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13 destination weddings that will surprise your guests

From roller coasters to Southfork, a range of new venues in holdout states



destination wedding, gay news, Washington Blade
destination wedding, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Innovated Captures; courtesy Bigstock)

With last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex couples suddenly have a lot of new options for destination weddings.

Before June 26, there were 13 states that did not allow gays to wed. We looked at off-the-beaten-path venues in each of those states you might want to consider if you want to walk down the aisle in a memorable way.



destination wedding, gay news, Washington Blade

Old Mattress Factory Bar and Grill (Photo by Cyndi Murphy)

The Old Mattress Factory Bar & Grill — “The Matt” to locals — claims it’s North Downtown Omaha’s “best event bar” located in one of the area’s oldest historic buildings, an 1883 beautiful brick building that started as the Stabrie Grocery Store but later became the Central Mattress Company where, from 1945 into the 1990s, mattresses were built, sold and shipped.

“Matt” owners have taken pride in preserving its interiors and the site offers a newly renovated bar/restaurant within the original brick walls and architecture of the old Stabrie building. The unusually high ceilings and restored wood timbers and beams give the place an open and authentic atmosphere.

Although only about 15 weddings have been conducted there in Cyndi Murphy’s seven years there, it’s a popular spot for receptions.

“Oh, we do a ton,” Murphy says. “At least one reception a week.”

She says the Matt has already hosted several same-sex receptions and the staff would be delighted to do more.

“Absolutely,” she says. “We don’t discriminate against anybody. If you’re in love, have at it.”

Details at



destination weddings, gay news, Washington Blade

Lewis & Clark Riverboat (Photo by Jesse Knudson Photography)

Sail away to your new life together on the Lewis & Clark Riverboat, owned and operated by the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation. The riverboat is available May through September to enjoy the scenic Missouri River.

You and 100 guests can enjoy a ceremony held on the upper deck, wedding decor, a pre-event rehearsal, cash bar and staff. A variety of catering and reception options are available. Rates vary depending on day and length of event but start at $1,100.

Although they’ve had no same-sex weddings yet, Eryn Anderson, who works in the ticket office, says “of course” they’re open to that.

“We were just going to do a Pride event a couple weeks ago but it got cancelled because of weather,” she says. “But we have weddings here all the time and are definitely open to that.”

Details at




destination weddings, gay news, Washington Blade

Mount Rushmore (Photo by Mike Tigas; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Billed as the “first ever wedding under the faces of Mount Rushmore,” a group wedding this fall will be gay. On Sept. 6, a “National Marriage Celebration” is planned for LGBT couples and allies where couples can wed or rededicate their vows. Officiants will perform the ceremony and sign marriage certificates. “Come solemnize or rededicate your vows at the historic event at the Shrine of Democracy,” organizers say. “Dinner and reception will be held in Rapid City after the ceremony.”

The event is being organized by the Black Hills Center for Equality, a Rapid City, S.D.-based LGBT group. Details at




destination weddings, gay news, Washington Blade

Southfork (Photo courtesy Cherie Calloway Photography)

If you want a big Texas wedding Ewing style, Southfork Ranch is happy to welcome you. Get married in style at the site of such famous “Dallas” weddings as Mitch and Lucy, J.R. and Sue Ellen (twice) and even Miss Ellie and Clayton. Lucy’s wedding dress is displayed on site along with other props from the classic soap (1978-1991 and 2012-2014).

“Southfork Ranch LLC allows same-sex and opposite-sex marriages as well as all denominations and cultures to marry here,” says Janna Timm, regional director of sales and marketing for the ranch. Same-sex couples have already wed there. The busy site averages about 75 weddings a year.

The Southfork Ranch Conference & Event Center in Parker, Texas (20 miles north of downtown Dallas) has 10 different ballrooms to host events of all sizes. Two full-time event professionals are on hand to help you with all details. No prices listed. Details at

In a Blade interview last year, actress Linda Gray (Sue Ellen) said she would love to see a gay Southfork wedding.

“Sure, why not?,” she said.




Several wedding packages are available at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, a 365-acre amusement park located on a Lake Erie peninsula in Sandusky, Ohio. Opened in 1870, it’s the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States.

The most memorable would undoubtedly be the “Roller Coaster Wedding Package,” which can be yours for $4,500. Billed as “the ultimate way to tie the knot,” you can be joined in holy matrimony on the roller coaster platform of your choice for one hour before the park opens. Then take the plunge with private ride time for you and your guests.

