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Best of Gay D.C. XIII: People

Winners from the Blade’s readers poll

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To see the winners of the Washington Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. readers poll in other categories, click here.

Best Singer or Band

Frankie & Betty

Runner-up: Wicked Jezabel

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Frankie and Betty (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Frankie & Betty are a queer acoustic rock duo comprised of Rachel Bauchman (vocals/bass/guitar) and Jessie Strick (lead guitar). Since forming in 2011, they’ve played numerous events, including Roanoke Pride, Phasefest several times and more. They have shows planned at Tree house Lounge on Monday night and the Rock and Roll Hotel on Thursday. Look them up on Facebook to stay current. (JD)

Local Heroine

Ruby Corado

Runner-up: Ashliana Rowe

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Long-time LGBT advocate Ruby Corado is the visionary behind Casa Ruby, a local bilingual, multicultural LGBT organization that works to create “success life stories” among LGBT, gender queer and gender non-conforming residents in need. The recently wed Corado is a former Capital Pride Hero and has received many accolades for her work. (JD)

Casa Ruby

2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.

202-355-5155

casaruby.org

Local Hero

Sgt. Matthew Mahl

Runner-up: Ed Bailey

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Sgt. Matt Mahl (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who oversees six officers as part of the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit of the D.C. Metro Police Department, says it’s “been a good year.”

“I don’t want to say crime is up, but we have been busier,” the 35-year-old Havana, Ohio, native says. “We have our hands in a lot of stuff.”

Mahl, a cop for 15 years and in Washington since 2001, joined the MPD in 2004 and the GLLU in 2012, having spent his entire previous career on patrol duty. He was forced out on the job during a 2007 incident in which his locker was vandalized but says that’s the only bad experience he’s ever had on the force.

Although initially hesitant to join the GLLU, he says overall it’s been a great experience and he enjoys helping his fellow officers learn “the sensitivities and needs of the LGBT community.” (JD)

Best Drag King

Avery Austin

Runner-up: Sebastian Katz

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Avery Austin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Anna Wimpelberg works by day as an HIV researcher at Whitman-Walker Health but her drag alter ego Avery Austin was born about 11 years ago when the 36-year-old New Orleans native and lesbian saw a drag show in Boston, her then-home.

A veteran of various high school and college theater productions, she says she recognized “immediately that it was something I would love to do.” She continued during an eight-year stint in Austin, Texas, and joined the D.C. Kings when she came to Washington about three years ago. She calls herself  “the theater nerd of the group” and guesses she performs with them at Phase 1 and occasional other venues about four or five times per year, often recreating songs she’s seen on “Glee!”

Find more information on the Kings at dckings.com. (JD)

Best Realtor

Mark Rutstein

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Rutstein (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1606 17th St. N.W.

202-498-1198

iknowdc.com

Runner-up: Ray Gernhart

 

Best DJ

DJ Rosie

Runner-up: Shea Van Horn

people, gay news, Washington Blade

DJ Rosie (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

DJ Rosie Hicks has been spinning for about 13 years and spins regularly at the Hippo in her hometown Baltimore and also at LURe at Cobalt, Phase 1 and other area events in addition to a day job teaching special education.

Known for a mix of hip-hop, R&B, pop and more, she says she just all-around loves music. She also won this award in 2012.

“I love making people happy out there,” the Baltimore native says. “The whole point of coming out to a bar or club to hear a DJ is to let go of worries and cares and enjoy it.”

Look her up on Facebook to stay current with her events. (JD)

Best Drag Queen

Ba’Naka

Runner-up: Heidi Glum

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Ba’Naka (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A flip-flop of last year’s results when Glum won, Ba’Naka (Dustin Michael Schaad) is on top again this year adding to her 2012, 2011 and 2010 prizes (a Blade record) in this category.

Ba’Naka, who now does drag full-time and has positioned herself as the go-to gal for everything from hosting local Family Feud nights to getting you ready (for a fee of course!) for Miss Adams Morgan two weeks ago, she is widely known in the community for her outspoken Facebook comments, elaborate Disney routines (her Ursula is legendary) and consistent A-game delivery. And although it hasn’t happened yet, she’s our best local hope for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” (JD)

Hottest Stripper or Go-go Dancer

Steve Pena

Runner-up: Christian Lezzil

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Pena (Photo courtesy Steve Pena)

Steve Pena got into dancing through his husband, Brent Everett, with whom he also runs a popular porn site (brenteverett.com). He’s nonchalant about the work, which he does every Friday night at Town when he’s in Washington and monthly at Latin Night at Cobalt.

