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Reel Affirmations LGBT Film Festival returns Oct. 13-16

Annual event to showcase 40 films from six continents



Reel Affirmations, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘Retake,’ which filmmaker Nick Corporon calls ‘a suspenseful love story.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

Reel Affirmations


Oct. 10-14


GALA Hispanic Theatre/Tivoli Theatre


3333 14th St., N.W.


Human Rights Campaign


1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.


Full schedule, tickets and more at


Reel Affirmations returns Oct. 13-16. Billed as Washington’s only international LGBT film festival, this year’s schedule includes about 40 new queer features, shorts and documentaries from across the country and around the world.

The festival kicks off with a VIP preview of “Retake” by filmmaker Nick Corporon. The director of the award-winning short “Barbie Boy” says his latest film is, “a suspenseful love story about Jonathan (Tuc Watkins), a mysterious and lonely guy, who hires a young male hustler to help him recreate a road trip from his past.”

Corporon says the movie rises from two very different personal interests: people who live in the past and the desert.

“I’m obsessed with characters who are stuck in the past, always looking backward, pining over what was and what could have been,” he says. ”And, being a Mid-Western boy, I love the iconography of the desert. So, I took those ideas and mashed them together into a road trip love story. Thankfully, two-person road trip movies are less expensive and easier to shoot.”

What proved to be a challenge on the set was controlling his lead actor.

“Tuc Watkins just turned 50 years old recently, but on set he ate like a 15-year-old,” the director says. “I just don’t understand how he has the body he does because we’d always catch him sneaking off to eat cheeseburgers in between set ups. I’d catch him with a bag of fries and say, ‘You realize we’re shooting your nude scenes in two days, right?’ He responded with ‘I know my body, we’ll be fine.’ And we were.”

On Friday night, the festival features “LOEV” a film that Festival Director Kimberley Bush has been pursuing for more than a year. Bush describes it as a “glorious film” and sadly notes that lead actor Dhruv Ganesh died of tuberculosis shortly after filming.

Reel Affirmations, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘LOEV,’ a film Reel Affirmations Director Kimberly Bush calls ‘Glorious.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

Indian filmmaker Sudhanshu Saria says that his movie, “is an honest, fragile film about a road-trip between men where they examine the boundaries between friendship and love. It’s set in India so the politics of the place become important given our government’s recent re-criminalization of homosexuality, making it punishable by life imprisonment.”

Saria says the impulse to make this movie came out of personal circumstances and his frustration with the Indian movie industry.

“Honestly, it came from heartbreak,” he says. “I fell for someone who didn’t like me back and instead of going to a therapist or a strip club, I decided to write about it. And I was only able to write about it honestly because I knew there was no shot in hell of this gay-themed, no-stars film finding any financing or actors in India. I could just be brutally honest.”

To his surprise, he was able to locate both money and actors: “Oh well. Two years later, here we are, but if you ask me why I became a filmmaker, well, that credit would go squarely to writer and director Mira Nair. I was perfectly happy sitting on a couch and watching films until I heard her manifesto on, ‘If we don’t tell our stories, no one will.’ So here I am, telling my stories.”

On Saturday, Reel Affirmations turns to three exciting selections of shorts, each loosely grouped around a common theme. The first, called Spectrum, takes a look at LGBT folk who don’t fit neatly into conventional ideas of gender, aging or identity. It kicks off with “Dawn,” the latest film from filmmaker Jake Graf, a transgender man living in London.

“The film is a simple story, set at dawn on a bench on the outskirts of London,” Graf says. “The lead is a trans woman who has been told all her life that she is ugly, too tall, not pretty or womanly enough, so I thought it would be interesting to pair her with a blind man. Unable to judge her by her appearance, he simply takes her for the woman that she is inside, without the stereotypical ideas and perceptions of beauty.”

The second slate of shorts is called Swipe Right, with films dedicated to new beginnings and sudden transformations. The films include the comedy “Spunkle.” If you don’t know what the title means, director Lisa Donato says you may need to consult the Urban Dictionary.

The third slate is called So Long and Farewell, because as Bush notes, “this selection of short films plays on the theme of how everything — even love — comes to an end.”

The Saturday centerpiece feature is the powerful documentary “Free Cece!,” the story of CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman who was unfairly jailed after fighting back against an attacker. Director Jacqueline Garas, known for her work on the PBS series “In the Life,” had a life-changing moment when she heard trans activist Laverne Cox speak about McDonald’s story at the 2013 GLAAD Awards.

“I was shocked that no one had actually covered her story,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘Why haven’t you done something?’ I felt compelled. I think as white people when we see racial injustice, we need to do all we can to make a difference. This was my way of doing what I could.”

The adults-only Saturday after-hours feature takes audiences on a decidedly different journey. According to German filmmaker Hendrik Schäfer, “I wanted to make a film that asks what intimacy means and whether our exposed genitals or our personal stories are more intimate.” The ensuing film, “Seducing Mr. Bluefrog: NSFW” is “a portrait of an online exhibitionist who goes by the name of Bluefrog and who doesn’t want to reveal anything personal but his nudity. He gets to direct his own porn scene and it turns out to be a much different experience than expected for both the subject and the filmmaker.”

The line-up on Sunday, the closing day of the Festival, starts with “Suicide Kale,” an intense dark mumblecore comedy written by Brittani Nichols and directed by Carly Usdin. Nichols says that she and her friends were looking for a project to work on together and that her screenplay was sparked by a chance conversation with Lindsay Hicks, who became one of the film’s stars.

“Emotional chaos ensues over the course of one lunch when a new couple, Jasmine and Penn, find an anonymous suicide note at the home of Billie and Jordan, the happiest couple they know,” she says.

Friends and colleagues are also at the core of “Strike a Pose,” a new documentary that tells the stories of the seven male dancers who performed with Madonna on the ground-breaking “Blond Ambition Tour” and who appeared with her in the infamous documentary “Truth or Dare.”

Co-directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan tracked down the six surviving dancers to tell the world their stories. (Gabriel Trupin died in 1995, but is represented in the movie by his mother.) Zwaan says that the movie is “the dramatic story of these seven fierce male dancers who showed the world how to vogue. At its core, our film focuses on a paradox: onstage, the dancers were paragons of pride and self-expression, but in reality their lives were clouded by compromise and secrecy. “Strike a Pose” is a film about overcoming shame and the courage it takes to be who you are.” It screens Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m.

Each of these filmmakers is excited to be part of the Reel Affirmation Film Festival. They are thrilled to find new audiences for their work and they are grateful for the camaraderie of their fellow artists. But even more importantly, they rely on Bush and her stalwart band of volunteers to take a risk on independent queer filmmakers and their quirky visionary films.

As Sudhanshu Saria says, “LOEV is unusual, I know that. We worked hard to make it that way. It resists the obvious stereotyping and classifications people seek: there’s no shower scenes, no nubile twinks, no coming-out-to-dad or suicides and it doesn’t fit the clichés of Indian art-house films either: no musical numbers and no poverty porn. Films like this will always require champions who see the intent in there and who understand it for what it is and who showcase it for audiences to discover.”

A scene from 'LOEV.' (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

A scene from ‘LOEV.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices



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

You knew this was coming.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients,

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

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth,

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

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

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

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

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