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The soul of Rob Bell

Pastor, author finds life beyond strictures of conservative Christianity

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Rob Bell, gay news, Washington Blade
Rob Bell, gay news, Washington Blade

Pastor/author Rob Bell says the Bible must be understood as a human book written in specific historical contexts. (Photo courtesy the Bohlsen Group)

Rob Bell

 

Everything is Spiritual Tour

 

The Fillmore Silver Spring

 

8656 Colesville Rd.

 

Silver Spring, Md.

 

Wednesday, July 22

 

8:30 p.m.

 

$25-35

 

fillmoresilverspring.com

 

ticketmaster.com

 

robbell.com

 

Once one of the darlings of white evangelical America, Rob Bell drew strong condemnation when he veered off script with his 2011 book “Love Wins,” a New York Times bestseller in which he dared to suggest hell isn’t the literal fire-and-brimstone torture chamber fundamentalist Christians have long claimed.

He left Mars Hill Bible Church, the Grandville, Mich., church he started at age 28 in 1999, in 2012 and has pursued several ventures since from a book with his wife Kristen (“The Zimzum of Love”), a tour with Oprah Winfrey (the 2014 “Life You Want Tour”) and more. Named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2011, Bell’s own “Everything is Spiritual Tour” comes to Silver Spring, Md., next week. Bell is an LGBT ally and spoke with us by phone this week from New Orleans to talk about trends in contemporary U.S. Christianity, how he feels the Scriptures have been abused on all kinds of topics and what message he feels God has for LGBT people. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: You write a lot in your book “Velvet Elvis” about the work of binding and loosing and wrestling with scriptural texts. What kind of binding and loosing work are you doing on your tour?

ROB BELL: I’m trying to give people a new story, a story that helps them see that science and spirituality are long-lost dance partners and because of what we know about the universe and the fact that it’s an expanding universe, along with what we know about how our hearts work, I feel there are endless connections between the two. So that’s what I’m doing — asking some questions about what is this thing that keeps unfolding and moving forward … and what does it look like to have an integrated view of your life in the world so that it’s not just random fragments, but you have a sense that the whole thing is going somewhere and you’re going somewhere with it.

 

BLADE: How’s it going?

BELL: Oh my word, it’s so much fun. I just love this. … It’s kind of somewhere between a one-man show and a tent talk and a recovery meeting and hopefully an inspiring sermon in there too. It’s like a mishmash of art forms and I just love doing it.

 

BLADE: As you’ve veered away from traditional evangelical Christianity, who is your audience now? Are you finding acceptance among mainline Protestants?

BELL: I always thought the word evangelical meant good news, so I always thought it meant a joyous announcement that we are all loved and are all brothers and sisters and all in this together and let’s all work to deal with the suffering and the real problems in the world. So the idea of a subculture that liked to claim that word sort of always seemed ridiculous to me. … I didn’t grow up with any denominational affiliation, so I was dealing with this stuff kind of all across the spectrum whether it be Eastern Orthodox to Catholic to Christian to whatever, I was really talking about what it means to be human.

 

BLADE: Yes, but when we talk about voting trends and demographics and so on, evangelicals are counted separately from mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Do you not think in terms of these spheres?

BELL: No. I just never knew what they were talking about really. I mean I was always pro science. When they’d talk about these different groups, I’d be like, “Well, I’m not in that group, they’re saying crazy things.” But I did notice definitely from early on that I endlessly found myself discovering people who were on the same journey from all across the spectrum and to be honest with you, early on I found that all those labels just meant nothing. I’d end up in some setting and I’d be like, “Wait, these people are having the same discussion over here.” Mennonites are having a non-violence discussion, Catholics are talking about the importance of creativity in art, the Eastern Orthodox are talking about the centrality of mystery in faith … There was a through-line through the whole discussion so that even when we were pastoring (Mars Hill), we never saw it as putting together a religion. … When I hear people talk about these people vote this way or those people vote that way, I’m sure there’s some truth in those things on a general level, but they were never very interesting to me.

 

BLADE: So are you averse to “we-they” thinking in general?

BELL: Yeah. It just never seemed like a very interesting discussion.

 

BLADE: You took a lot of heat for daring to suggest a different view of hell in “Love Wins.” How much of that did you anticipate?

BELL: I did a series of sermons on women’s equality probably in 2002, so I had experienced this kind of unique venom that religious people spew when they believe they’re defending God. I had done a series of sermons questioning the war in Iraq, my first book had apparently made some people upset so while “Love Wins” was louder, the knobs were turned up, it was really a natural ongoing progression of what I’d been experiencing for over decade. … It’s interesting to see how many people aren’t familiar with the fact that nothing I’m saying in that book is really new. These ideas have been present in the Christian tradition for a number of years.

 

BLADE: Did you fear getting pigeonholed as “Rob Bell, the guy who says there’s no hell”?

BELL: (laughs) It’s not something I even think about. You can’t take people where they don’t want to go. Some people when they talk about faith, what they’re really talking about is fear. They’re not interested in expanding or growing … so I don’t use much energy thinking about it.

 

BLADE: Your critics seem to have pegged you as somebody who wants to have his cake and eat it too. What’s the biggest misconception about you?

BELL: What does that even mean?

 

BLADE: Well, broadly speaking, the criticism seems to come down to an opinion that you want to enjoy the kind, loving God but just skip over the unpleasant parts like the hell, fire and brimstone. It’s a recurring theme among your critics.

BELL: It’s just funny to hear that. It’s a weird critique number one and number two, these people who claim to be sharing the good news, oh wait, it’s actually bad news. If you’re literally operating from a world view that says billions and billions and billions are going to be tormented forever in some sort of conscious hell because they didn’t believe in somebody they never heard about … that’s a horror story. That is such a psychologically devastating portrait of the universe we’re living in, who could ever bear that? So if they’re like, “He won’t include that,” that’s correct, I don’t find that even remotely compelling … Fear is wonderful for behavior modification to a certain degree, but I think probably in your life and mine, what actually transforms your life is when you are given a new vision of who you might be in the world. You can scare people a little to get them to behave right or be moral or vote a particular way or raise money for your thing, but in my experience as a pastor, people are transformed when they hear a fresh new word of imagination about who they are and who they can become. So when people say, “He doesn’t want to bring that stuff up,” well, I’m in line with millions of people of faith who are more interested in making the world a better place. I’m laughing because sometimes the critiques are like, “Are you kidding me?”

 

BLADE: So those Bible verses you never see on coffee mugs like “depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” that Christ supposedly says to the damned, what do you feel those verses mean?

BELL: Well I think first and foremost, everything Jesus was doing was in the context of first century Jewish culture … a people that had been oppressed by one global military super power, the Romans, that was just another oppressive super power in a long line of them from the Persians to the Greeks to the Babylonians and more. These were people who had been conquered again and again and again and they believed at some point that their God would vindicate them. Often people have so divorced the reading of the text from what was happening at the time which here, I think Jesus is giving these really pointed parables and I think giving them these images of do you want to participate in a new kind of world? Do you want to join me with God in helping the poor and bringing about a new heaven and earth right now? They were part of an entire religious establishment that was part of the problem, exploiting the poor, dehumanizing people and I think he’s using very strong, very pointed hyperbolic language to say to them, “Turn your thinking around. Turn your actions around or you’re going to miss this fresh new thing that God is doing.” … So when people extract lines out of this and say people everywhere are going to burn forever, they have so warped the message, taken it out of context and distorted the story. … You can take things out of context and make them say anything.

 

BLADE: You’re very open and affirming to gays. Did your views on LGBT issues evolve?

BELL: I always felt my gay friends should of course be part of the church and serve and lead there so any interactions I ever had were, “Yes, of course I embrace you and affirm you. I’m thrilled you are here.” But it seems like a lot of people, I didn’t understand how painful it is for people to be in an environment where they aren’t openly affirmed and embraced. I just assumed it was a matter of, “Just join us, let’s go and let’s do this.” It took me awhile to understand and now I have several friends who’ve said the same thing. So it became, “Oh wait, this is all our issue, we all need to speak up about this and become very strong in our affirming and embracing.” So it was a long, slow road of me coming to that understanding. … I’m thrilled with the progress that’s being made. I’m so happy about it.