“It’s a way to have fun, stay in touch with friends and fans and meet future models for our website,” the San Diego-born, Texas-reared Pena says.

In the region for about a year and a half, Pena, in an e-mail from Amsterdam where he’s traveling, says he appreciates the support.

“I have the best and most loyal friends, fans and followers out there.” (JD)

 

Best Burlesque Dancer

Private Tails

Runner-up: Glam Gamz

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Private Tails (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Private Tails (aka Ashliana Rowe) has been performing burlesque since 2005 and has drawn influence from classic burlesque, hip-hop, Broadway and more for what she calls “the art of the tease.”

As producer of Private Tease Productions, a monthly variety show she uses as an outlet for young performers she mentors, she says she “enjoys the creative process of developing new numbers and looks forward to the opportunity to whip up a fresh new performance.”

Although she has several titles under her belt, this is a new category for Best Of and she’s the inaugural winner.

Her next performance is at Phase 1 on Halloween. Keep up with her on Facebook or at privatetails.com. (JD)

Best Business Person

DC Allen

Runner Up: Ray Gernhart

DC Allen, Crew Club, gay news, Washington Blade

DC Allen (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Businessman DC Allen has been credited with setting the pace for local gay-owned businesses to support the broader LGBT community.

Allen along with his husband Ken Flick owns the Crew Club, a D.C. health club and sauna that caters to gay men.

Last year Allen, 58, presented the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community with a $25,000 check to help the Center pay for renovation costs for its new space in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U streets, N.W.

“We decided it was important for the center to be there for all of us in the community,” Allen says.

Since opening the Crew Club at 1321 14th St., N.W., in the early 1990s, Allen has supported a number of local LGBT organizations and causes, including the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which presented Allen with its Distinguished Service Award in 1998.

Under Allen’s direction, the Crew Club has also supported Whitman-Walker Health and Us Helping Us, two local community health organizations that provide services to the LGBT community, including AIDS education and prevention services.

In addition to providing financial support for the two groups, Allen has arranged for staff members of the groups to provide HIV testing on the Crew Club’s premises. The Crew Club also serves as a major distribution point for HIV prevention literature and free condoms.

The Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce recently named Allen Business Leader of the Year. (LC)

Best Massage

Che Young

Runner-up: Eddie Weingart

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Che Young (Photo by Chris Jay Photography)

Relax the stress away with a massage by Che Young. Young provides deep tissue, Swedish, clinical and massage therapy. The Alexandra-based pro can be reached at 703-627-9090 or visit massagetherapy.com. (MC)

 

Best Visual Artist

Denis Largeron

Denis Largeron (Photo by Denis Largeron)

Denis Largeron (Photo by Denis Largeron)

1621 T St., N.W., Apt. 201

202-420-1030

demislargeron.com

Runner-up: Amy Martin

Best Personal Trainer

Gerard Burley

Runner-up: Bucky Mitchell

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Gerard Burley (Photo by Scott Henrichsen)

Gerard Burley shares fitness tips via his biweekly column in the Blade. He also makes appearances on Fox 5 and is known for his SweatDC fitness party. Find him via Facebook for regular updates and inspirational fitness-related posts.

(Editor’s note: Bucky Mitchell also writes a biweekly column in the Blade.)

Best TV Personality

Chuck Bell, NBC4

Runner-up: Wendy Rieger

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Chuck Bell (Washington Blade photo by Jonathan Ellis)

Best Actor

Mickey Daniel DaGuiso

Runner-up: Will Gartshore

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Mickey Daguiso, center (Photo courtesy The Landless Theatre Company)

Mickey Daniel DaGuiso grew up in the D.C. suburbs. He attended Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, mostly for the music program, and graduated from the University of Virginia where he majored in anthropology and philosophy.

Throughout school, he was involved in band (saxophone, piano) and chorus. It wasn’t until after college that DaGuiso started doing musicals. “It began as sort of a whim,” he says, “and then I was instantly hooked.”

