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Young and proud

20 youths reflect on coming out early and misconceptions about millennials

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LGBT Millennials, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Youth Pride will be here soon. LGBT young people from all over the D.C. area will spend Saturday, May 2 from noon-5 p.m. in Dupont Circle enjoying performances, games, speakers, testimonials and more (details at youthpridealliance.org).

To celebrate this year’s event, Washington Blade staff teamed up with SMYAL to profile 20 local youths 20 and under. Their perspectives encompass the full range of queer teen experience from bullying and harassment to acceptance and joy.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Carolyn Kidd (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Carolyn Kidd

 

AGE: 20

 

RESIDENCE: Maryland

 

ID AS: genderqueer/queer

 

CAME OUT: senior year of high school

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

The reaction of my peers has mostly been positive. However when I attended Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, I experienced bigotry and “aversion” to “the gay lifestyle.” At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, I experienced a kind of gay euphoria and was accepted … and was able to start a club for trans students.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family and friends reacted positively, however my parents were concerned about how being out would impact my future.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

There have been no overt downsides to being out, but hearing people openly badmouth the LGBT community is hard.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The hardest is constantly being misgendered whether it’s being called “sir,” “young lady” or using the wrong pronouns.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That trans people are cross dressers and confused. Trans folks are often excluded.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Jason Adle (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Jason Adle

 

AGE: 16

 

RESIDENCE: Gaithersburg, Md.

 

ID AS: gay

 

CAME OUT: 2010-ish

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

The reaction at school has been neutral at worst and encouraging at best. For the most part, encouraging and supportive.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

By and large, supportive and positive.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

The main benefit is that there is no stress to not be yourself. You can be you to the Nth degree.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The worst part is having to deal with those who you did not want to know your identity at a certain time. But on the flip side, it is absolutely great not having to feel trapped in being something you’re not.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

I did. It was a great time to hang out with friends and meet new people and learn about/interact with organizations that were helping further the cause.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

I think the biggest disconnect is how aware Millennials appear to be in regard to LGBT history. We may not have lived in certain parts of LGBT history, but we are well aware of the events that have led to today.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Azariah Kurlantzick (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.

NAME: Azariah Kurlantzick

 

AGE: 17

 

RESIDENCE: Potomac, Md.

 

ID AS: queer/trans boy

 

CAME OUT: May 2011 as bi (in seventh grade); summer 2012 as transgender, just before ninth grade

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

When I first came out as bi, I was attending a Jewish day school so it was sometimes weird for me when taking part in class discussions on whether homosexuality is a sin, but reactions were generally fine. I was still at that school when I came out as transgender and I did encounter some people who refused to use my new name and pronouns, but with the help of Keshet, a Jewish LGBT organization, I was met with support.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family and friends have been very accepting and although my Jewish community had a bad reaction initially, it has become more positive. Now that I’m attending public school for the first time in 11th grade, I hear a lot of homophobic slurs directed at me in class and in the halls, but whenever I talk to people, they seem accepting.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

A big benefit of being out is that I feel more comfortable now exploring my gender presentation. Before, I felt the need to present as very masculine so that people might read me as a girl. Now, though, I feel more comfortable doing things like dying my hair pink because I can assume that most people do not see me as a girl.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The best part is that I am now part of a wonderful community that I wouldn’t have access to were I still in the closet.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

It was a good event, but adults there kept referring to the trans people I was with as ladies.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That there are fewer of us than there actually are and that all of us are cisgender.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Carly Carter (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Carly Carter

 

AGE: 18

 

RESIDENCE: Herndon, Va.

 

ID AS: lesbian/queer

 

CAME OUT: March 26, 2014

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Not a huge one. People were surprised but otherwise I didn’t get a lot of response. Occasionally, I hear a mean comment, but usually people are really supportive.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My friends are great! I could not have picked better friends. Most of us are queer actually, so that works out great. My mom and dad are still adjusting.  … they have overall been crazy supportive. Not a mean word has ever come out of their mouths.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

Getting to be more open and honest with people is a huge plus. Also meeting a bunch of queer friends whom I love being in touch with. I would never have met them had I not been out.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

There are challenges with everything — being out is not an exception.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No, I didn’t know about it.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That we have it easy or that the hardships they had to face are gone now.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Autumn Smith (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Autumn Smith

 

AGE: 18

 

RESIDENCE: D.C.

 

ID AS: male

 

CAME OUT: 2013

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

That I was “cool for being a gay guy” except when I wore women’s jewelry.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family doesn’t talk about it. Friends are cool and it’s all good until I wear a dress.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

Oh yes!

