voice breaks. I left it in. They asked me if I wanted to rerecord it and I said, “No. Leave it in.” She was really the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s that she was tough.
BLADE: One of the things that stood out to me about “Apparently There Were Complaints”is the way that not only does it sound like you — I’ve interviewed you before so in reading the book, it sounded like you…
GLESS: Thank you! It’s very important to me that you hear my voice in that.
BLADE: It totally comes through. The other thing that shines through is your sense of humor and comic timing.
GLESS: Thank you!
BLADE: How important was it for you to make that aspect of your personality a part of the book?
GLESS: Very important. I do have a sarcastic, not a mean sarcastic, a funny sarcastic side. Some of the complaints and some of my addictions and some of the things I talk about…you’ve got to take some of it lightly or who’s going to want to read that? Clearly, I survived. It’s not all bad news. When I came up with the title, [laughs] which was perfect because there were so many complaints about me in my life, sometimes you just have to laugh, even at the sadder stuff. I’m still standing, Gregg!
BLADE: Yes, you are! Memoirs, like TV shows such as “Finding Your Roots,” are a way for both the subject and the audience to uncover fascinating details that might not otherwise have been public knowledge. The story about your boarding school classmate Gibbie, also known as the late Abigail Folger, in chapter seven feels like an example of that. Would you ever consider being on one of those genealogy tracing shows?
GLESS: I didn’t know a show like that existed. I would never do something like “This Is Your Life”[laughs], remember that? I didn’t know about a show that traces your genealogy. I’m always fascinated in my background. I’m certainly not opposed to anybody scraping up my genealogy.
BLADE: You write about your interactions with LGBTQ+ people in your life, personally and professionally, and Chapter 43, titled “I’ll Be There,” which is about your experience playing Debbie Novotny in Showtime’s “Queer As Folk”made me weep, it was so beautiful. This is less a question than it is an expression of gratitude for, well, being there.
GLESS: Thank you! The pleasure, for lack of a better word, is all mine. You have all changed my life. I became so much more educated. I thought, “Oh, I know it all. All my best friends are gay.” Right? But I learned so much on “Queer As Folk.” Thestories that they wrote and the performances. I didn’t realize the real plight, the behind-the-scenes pain that went on in the gay community. Because of “Queer As Folk” I became quite educated and impassioned. I meant it when I said, “I’ll be there.”
BLADE: The Peacock streaming service is doing a “Queer As Folk” reboot. What do you think about that?
GLESS: Yes, I’m aware they’re doing a reboot of it. What I think about it is I’m so sorry they’re not using the original cast. It’s never going to be better. But good luck to them, and I hope they have even close to the hit we were. I think the biggest star of that show right now is going to be the city of New Orleans. We’ll see how the stories go.
BLADE: Because the entertainment industry is a central component to your memoir, if “Apparently There Were Complaints”was to be made into a theatrical movie or TV miniseries, who would you want to play you?
GLESS: It would take several actresses because there’s a lot of years. If there was somebody who could span it. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence. She has a husky voice, too. And there’s also an irreverence and a sensitivity to her. If anybody ever wanted to do that, I think she’d be great.
BLADE: Finally, in addition to us both being Geminis, we also share South Florida as our home. What do you like best about living here?
GLESS: The happiness on my husband’s (TV producer Barney Rosenzweig) face. When he retired he moved us here. I’m married to a man who if he’s happy, everybody’s happy [laughs]. He adores Florida. Los Angeles was always my home. I was born there, raised there. I’m an Angeleno, through and through. I’ve been to Los Angeles over the last year and I don’t like what’s happened to it. Now I’m grateful to be returning to an island as beautiful as the one I live on. Los Angeles needs a total reboot, rebuild, re-everything. It’s fallen on hard times, L.A. I remember it when I lived there. It was a magical city.
20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C.
Your favorites in dining, entertainment, and more as city returns to normal
Welcome to the Washington Blade’s 20th annual Best Of LGBTQ D.C. issue. This is a fun project to put together each year, but made even sweeter this year as the city has slowly returned to a new sense of normal post-vaccines. This year’s awards are a bit smaller in scope as so many venues and events were closed or postponed last year — but this list represents growth from 2020 and we’re excited to reinstate our annual Best Of party.
In the following pages, we celebrate the best of the LGBTQ community in Washington. We reduced our usual 100 categories to 60 given all the COVID closures and restrictions on nightlife and arts & entertainment events. About 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in 60 categories for the 20th annual Best Of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. The photographers are credited throughout. This year’s contributing writers are Philip Van Slooten, Joey DiGuglielmo, Patrick Folliard, Kaela Roeder, and Tinashe Chingarande. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, DC Brau, Hook Hall and The Washington Regional Transplant Community.
Community advocate, event moderator and Queen of the Shameless Plug, D.C. icon Rayceen Pendarvis wears many crowns as host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” streaming the first Wednesday of each month through November.