Among the local companies where he’s worked, his favorites are Keegan Theatre (“Man of La Mancha” and “Rent”) and Landless Theatre where he played Kebab in “Perez Hilton Saves the Universe” and the lead in “Spidermusical,” a spoof of Broadway’s “Spiderman,” and many other roles. He has also served as musical director and accompanist for assorted Landless productions.

“Keegan is such a friendly, supportive community yet the creativity and work involved is just superior. Landless is the most enjoyable both on stage and backstage, efficient and creative with time and space, with vision and little ego.”

Currently DaGuiso is taking a year away from theater to travel the world. (He responded to these interview questions via email from India where he’s embarking on a six-month walkabout.) While traveling he’s trying his hand at playwriting.

“I’m keeping it very open-ended so just reading a lot, taking down inspiration whenever it comes and doing a daily writing practice. I do plan on continuing with acting in D.C. when I get back. But who knows what the future holds? I’m like the wind.” (PF)

Best Actress

MaryBeth Wise

Runner-up: Holly Twyford

people, gay news, Washington Blade

MaryBeth Wise in ‘How to Write a New Book for the Bible.’ (Photo by Danisha Crosby)

MaryBeth Wise likens acting to a never-ending education. Currently she’s taking a class for experienced actors at Studio Theatre.

“I feel that it’s a good way to flex my muscles when I’m not working,” she says. “And I get to do scenes that I’ve always wanted to do by my favorite playwrights like Pinter, Beckett and Chekhov.

Wise advises young actors to see as much theater as possible. “The more you absorb, the better off you’ll be. The more you’ll have available in experience and imagination. After all, what else do we have?”

Typically cast as women of substance, Wise’s more memorable roles include Anne Sullivan in Olney Theatre’s “The Miracle Worker,” a New York psychiatrist in Studio Theatre’s “Frozen,” a newly out lesbian in “Body Awareness” at Theater J, and most recently the stalwart wife and mother married to Mitchell Hébert in Round House’s “How to Write a New Book for the Bible,” a part that called for her to age from 40 to 80 on a dime.

Offstage, Wise’s partner is local actor Sarah Marshall. The talented pair got to know each other while working on Woolly Mammoth’s production of Paula Vogel’s “The Mineola Twins” in 2003. “It was a great time,” Wise says. “And the show was a lot fun. I played a man in the first act and a woman in the second.”

Wise grew up in Miami. She started acting while an undergraduate at Barry University. Initially she came to Washington to attend Catholic University where she earned a master’s in acting.

“The D.C. theater scene is one of the best in the country,” Wise says. “We have a variety of theaters doing interesting, cutting-edge work. Our audiences can handle thought-provoking theater. And the actors are supportive. It’s great.” (PF)

Best Hill Staffer

Kat Skiles

Runner-up: Kenneth Dowling

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Kat Skiles (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As Hill staffers go, Kat Skiles has moved to the top. In July, she became digital director and senior adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It’s the Utah native’s second consecutive year winning this award. (CJ)

Best Straight Ally

Leigh Ann Hendricks

Runner-up: Brett Johnson

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Leigh Ann Hendricks (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Leigh Ann Hendricks made a big change five years ago to manage Level One (in the basement of Cobalt) after 17 years just down the street at Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse.

Managing a staff of about 35 — 90-95 percent of whom, she estimates, are LGBT — she says was a logical change and one she made with no hard feelings toward Annie’s. Having grown up with a gay best friend, she says it simply never occurred to her to treat gay people any differently. She was also inspired by the example of Annie’s namesake, the late Annie Kaylor, whom she worked with for years.

“She was like our second mother,” Hendricks says. “Her attitude was, ‘They either like my gay friends or they don’t like me,’ and that’s been mine as well.” (JD)

Level One

1639 R St. N.W.

202-745-0025

levelonedc.com

Best Bartender

Dusty Martinez (Town Patio/Number 9)

Runner-up: Angela Lombardi (Phase 1)

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Dusty Martinez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Baltimore native Dusty Martinez has been in the food and beverage industry for a decade and recently completed an in-house internship at the W Hotel. He recently moved from serving customers at Number 9 to operating the new Town Patio, and he is also the owner and director of D&D Cocktails, a private bartending company serving the D.C. area.