 

BLADE: Do you feel God has a message for LGBT believers?

BELL: Yes. First off, so many who were raised in a religious environment where they were told there was something wrong with them, they had to do a lot of interior work to get over those messages and it took extraordinary courage. I’m constantly astounded by the incredible depth of character and maturity I see in the LGBT community because they have struggled. That fire produces such maturity and I’m just in awe of it. So I just say keep going and on behalf of everybody who ever told you a destructive message about who you are, I’m so sorry. You are loved and affirmed exactly as you are.

 

BLADE: Why do you feel God would make someone transgender?

BELL: I actually don’t find it helpful to think in terms of why would God make someone a particular way. I don’t have that view of God. I begin with the world the way it is. We all have different struggles and why is someone born feeling they’re not comfortable in their own skin, I’m not interested in blaming some divine being on a cloud somewhere with a long beard and that sort of thing. This is how this person has experienced life and what we need to do is support them in being true to who they feel they are. There’s no way to answer those questions other than to start with where we are today and what does it mean to move forward in health and wholeness and joy?

 

BLADE: There are lots of scriptures advising wariness to false teaching and not to let ourselves get “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Some say you’re a false teacher leading people astray. How does one discern anointed teaching vs. false teaching?

BELL: The ancient Hebrews had this word shalom, which sometimes gets translated as the word peace, but peace in a Western context usually means people are not fighting, the absence of war. But shalom is really about health and wholeness and there’s multiple dimensions of shalom — peace with each other, peace with the earth, taking good care of the earth, being comfortable in our own skin, being at peace with ourselves. So I would simply ask, “Does this, whatever this idea is, a new movement or new interpretation, does this help us move forward into a greater and greater depth of shalom or not?” To me, that’s a good place to start. If it does not, then we should be a bit suspicious.

 

BLADE: Is the needle shifting away from fundamentalism?

BELL: Absolutely and here’s why. You would not believe the number of big-shot Christian leaders who come meet with me and … say, “Thank you for your books, thanks for what you’re doing. I can’t say that in my setting because I would get fired.” They basically say they’re pro-same-sex marriage and they’re evolving and growing and realizing the importance of science in understanding the world, they’re reading the Bible in new ways, but they basically say, “I get a paycheck from propping up this whole old world view that’s not working anymore.” You would not believe it. So yes, I think extraordinary strides are being made.

 

BLADE: But then how does this “Duck Dynasty”-kind of mindset keep popping up in culture?

BELL: If you’re part of a subculture that’s dying, it’s terrifying. You used to have your hand on the wheel and you’re used to seeing yourselves as the dominant voice in culture and now that you’re not, your subculture is increasingly out of step and for some people, that’s not just a neutral thing, but a negative effect in the world. It’s terrifying and when someone who has a microphone or a TV show can say, “There’s no need to move forward, they’re the ones who are crazy, just dig in your heels with me on this, we’re the ones who are right,” and dig their stake into the ground, that’s incredibly comforting to them. It’s electric. No wonder people have incredible heat around this sort of thing. It’s a last desperate attempt to sort of put on blinders and pretend everything is always going to be how it is. The great French paleontologist de Chardin said the soul of the universe goes forward. Fundamentalism on an energetic level, is rooted in a desire to go back, to some sort of imagined pure state of perfection of how things used to be. The fact that the universe can only go forward is why fundamentalism always turns on itself and collapses in the end.

 

BLADE: You must have had situations where the evangelical gatekeepers started closing the gates to you. Did (religious publisher) Zondervan (Bells’ publisher for several early books) reject “Love Wins”?

BELL: I never thought of those types as people I had to have on my team. But oh yeah, probably even 14 or 15 years ago, I would hear of people telling people not to have anything to do with me. That started to become a regular occurrence, but I never saw that as the goal anyway. It wasn’t compelling to me to be in with any gatekeeper. I was just always on to the next thing. I joke that I felt like the drummer in “Spinal Tap.” I felt like I would spontaneously combust if I didn’t get the next book or the next tour done. People who aren’t on board, they’re not really on my radar.

 

BLADE: If you had stayed at Mars Hill, would you have felt like you were increasingly preaching to the choir?

BELL: What does that mean?

 

BLADE: Well, you know, did you feel a calling to take the message beyond just church folks?

BELL: Yes. It was time to take the next leap. … There were a lot of unknowns and a lot of risks but that’s how you stay fully alive. And yeah, it was a really extraordinary season where it was like the clouds moved and I knew it was time to go. So here we are, let’s do this. That was really amazing.

 

BLADE: If the needle is shifting, why does it seem like the mainline Protestant churches have done such a dismal job at harnessing any of that energy into their tradition? Why is all the growth and excitement in the evangelical churches?

BELL: If your world view is that billions of people are going to burn forever, that’s a pretty good motivator to get off your ass and do something so you see a lot of this endless entrepreneurial innovation and energy being funneled into these places with very rigid, regressive theology and world view. Then over here you have these progressive, open-minded churches that are great on peace and justice and reconciliation and they’re literally arguing about what the choir selections are or the color of the carpet. I’m like, “Wait, you guys have such great ideas, how have you made mountains out of these molehills?” That said, I do see extraordinary things happening like the Garden in Long Beach, Calif., or Oasis in central London where people are trying new things and it feels like the best fusion. It’s fresh and the best of all across the spectrum and it really feels to me like people in their garages coming up with the next lap top.

 

BLADE: What’s Oprah been like?

BELL: Oh my word, she is as amazing as you imagine she is. … She has profound wisdom and a mountain of spiritual riches to share. … She is growing and learning and stretching and asking, “What do I do with what I’ve been given?”

 

BLADE: You’re so knowledgeable about the scriptures and their historical context. What do you make of that passage in John where it references “many other signs and wonders” in the life of Christ that have not been included. I suppose most pastors would say we have all we need, but does that verse pique your curiosity?

BELL: Oh yeah, I’m totally with you on that. It’s like the writer is saying, “I just want you to know, I had tons of material to work with. I just want you to know that I edited this sucker down to these few chapters, but oh my, could I have included some other stuff.” Which I think is awesome. What a human book. … It’s so awesome and so weird and to me, makes it all the more interesting.

Rob Bell, gay news, Washington Blade

Rob Bell says the tide is turning toward more open-minded views in Christian America. (Photo courtesy the Bohlsen Group)

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Lyell Walker

    July 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Sigh.

  2. CanIbeFrank

    July 20, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    LOVE Rob Bell. Nearly everything he says resonates deeply with me–I love how he has such a wide and deep perspective too. His knowledge of history and culture (Biblical and beyond) is refreshing in a world where so many Christians take a single verse or passage and try to shoe-horn it into our lives today in a way it was never meant to be.

    Thank you, Rob Bell. You keep me believing in Christ.

  3. Thomas Pope

    July 20, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Great interview with one of the most transformative and brilliant communicators of the 21st century. God Bless Rob Bell for all he has done to open hearts and minds to the truth of the Love of God for Everyone.

    • Jennifer Blott

      July 21, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Well put! 100% Agree!

  4. Nancy ludlow

    September 8, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    ROB BELL is like a tuning fork to my ♥

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The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021

These handpicked presents will leave recipients jumping for joy

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Stumped over what gifts to give your family, friends, and neighbors this year? Check this list then check it twice, because while you’ve been naughty, they’ve been nice.

YuJet Surfer Electric Jetboard

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Oclean Water Flosser

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Wildwood Candle Co.