For 10 years, Pendarvis has been host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a live monthly variety program in D.C. In addition to live music and other performances, segments include panel discussions, interviews, competitions, comedy, and games.
The program made its debut in May 2012 at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre and moved to the Human Rights Campaign Equality Center in 2017. For its 10th and final season, “The Ask Rayceen Show” went virtual.
In addition to Team Rayceen events, Pendarvis has hosted community Pride celebrations, Story District’s Out/Spoken, Reel Affirmations International LGBTQ Film Festival, and a series of programs for the DC Office on Aging.
Pendarvis is also an inspirational speaker and a tireless advocate for the community.
“God is so good,” Pendarvis told a cheering crowd in June 2020 before leading a prayer in Black Lives Matter Plaza. “I’m still marching. I marched with Dr. King. I marched on Washington for gay and civil rights for everyone, for marriage equality, for women to have an equal place at the table…and here I am, still marching.”
In June, the D.C. Council approved a resolution recognizing Pendarvis’s accomplishments and roles as a former commissioner, moderator and advocate, and in September Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 1 as a day to recognize the contributions of both Pendarvis and the long-running program to the District.
During a lengthy public career, Pendarvis has been recognized by Casa Ruby, the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church, Capital Pride and a variety of other community organizations.
Numerous awards Pendarvis has also received include the Triumph Award, Spirit of Light, Us Helping Us Lifetime Achievement Award, the Wilmore Cooke Award, the Gillard-Alston Award, and the Red-Era Ballroom Legendary Award for outstanding community service.
Pendarvis is currently active online via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and as a co-host on the Team Rayceen YouTube channel. (PVS)
Best Drag Queen: Bombalicious Eklaver
Bombalicious Eklaver, the drag alter ego of Ed Figueroa, is the resident drag queen at the Baltimore Eagle and hostess of “BLOWOUT!” every Saturday.
She’ll also be at “Drag Underground” at Dupont Underground on Oct. 22 and she has recurring brunches at Firefly and Mercy Me in D.C. The next is Oct. 31. Starting next month, she’ll be at “Drag Social” at TallBoy every other Monday. Her show “Superstar,” derailed by the pandemic, features up-and-coming drag talent and will be back at Songbyrd’s new location starting Nov. 19.
She says performing in the COVID era has been a game changer.
“It’s definitely not the same,” Eklaver says. “Performers and audiences are still taking heavy precautions while the virus and its variants are still there. Many venues still require masks and proof of vaccination. I work as an RN in my day job so I know this nightmare isn’t over yet for sure.”
Figueroa, a native of the Philippines, came to the Baltimore area more than a decade ago to work at Mercy Medical Center. He and husband Ivn Manahan live in Hanover, Md., with their Pomeranians Bogart and Bertha.
Follow Bombalicious at @bombalicious.eklaver on Instagram. (JD)
Best Drag King: Rico Pico
(Runner-up: Majic Dyke)
Rico Pico, the drag alter ego of Jenni Serrano, is a life-long D.C.-area native proud of his Salvadorean heritage. His style is punk rock, genderfuck and “a whole lot of Latin flavor,” he says.
Serrano has been doing drag since January 2020.
“I always loved drag and was inspired by local drag performers, but I didn’t see enough performers like me,” Serrano says. “King, alternative, Latinx, genderfluid, etc. I didn’t feel represented, so I chose to represent myself.”
Serrano says Rico “saved my life.”
“I’ve been through a lot of trauma as a queer person,” they says. “Rico allowed me to express that pain through art. It makes me so happy and alive.
Look for Serrano on Halloween at DIK Bar.
Serrano performs in various spots in the region and is active in queer Latinx events. Serrano, who identifies as genderfluid and pan, works by day as a stylist at Bang Salon Metropole. Follow him @kingricopico on Instagram. (JD)
Best Drag Show: Freddie’s Follies
555 S. 23rd St.
(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear’s Drag Bingo)
The Freddie’s Follies Drag Show is every Saturday at 8 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd St., Arlington, Va.) and boasts “the best drag entertainment the DMV has to offer.”
Cast regulars are longtime D.C.-area drag legends Destiny B. Childs, Monet Dupree, Tatiyanna Voche and Ophelia Bottoms along with a rotating cast of guests.
Reservations, which are not required but encouraged if you want a table seat, can be made at freddiesbeachbar.com or 703-685-0555. (JD)
Best Absolut Happy Hour: Trade
1410 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Number Nine)
Throughout history, gay bars and clubs have been safe spaces where queer people can gather and be themselves without fear of judgement. Trade, located on 14th Street, N.W., is exactly that. All its events — especially happy hour — guarantee a great time to express yourself while enjoying others’ company over a drink. (TC)
Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade
(Runner-up: Carl Parker, Town Tavern)
Dusty Martinez, celebrating his fifth year at Trade as bartender/general manager, is glad to have “made it through last year.”