Dusty Martinez

202-765-7550

danddcocktails.squarespace.com

Best Rehoboth Bartender

Holly Lane, Café Azafran

Runner-up: Matt Urban, Blue Moon

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Holly Lane (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

Holly Lane has lived in more places than most people have visited: Martinique, Greece, Bahamas, Paris, Chicago, Switzerland, the list goes on.

She’s a native Washingtonian who trained in dance at the Washington School of Ballet and later at a modern dance school in Bethesda. After school — and a stint in Chicago with her then-husband — Lane’s travels began in earnest. She left her husband and moved to the Bahamas at age 23 to dance at the Paradise Island resort. A Club Med gig led to more travel and finally a trip to Paris, where she auditioned for a dancing job and stayed for 15 years.

“It was nice to have a place to decorate,” says Lane, sipping a coffee on an unseasonably warm October day in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “I rented a furnished apartment and gradually replaced everything with my own finds at the Paris flea markets.”

After years of working as a professional dancer, it was in Paris at age 30 that Lane discovered she could also sing. She landed a job in a musical production and then at the Hollywood Savoy in the ‘80s, where the wait staff also served as the entertainment, singing and dancing for customers during dinner.

“It was a great place to learn,” she says.

Despite the excitement and adventure of living and working abroad, Lane said a voice kept telling her it was time to go home and so in 1995, she returned to D.C.

“I’m glad I did all the things I did when I did them,” she says. “I just found my passport and realized I haven’t been abroad since 2007.”

After the death of a boyfriend, Lane went to visit her parents at their home in Rehoboth Beach, which they’ve owned since 1977 and stayed. She’s lived full time in the popular beach resort town since 2000 and spent about 10 years in a jazz band performing around the state. Her parents, now 93, still live there. Lane says her father sold the family home in D.C. through a real estate ad in the Washington Blade a few years ago and relocated full-time to Rehoboth.

In summer of 2010, the owner of Café Azafran was opening a new location in Rehoboth and offered Lane a bartending job. She’s worked there since. You can find her tending bar Thursday-Sunday evenings but Thursday is the night when she’s joined by fellow Rehoboth entertainer John Flynn, who plays the keyboard while Lane sings into her wireless headset while making drinks.

“I enjoy multi-tasking,” she says.

Café Azafran attracts a mixed crowd and Lane treats customers like they are guests in her home rather than patrons at a bar. She always finds room at the large granite bar for another stool and makes sure to introduce newcomers to the rest of the crowd.

Lane, 62, is “happily single” and lives with her dog JuJuBee, a “cheagle,” a Chihuahua and Beagle mix. In addition to her duties at Azafran, Lane sings at private parties and functions. (KN)

Café Azafran

18 Baltimore Ave.

302-227-8100

cafeazafran.com

Most Committed Activist

David Mariner

Runner-up: Josh Deese

people, gay news, Washington Blade

David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In Washington since 1997, David Mariner, a Corning, N.Y., native, started volunteering at the DC Center in 2008 and became its first full-time executive director a year later.

Under his leadership, the once-fledgling Center has begun to flourish and now has a broad activity schedule and is a hub for LGBT-themed events such as the OutWrite LGBT Book Festival, Reel Affirmations and much more.

“Working at the DC LGBT Center has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Mariner says. “I am so proud of the work we do in the community and am profoundly grateful to the staff and the many volunteers and supporters who make this work possible.” (JD)

The DC Center

2000 14th St., N.W. No. 105

202-682-2245

thedccenter.org

Best Gay Politician

David Catania

David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

davidcatania.com

Runner-up: Tammy Baldwin

Best Trans Advocate

Thomas Coughlin (see Queery)

Runner-up: Ruby Corado

Thomas Coughlin, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Coughlin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Amateur Athlete

Matt Simeon

Runner-up: Eddie Valentine

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Matt Simeon (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Matt Simeon, who currently plays for the Washington Generals, has been a member of the D.C. Gay Flag Football League since 2010. Simeon was also named most valuable player of the league for the 2014 spring season. (MC)

Best Stylist

Michael Hodges

Runner-up: Barry Smythers

people, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Hodges (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael Hodges has been sharpening his techniques in the Washington area for 25 years and is the owner and master Stylist of Logan 14. With a keen eye for current trends in men’s hair cuts and women’s styling, Michael and his team are making a powerful impact in the Logan Circle area. (SMH)