The package includes one hour of private time on the ride, photos for 12 guests, a 90-minute escorted photo session in the park and park admission for 12 guests.

Details at




destination weddings, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy Racheal Melodie’s Photography)

Want to give your wedding a macabre twist? Look no further than the Death Yard Haunted Attraction in Nashville, which lets you get married in a haunted house with all the ghosts, ghouls, goblins and more.

“Dark Weddings” offer a “languished, Victorian-style parlor” and courtyard for your ceremony that can be held inside or out. Several packages are available. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a 30-minute event for the couple and officiant only (no guests) that runs $400 (Mondays-Thursdays) or $475 on weekends.

“A Nightmare Come True” is one hour and allows for the couple and six guests and is $850 (weekdays) or $995 (weekends). Other packages vary and include “Till Death Do Us Part” (two hours), “The Midnight Hour Ceremony” (two-and-a-half hours) or “Piece by Piece,” which can be as long as you want.

“Our venue is open to every marriage,” said Ana Miller, Death Yard Haunted Attraction events coordinator. “We believe that everyone deserves love. Love always wins.”

Details at




destination weddings, gay news, Washington Blade

MovieLounge (Photo courtesy MovieLounge)

Cinema buff couples rejoice! MovieLounge (7601 Rogers Ave., Fort Smith, Ark.) is a mixture of traditional wedding hall and movie theater. The venue, owned by Dwight Curry (who’s gay), includes a main dining room, two cinemas and a ballroom space. Couples can even screen movies or photo galleries for their receptions if they choose.

MovieLounge has been serving the gay community in their wedding needs since its opening. “We had one phone call from a couple who had booked a commitment ceremony at another venue in town,” Curry says. “The owner found out it was a gay couple and told them they wouldn’t do it. They called us last minute and we were like absolutely. I’m really proud to be doing that kind of thing for Fort Smith.”

For more details, visit




Tybee Wedding Chapel (1114 US-80, Tybee Island, Ga.) on Tybee Island is a tropical getaway wedding for those that want to stay stateside. Tybee Wedding Chapel accommodates different types of wedding ceremonies and receptions including taking private elopements with only one day’s notice.

The ceremony, reception, cocktail hour or after party can all be handled in the same space. For more information, visit




Churchill Downs (700 Central Ave., Louisville, Ky.) is an interesting reception location for after the vows have been exchanged.

Churchill Downs, site of the annual Kentucky Derby, has a variety of rooms to rent that vary by number of people that need to be accommodated and by views. The Stakes Room has a view of the entire track while the Triple Crown Room holds views of the downtown skyline.

For more details, visit




House of Blues New Orleans (225 Decatur St., New Orleans, La.) is an offbeat venue for a music-loving couple. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, there is both an outdoor and indoor space available to host a reception.

Renting options range from booking the restaurant for a sit down lunch to booking the entire music hall to watch your favorite local band, DJ or even headlining artist give a special performance for the memorable day.

For more details, visit




destination weddings, gay news, Washington Blade

The Gothic Room (Photo courtesy Dossin Great Lakes Museum)

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, part of the Detroit Historical Society, (100 The Strand, Detroit, Mich.) is the ideal venue for a maritime-themed wedding ceremony. The museum boasts scenic views of the Detroit River and Canada inside the Gothic Room, which seats 40.

Couples can rent out single rooms from the Gothic Room to DeRoy Hall, which seats 120 people. They can also rent the entire museum for their special day. For more information, visit




Mississippi Agricultural Museum (1150 Lakeland Dr., Jackson, Miss.) gives a wedding a historical small town feel for an intimate wedding gathering.

The Museum Church, a small historic church that seats 100, is where the wedding ceremony takes place, followed by a reception at the Masonic Lodge. The couple and their guests can walk through “Small Town” on their way to the chapel as well as shop at the General Store.

Details at




Getting married in a barn has never been so glamorous. Give your wedding plenty of Southern charm by getting married at Dodson Orchards (Madison 9563 Fredericktown, Mo.).

Take all of the typical wedding factors and enjoy them inside Dodson Orchards’ rustic barn. There are even hayrides available for the couple and their guests to have a true country wedding experience.

For details, visit

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a&e features

Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility



Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022



As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices



‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.


If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.


Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.


Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists,

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients,

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs,

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth,

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth,

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider,

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need,

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community,

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