“I’m a strong advocate for the vaccine because I lost my mom to COVID at the beginning of the year,” he says. “The community really rallied behind me. I’m grateful for the bar and the community for being there for me. Trade has always been a safe and inviting place and I’m happy to be part of that.”
This award was not given last year, but Martinez (who formerly worked at Town) was runner up in 2018 and 2016 and won in 2017 and 2014. He says he always tries to have fun with Best of LGBTQ D.C.
“Anytime the bar is nominated for something, I try to make some funny videos and images to add to my feed,” he says. “I really try to make light of it. It’s both an honor and delight to even be nominated.” (JD)
Best Neighborhood Bar: Pitchers
2317 18th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Uproar)
Pitchers launched in 2018 and bills itself as “a sports bar/restaurant for the LGBTQIA+ community where all are welcome.”
Owner Dave Perruzza says things are slowly getting “somewhat back to normal.”
“We haven’t fully bounced back yet,” he says. “We still have to pay off loans and it’s hard to keep inventory because of the constant shortage of products.”
Recurring events include:
• Thirst Trap Thursdays feature a rotating cast of drag entertainers and is hosted by Venus Valhalla and Cake each week from 9-10 p.m.
• Black Friday, featuring drag performers of color, is the first Friday of each month at 10 p.m.
• Show tunes is all day every Sunday in the First Base area.
Pitchers is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Proof of vaccination required for entry. (JD)
Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden
79 Potomac Ave., S.E. (Navy Yard) and 1600 7th St., N.W. (Shaw)
(Editor’s Choice: DC9)
Whatever your taste, Dacha Beer Garden has you covered. Dacha offers a variety of German, Belgian, and American craft beers along with wines, ciders, and other refreshments. Dacha previously won Best Outdoor Drinking in 2018 and 2019 and Best Straight Bar for five consecutive years until 2019. (KR)
Best Bar Outside the District: Freddie’s Beach Bar
555 S. 23rd St.
(Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Eagle)
Extending its record — with this win and the Best Drag Show win, that makes 25 wins for this Best of Gay D.C. favorite. Freddie’s has won this award every year it has been given since 2002 in addition to several others. It’s a Best Of all-time record for a single category.
Freddie’s is Northern Virginia’s only “LGBTQ+, straight-friendly” restaurant and bar and is a queer D.C.-area institution. (JD)
Best Museum: National Museum of African American History and Culture
1400 Constitution Ave., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art)
Nothing included in the 100-years-in-the-making National Museum of African American History and Culture (officially established in 2003), which cost $540 million to build ($315 million came from private funds) and which broke ground in February 2012, was considered lightly.
Among artifacts included in the 400,000-square-foot building situated on five acres adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall, are Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a slave cabin dating to the early 1800s, a dress handmade by Rosa Parks, a fedora worn in concert by Michael Jackson, pieces of a slave ship, a plane from the Tuskegee Institute used to train African-American pilots during World War II, a bill of sale for a Black teen named Polly in 1835, glass shards from a Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and, of course, much more.
Perhaps the most significant LGBTQ item that has been displayed there is an inscribed watch that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Museum was “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won it in 2017. (JD)
Best Transgender Performer: Gigi Paris Couture
(Runner-up: India Larelle Houston)
Miss Gigi Paris Couture has won numerous titles and awards for her blend of sweet and sexy burlesque performances. Beginning with Miss Luchos Continental in 2001, Couture won Miss Continental preliminary titles of Miss New York, New York Continental in 2002 and Miss Tennessee Continental in 2003. Her other awards include Miss Diamond International in 2007 and Miss Freddie’s in 2015. Couture currently delights crowds at local favorite Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St. S, Crystal City, Va.), just outside of Arlington, with her award-winning artistry. (PVS)
Best Entertainment Venue: 9:30 Club
815 V St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Wolf Trap)
D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club is no stranger to accolades. In recent years it’s been named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow.
Since its opening in 1980, the club has played host to thousands of bands and artists ranging from the Psychedelic Furs to Tony Bennett. Initially billed as the “first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years,” a welcome concept that’s worked impressively both at the club’s original location at 930 F St., N.W., a then-blighted part of town, and since 1996 at its larger space on V Street.
Currently, a version of the original F St. 9:30 Club, is in the planning stages. The new, intimate venue will be located behind the existing 9:30 Club in the old Satellite Room space.
Best A&E Event: D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground
19 Dupont Circle, N.W.
(Runner-up: Maryland Renaissance Festival)
D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground is an exhibition that celebrates drag and its roots in America. Through a collection of pictures gathered from the Washington Blade’s archives and video footage from interviews with Shi-Queeta-Lee & Pretty RikE, the exhibition honors the “power, pride and leadership that define the drag community,” according to Dupont’s website. The events, held earlier this year, were sponsored by the Blade and Dupont Underground. (TC)
Best LGBTQ-owned Business: Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M St., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Miss Pixie’s)
A relatively new gay-owned venue in the District, Red Bear Brewing Co. offers made in-house beers and classic bar food in the heart of NoMa. Red Bear hosts several types of events including drag shows, trivia and stand-up performances. Red Bear Brewing’s Bryan Van Den Oever won Best Businessperson in 2020. (KR)
Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace: Whitman-Walker Health
(Editor’s Choice: Compass Realty)
Whitman-Walker Health, D.C.’s LGBTQ supportive health care provider, conducts research, hosts community events and advocates for policy change. Since 1973, the organization has been a driving force in advocacy for health equity. During the AIDS epidemic, Whitman-Walker became a safe haven when many hospitals and clinics turned gay people away.
