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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

Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

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Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant

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‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

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National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

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