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Harassment, weird looks.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

Yes! It was amazing as always.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That our struggles can’t compare with theirs.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

LC (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: LC (Lauren Collins)

 

AGE: 16

 

RESIDENCE: Herndon, Va.

 

ID AS: bisexual

 

CAME OUT: eighth grade

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Mixed — positive from close friends, but neutral to negative from the student body.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

Mom has come around and is supportive now. Dad said a couple insensitive things but he’s always supported me. My church and community are pretty OK with it.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

Being able to interact with openly queer friends and being able to share my relationships publicly. Downsides are backlash at school and it’s harder to fly under the radar.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Feeling like a representative for all queer people.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

N/A

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That we’re just “confused” or saying we’re queer or trans just because it’s “trendy.”

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Katie Barack (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Katie Barack

 

AGE: 19

 

RESIDENCE: McLean, Va.

 

ID AS: queer

 

CAME OUT: April 2013

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

I’ve been accepted by the community as someone who could fall in love with someone of any gender. However, I go to a “same-sex” boarding school, so all of my gender questioning has been pretty private. I’ve had to give a lot of advice to underclassmen. I love the leadership role and being the only out student has made me find an incredible community.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family is very supportive. While my friends at school are supportive, my friends from home in the Midwest can be very ignorant and tend to make me feel “other.”

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I feel excluded often and school dances are awkward. In my tux, I’m called “sharp” while all the other students in dresses are called “gorgeous.”

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

I’ve found a community I would never trade. I love finding other queer people. Questioning my gender is something I’ve only recently come out about. It sucks that my high school diploma probably won’t have the name I use on it. I wish I could use the right pronouns and name, but I’m at an all-girls school. I’ve had to work my ass off to get us to be aware of transgender students and the need for accommodating policies.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

Transgender people are viewed as outsiders of the community by the older generation. Cultural intersectionality is ignored.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Lia Warner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Lia Warner

 

AGE: 16

 

RESIDENCE: Chesapeake, Va.

 

ID AS: lesbian

 

CAME OUT: 14

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

I was really lucky to be a member of a very accepting track and cross-country team, so in the locker room, I felt a lot safer than I anticipated. But I still heard homophobic slurs and comments elsewhere at school.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My parents have been overwhelmingly supportive as have my friends. Many members of the community as well, but that’s not to say it’s been 100 percent positive.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

A benefit would be, of course, the ability to be myself and be true to my identity with those I love. The downside, where I live is overwhelmingly homophobic and discriminatory.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The hardest — when people look at me in a different and negative light. The best — my ability to be myself publicly and help others in my GSA.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No, I did not know about SMYAL or that event. I did go to Hampton Roads Pride, which was fabulous.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

They believe this is a phase or that we’re somehow a mistake.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Rico Jones (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Rico Jones

 

AGE: 15

 

RESIDENCE: none given

 

ID AS: bisexual

 

CAME OUT: This year

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Mixed — happiness from some who were proud of me, but also a lot of bullying most of the time. I’ve been called a lot of names and picked on by many others.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My friends were all by my side and have wished me happiness and the best of luck.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

Benefits: happy to have found myself in so many ways, love and freedom. Downsides: bullying.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Bullying and the feeling that people think because you’re gay, you think you deserve special rights or treatment.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No, I wish I had.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

Being myself and being free and showing other people that we can be the change.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Sasha Jarvis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Sasha Jarvis

 

AGE: 18

 

RESIDENCE: Derwood, Md.

 

ID AS: bisexual

 

CAME OUT: ninth grade

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Neutral

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

I’ve had a pretty positive reaction. The first person I came out to was my friend Kathryn and it felt so nice until she decided she had to tell her mom. So that was super uncomfortable because I wasn’t even out to my own parents. My favorite thing was when I casually dropped the word “girlfriend” without getting any kind of extreme response. That was affirming.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I haven’t really felt any downsides personally but it is rewarding to not be sitting quietly and letting homophobes slide out of fear of judgment.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

It’s annoying to hear hetero-normative language from people close to me. Like hearing my mom say my sisters and I should live alone or with a girlfriend (as in a female friend) before getting married. It hurts to not have my identity respected, even in small ways.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

Yes! I love being able to share my queer community life with my school friends.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

I think the biggest misconception is that we’re all just following trends.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Gavin Calvin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Gavin Calvin

 

AGE: 16

 

RESIDENCE: Clarksburg, Md.