At the patient care level, Whitman-Walker offers primary, gender-affirming, behavioral and dental care at three separate locations. Whitman-Walker is set to open a new facility at the redeveloping St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Campus in Southeast Washington in 2023. (KR)
Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14
1314 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Bang Salon)
The folks at Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa say “back to normal” isn’t quite the way to characterize their current modus operandi.
“We are forever changed and moving forward,” says Katie Rose, general manager. “The pandemic has given us the opportunity to be curious again about all aspects of our business and how we operate.”
She says it’s “been great” to have its capacity restriction lifted in May, the team back on site and to “feel that salon buzz” once again.
Business is not at pre-pandemic levels, but has improved since 2020.
About 75 percent of Aveda’s clientele is LGBTQ. This is Aveda’s sixth consecutive win in this category. (JD)
Best Hotel: The Line D.C.
1770 Euclid St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: The Viceroy)
Inspired by the District and housed inside a 110-year old historic church, The Line D.C. is the product of a community effort by local chefs, bartenders, artists and cultural contributors.
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, the Line “delivers a uniquely rich way to experience the nation’s capital,” its marketing states.
The Line is pet friendly and has a restaurant and gym on site. A robust COVID policy is also in place.
The Line D.C. was named “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won in 2019. (JD)
Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness
Multiple D.C. locations
(Editor’s Choice: Cut Seven)
VIDA once again displays its dominance. This is its third consecutive win in this category and 10th win in this category overall.
VIDA has six locations — U Street (1612 U St., N.W.), Logan Circle (1517 15th St., N.W.), The Yards (1212 4th St. S.E. #170), Ballston (4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), Gallery Place (601 F St., N.W.) and City Vista (445 K St., N.W.). The VIDA chain is gay-owned by David Von Storch. Membership packages run between $119-179 per month and include access to all locations, virtual classes, indoor and outdoor classes, discounts at Aura Spa and Bang Salon and more.
Readers praised the gym for surviving COVID. Last year it won “Best Virtual Fitness Classes.” (JD)
Best Real Estate Agent: TIE! Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty and Michael Moore, Compass
Best Real Estate Agent: TIE Michael Moore, Compass & Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty
In a Best Of rarity, we have a tie this year for Best Real Estate Agent.
Over the course of a real estate career spanning 30 years, Michael Moore has received numerous industry recognitions and honors. A client testimonial also celebrates him as “very professional” with a “great personality,” and interestingly Compass not only heralds his skills as a market expert and a negotiator but as “a bit of comedic relief.” It is this blend of skill and personality that has made him a community favorite.
Stacey Williams-Zeiger opened her own auto dealership in her native Maryland. Later she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and she is now the president and principal broker of Zeiger Realty, Inc., which she calls an equality-based business.
“Even if you work with an agent who is equality minded, their brokerage may use money generated from your home sale to fight against you,” she told the Blade a few years ago. “Zeiger Realty Inc. is your company and everyone with whom you come into contact will be on your side.”
She works in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (PVS)
Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass
(Runner-up: Marin Hagen & Sylvia Bergstrom, Coldwell Banker)
“Stacked townhouse, condo, or apartment?” The Jenn Smira Team at Compass posted Oct. 3 to its Facebook page, breaking down the differences and the advantages of each. The Wall Street Journal reported the Smira Team is among the top 30 large real estate teams in America, and this team stands out for educating potential homebuyers in the midst of a housing crisis. Jenn Smira is also on the board of D.C. W.I.S.E. (Women in Solidarity for Empowerment), a non-profit raising money for local organizations that serve women and children, and the team supports a number of other D.C.-area charitable causes. (PVS)
Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health
1525 14th St., N.W.
(Runner-up: Dr. Robyn Zeiger)
Since its beginnings as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic in 1973, Whitman-Walker Health has been serving the LGBTQ community in the D.C.-area through numerous health crises, including the AIDS/HIV epidemic and the current global COVID-19 pandemic. For more than 40 years Whitman-Walker Health has been a sanctuary for the District’s underserved populations, providing a lifeline and advocacy as well as an affirming space. (PVS)
Best Lawyer: Jordan Foster
(Runner-up: Whit Washington)
“He showed up to every court date and was always there on time,” reads one testimonial for D.C. lawyer Jordan Foster. “Never left me hanging last minute worrying if he’d be there.” When people are in a tough situation and need help, Foster has shown he’s a criminal defense attorney they can count on. Even his peers have posted he “always proves to be prepared and is a strong advocate for his clients.” But this staunch advocate finds himself in a tough position when choosing which of his alma maters to root for when college basketball season takes to a different court. (PVS)
Best Private School: Barrie School
13500 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring, Md.