Michael Hodges

1314 B 14th St., N.W

202-506-6868

logan14salonspa.com

Best Clergy

Rev. David Lett

David Lett, Lena Lett, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. David Lett (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

This is Father Lett’s second consecutive win in this category. He also won the best drag queen prize as Lena Lett in 2001 and 2002. (JD)

revdlett.com

Runner-up: Rev. Kirsten Blom-Westbrook

Best Republican Advocate

Ted Olson

David Boies, Ted Olson, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Ted Olson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Sen. Susan Collins

Best First Responder

Justin Markiewicz

Runner-up: Kate Fitzgerald

Justin Markiewicz (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Justin Markiewicz (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Officer Justin Markiewicz has been serving as a part-time member of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit since 2010. Markiewicz hails from Delaware and came to the District to attend Catholic University. After graduation he attended the police academy and was assigned to the 6th District. (MC)

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Movies

Bernal shines as real-life gay wrestler in ‘Cassandro’

A polished, engaging film about a real-life figure that carries message of hope

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Gael García Bernal in ‘Cassandro.’ (Photo courtesy of Prime Video)

For most Americans, any knowledge of the Mexican wrestling style known as lucha libre is probably limited to what they gleaned from the 2006 Jack Black comedy “Nacho Libre,” which (it should go without saying) is not a movie that anyone should consider “factual.”

Now another movie about the subject has arrived, and this time it’s not an anything-for-a-laugh fantasy but a biopic about a real luchador who rose to international fame in the 1980s and remains one of the most celebrated and popular figures in Mexican professional wrestling to this day.

The luchador in question is Saúl Armendáriz – better known to his fans as “Cassandro” – and the eponymously titled movie about his ascendency begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video Sept. 22 after a limited theatrical release on Sept. 15.

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (who may not be a household name but has the distinction of being the first Black director to win an Oscar, thanks to the 2009 win of his “Music by Prudence” for Best Documentary Short), “Cassandro” stars Gael García Bernal – a longtime ally who became a queer fan-favorite thanks to his work in films like “Y tu mamá también” and “Bad Education” – as the openly gay Armendáriz and tells the story of his rise to fame in direct defiance of the culturally reinforced homophobia that permeated the professional environment of his field. Set in the 1980s, it follows the future superstar from the early days of his career, tracing his steps as he forges a path to success as an exótico – a wrestler who assumes a flamboyant persona based in queer (and largely homophobic) stereotypes – while simultaneously rising above the stigma of his sexuality and his impoverished upbringing to become a pioneering force in LGBTQ+ acceptance within the deeply traditional Latino culture to which he belonged.

Like most biopics, it also focuses on the personal: much of the film’s first half is dominated by the relationship between Armendáriz and his mother, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), a professional “good-time girl” whose acceptance of his queer identity is absolute yet tempered by her fear for his well-being. There is also a long-running thread about his desire for approval from his father – a married man with a “legitimate” family in which he is decidedly not included – and the pattern in his personal life of repeating that same dynamic in romantic relationships with lovers like closeted big-name luchador “El Comandante” (Raúl Castillo) and an apparently fluid but firmly “on the DL” associate named Felipe (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, aka Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny for those unfamiliar with his “real” name) who clearly meets more than just his need for a reliable supplier of cocaine – it is the ‘80s, after all – while maintaining a strict-if-not-quite-convincing “no homo” stance.

Ultimately, though, as presented by first-time narrative feature director Williams (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Teague after previously covering Armendáriz’ story in the 2016 documentary short “The Man Without a Mask”), “Cassandro” is driven by a narrative about overcoming and reclaiming the pejorative cultural tropes around queer sexuality and turning them on their ear as a means toward fully inhabiting queer identity. Blessed with a relatively supportive mother – a plainly-implied career sex worker who is depicted as much as a kindred spirit as she is a maternal figure – and comfortable enough in his own skin to flaunt his “deviance” in the public eye, the film’s version of Armendáriz moves through a clearly defined arc toward self-acceptance on his own terms.

Much of this is mirrored, of course, in the tale of his accelerated rise to stardom, in which he wins the hearts of lucha libre fans enough to subvert the accepted formula that the exótico is always the loser, and reinforced by the ways in which he responds to the various long-term relationships in his life – some nurturing, some toxic – as his career trajectory helps him to recognize his own worth. In this way, “Cassandro” becomes a true-life tale of queer affirmation, the saga of a person who overcomes hardline traditional expectations and deep-rooted social prejudice to use his own queer identity as an avenue to personal empowerment.