 

ID AS: transgender

 

CAME OUT: 8th grade

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Very supportive and loving.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

They were not surprised and supported me fully.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

Strangers not understanding my choices and judging.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

I’m more comfortable around my peers and am happier living as who I truly am.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

(My generation) seems to think LGBT Boomers are reckless and carefree. My experience with Gen. Xers is that they think how we are is a choice and is wrong.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Erika Johnson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Erika Johnson

 

AGE: 18

 

RESIDENCE: Clinton, Md.

 

ID AS: lesbian

 

CAME OUT: 9th grade

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

I received a pretty positive reaction from my friends and teachers. A lot of my friends were shocked and surprised but very supportive.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family on the other hand, doesn’t really understand. Most of them don’t know I’m out, but the few I trust fully support.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

The benefit of being out is that there are so many people I can relate to on a personal level. Being out has given me the spunk to go forth with my advocacy. The downside of being out is that not a lot of people fully understand my new points. Coming out in the ninth grade has been very stressful because I still feel like I’m hiding.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The hardest part about being out is that it is hard trying to express myself in front of people. I’m partially in the closet and partially not. The best part is that I can come to SMYAL and feel like the true me. SMYAL has made this process 100 percent easier. There are still some obstacles I have to get over, but I am a strong woman who can do anything.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

Yes! It was amazing. It was a pleasure meeting more SMYAL folks and getting to learn about queer youth experiences.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That we spend too much time “complaining” about what we need when we are really just speaking the truth.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Selvi Ulusan (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Selvi Ulusan

 

AGE: 16

 

RESIDENCE: Bethesda, Md.

 

ID AS: queer/bi

 

CAME OUT: June 20, 2013

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Surprise mostly. I don’t think everyone knows quite yet actually. I don’t tell everyone I meet automatically but if anyone asks, I tell them the truth.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My friends were very supportive. My family kind of already saw it coming but my little sister was great. So nice!

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

Benefits: I am who I am and people knowing doesn’t change that, but they just know a little bit more about me. Downsides: there was a lot of “are you sure?” or just “weirded out” reactions. Some people just didn’t believe me, but that’s not my problem.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Hardest: That I feel like I have to keep coming out every time I tell someone else. Best is letting people know a little more of who I am.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

I have been to the Capital Pride parade and festival the last two years, but not Youth Pride. The first year I went to Pride, it was amazing. I met a girl who made all of my unanswered questions about myself incredibly clear.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That it’s just a choice or just how you feel and that you can only be attracted to one gender.

20 under 20, Washington Blade

Temitayo Wolff (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NAME: Temitayo Wolff

 

AGE: 18

 

RESIDENCE: D.C.

 

ID AS: queer girl (panromantic, grey-asexual)

 

CAME OUT: beginning of 11th grade/end of 2013

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Within a specific community, I’ve received so much love and support. My friend group is super gay. I haven’t received much open hostility. Some people have a lot of questions.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My mom wishes I would stop saying words like “pansexual,” which she never heard. I think she accepts my identity even though it doesn’t make sense to her. My dad is also a little confused but he is supportive of my identity, activism and presentation. I have a much younger sister and I think coming out has made her more accepting and socially aware.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I’ve been really lucky to experience more benefits than downsides when I came out. Coming out provided me with a community of really supportive queer friends online and in D.C. The main downside is tension with my mother.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The best — my queer-platonic partner and my girlfriend.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

I did attend and had a lot of fun. I appreciate Youth Pride as a space that doesn’t have alcohol and nearly as many people as Capital Pride. However a lot of my friends were consistently misgendered both by peers and by adults who were running the programs, which was disappointing that an event that is supposed to be safe for trans people makes assumptions about people’s gender and reinforces that non-existent binary.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

I think older folks feel like we are undermining a lot of the work they did with our own activism. When we use social media as a platform for advocacy, they think we are being lazy or unproductive. When we reclaim “queer” as a self-identifier, they think we are disrespecting their struggle to eliminate the use of that word. When we advocate for lesser-known identities like asexuality, pansexuality and non-binary genders, they think we are just making up new words and new forms of oppression when they fought so hard just for basic recognition of the L, G, B and T. I think older LGBTQ folks need to recognize that queer young people of color exist.

NAME: Lance M. Coates III (Lacyy Coates)

 

AGE: 20

 

RESIDENCE: D.C.

 

ID AS: trans woman, early transition stage

 

CAME OUT: 16

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

I have received mixed reactions at various schools.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family and friends have been supportive while the community as a whole has been very hostile to the point of gay bashing.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I have become more inspired to live my life openly by the girls at Casa Ruby.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Being able to be myself is the best part.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

Yes, it was a very happy experience.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

They don’t really interact with us or teach us the ways.