(Editor’s Choice: Burgundy Farm Country Day School)
Located in Silver Spring, Barrie School is a progressive independent school serving students with Montessori (12 months to Grade 5) and Project-Based Learning (Grade 6 to Grade 12) curricula. The student body is drawn from neighborhoods throughout the greater D.C. area, reflecting the cultural and economic diversity of the region.
Originally named Peter Pan Kindergarten, Barrie School was founded in 1932 by Frances Littman Seldin. Over the years, the school tried on various names and D.C. spaces before settling as Barrie School at its leafy Maryland campus in 1960.
Barrie’s website stresses inclusion and features a link to Rainbow Families (rainbowfamilies.org), a terrific organization dedicated to educating, connecting, and supporting LGBTQ+ families and parents-to-be. (PF)
Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax
8427 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va.
(Editor’s Choice: DarCars)
BMW of Fairfax prides itself on customer service and selection. In addition to its extensive new car inventory, they carry an excellent range of pre-owned vehicles.
When Blade reader Vicki Richardson returned to D.C. after teaching abroad, she needed a car but also wanted to minimize her carbon footprint. She looked around before buying a BMW i3 electric with range extender at BMW of Fairfax. “They were terrific,” says Richardson. “It was my first time purchasing an electric vehicle. They patiently explained how the car works. And what’s more, when they found out I was a teacher, they gave me a discount.
“Yes, I’d go back again,” she says. (PF)
Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (second floor)
(Editor’s Choice: G Books)
Bite the Fruit aims to please. And apparently, it’s doing just that.
Housed in the former Leather Rack location in Dupont Circle, the second-floor shop has been voted Best Adult Store by Blade readers multiple times (its walls are festooned with the framed awards from past years). In business since 2012, the “gay-owned, straight-friendly and kink forward” store boasts a large inventory of sex toys, revealing and fetish attire, books, films, and erotica of all kinds. As a satisfied reviewer wrote, “If it’s not there, it probably doesn’t exist.”
Items are available both in the physical store and online. (PF)
Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard
1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.
(Editor’s Choice: City Winery)
Based on the traditional family farm wineries of the French countryside, Montifalco Vineyard offers an intimate experience at the winemaker’s charming family farm winery in Ruckersville, Va., a small town not far from Charlottesville in the beautiful Monticello American Viticultural Area of Virginia.
Montifalco Vineyard is owned and operated by sommelier and winemaker Justin Falco who expresses a commitment to high standards, caring for his vineyards, and creating small batch boutique wines with distinct personality. He describes wines produced at Montifalco as an exciting fusion of Old World tradition and New World taste and flavor.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome on a leash. (PF)
Best Tattoo Parlor: Tattoo Paradise
2444 18th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Fatty’s Tattoos)
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, Tattoo Paradise has been supplying the city with tattoos and body piercings since 2003. Along with its celebrated in-house tattoo artists, the parlor hosts a constantly revolving cast of international and national guest tattooists. Also on offer are microblading (permanent makeup), and merchandise like T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, and hats.
With additional locations in Wheaton and Rockville, Tattoo Paradise strives to serve the needs of both area and visiting ink enthusiasts. For instance, during the Women’s March on Washington, Tattoo Paradise satisfied scores of marchers from near and far with much-in-demand feminist and Women’s March-related tattoos.
Customer requests are varied. The artists are versatile and creative. (PF)
Best Pet Business or Vet: Friendship Hospital for Animals
4105 Brandywine St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: City Paws Animal Hospital)
Friendship Hospital for Animals understands the unique bond between humans and animals, according to its website. Therefore, this hospital provides state of the art pet health care to ensure that animals are as safe and healthy as possible. Friendship Hospital for Animals provides primary care, emergency care, and specialized care from doctors who specialize in a variety of fields like orthopedic and specialty surgery, medical oncology and neurology. (TC)
Most Committed Activist: Preston Mitchum
(Runner-up: Sultan Shakir)
“I can’t take it anymore,” tweeted Black queer attorney, advocate, and Georgetown Law Professor Preston Mitchum following a second Netflix special in which comedian Dave Chappelle doubled down on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. “Currently (writing) a piece on why Chappelle’s special — and any others like it — is problematic and will undoubtedly fuel flames against LGBTQ people.” Mitchum currently brings his passion, his insight and his legal expertise to his role as director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. He has also served as Georgetown’s director of policy at URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. (PVS)
Best D.C. Public Official: Eleanor Holmes Norton
Main District Office
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
(Runner-up: Christina Henderson)
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has proudly represented D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991. Prior to serving in Congress, Holmes was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Since then she has been named one of the 100 most important American women and one of the most powerful women in Washington. She continues to push for D.C. statehood and for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for District residents. (PVS)
Best Clergy: Bishop Allyson Abrams
Empowerment Liberation Cathedral
4900 10th St., N.E.