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Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Sharon Gless on new memoir and connection to LGBTQ community

Beloved TV icon’s book was seven years in the making

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Sharon Gless’s new memoir ‘Apparently There Were Complaints’ addresses her deep connection to the queer community. (Photo courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Have you ever read a memoir that is so intimate, so revealing, so honest, that as you were turning the pages it felt like the writer was sitting next to you, speaking directly to you? 

Kudos to multiple Emmy Award-winning actress Sharon Gless for making that a part of the experience of reading her new memoir “Apparently There Were Complaints” (Simon & Schuster, 2021). The Los Angeles native with Hollywood in her veins (her maternal grandfather was a hotshot entertainment lawyer), Gless rose to prominence via her portrayal of New York police detective Christine Cagney in the popular and groundbreaking 1980s TV series “Cagney & Lacey”(alongside Tyne Daly). As if she hadn’t already established an LGBTQ following through that show, she went on to play Debbie Novotny, the smart and sassy mother of Michael on Showtime’s equally groundbreaking “Queer As Folk”in the early 2000s. Gless sat down for an interview in advance of the publication of her book.

BLADE: Your new memoir, “Apparently There Were Complaints” opens on a serious note with your 2015 pancreatitis diagnosis. So, I’d like to begin by saying that, from one Gemini to another, I hope you are in good health. 

SHARON GLESS: Thank you, honey, I’m in very good health. Thank you, my fellow Gemini.

BLADE: Why was now the time to write your memoir?

GLESS: Well, it’s taken seven years. It’s not like it was yesterday. I never actually intended to write a memoir, Gregg. I was called in to a meeting by CBS for what I thought was a conversation to offer me a new series. We talked for an hour and, apparently, I was so entertaining that at the end of the hour meeting, the president of CBS said, “You know we own Simon & Schuster.” I said, “I didn’t know that.” She said, “We do, and I think you’ve got a book in you.” I said, “I don’t usually write.” She said, “That doesn’t matter. You’re a storyteller, Sharon.” So I walked out with a book deal [laughs] with Simon & Schuster and not the series I was hoping for. Actually, I didn’t meet (with) Simon & Schuster for another year. I sort of let it go. The next day there was a text from the president of Simon & Schuster. I sort of ignored it because I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to act! A year went by, and I wasn’t so busy, and I was in New York, and I said, “What the hell!” I went to meet him. I read one chapter to him, one chapter that I had written in case he asked for anything. He signed me that day [laughs].

BLADE: Were you a journal or diary keeper or did you rely on your memory for the details?

GLESS: Never. No. My very best friend Dawn (LaFreeda), who’s been my best friend forever and …  I’m a talker, a storyteller, and I would tell her stories about my life throughout our relationship. She kept them! She said, “You have a book in you.” So, there’s another person saying so. She kept the stories. When Simon & Schuster made me the offer, Dawn dragged out all my stories. A couple of times I had gatherings at my house where I had four people over, and I said, “Ask me some questions,” and put a recorder down. I’d just start talking. Then as more of my life coming out on the page, which is hard to do, I started remembering more and more. It took a form that I had always intended. I came up with the title, “Apparently There Were Complaints,” very early on. I made the book about all the complaints people had about me throughout my life. It helped that Dawn had kept records of all the stories I’ve told. Some of those I used in the book. It’s funny, as you write, as you keep going, you start remembering more and more and more because one emotion leads to the next emotion or the next time someone hurts your feelings or the next complaint.

BLADE: I’m glad you mentioned the emotional part of it, because writing a memoir means revisiting the past, including your complicated relationship with your grandmother, whom you called Grimmy, as well as your parents. Did you find it to be painful, freeing or both?

GLESS: Sometimes because some of the memories were painful. There were times when I was reading some of it that I would go back to that place. I just finished recording [the audio book] a couple of weeks ago. What surprised me is when I’d get to certain places, especially about Grimmy, you can hear on the recording, my voice breaks. I left it in. They asked me if I wanted to rerecord it and I said, “No. Leave it in.” She was really the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s that she was tough.

BLADE: One of the things that stood out to me about “Apparently There Were Complaints”is the way that not only does it sound like you — I’ve interviewed you before so in reading the book, it sounded like you…

GLESS: Thank you! It’s very important to me that you hear my voice in that.

BLADE: It totally comes through. The other thing that shines through is your sense of humor and comic timing.

GLESS: Thank you!

BLADE: How important was it for you to make that aspect of your personality a part of the book?

GLESS: Very important. I do have a sarcastic, not a mean sarcastic, a funny sarcastic side. Some of the complaints and some of my addictions and some of the things I talk about…you’ve got to take some of it lightly or who’s going to want to read that? Clearly, I survived. It’s not all bad news. When I came up with the title, [laughs] which was perfect because there were so many complaints about me in my life, sometimes you just have to laugh, even at the sadder stuff. I’m still standing, Gregg!

BLADE: Yes, you are! Memoirs, like TV shows such as “Finding Your Roots,” are a way for both the subject and the audience to uncover fascinating details that might not otherwise have been public knowledge. The story about your boarding school classmate Gibbie, also known as the late Abigail Folger, in chapter seven feels like an example of that. Would you ever consider being on one of those genealogy tracing shows?

GLESS: I didn’t know a show like that existed. I would never do something like “This Is Your Life”[laughs], remember that? I didn’t know about a show that traces your genealogy. I’m always fascinated in my background. I’m certainly not opposed to anybody scraping up my genealogy.

BLADE: You write about your interactions with LGBTQ+ people in your life, personally and professionally, and Chapter 43, titled “I’ll Be There,” which is about your experience playing Debbie Novotny in Showtime’s “Queer As Folk”made me weep, it was so beautiful. This is less a question than it is an expression of gratitude for, well, being there.

GLESS: Thank you! The pleasure, for lack of a better word, is all mine. You have all changed my life. I became so much more educated. I thought, “Oh, I know it all. All my best friends are gay.” Right? But I learned so much on “Queer As Folk. Thestories that they wrote and the performances. I didn’t realize the real plight, the behind-the-scenes pain that went on in the gay community. Because ofQueer As Folk” I became quite educated and impassioned. I meant it when I said, “I’ll be there.”

BLADE: The Peacock streaming service is doing a “Queer As Folk” reboot. What do you think about that?

GLESS: Yes, I’m aware they’re doing a reboot of it. What I think about it is I’m so sorry they’re not using the original cast. It’s never going to be better. But good luck to them, and I hope they have even close to the hit we were. I think the biggest star of that show right now is going to be the city of New Orleans. We’ll see how the stories go.

BLADE: Because the entertainment industry is a central component to your memoir, if “Apparently There Were Complaints”was to be made into a theatrical movie or TV miniseries, who would you want to play you?

GLESS: It would take several actresses because there’s a lot of years. If there was somebody who could span it. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence. She has a husky voice, too. And there’s also an irreverence and a sensitivity to her. If anybody ever wanted to do that, I think she’d be great.

BLADE: Finally, in addition to us both being Geminis, we also share South Florida as our home. What do you like best about living here?

GLESS: The happiness on my husband’s (TV producer Barney Rosenzweig) face. When he retired he moved us here. I’m married to a man who if he’s happy, everybody’s happy [laughs]. He adores Florida. Los Angeles was always my home. I was born there, raised there. I’m an Angeleno, through and through. I’ve been to Los Angeles over the last year and I don’t like what’s happened to it. Now I’m grateful to be returning to an island as beautiful as the one I live on. Los Angeles needs a total reboot, rebuild, re-everything. It’s fallen on hard times, L.A. I remember it when I lived there. It was a magical city.

Sharon Gless (Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
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a&e features

20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C.

Your favorites in dining, entertainment, and more as city returns to normal

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Welcome to the Washington Blade’s 20th annual Best Of LGBTQ D.C. issue. This is a fun project to put together each year, but made even sweeter this year as the city has slowly returned to a new sense of normal post-vaccines. This year’s awards are a bit smaller in scope as so many venues and events were closed or postponed last year — but this list represents growth from 2020 and we’re excited to reinstate our annual Best Of party.