20 under 20, gay news, Washington Blade

Ebony Rempson (Photo courtesy of Ebony Rempson)

NAME: Ebony Rempson

 

AGE: 20

 

RESIDENCE: D.C.

 

ID AS: queer

 

CAME OUT: 2009

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

In high school, it varied from shock and disgust to understanding.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

I had problems with my family at first, especially since I was outed by a family member but things got better. My friends have always been loving. Communities that I’ve found myself a part of have been great support systems and always served as places where I could seek validation.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I wouldn’t have had a chance to grow the way I did and share my unique story with people had I not been out.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The hardest part about being out as queer has been knowing that there is a third strike against me in the heteronormative and patriarchal society, strikes one and two being black and a woman.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

Yes and it’s always positive. There’s nothing better than a sense of community.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That we’re lazy and self absorbed.

NAME: Shantel Jordan

 

AGE: 17

 

RESIDENCE: Arlington, Va.

 

ID AS: queer/trans

 

CAME OUT: 2013

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

My close friends were very supportive. Some other students didn’t understand and made some pretty harsh comments.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

Family was mixed — they were upset at first, but are now mostly supportive.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

The big benefit is being able to be myself. It’s very refreshing not to have to hide.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Hearing from people that God doesn’t like gay people. That was hard.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

I did. I enjoyed it.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That we just want to play on our phones and aren’t really serious about anything.

NAME: James Rosenstein

 

AGE: 15

 

RESIDENCE: Arlington, Va.

 

ID AS: queer

 

CAME OUT: 2014

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

I had a number of people ask if I really thought I was gay or if it was a phase but most of my friends were great. They really accept me for me.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family has been really great. They wanted to talk a lot when I first told them, but they have always been very supportive.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I get some comments from other students from time to time, but I’d still rather be out.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

Being able to be honest with my friends and parents.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

I did. I liked it but I couldn’t stay for the entire thing.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

That young people don’t want to be active in church. I am very active in my church but I understand that many LGBTQ young people don’t want to be.

NAME: Chance

 

AGE: 18

 

RESIDENCE: Arlington, Va.

 

ID AS: gender queer

 

CAME OUT: 2013

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

Some people said I was the first queer person they had met. Some said they weren’t sure what queer was so I had to spend some time talking to people in my school. I don’t know if everyone was OK with the answer but most people seemed to be open-minded.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

Most of my family is OK with it. I know I have some people who don’t like the fact that I’m not straight, but I’m OK with that.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

The only downside has been hearing from friends that other people don’t want to hang out with me. That really sucks, but I’m still glad I came out.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

The best part has been my relationship with my girlfriend. I don’t think we would be together if I wasn’t out.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

I did not.

6. What is the biggest misconception LGBT Boomers and Gen Xers have about LGBT Millennials?

I would say that some older people don’t really understand LGBTQ young people. I’ve had older people ask why I want to be called queer.

NAME: Maya Parker

 

AGE: 20

 

RESIDENCE: D.C.

 

ID AS: bisexual

 

CAME OUT: freshman year of high school

1. What kind of reaction have you received being out at school?

I wasn’t accepted at first as I was one of the first in my high school to come out. I got made fun of mainly by the boys. I figured they were jealous. It somehow was an inspiration to the other girls in the school as they began to come out as well.

2. How have your family, friends and community reacted?

My family pretty much thought of it as a phase. I guess they have swept it under the rug. My friends didn’t like it too well. They started acting uncomfortable around me and not wanting to get dressed in front of me. People heard bisexual and figured I was looking at every woman that would walk past me. My community didn’t react much as I’m more on the feminine side. I’ve only really gotten reaction by my community if I was seen with a more dominant female.

3. Have there been any benefits/downsides to being out?

I actually get to be myself. It gives me a sort of confidence where I can walk outside with my head high without feeling like I have a dark secret.

4. What’s been the hardest or best part of being out?

People thinking you’re “playing both sides of the fence.” It’s hard to get a woman to understand that you’re serious about her when she knows you like men and with men, they can’t seem to get the thought of two women and themselves out of their heads.

5. Did you go to Youth Pride last year?

No

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a&e features

Corcoran Street Group: LGBTQ lobbyists fighting for our rights

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

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Brad Howard is founder and president of the Corcoran Street Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rehoboth’s Purple Parrot still soaring after 25 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey!” Roberts replied. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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