That, of course, is exactly what it sets out to be: it’s an unabashedly pro-queer narrative that brings the highest level of professional artistry into the mix, using it to convey that subtle blend of aloof observation and emotional engagement that can sometimes win viewers’ hearts and minds.

In recognition of that artistry, the foremost acknowledgement must go to Bernal, who turns in a career-highlight performance as both Armendáriz and his over-the-top titular alter-ego, which requires an impressive display of physicality in addition to keen emotional intelligence. The actor is more than capable on both fronts, and while it would frankly be nice to see one of our queer heroes portrayed in a mainstream film by an actual queer actor, it’s hard to complain when the actor is someone like Bernal, who finds within his own lived experience the authenticity to make it all ring true. Kudos are also deserved for both De La Rosa, who establishes an emotional core to the story that endures even after she leaves it, and openly-queer actor Roberta Colindrez as the trainer (and friend) that helps “Cassandro” conquer the world of professional lucha libre wrestling by literally flipping the script.

Still, though there is clearly a heartfelt desire to inspire behind the movie’s portrayal of its hero’s unlikely rise to glory, “Cassandro” doesn’t quite deliver the kind of unequivocal “feel-good” validation for which it aims. There’s something rote about the story as it’s told to us; Armendáriz’ success seems a foregone conclusion, and his personal struggles – though impeccably acted and depicted with sincerity – feel somehow manufactured for the sake of a desired emotional response. There’s a sense of “Hollywood” about the film’s approach, a deliberate framing of the material which makes this real-life success story seem much too easy, its subject’s struggles too much like tropes to deliver the kind of authentic satisfaction the movie clearly aims for. Built on familiar formula, it all feels a little too predictable to ring true – especially for a saga centered in such a messy, wild-and-wooly environment as professional lucha libre. Yes, it inspires, but much of that is accomplished by playing to sentiment, by what seems a deliberate effort toward building and reaffirming a legend rather than revealing the real human experience behind it, and many details of Armendariz’ real story are left out  – a suicide attempt, a struggle with substance abuse, even the origin of his iconic stage name as a tribute to a brothel-keeper of whom he was fond – that might have made for a less-sanitized and much more interesting story.

Such quibbles, however, are probably a moot point for most viewers; while “Cassandro” might feel a little too hollow to satisfy completely, it’s a polished, entertaining, and engaging film about a real-life figure that should – and does – carry a message of hope and transcendence for queer audiences.

Why would we ever complain about that?

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Sports

Celebrating sports history: DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season

Head of District’s premier league says it’s ‘groovin’ to its silver anniversary

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The DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season is underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What started when gay football fans got together in the 1990s to play their favorite sport is now a D.C. institution with 270 players in 20 teams spread over three fields, playing in both fall and spring. 

“Get off the bench,” shouts the slogan on the league’s website. “Get in the game!” 

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League turns 25 years old this month and is considered not only the premier league of its kind in the District, but is recognized across the country for its players, organization, and spirit.

“The way we run our league and the way we compete make us stand out relative to the rest,” DCGFFL Commissioner Logan Dawson told the Washington Blade. 

For those who don’t know flag football from any other kind, the difference is easy to spot: There’s no contact allowed. As the rules say, “That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To ‘tackle’ the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off.” There are a lot more rules, but that’s the one that really sets it apart from tackle football. 

The sport itself dates back to World War II and its origins have been traced to Fort Meade, Md. 

What’s the secret to the league’s longevity? “I think we attract and hold on to great athletes who are highly competitive, not only on the field, but also, in our professional and personal lives,” he said. Dawson, 32, plays flag football as well as manages the league. He’s currently single, but says his first love is the weather. 

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a meteorologist,” said Dawson, who moved to the District to be a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

A prolific swimmer since high school, he came out as he started grad school at Purdue University in Indiana in 2012. In an op-ed appearing in Outsports in 2014, Dawson wrote about competing in his first Gay Games in Cleveland along with a group of other gay swimmers from Colorado, and left that experience determined to join a gay sports league. 