In the following pages, we celebrate the best of the LGBTQ community in Washington. We reduced our usual 100 categories to 60 given all the COVID closures and restrictions on nightlife and arts & entertainment events. About 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in 60 categories for the 20th annual Best Of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. The photographers are credited throughout. This year’s contributing writers are Philip Van Slooten, Joey DiGuglielmo, Patrick Folliard, Kaela Roeder, and Tinashe Chingarande. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, DC Brau, Hook Hall and The Washington Regional Transplant Community.

Local Hero: Rayceen Pendarvis
Team Rayceen Productions
Twitter: @TeamRayceen
Facebook: /TeamRayceen
Instagram: teamrayceen
YouTube: youtube.com/TeamRayceen

Best of LGBTQ DC, gay news, Washington Blade
Rayceen Pendarvis is this year’s Local Hero honoree. Earlier this year, Pendarvis was honored by the City Council and the mayor. (Photo courtesy of Team Rayceen Productions)

Community advocate, event moderator and Queen of the Shameless Plug, D.C. icon Rayceen Pendarvis wears many crowns as host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” streaming the first Wednesday of each month through November. 

For 10 years, Pendarvis has been host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a live monthly variety program in D.C. In addition to live music and other performances, segments include panel discussions, interviews, competitions, comedy, and games. 

The program made its debut in May 2012 at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre and moved to the Human Rights Campaign Equality Center in 2017. For its 10th and final season, “The Ask Rayceen Show” went virtual.

In addition to Team Rayceen events, Pendarvis has hosted community Pride celebrations, Story District’s Out/Spoken, Reel Affirmations International LGBTQ Film Festival, and a series of programs for the DC Office on Aging.

Pendarvis is also an inspirational speaker and a tireless advocate for the community.

“God is so good,” Pendarvis told a cheering crowd in June 2020 before leading a prayer in Black Lives Matter Plaza. “I’m still marching. I marched with Dr. King. I marched on Washington for gay and civil rights for everyone, for marriage equality, for women to have an equal place at the table…and here I am, still marching.”

In June, the D.C. Council approved a resolution recognizing Pendarvis’s accomplishments and roles as a former commissioner, moderator and advocate, and in September Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 1 as a day to recognize the contributions of both Pendarvis and the long-running program to the District.

During a lengthy public career, Pendarvis has been recognized by Casa Ruby, the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church, Capital Pride and a variety of other community organizations. 

Numerous awards Pendarvis has also received include the Triumph Award, Spirit of Light, Us Helping Us Lifetime Achievement Award, the Wilmore Cooke Award, the Gillard-Alston Award, and the Red-Era Ballroom Legendary Award for outstanding community service.

Pendarvis is currently active online via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and as a co-host on the Team Rayceen YouTube channel. (PVS)

A&E

Best Drag Queen: Bombalicious Eklaver 

(Runner-up: Cake)

Bombalicious Eklaver (Photo by Diva Soria)

Bombalicious Eklaver, the drag alter ego of Ed Figueroa, is the resident drag queen at the Baltimore Eagle and hostess of “BLOWOUT!” every Saturday.

She’ll also be at “Drag Underground” at Dupont Underground on Oct. 22 and she has recurring brunches at Firefly and Mercy Me in D.C. The next is Oct. 31. Starting next month, she’ll be at “Drag Social” at TallBoy every other Monday. Her show “Superstar,” derailed by the pandemic, features up-and-coming drag talent and will be back at Songbyrd’s new location starting Nov. 19. 

She says performing in the COVID era has been a game changer.

“It’s definitely not the same,” Eklaver says. “Performers and audiences are still taking heavy precautions while the virus and its variants are still there. Many venues still require masks and proof of vaccination. I work as an RN in my day job so I know this nightmare isn’t over yet for sure.” 

Figueroa, a native of the Philippines, came to the Baltimore area more than a decade ago to work at Mercy Medical Center. He and husband Ivn Manahan live in Hanover, Md., with their Pomeranians Bogart and Bertha. 

Follow Bombalicious at @bombalicious.eklaver on Instagram. (JD)

Best Drag King: Rico Pico 

(Runner-up: Majic Dyke)

Rico Pico (Photo courtesy of Jenni Serrano)

Rico Pico, the drag alter ego of Jenni Serrano, is a life-long D.C.-area native proud of his Salvadorean heritage. His style is punk rock, genderfuck and “a whole lot of Latin flavor,” he says. 

Serrano has been doing drag since January 2020.

“I always loved drag and was inspired by local drag performers, but I didn’t see enough performers like me,” Serrano says. “King, alternative, Latinx, genderfluid, etc. I didn’t feel represented, so I chose to represent myself.” 

Serrano says Rico “saved my life.”

“I’ve been through a lot of trauma as a queer person,” they says. “Rico allowed me to express that pain through art. It makes me so happy and alive.

Look for Serrano on Halloween at DIK Bar.

Serrano performs in various spots in the region and is active in queer Latinx events. Serrano, who identifies as genderfluid and pan, works by day as a stylist at Bang Salon Metropole. Follow him @kingricopico on Instagram. (JD)

Best Drag Show: Freddie’s Follies
555 S. 23rd St.
Arlington, Va.
freddiesbeachbar.com

(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear’s Drag Bingo)

Freddie’s Follies (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Freddie’s Follies Drag Show is every Saturday at 8 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd St., Arlington, Va.) and boasts “the best drag entertainment the DMV has to offer.” 

Cast regulars are longtime D.C.-area drag legends Destiny B. Childs, Monet Dupree, Tatiyanna Voche and Ophelia Bottoms along with a rotating cast of guests.

Reservations, which are not required but encouraged if you want a table seat, can be made at  freddiesbeachbar.com or 703-685-0555. (JD)

Best Absolut Happy Hour: Trade
1410 14th St., N.W.
tradebardc.com

(Editor’s Choice: Number Nine)

Trade (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Throughout history, gay bars and clubs have been safe spaces where queer people can gather and be themselves without fear of judgement. Trade, located on 14th Street, N.W., is exactly that. All its events — especially happy hour — guarantee a great time to express yourself while enjoying others’ company over a drink. (TC)

Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade 

(Runner-up: Carl Parker, Town Tavern)

Dusty Martinez (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dusty Martinez, celebrating his fifth year at Trade as bartender/general manager, is glad to have “made it through last year.”

“I’m a strong advocate for the vaccine because I lost my mom to COVID at the beginning of the year,” he says. “The community really rallied behind me. I’m grateful for the bar and the community for being there for me. Trade has always been a safe and inviting place and I’m happy to be part of that.”

This award was not given last year, but Martinez (who formerly worked at Town) was runner up in 2018 and 2016 and won in 2017 and 2014. He says he always tries to have fun with Best of LGBTQ D.C.

“Anytime the bar is nominated for something, I try to make some funny videos and images to add to my feed,” he says. “I really try to make light of it. It’s both an honor and delight to even be nominated.” (JD)

Best Neighborhood Bar: Pitchers
2317 18th St., N.W.
pitchersbardc.com

(Editor’s Choice: Uproar)

Pitchers (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Pitchers launched in 2018 and bills itself as “a sports bar/restaurant for the LGBTQIA+ community where all are welcome.” 

Owner Dave Perruzza says things are slowly getting “somewhat back to normal.”

“We haven’t fully bounced back yet,” he says. “We still have to pay off loans and it’s hard to keep inventory because of the constant shortage of products.”

Recurring events include: 

• Thirst Trap Thursdays feature a rotating cast of drag entertainers and is hosted by Venus Valhalla and Cake each week from 9-10 p.m.

• Black Friday, featuring drag performers of color, is the first Friday of each month at 10 p.m.

• Show tunes is all day every Sunday in the First Base area. 