(Runner-up: Rev. Dwayne Johnson)
Bishop Allyson Abrams, founder and pastor of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, has come a long way since resigning from her church in Detroit in 2013 after announcing she had married Bishop Diana Williams. Abrams similarly tweeted in 2014 for followers to “shake off” what’s been holding them back and not let anyone keep them from their destiny. Since 2015, this proud wife, mother, feminist, and author has been named Best Clergy, and her church Best House of Worship, numerous times by Washington Blade readers. (PVS)
Best House of Worship: Metropolitan Community Church of D.C.
474 Ridge St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church)
For LGBT folks of faith, finding an accepting house of worship doesn’t always come easily. But the Metropolitan Community church of Washington (MCC-DC) is a Christian Church with a special ministry to the LGBTQ community where the welcome is warm.
Founded in 1970, MCC-DC’s congregation grew consistently through its first decade. In the ‘80s, the church unflinchingly responded to the AIDS epidemic, partnering with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the NIH, MCC Baltimore, and Georgetown University Hospital to host one of the first AIDS forums in the nation (the event was held at the church). Also, MCC-DC was among the first houses of worship in D.C. to hold a same-sex wedding.
At MCC-DC there’s something for everyone. Its many ministries are broad and far-reaching. They include, to name a few, choir, drama, Bible study, and Pride outreach. (PF)
Best Regional Pride: Baltimore Pride
(Editor’s Choice: Virginia Pride, Richmond)
Baltimore Pride got its start as a smallish rally in Charles Plaza in 1975. And from those comparatively small beginnings, it’s grown into a major annual celebration each June with the first day of Pride weekend involving the Baltimore Pride parade in vibrant Charles Village and the Baltimore Pride Block Party in Station North. The second day involves the Baltimore Pride Festival held at verdant Druid Hill Park.
Though its centerpiece parade was cancelled in 2021due to COVID-19, the spirit and energy of Baltimore Pride was undimmed. From festive Zoom happy hours to open discussions about how racism impacts the LGBTQ community, there were socially distant safe ways to celebrate Pride last June.
Charm City’s flavor is inimitable. We look forward to Baltimore Pride’s full force return in June 2022. (PF)
Best LGBTQ Event: D.C. Black Pride
(Editor’s Choice: Miss Adams Morgan Pageant)
First celebrated at Banneker Field in 1991, D.C. Black Pride is the world’s oldest Black LGBT Pride event. Now attracting 40,000 participants, the festival takes place annually in late May over Memorial Day weekend.
Conceived by local Black activists as a fundraiser for AIDS groups, D.C. Black Pride turned a holiday weekend already popular with the community, into an official annual event with workshops, films, plays, poetry slams, dance parties, awards, and barbeques.
Today’s D.C. Black Pride (pre-pandemic) boasts a week of day and night programming that includes deep diving professional and personal workshops, premier entertainment, and leading nightclub venues. Additionally, the Center for Black Equity hosts awards to recognize exemplary members and allies of the Black LGBTQ+ community and presents monthly virtual (and hybrid as feasible) engagement experiences.
Whatever the changes, D.C. Black Pride remains an unbeatable destination for Black Queer liberation, community fellowship, and lots of celebration. (PF)
Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics
(Editor’s Choice: DC United)
The Washington Mystics is a women’s basketball team located in D.C. and it competes in the Women’s National Basketball Association as a member club of the league’s eastern conference. Led by general manager and head coach Mike Thibault, assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti and associate coach Eric Thibault, this team shows that D.C.’s women basketball teams are strong national contenders within the sport. (TC)
Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C.
1140 3rd St., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Sports)
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. sings to inspire equality and inclusion through musical performances, according to its website. Formed in 1981, the group now has more than 250 members and five select ensembles that have performed nationally and internationally and hundreds of donors who ensure that GMCW can continue to promote justice through song. (TC)
Best Non-Profit Powered by Pepco: SMYAL
410 7th St., S.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Center for Black Equity)
Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders trains LGBTQ youth to become future leaders. Through service and advocacy, this non-profit organization teaches queer youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community, according to SMYAL’s website. (TC)
Best Website/Blog: DCist
Covering everything from D.C. Council legislation to nightlife, this site for Washingtonians dynamically covers city events. Launched by volunteers in 2004, it was bought by DNAinfo in early 2017 only to be shut down by the organization’s owner. However, DCist was able to re-launch in 2018 with support from Washington’s NPR affiliate WAMU and readers. This fan favorite continues to engage audiences with its exciting online presence and design. (PVS)
Best Brunch: Perry’s Drag Brunch
1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Class Act Drag Brunch at Sign of the Whale)
Perry’s Drag Brunch is D.C.’s longest-running and “most fabulous drag brunch,” according to its website. Hosted on Sundays, this event treats guests to food catered by Perry’s Restaurant and performances from icons in D.C.’s drag community like Whitney Gucci Goo and India Larelle Houston. (TC)
Best Burger: Duke’s Grocery
1513 17th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Lucky Buns)
With locations in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Foggy Bottom, this restaurant serves guests with hearty portions of classic American food and their award-winning burgers. Added to that is friendly service for which the East London-style restaurant is famous. (TC)
Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Dolci Gelati)
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together, according to its website. Packaged in Instagram-worthy colorful cups, Jeni’s ice creams have a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” that allow one to savor the sweetness of flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble. (TC)
Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza
2016 9th St., N.W.
