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Beekman or bust

Gay entrepreneurs reinvent themselves at rural N.Y. farm

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Beekman Boys, gay news, Washington Blade

Products from the Beekman 1802 Farmhouse line at Target. (Photo courtesy Target)

When Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge took time from their bustling New York City life to go apple picking, they had no idea they were embarking on a trip that would be the start of their own business, reality TV fame and change their lives.

In a set-up that sounds like something out of a sitcom, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge ended up getting lost on their apple picking adventure and wound up in Sharon Springs, N.Y., a rural town teeming with quirk and charm. They found the American Hotel, owned by local gay couple Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts, and decided to spend the night. The next day on the way home, the pair stumbled across Beekman Farm, a local farm that happened to be for sale.

Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge fell in love with the property, cashed in everything they had, took out a mortgage and became the proud owners. They had no idea the farm would end up being their saving grace.

The recession of 2008 brought misfortune to many, including Kilmer-Purcell who lost his job in advertising and Ridge who lost his position as vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Without big city earnings to keep them afloat, the couple knew they had to figure out a way to profit off their farm. The farm’s neighbor John Hale, affectionally nicknamed by the town Farmer John and also a gay man, was also down on his luck and lost his farm. He left a letter in Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge’s mailbox asking if he could store his goats at their farm. The couple couldn’t say no.

Farmer John and his 80 goats moved into Beekman Farm and the couple realized they had been given an opportunity to profit.

“We actually started Googling ‘What can we do with goat milk?’ and the first thing that came up was goat milk soap,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “It just so happened one of our neighbors was a soap maker and she taught us how to make the soap with goat milk. Then she introduced us to another neighbor who was a weaver and another neighbor who was a blacksmith. We realized there was all these great craftspeople that were making amazing products, but didn’t know how to market them. That’s when we fell back on our skills in advertising and with Martha Stewart.”

From there, the brand Beekman 1802 was born. The company expanded from goat milk and now sells everything from artisanal cheeses, skin care, clothing, kitchenware, bedding, rugs, cookbooks and much more.

Their brand’s tagline is “Cultivate a better life” and it’s something that goes beyond marketing for the two.

”We chose that because there are so many lifestyle brands out there from Kardashian, even Martha Stewart, that want you to think there are all these magic ways your life will become better if you just buy their products. We believe that having a better life is a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of helping your neighbors and those things don’t just happen. So we’re not just a brand of things you buy we have a philosophy of helping your neighbor,” Kilmer-Purcell says.

After launching a line of pasta sauces made from small farm ingredients, Target reached out to the entrepreneurial couple for a collaboration for a food line. Now Beekman 1802 Farmhouse, the brand’s home line, launched on Sept. 14 and is available for purchase on target.com. The collection is Americana rustic with a modern twist and includes items such as a dinnerware collection, bedding collection, lightening collection, rugs, a sofa and much more. Prices range from $14.99 to $599.99.

The significance of having their items sold by a big-name retailer like Target isn’t lost on the couple.

“A company like Target never would have launched a food or home brand with a company that is so visibly fronted by a long-term gay couple,” Ridge says. “I think it just shows how far we’ve come.Target is a middle-America-based retailer and the fact that it’s a non-issue for them really shows where we are truly at in America.”

Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge’s journey from city boys to farmers can be seen on their now-defunct, three-season reality television show “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” which aired on Planet Green and the Cooking Channel.

Although the reality show experience was new for the town, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge say people were very welcoming to the show and to the couple.

“We always say Doug and Garth at the American Hotel were the pioneers. They were the first gay couple to move into the area in the late ‘90s and they were so beloved that Doug is now the mayor now,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “People here were really open to the idea of outsiders because they had brought in business and tourism. So we walked into a really friendly atmosphere. We always say homophobia is a luxury of the middle class because rich people generally have more exposure to the world and poor people have bigger things to worry about.”

The town even became part of one of the biggest days in the couple’s lives.

“They always think what we’re doing is weird, but I think they’ve learned to trust us because we genuinely bring a lot of good energy and outside people into the area,” Ridge says. “When we got married in 2013, we invited everybody in Sharon Springs to the wedding. They all came including priests and pastors from congregations that didn’t recognize gay marriage.”

The couple — who’ve been together 16 years — says although it was weird having cameras around at first, they became used to the environment and formed a special relationship with the crew. Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge even attended the director’s wedding.

Their newfound reality TV fame also landed them on the 21st season of “The Amazing Race,” in which they came in first.

While they have earned acclaim for their creative business, the couple thinks there is more behind the stereotype that gay people have a great eye for design that runs deep.

“Our philosophy is that growing up LGBT kids have to be really creative,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “I don’t know if it’s true anymore but when we were growing up we had to be really creative to find ways to hide your true identity. You start your life being incredibly creative. It makes a lot of sense that LGBT people go into creative fields. Most of the heteronormative world, they can just go with the flow their entire lives. Whereas LGBT people have to start overcoming obstacles as soon as they are aware of their differences.”

The couple have utilized their creativity to new heights by expanding their business in ways beyond a food and home line into giving experiences to others.

Website visitors can take a live look at the Live Goat Cam, a live stream feed on beekman1802.com to experience the beauty of their goats for free from anywhere in the world.

The couple has also curated “Trips of a Lifetime” in which small groups of people ranging from 15 to 25 can purchase trips with the couple to international locations. The trips are designed with a commitment to agriculture, philanthropy and understanding different cultures in mind. Last year, they went to Cuba and next year they are planning a trip to India.

With all Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge have accomplished, there is still one aspect of their brand that they may never live down.

“When we moved in, because we owned the Beekman Farm, everyone started calling us the Beekman Boys. And everybody still calls us ‘the boys’ and I have this dreaded feeling that we’re going to be 80 years old and they’ll still be calling us ‘the boys,” Ridge says.

Beekman Boys, gay news, Washington Blade

Brent Ridge, left, and husband Josh Kilmer-Purcell. (Photo courtesy the couple)

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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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

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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

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‘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.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

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.

FICTION

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.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

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, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

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

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

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

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

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

• 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, ushelpingus.org/donate

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