Pitchers is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Proof of vaccination required for entry. (JD)

Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden
dachadc.com
79 Potomac Ave., S.E. (Navy Yard) and 1600 7th St., N.W. (Shaw)

(Editor’s Choice: DC9)

Dacha Beer Garden (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whatever your taste, Dacha Beer Garden has you covered. Dacha offers a variety of German, Belgian, and American craft beers along with wines, ciders, and other refreshments. Dacha previously won Best Outdoor Drinking in 2018 and 2019 and Best Straight Bar for five consecutive years until 2019. (KR)

Best Bar Outside the District: Freddie’s Beach Bar
555 S. 23rd St.
Arlington, Va.
freddiesbeachbar.com

(Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Eagle)

Freddie’s Beach Bar (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Extending its record — with this win and the Best Drag Show win, that makes 25 wins for this Best of Gay D.C. favorite. Freddie’s has won this award every year it has been given since 2002 in addition to several others. It’s a Best Of all-time record for a single category.

Freddie’s is Northern Virginia’s only “LGBTQ+, straight-friendly” restaurant and bar and is a queer D.C.-area institution. (JD)

Best Museum: National Museum of African American History and Culture
1400 Constitution Ave., N.W.
nmaahc.si.edu

(Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art)

National Museum of African American History and Culture (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nothing included in the 100-years-in-the-making National Museum of African American History and Culture (officially established in 2003), which cost $540 million to build ($315 million came from private funds) and which broke ground in February 2012, was considered lightly. 

Among artifacts included in the 400,000-square-foot building situated on five acres adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall, are Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a slave cabin dating to the early 1800s, a dress handmade by Rosa Parks, a fedora worn in concert by Michael Jackson, pieces of a slave ship, a plane from the Tuskegee Institute used to train African-American pilots during World War II, a bill of sale for a Black teen named Polly in 1835, glass shards from a Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and, of course, much more. 

Perhaps the most significant LGBTQ item that has been displayed there is an inscribed watch that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. 

The Museum was “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won it in 2017. (JD)

Best Transgender Performer: Gigi Paris Couture

(Runner-up: India Larelle Houston)

Gigi Paris Couture (Photo courtesy of Couture)

Miss Gigi Paris Couture has won numerous titles and awards for her blend of sweet and sexy burlesque performances. Beginning with Miss Luchos Continental in 2001, Couture won Miss Continental preliminary titles of Miss New York, New York Continental in 2002 and Miss Tennessee Continental in 2003. Her other awards include Miss Diamond International in 2007 and Miss Freddie’s in 2015. Couture currently delights crowds at local favorite Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St. S, Crystal City, Va.), just outside of Arlington, with her award-winning artistry. (PVS)

Best Entertainment Venue: 9:30 Club
815 V St., N.W.
930.com

(Editor’s Choice: Wolf Trap) 

9:30 Club (Photo by Farrah Skeiky @reallyfarrah; courtesy 9:30 Club)

D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club is no stranger to accolades. In recent years it’s been named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow. 

Since its opening in 1980, the club has played host to thousands of bands and artists ranging from the Psychedelic Furs to Tony Bennett. Initially billed as the “first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years,” a welcome concept that’s worked impressively both at the club’s original location at 930 F St., N.W., a then-blighted part of town, and since 1996 at its larger space on V Street. 

Currently, a version of the original F St. 9:30 Club, is in the planning stages. The new, intimate venue will be located behind the existing 9:30 Club in the old Satellite Room space. 

Best A&E Event: D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground
19 Dupont Circle, N.W.
dupontunderground.org

(Runner-up: Maryland Renaissance Festival)

Shi-Queeta Lee performs at Dupont Underground. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground is an exhibition that celebrates drag and its roots in America. Through a collection of pictures gathered from the Washington Blade’s archives and video footage from interviews with Shi-Queeta-Lee & Pretty RikE, the exhibition honors the “power, pride and leadership that define the drag community,” according to Dupont’s website. The events, held earlier this year, were sponsored by the Blade and Dupont Underground. (TC)

BUSINESS

Best LGBTQ-owned Business: Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M St., N.E.
redbear.beer

(Editor’s Choice: Miss Pixie’s)

Red Bear Brewing Co. (Blade photo by Zach Brien)

A relatively new gay-owned venue in the District, Red Bear Brewing Co. offers made in-house beers and classic bar food in the heart of NoMa. Red Bear hosts several types of events including drag shows, trivia and stand-up performances. Red Bear Brewing’s Bryan Van Den Oever won Best Businessperson in 2020. (KR)

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace: Whitman-Walker Health
Multiple locations
whitmanwalkerimpact.org

(Editor’s Choice: Compass Realty)

(Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health, D.C.’s LGBTQ supportive health care provider, conducts research, hosts community events and advocates for policy change. Since 1973, the organization has been a driving force in advocacy for health equity. During the AIDS epidemic, Whitman-Walker became a safe haven when many hospitals and clinics turned gay people away. 

At the patient care level, Whitman-Walker offers primary, gender-affirming, behavioral and dental care at three separate locations. Whitman-Walker is set to open a new facility at the redeveloping St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Campus in Southeast Washington in 2023. (KR)

Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14
1314 14th St., N.W.
logan14salonspa.com

(Editor’s Choice: Bang Salon) 

Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa (Photo courtesy of Logan 14)

The folks at Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa say “back to normal” isn’t quite the way to characterize their current modus operandi.

“We are forever changed and moving forward,” says Katie Rose, general manager. “The pandemic has given us the opportunity to be curious again about all aspects of our business and how we operate.”

She says it’s “been great” to have its capacity restriction lifted in May, the team back on site and to “feel that salon buzz” once again.

Business is not at pre-pandemic levels, but has improved since 2020. 

About 75 percent of Aveda’s clientele is LGBTQ. This is Aveda’s sixth consecutive win in this category. (JD)  

Best Hotel: The Line D.C.
1770 Euclid St., N.W.
thelinehotel.com

(Editor’s Choice: The Viceroy)

The Line (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Inspired by the District and housed inside a 110-year old historic church, The Line D.C. is the product of a community effort by local chefs, bartenders, artists and cultural contributors. 

Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, the Line “delivers a uniquely rich way to experience the nation’s capital,” its marketing states.

The Line is pet friendly and has a restaurant and gym on site. A robust COVID policy is also in place.

The Line D.C. was named “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won in 2019. (JD)

Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness
Multiple D.C. locations
vidafitness.com

(Editor’s Choice: Cut Seven)

VIDA Fitness (Blade photo by Michael Key)

VIDA once again displays its dominance. This is its third consecutive win in this category and 10th win in this category overall. 

VIDA has six locations — U Street (1612 U St., N.W.), Logan Circle (1517 15th St., N.W.), The Yards (1212 4th St. S.E. #170), Ballston (4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), Gallery Place (601 F St., N.W.) and City Vista (445 K St., N.W.). The VIDA chain is gay-owned by David Von Storch. Membership packages run between $119-179 per month and include access to all locations, virtual classes, indoor and outdoor classes, discounts at Aura Spa and Bang Salon and more. 

Readers praised the gym for surviving COVID. Last year it won “Best Virtual Fitness Classes.” (JD)

Best Real Estate Agent: TIE! Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty and Michael Moore, Compass 

From left, Stacey Williams-Zeiger and Michael Moore (Photo of Williams-Zeiger by Denis Largeron courtesy of Williams-Zeiger; photo of Moore courtesy of Moore)

Best Real Estate Agent: TIE Michael Moore, Compass & Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty

michaelmoorehomesdc.com

zeigerrealty.com

In a Best Of rarity, we have a tie this year for Best Real Estate Agent. 

Over the course of a real estate career spanning 30 years, Michael Moore has received numerous industry recognitions and honors. A client testimonial also celebrates him as “very professional” with a “great personality,” and interestingly Compass not only heralds his skills as a market expert and a negotiator but as “a bit of comedic relief.” It is this blend of skill and personality that has made him a community favorite. 

Stacey Williams-Zeiger opened her own auto dealership in her native Maryland. Later she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and she is now the president and principal broker of Zeiger Realty, Inc., which she calls an equality-based business.