Andy’s Pizza makes pizza that transports patrons to New York — a strong contender for the American city with the best pizza. Featuring stone deck ovens, long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, California tomatoes, and a skilled pizzaiolo, this neighborhood pizzeria brings New York to D.C. while serving classic combinations. (TC)
Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
1609 17th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Le Diplomate)
Taking the prize for the second year in a row, a Washington pillar Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse offers a variety of hearty American dishes including burgers and salads for lunch, savory omelets and benedicts for brunch and classic steaks for dinner.
Annie’s has operated for 73 years, and the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award in 2019, which honors restaurants with “timeless appeal” and that serve “quality food that reflects the character of their communities.” Annie’s was only the third D.C. restaurant to earn that distinction.
George Katinas and his family opened Paramount Steakhouse in 1948. Katinas hired his sister Anne “Annie” Katinas Kaylor, to work the bar. Her popularity led to the restaurant changing its name to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse. She died in 2013.
Annie’s has been a favorite for years winning Best Overall Restaurant (2001, 2002), Tried & True (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), Best Late Night (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012), Best Brunch (2005) and Best Steakhouse (2007, 2008). Kaylor was named Local Hero Female in 2001. (KR)
Best Outdoor Drinking: Dirty Goose
913 U St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Dacha Beer Garden)
Located in the heart of U Street, The Dirty Goose Bar has been crafting specialty martinis and cocktails since its opening in 2016. Signature drinks include the drunken java martini and a classic cosmopolitan. Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The Dirty Goose doubled the size of the rooftop patio and tripled its self-proclaimed obsession with pop star Britney Spears. (KR)
Best Carryout/Delivery: Beau Thai
3162 Mount Pleasant St., N.W. (Mt. Pleasant) and 1550 7th St., N.W. Unit A (Shaw)
(Editor’s Choice: Ben’s Chili Bowl)
Beau Thai has been serving the D.C. area authentic, made-from-scratch Thai food since 2010. Offering a variety of dishes like shrimp cakes, pineapple fried rice and chicken satay, there’s no shortage of dynamic options to try. (KR)
Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee
(Editor’s Choice: La Colombe)
Founded in 2010 by two Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Compass Coffee has 12 brick and mortar locations in the Washington area and one roasting facility in Shaw. Compass Coffee can be found in many local restaurants and grocery stores across the mid-Atlantic.
The roaster is no stranger to this award — Compass had four consecutive wins in this category through 2019. (KR)
Best Restaurant: Logan Tavern
1423 P St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern)
Known for its buzzy scene and delicious dishes, Logan Tavern is taking the prize yet again after winning Best Restaurant in 2020. Logan’s dishes call to a casual American style, with classic burgers, southern fried chicken and crispy skin-on rockfish being staples on the menu.
In addition to a reliable dinner menu, Logan offers sweet and savory brunch dishes and affordable drinks.
Logan also won Best Bloody Mary in these awards in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012. (KR)
Best Local Brewery: DC Brau
3178 Bladensburg Rd., N.E. Suite B
(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear Brewing Company)
For decades, the District had no local brewery whose products were available in local stores and on tap outside the site of production. DC Brau founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock decided to change that in 2011 when the duo tapped their first keg of beer entirely brewed, packaged, and sold in the District.
Offering beers and hard seltzers, DC Brau crafts drinks for everyone’s tastes. DC Brau and the Blade are currently holding the fourth annual PRIDE PILS fundraiser to benefit SMYAL and the Blade Foundation. A small batch of the PRIDE PILS launched on Oct. 1 in local stores, restaurants, and bars. (KR)
Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery
1369 New York Ave., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Green Hat Distillery)
Women-owned, community-led and made in the District — Republic Restoratives Distillery offers an array of high-quality spirits. Republic’s queer-owned vodka, Civic Pride, was created out of frustration with popular brands co-opting the rainbow flag while also supporting organizations or efforts that directly harm LGBTQ people.