He found it in the fall of 2018 in the DCGFFL, the same year the league’s Generals team won Gay Games XVIII. The league supports up to five travel teams, which take part in annual tournaments nationwide. It also hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“There’s a good amount of participation by people who played in the league from the very early days,” Dawson said. “I think we’re just in the sweet spot, where we have a lot of the original participants, a lot of new players, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”

The first group gathered at Francis Field near Dupont Circle in 1994. Three years later, another group formed to play just steps from the Washington Monument Mall. They came together in 1998 to form what is now the DCGFFL. 

“For the majority of those seasons, we mainly had one division that played that was co-ed,” said Dawson. “This is our second season that we’ve had a Womens+ Division made up of [cisgender] women, trans and nonbinary individuals.” The Womens+ teams are called the Senators. 

Jayme Fuglesten is director of the Womens+ Division and has played in the league in most seasons since 2011.

“The DCGFFL has been a major part of my adult life,” she says. “I came out while playing in the league in no small part because of the love and support of this community.”

Why does she think the league has been such a success to have lasted 25 years?

“I think the league has been so successful because of its focus on inclusion and community,” she says. “I remember being so surprised in my early years when JJ and so many others would just come right up to me, hug me, and welcome me. And that really hasn’t changed in the 20+ seasons I’ve been around. It also continues to grow and respond to the needs and desires of our players. One example of that is the new Womens+ division, which gives an additional space for people who identify as womens+ to play and cultivate stronger relationships.”

DC Gay Flag Football plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Next month, the DCGFF will send both Generals and Senators to Gay Bowl XXIII in Seattle. “That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have two Womens+ teams at the Gay Bowl,” Dawson told the Blade. “It’s reflective of the new generation of the league.” 

Earlier generations had trouble attracting new players. As the Blade reported in 2019, what had been a steady number of 20 to 22 teams dropped dramatically to 14, its lowest roster since 2011. The league’s leadership turned it around with new recruiting events, new sponsors, changes in their social event locations, changes to their player draft and a change of venue for league play beyond Carter Barron fields in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. 

Brentwood Hamilton Park in Northeast Washington is now home to the recreation division and Randall Field south of the Capitol is the league’s third venue. 

Just like every facet of society, from coast to coast, what happened next hit the league hard. “COVID happened in spring of 2020,” recalled Dawson. “Everything shut down, and we did not play for what amounted to three full seasons for a year and a half.”

But once the world emerged from quarantine and lockdowns, flag football players started flocking to the DCGFFL. “We’ve had probably over 150 new players join our league in the last two years,” he said.

One thing is certain, said Dawson: Despite the name, not everyone who plays in the gay flag football league is LGBTQ+. 

“It’s a really great community. There’s a straight couple that’s married and will be soon having a child in the next month or so,” Dawson said. “They met playing in the league, just like we’ve had gay couples who meet in the league and eventually get married and have children.”

Prominent among the league’s many sponsors is the NFL hometown team, the Washington Commanders. “They are highly supportive of us, not just financially, but also publicly supporting what we are, and our mission,” Dawson said. 

This current NFL season is the first since 2021 without an out gay player on the gridiron. That’s when Carl Nassib became the first active pro football player to come out as gay. 

(Washington Blade file photo by Adam Hall)

While Dawson said, “I’m sure there are more out there” who have not yet come out, Nassib’s retirement makes this anniversary of the DCGFFL even more significant. 

“It’s unfortunate people still feel they cannot be out while they’re playing and doing what they love, but that’s the reason why something like the D.C. Gay Flag Football League is so important,” he said. “To show that there are gay and trans athletes who exist and love playing sports.”

The league plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23 starting at 8 p.m. Check the website for ticket information.

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2023 Best of LGBTQ DC Readers’ Choice Award Finalist Voting

Vote for your favorite finalists through October 2nd!

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It is time to celebrate the best of LGBTQ+ DC! You nominated and now we have our finalists. Vote for your favorites in our 2023 Best of LGBTQ DC categories through October 2nd. Our 2023 Best of LGBTQ DC will be announced at the Best of LGBTQ DC Awards Party on October 19th and our special issue will come out on Friday, October 20th.

Thank you to our sponsors: ABSOLUT, Heineken, PEPCO, Shakers, Infinite Legacy.

VOTE BELOW OR BY CLICKING HERE!

ARE YOU A BEST OF FINALIST? DOWNLOAD ASSETS HERE!

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