“Even if you work with an agent who is equality minded, their brokerage may use money generated from your home sale to fight against you,” she told the Blade a few years ago. “Zeiger Realty Inc. is your company and everyone with whom you come into contact will be on your side.”

She works in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (PVS)

Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass
Jennsmira.com

(Runner-up: Marin Hagen & Sylvia Bergstrom, Coldwell Banker)

Jenn Smira Team (Photo courtesy of the Jenn Smira Team)

“Stacked townhouse, condo, or apartment?” The Jenn Smira Team at Compass posted Oct. 3 to its Facebook page, breaking down the differences and the advantages of each. The Wall Street Journal reported the Smira Team is among the top 30 large real estate teams in America, and this team stands out for educating potential homebuyers in the midst of a housing crisis. Jenn Smira is also on the board of D.C. W.I.S.E. (Women in Solidarity for Empowerment), a non-profit raising money for local organizations that serve women and children, and the team supports a number of other D.C.-area charitable causes. (PVS)

Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health
1525 14th St., N.W.
Whitman-walker.org

(Runner-up: Dr. Robyn Zeiger)

Whitman-Walker Health (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Since its beginnings as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic in 1973, Whitman-Walker Health has been serving the LGBTQ community in the D.C.-area through numerous health crises, including the AIDS/HIV epidemic and the current global COVID-19 pandemic. For more than 40 years Whitman-Walker Health has been a sanctuary for the District’s underserved populations, providing a lifeline and advocacy as well as an affirming space. (PVS)

Best Lawyer: Jordan Foster
jordanfosterlaw.com

(Runner-up: Whit Washington)

Jordan Foster (Photo courtesy of Foster)

“He showed up to every court date and was always there on time,” reads one testimonial for D.C. lawyer Jordan Foster. “Never left me hanging last minute worrying if he’d be there.” When people are in a tough situation and need help, Foster has shown he’s a criminal defense attorney they can count on. Even his peers have posted he “always proves to be prepared and is a strong advocate for his clients.” But this staunch advocate finds himself in a tough position when choosing which of his alma maters to root for when college basketball season takes to a different court. (PVS)

Best Private School: Barrie School
13500 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring, Md.
barrie.org

(Editor’s Choice: Burgundy Farm Country Day School)

Barrie School (Screen capture via YouTube)

Located in Silver Spring, Barrie School is a progressive independent school serving students with Montessori (12 months to Grade 5) and Project-Based Learning (Grade 6 to Grade 12) curricula. The student body is drawn from neighborhoods throughout the greater D.C. area, reflecting the cultural and economic diversity of the region. 

Originally named Peter Pan Kindergarten, Barrie School was founded in 1932 by Frances Littman Seldin. Over the years, the school tried on various names and D.C. spaces before settling as Barrie School at its leafy Maryland campus in 1960.  

Barrie’s website stresses inclusion and features a link to Rainbow Families (rainbowfamilies.org), a terrific organization dedicated to educating, connecting, and supporting LGBTQ+ families and parents-to-be. (PF)

Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax
8427 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va.
bmwoffairfax.com

(Editor’s Choice: DarCars)

BMW of Fairfax (Blade photo by Michael Key)

BMW of Fairfax prides itself on customer service and selection. In addition to its extensive new car inventory, they carry an excellent range of pre-owned vehicles.

When Blade reader Vicki Richardson returned to D.C. after teaching abroad, she needed a car but also wanted to minimize her carbon footprint. She looked around before buying a BMW i3 electric with range extender at BMW of Fairfax. “They were terrific,” says Richardson. “It was my first time purchasing an electric vehicle. They patiently explained how the car works. And what’s more, when they found out I was a teacher, they gave me a discount. 

“Yes, I’d go back again,” she says. (PF)

Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (second floor)
bitethefruit.com

(Editor’s Choice: G Books)

Bite the Fruit aims to please. And apparently, it’s doing just that. 

Housed in the former Leather Rack location in Dupont Circle, the second-floor shop has been voted Best Adult Store by Blade readers multiple times (its walls are festooned with the framed awards from past years). In business since 2012, the “gay-owned, straight-friendly and kink forward” store boasts a large inventory of sex toys, revealing and fetish attire, books, films, and erotica of all kinds. As a satisfied reviewer wrote, “If it’s not there, it probably doesn’t exist.” 

Items are available both in the physical store and online. (PF)

Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard
1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.
montifalcovineyard.com

(Editor’s Choice: City Winery)

Montifalco Vineyard (Photo courtesy of Montifalco Vineyard)

Based on the traditional family farm wineries of the French countryside, Montifalco Vineyard offers an intimate experience at the winemaker’s charming family farm winery in Ruckersville, Va., a small town not far from Charlottesville in the beautiful Monticello American Viticultural Area of Virginia. 

Montifalco Vineyard is owned and operated by sommelier and winemaker Justin Falco who expresses a commitment to high standards, caring for his vineyards, and creating small batch boutique wines with distinct personality. He describes wines produced at Montifalco as an exciting fusion of Old World tradition and New World taste and flavor.  

Well-behaved dogs are welcome on a leash. (PF)

Best Tattoo Parlor: Tattoo Paradise
2444 18th St., N.W.
tattooparadisedc.com

(Editor’s Choice: Fatty’s Tattoos)

Tattoo Paradise (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, Tattoo Paradise has been supplying the city with tattoos and body piercings since 2003. Along with its celebrated in-house tattoo artists, the parlor hosts a constantly revolving cast of international and national guest tattooists. Also on offer are microblading (permanent makeup), and merchandise like T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, and hats. 

With additional locations in Wheaton and Rockville, Tattoo Paradise strives to serve the needs of both area and visiting ink enthusiasts. For instance, during the Women’s March on Washington, Tattoo Paradise satisfied scores of marchers from near and far with much-in-demand feminist and Women’s March-related tattoos. 

Customer requests are varied. The artists are versatile and creative. (PF)

Best Pet Business or Vet: Friendship Hospital for Animals
4105 Brandywine St., N.W.
friendshiphospital.com

(Editor’s Choice: City Paws Animal Hospital)

Friendship Hospital for Animals understands the unique bond between humans and animals, according to its website. Therefore, this hospital provides state of the art pet health care to ensure that animals are as safe and healthy as possible. Friendship Hospital for Animals provides primary care, emergency care, and specialized care from doctors who specialize in a variety of fields like orthopedic and specialty surgery, medical oncology and neurology. (TC)

COMMUNITY

Most Committed Activist: Preston Mitchum
prestonmitchum.com

(Runner-up: Sultan Shakir)

Preston Mitchum (Photo by EyeImagery; courtesy Mitchum)

“I can’t take it anymore,” tweeted Black queer attorney, advocate, and Georgetown Law Professor Preston Mitchum following a second Netflix special in which comedian Dave Chappelle doubled down on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. “Currently (writing) a piece on why Chappelle’s special — and any others like it — is problematic and will undoubtedly fuel flames against LGBTQ people.” Mitchum currently brings his passion, his insight and his legal expertise to his role as director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. He has also served as Georgetown’s director of policy at URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. (PVS)

Best D.C. Public Official: Eleanor Holmes Norton
Main District Office
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Suite M-1000
202-408-9041

(Runner-up: Christina Henderson)

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has proudly represented D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991. Prior to serving in Congress, Holmes was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Since then she has been named one of the 100 most important American women and one of the most powerful women in Washington. She continues to push for D.C. statehood and for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for District residents. (PVS)

Best Clergy: Bishop Allyson Abrams
Empowerment Liberation Cathedral
4900 10th St., N.E.
empowermentliberationcathedral.org

(Runner-up: Rev. Dwayne Johnson)

Bishop Allyson Abrams (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bishop Allyson Abrams, founder and pastor of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, has come a long way since resigning from her church in Detroit in 2013 after announcing she had married Bishop Diana Williams. Abrams similarly tweeted in 2014 for followers to “shake off” what’s been holding them back and not let anyone keep them from their destiny. Since 2015, this proud wife, mother, feminist, and author has been named Best Clergy, and her church Best House of Worship, numerous times by Washington Blade readers. (PVS) 

Best House of Worship: Metropolitan Community Church of D.C.
474 Ridge St., N.W.
mccdc.com

(Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church)

MCC-DC (Blade photo by Michael Key)

For LGBT folks of faith, finding an accepting house of worship doesn’t always come easily. But the Metropolitan Community church of Washington (MCC-DC) is a Christian Church with a special ministry to the LGBTQ community where the welcome is warm. 