Republic also offers drink kits, like sangria and mint juleps, to make at-home cocktails a breeze. Locally, pick-up or home delivery is available seven days a week. Republic took the prize in 2019 for Best Local Distillery, as well. (KR)
Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)
The Purple Parrot pivoted quickly during the pandemic to keep its doors open and its customers happy and fed. The tireless staff, led by owner Hugh Phelps and mainstays Chris Chandler and Jamie Romano, worked overtime to keep patrons safe, separating tables and enforcing strict masking policies. The Parrot and its popular Biergarten remain Rehoboth mainstays. The place was packed throughout summer 2021 and it’s easy to see why: competent service, some of the best cocktails in town, consistently good bar food, plenty of specials and entertainment all in a festive, beachy atmosphere. No visit to Rehoboth is complete without a stop at the Parrot.
Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Kristina Kelly
(Runner-up: Magnolia Applebottom)
Rehoboth Beach has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to drag entertainment as more and more venues embrace the art of drag. Even nearby Milton and Dewey Beach have seen drag brunches and other events debut in the past year or two. This year’s top honor goes to the tireless Kristina Kelly, much beloved in D.C. after years of performing here. Kelly can now be found holding court at The Pines, hosting Sunday brunch along with Mona Lotts, as well as other events. Kelly recently hosted the Blade’s annual Rehoboth Beach party, handling everything from checking guests’ vaccine status at the door to ensuring the buffet remained stocked. With ongoing labor shortages at the beach, Kelly has been forced to wear multiple hats all while keeping The Pines entertainment calendar filled.
Best Rehoboth Bartender: Todd Nolan Meredith, Lupo Italian Kitchen
(Runner-up: Chris Chandler, Purple Parrot)
Todd Meredith is a newcomer to this category, which has long been dominated by the trio of Holly Lane-Chris Chandler-Jamie Romano. Meredith tends bar at Rehoboth’s always bustling Lupo Italian Kitchen on Rehoboth Avenue. Lupo’s bar is small and Meredith makes sure to introduce his customers to one another, facilitating friendly conversation in the cozy setting. And if you go once, chances are Meredith will remember your drink of choice on your next visit, even if it’s months later. His memory is remarkable and his positive vibe and top-notch bartending skills keep the regulars and tourists alike coming back.
Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Pamala Stanley
(Runner-up: Climax with Magnolia Applebottom)
There’s no keeping Pamala Stanley down. This perennial winner moved to virtual shows during last year’s pandemic to keep her many fans entertained. She even staged a series of fundraisers during quarantine, donating thousands to Beebe Healthcare in Sussex County, Del. Stanley returned to the stage at The Pines, which hosts her ever-popular Sunday night dance party, as soon as COVID restrictions were lifted. She has since launched a popular Wednesday night virtual show, reaching fans far and wide. Just last month, Stanley was inducted into the Legends of Vinyl Artists Hall of Fame, honoring her long, successful recording career. Unfortunately, Stanley was sidelined with COVID several weeks ago, which she has publicly addressed on social media. The good news is she’s doing better and preparing to return to the stage. Stay tuned for details on the resumption of her Wednesday night show online and her Sunday night party at The Pines.
Best Rehoboth Coffee Shop: Rise Up
502 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: The Coffee Mill)
You can’t miss Rise Up as you enter downtown Rehoboth Beach, with its bold black-and-white building, often festooned with holiday-themed décor on the roof. Rise Up offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a full bar, which sits to the right of the coffee station. The 502 Bar and Rise Up offer outdoor seating and are pet friendly, a perfect option in these socially distanced times.
Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Blue Moon
35 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Perhaps we should retire this category, as the Blue Moon seems to win each year, including last year. The food remains among the very best in town, consistently impressing diners for decades. This year saw a pivot to cabaret-style seating and entertainment with the talented pianist Nate Buccieri holding court five nights a week all summer. (Buccieri is expected to make several return visits this fall.) Don’t miss the Blue Moon’s Tasting Tuesday, a three-course dinner with wine pairings for just $45. And if you want an even better bargain, try Sunday night’s $25 steak special. No matter when you go, you can’t go wrong with dinner or Sunday brunch at the Moon.
Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson
16698 Kings Hwy A.
(Runner-up: Jason Abela)
This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fourth consecutive win in this category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group has ranked #1 in real estate sales in Sussex County, Del., for more than 20 years and ranks #3 nationally for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate network. She is a regular contributor to the Blade. Her informed articles on real estate trends at the Delaware beaches and her insights on the market proved beneficial throughout the pandemic. There are many smart, capable Realtors in the Sussex County market, several of whom have been honored here in the last decade, and Wilkinson is among the very best.
Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)
Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber bounced back from a difficult 2020 and not only kept Rehoboth visitors entertained at Diego’s but found the time to open a new restaurant that became an instant hit this summer, Square One, offering an impressive dinner menu and arguably the best martinis in town. Diego’s offers a regular and growing schedule of entertainment, dance parties, and happy hours and the beach-themed outdoor bar is always busy and a safe option for those still practicing social distancing. The duo are an unstoppable force in Rehoboth and we look forward to what they do in 2022.
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