Founded in 1970, MCC-DC’s congregation grew consistently through its first decade. In the ‘80s, the church unflinchingly responded to the AIDS epidemic, partnering with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the NIH, MCC Baltimore, and Georgetown University Hospital to host one of the first AIDS forums in the nation (the event was held at the church). Also, MCC-DC was among the first houses of worship in D.C. to hold a same-sex wedding. 

At MCC-DC there’s something for everyone. Its many ministries are broad and far-reaching. They include, to name a few, choir, drama, Bible study, and Pride outreach. (PF) 

Best Regional Pride: Baltimore Pride
baltimorepride.org

(Editor’s Choice: Virginia Pride, Richmond)

Baltimore Pride (Blade photo by Drew Brown)

Baltimore Pride got its start as a smallish rally in Charles Plaza in 1975. And from those comparatively small beginnings, it’s grown into a major annual celebration each June with the first day of Pride weekend involving the Baltimore Pride parade in vibrant Charles Village and the Baltimore Pride Block Party in Station North. The second day involves the Baltimore Pride Festival held at verdant Druid Hill Park. 

Though its centerpiece parade was cancelled in 2021due to COVID-19, the spirit and energy of Baltimore Pride was undimmed. From festive Zoom happy hours to open discussions about how racism impacts the LGBTQ community, there were socially distant safe ways to celebrate Pride last June. 

Charm City’s flavor is inimitable. We look forward to Baltimore Pride’s full force return in June 2022. (PF)

Best LGBTQ Event: D.C. Black Pride
dcblackpride.org

(Editor’s Choice: Miss Adams Morgan Pageant)

2021 Black Pride Awards Ceremony (Blade photo by Michael Key)

First celebrated at Banneker Field in 1991, D.C. Black Pride is the world’s oldest Black LGBT Pride event. Now attracting 40,000 participants, the festival takes place annually in late May over Memorial Day weekend.

Conceived by local Black activists as a fundraiser for AIDS groups, D.C. Black Pride turned a holiday weekend already popular with the community, into an official annual event with workshops, films, plays, poetry slams, dance parties, awards, and barbeques. 

Today’s D.C. Black Pride (pre-pandemic) boasts a week of day and night programming that includes deep diving professional and personal workshops, premier entertainment, and leading nightclub venues. Additionally, the Center for Black Equity hosts awards to recognize exemplary members and allies of the Black LGBTQ+ community and presents monthly virtual (and hybrid as feasible) engagement experiences.

Whatever the changes, D.C. Black Pride remains an unbeatable destination for Black Queer liberation, community fellowship, and lots of celebration. (PF)

Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics
mystics.wnba.com

(Editor’s Choice: DC United)

Washington Mystics (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Mystics is a women’s basketball team located in D.C. and it competes in the Women’s National Basketball Association as a member club of the league’s eastern conference. Led by general manager and head coach Mike Thibault, assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti and associate coach Eric Thibault, this team shows that D.C.’s women basketball teams are strong national contenders within the sport. (TC)

Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C.
1140 3rd St., N.E.
gmcw.org

(Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Sports)

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. sings to inspire equality and inclusion through musical performances, according to its website. Formed in 1981, the group now has more than 250 members and five select ensembles that have performed nationally and internationally and hundreds of donors who ensure that GMCW can continue to promote justice through song. (TC)

Best Non-Profit Powered by Pepco: SMYAL
410 7th St., S.E.
smyal.org

(Editor’s Choice: Center for Black Equity)

SMYAL (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders trains LGBTQ youth to become future leaders. Through service and advocacy, this non-profit organization teaches queer youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community, according to SMYAL’s website. (TC)

Best Website/Blog: DCist
dcist.com

(Runner-up: Popville)

Covering everything from D.C. Council legislation to nightlife, this site for Washingtonians dynamically covers city events. Launched by volunteers in 2004, it was bought by DNAinfo in early 2017 only to be shut down by the organization’s owner. However, DCist was able to re-launch in 2018 with support from Washington’s NPR affiliate WAMU and readers. This fan favorite continues to engage audiences with its exciting online presence and design. (PVS)

DINING

Best Brunch: Perry’s Drag Brunch
1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.
perrysam.com

(Editor’s Choice: Class Act Drag Brunch at Sign of the Whale)

Perry’s Drag Brunch (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Perry’s Drag Brunch is D.C.’s longest-running and  “most fabulous drag brunch,” according to its website. Hosted on Sundays, this event treats guests to food catered by Perry’s Restaurant and performances from icons in D.C.’s drag community like Whitney Gucci Goo and India Larelle Houston. (TC)

Best Burger: Duke’s Grocery
1513 17th St., N.W.
dukesgrocery.com

(Editor’s Choice: Lucky Buns)

Duke’s Grocery (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With locations in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Foggy Bottom, this restaurant serves guests with hearty portions of classic American food and their award-winning burgers. Added to that is friendly service for which the East London-style restaurant is famous. (TC)

Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th St., N.W.
jenis.com

(Editor’s Choice: Dolci Gelati)

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together, according to its website. Packaged in Instagram-worthy colorful cups, Jeni’s ice creams have a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” that allow one to savor the sweetness of flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble. (TC)

Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza
2016 9th St., N.W.
eatandyspizza.com

(Runner-Up: All-Purpose)

Andy’s Pizza (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Andy’s Pizza makes pizza that transports patrons to New York — a strong contender for the American city with the best pizza. Featuring stone deck ovens, long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, California tomatoes, and a skilled pizzaiolo, this neighborhood pizzeria brings New York to D.C. while serving classic combinations. (TC)

Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
1609 17th St., N.W.
anniesparamountdc.com

(Editor’s Choice: Le Diplomate)

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Taking the prize for the second year in a row, a Washington pillar Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse offers a variety of hearty American dishes including burgers and salads for lunch, savory omelets and benedicts for brunch and classic steaks for dinner. 

Annie’s has operated for 73 years, and the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award in 2019, which honors restaurants with “timeless appeal” and that serve “quality food that reflects the character of their communities.” Annie’s was only the third D.C. restaurant to earn that distinction. 

George Katinas and his family opened Paramount Steakhouse in 1948. Katinas hired his sister Anne “Annie” Katinas Kaylor, to work the bar. Her popularity led to the restaurant changing its name to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse. She died in 2013. 

Annie’s has been a favorite for years winning Best Overall Restaurant (2001, 2002), Tried & True (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), Best Late Night (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012), Best Brunch (2005) and Best Steakhouse (2007, 2008). Kaylor was named Local Hero Female in 2001. (KR)

Best Outdoor Drinking: Dirty Goose
913 U St., N.W.
thedirtygoosedc.com

(Editor’s Choice: Dacha Beer Garden)

The Dirty Goose (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Located in the heart of U Street, The Dirty Goose Bar has been crafting specialty martinis and cocktails since its opening in 2016. Signature drinks include the drunken java martini and a classic cosmopolitan. Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The Dirty Goose doubled the size of the rooftop patio and tripled its self-proclaimed obsession with pop star Britney Spears. (KR)

Best Carryout/Delivery: Beau Thai
beauthaidc.com
3162 Mount Pleasant St., N.W. (Mt. Pleasant) and 1550 7th St., N.W. Unit A (Shaw)

(Editor’s Choice: Ben’s Chili Bowl)

Best of Gay D.C.
Owners, from left, Ralph Brabham, Aschara Vigsittaboot and Drew Porterfield meet at the Shaw location of Beau Thai. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Beau Thai has been serving the D.C. area authentic, made-from-scratch Thai food since 2010. Offering a variety of dishes like shrimp cakes, pineapple fried rice and chicken satay, there’s no shortage of dynamic options to try. (KR)

Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee
Multiple locations
compasscoffee.com

(Editor’s Choice: La Colombe)

Compass Coffee (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Founded in 2010 by two Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Compass Coffee has 12 brick and mortar locations in the Washington area and one roasting facility in Shaw. Compass Coffee can be found in many local restaurants and grocery stores across the mid-Atlantic. 

The roaster is no stranger to this award — Compass had four consecutive wins in this category through 2019. (KR)

Best Restaurant: Logan Tavern
1423 P St., N.W.
logantavern.com

(Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern)

Logan Tavern (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Known for its buzzy scene and delicious dishes, Logan Tavern is taking the prize yet again after winning Best Restaurant in 2020. Logan’s dishes call to a casual American style, with classic burgers, southern fried chicken and crispy skin-on rockfish being staples on the menu. 

In addition to a reliable dinner menu, Logan offers sweet and savory brunch dishes and affordable drinks. 

Logan also won Best Bloody Mary in these awards in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012. (KR)

Best Local Brewery: DC Brau
3178 Bladensburg Rd., N.E. Suite B
dcbrau.com

(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear Brewing Company)

(Photo courtesy of DC Brau)

For decades, the District had no local brewery whose products were available in local stores and on tap outside the site of production. DC Brau founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock decided to change that in 2011 when the duo tapped their first keg of beer entirely brewed, packaged, and sold in the District. 

Offering beers and hard seltzers, DC Brau crafts drinks for everyone’s tastes. DC Brau and the Blade are currently holding the fourth annual PRIDE PILS fundraiser to benefit SMYAL and the Blade Foundation. A small batch of the PRIDE PILS launched on Oct. 1 in local stores, restaurants, and bars. (KR)

Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery
1369 New York Ave., N.E.
republicrestoratives.com

(Editor’s Choice: Green Hat Distillery)

Republic Restoratives (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Women-owned, community-led and made in the District — Republic Restoratives Distillery offers an array of high-quality spirits. Republic’s queer-owned vodka, Civic Pride, was created out of frustration with popular brands co-opting the rainbow flag while also supporting organizations or efforts that directly harm LGBTQ people. 

Republic also offers drink kits, like sangria and mint juleps, to make at-home cocktails a breeze. Locally, pick-up or home delivery is available seven days a week. Republic took the prize in 2019 for Best Local Distillery, as well. (KR)

REHOBOTH BEACH

Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
ppgrill.com

(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)

Purple Parrot (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Purple Parrot pivoted quickly during the pandemic to keep its doors open and its customers happy and fed. The tireless staff, led by owner Hugh Phelps and mainstays Chris Chandler and Jamie Romano, worked overtime to keep patrons safe, separating tables and enforcing strict masking policies. The Parrot and its popular Biergarten remain Rehoboth mainstays. The place was packed throughout summer 2021 and it’s easy to see why: competent service, some of the best cocktails in town, consistently good bar food, plenty of specials and entertainment all in a festive, beachy atmosphere. No visit to Rehoboth is complete without a stop at the Parrot. 

Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Kristina Kelly

(Runner-up: Magnolia Applebottom)

Kristina Kelly (Photo courtesy of Kelly)

Rehoboth Beach has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to drag entertainment as more and more venues embrace the art of drag. Even nearby Milton and Dewey Beach have seen drag brunches and other events debut in the past year or two. This year’s top honor goes to the tireless Kristina Kelly, much beloved in D.C. after years of performing here. Kelly can now be found holding court at The Pines, hosting Sunday brunch along with Mona Lotts, as well as other events. Kelly recently hosted the Blade’s annual Rehoboth Beach party, handling everything from checking guests’ vaccine status at the door to ensuring the buffet remained stocked. With ongoing labor shortages at the beach, Kelly has been forced to wear multiple hats all while keeping The Pines entertainment calendar filled. 

Best Rehoboth Bartender: Todd Nolan Meredith, Lupo Italian Kitchen

(Runner-up: Chris Chandler, Purple Parrot)

Todd Meredith (Photo courtesy of Meredith)

Todd Meredith is a newcomer to this category, which has long been dominated by the trio of Holly Lane-Chris Chandler-Jamie Romano. Meredith tends bar at Rehoboth’s always bustling Lupo Italian Kitchen on Rehoboth Avenue. Lupo’s bar is small and Meredith makes sure to introduce his customers to one another, facilitating friendly conversation in the cozy setting. And if you go once, chances are Meredith will remember your drink of choice on your next visit, even if it’s months later. His memory is remarkable and his positive vibe and top-notch bartending skills keep the regulars and tourists alike coming back. 

Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Pamala Stanley

(Runner-up: Climax with Magnolia Applebottom)

Pamala Stanley (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

There’s no keeping Pamala Stanley down. This perennial winner moved to virtual shows during last year’s pandemic to keep her many fans entertained. She even staged a series of fundraisers during quarantine, donating thousands to Beebe Healthcare in Sussex County, Del. Stanley returned to the stage at The Pines, which hosts her ever-popular Sunday night dance party, as soon as COVID restrictions were lifted. She has since launched a popular Wednesday night virtual show, reaching fans far and wide. Just last month, Stanley was inducted into the Legends of Vinyl Artists Hall of Fame, honoring her long, successful recording career. Unfortunately, Stanley was sidelined with COVID several weeks ago, which she has publicly addressed on social media. The good news is she’s doing better and preparing to return to the stage. Stay tuned for details on the resumption of her Wednesday night show online and her Sunday night party at The Pines. 

Best Rehoboth Coffee Shop: Rise Up
502 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.

(Runner-up: The Coffee Mill)

You can’t miss Rise Up as you enter downtown Rehoboth Beach, with its bold black-and-white building, often festooned with holiday-themed décor on the roof. Rise Up offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a full bar, which sits to the right of the coffee station. The 502 Bar and Rise Up offer outdoor seating and are pet friendly, a perfect option in these socially distanced times.

Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Blue Moon
35 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Bluemoonrehoboth.com

Blue Moon (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Perhaps we should retire this category, as the Blue Moon seems to win each year, including last year. The food remains among the very best in town, consistently impressing diners for decades. This year saw a pivot to cabaret-style seating and entertainment with the talented pianist Nate Buccieri holding court five nights a week all summer. (Buccieri is expected to make several return visits this fall.) Don’t miss the Blue Moon’s Tasting Tuesday, a three-course dinner with wine pairings for just $45. And if you want an even better bargain, try Sunday night’s $25 steak special. No matter when you go, you can’t go wrong with dinner or Sunday brunch at the Moon. 

Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson
16698 Kings Hwy A.
Lewes, Del.
leeanngroup.com

(Runner-up: Jason Abela)

Lee Ann Wilkison (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fourth consecutive win in this category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group has ranked #1 in real estate sales in Sussex County, Del., for more than 20 years and ranks #3 nationally for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate network. She is a regular contributor to the Blade. Her informed articles on real estate trends at the Delaware beaches and her insights on the market proved beneficial throughout the pandemic. There are many smart, capable Realtors in the Sussex County market, several of whom have been honored here in the last decade, and Wilkinson is among the very best. 

Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Diegosbarnightclub.com

(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)

Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber and Joe Ciarlante-Zuber (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber bounced back from a difficult 2020 and not only kept Rehoboth visitors entertained at Diego’s but found the time to open a new restaurant that became an instant hit this summer, Square One, offering an impressive dinner menu and arguably the best martinis in town. Diego’s offers a regular and growing schedule of entertainment, dance parties, and happy hours and the beach-themed outdoor bar is always busy and a safe option for those still practicing social distancing. The duo are an unstoppable force in Rehoboth and we look forward to what they do in 2022.

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