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A surrogacy fairy tale

New York gay couple helping others start families

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surrogacy couple, gay news, Washington Blade

Anthony Brown, left, with husband Gary Spino and thier son, Nicholas. (Photo courtesy Jonsar Studios 2015)

Anthony Brown and his husband Gary Spino’s neighbor in their West Village apartment building in New York City wore all black, only went out at night and had a frequent cough.

She was, “the type of woman you’d see coming down the street and you might cross the street,” Brown says. Now and then the couple would see her coming home at night from grocery shopping and would help carry her groceries upstairs. One day after falling in her apartment the woman, named Janet, called the couple to help. The result was a seven-year friendship and the gift of Brown and Spino’s son, Nicholas.

Brown and Spino came to learn she suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, had lived all over the world and that she was also wealthy from family money. When she died, they discovered she had been so touched by their kindness that she left them half her estate. Because of her, the couple were able to afford surrogacy with Spino as their son’s biological father in what Brown calls, “a New York fairytale.”

“It was a gift from God, truly. Or at least a gift from Janet,” Brown says. “We still have her picture and a heart-shaped urn that has some of her ashes. We sprinkled her ashes all over the world. We took her ashes to all the places where she had lived and tried to do her justice.”

As they embarked on their surrogacy journey, the couple went to a Men Having Babies meeting at the Gay and Lesbian Center and began gathering information. Brown, an attorney, would eventually go on to become chairman on the board for the organization.

While working with Men Having Babies, the group became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and started a grant. The grant used money from events the organization produced to help with its gay parenting assistance program.

The program now offers qualifying individuals and couples discounted services, donated free services and cash grants. So far the organization is in its fourth class of recipients and 13 babies have been born to parents who have utilized the gay parenting assistance program.

“It’s one of the greatest things in the world to be able to talk to the recipients and see myself in them and to know I would never have been able to have afforded the surrogacy route had it not been for the grace of a kind woman who lived in my building. So it’s a full circle moment for me personally,” Brown says.

Brown is also no stranger to the other side of surrogacy. Before having their son, Brown worked for a marriage equality organization in the early ‘00s. Brown and Spino met a lesbian couple through the organization who wanted to have a family with a known donor. Brown and Spino agreed to help and the partner Brown was working with became pregnant first. Through her, Brown has an 11-year-old biological daughter. The experience led Brown and Spino not only on their own journey to welcome their son into their family, but for Brown to embark on a passion project to help other gay couples expand their families.

In 2012 Brown went deeper on his mission to help others and started TimeforFamilies.com, a website filled with information for LGBT families to learn how to start families.

Brown covers topics such as surrogacy, estate planning, co-parenting and specific topics like having a known donor versus an anonymous donor. While Brown notes the majority of website visitors are from the New York area, people from Africa, Asia and Europe have also accessed the site. Gay families can also send in their personal stories and photos to be featured on the website.

Brown hopes that with access to more information, people can become educated on the topic, especially on common misconceptions about surrogacy which Brown says are compensation and how aware surrogate mothers are about what they’re doing. He says the misconceptions vary across the world.

“In America most states authorize and regulate compensated surrogacy, where the surrogate mother is paid for the risks she takes with becoming pregnant and the inconvenience that she has,” Brown says. “In Europe, they label that as baby selling.That one misconception really bothers me because nobody accuses their heterosexual family member who is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at an IVF clinic to help them get pregnant. They’re spending that money also, but nobody accuses them of buying a child.”

When it comes to the idea that surrogate mothers are being taken advantage of, Brown says the average woman who embarks on the journey of surrogacy is more likely than not to have a college degree, to be married with children of her own and to have an income level above the poverty level. He says they also usually have a personal story and deep connection behind why they want to help.

“They really are women who are doing this because they want to help somebody else have a family. These woman really are incredible people,” Brown says.

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Taste of Pride celebrates LGBTQ and allied restaurants

Weeklong event will feature local eateries and bars

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Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will headline the opening event for Taste of Pride.

Get ready to celebrate LGBTQ-owned, managed, and allied restaurants at Taste of Pride from Oct. 2-8. 

The weeklong event is a new initiative by Capital Pride Alliance. In 2021, the organization put on a single-day brunch event in June at LGBTQ and allied restaurants, but this is the first weeklong iteration. 

About 15 local restaurants and bars are set to participate, including As You Are, Shaw’s Tavern, Jane Jane, and Code Red. There’s also an opening party on Monday, Oct. 2 featuring food and drink vendors without a traditional brick-and-mortar space, like Suga Chef and Vegan Junk Food. 

Taste of Pride will raise funds for the Pride365 fund, which supports local LGBTQ organizations. There will be a three-course prix fixe menu at several of the participating locations, with lunch and brunch menus offered at $30, and dinner menus offered at $40 or $55. 

Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will be headlining the opening event on the evening of Oct. 2 at Lost Generation Brewery. Queeman, the founder and owner of the renowned bakery Mr. Bake Sweets and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, said he’s excited to spotlight LGBTQ chefs and mixologists. 

Queeman said he’s proud to be a part of bringing queer culinary experts together to celebrate the work they’ve all done and discuss what changes need to come to the industry — there will be a panel discussion on Oct. 2 covering those topics. LGBTQ chefs have long gone unnoticed, he said, despite the innovative work they’ve done. 

“Queers have been in the industry doing the work for a very long time and we just haven’t really gotten that acknowledgment,” Queeman said. 

Providing this space for LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry is paramount to giving a sense of power and ownership in the work they do, Queeman said. He wishes there was this kind of space for him when he was coming up as a chef when he was younger. 

Taste of Pride is also a great opportunity for LGBTQ people looking to get into the industry to find safe spaces to work that are run by queer people, Queeman said. 

Rob Heim, the general manager at Shaw’s Tavern, said he’s looking forward to being a part of the event. And new fall menu items at Shaw’s Tavern will be available during Taste of Pride, which he’s thrilled to showcase. 

“I was really excited to help out and participate,” he said. “It’s a great idea.” 

The smaller number of participating restaurants in Taste of Pride is intentional, said Brandon Bayton, a volunteer executive producer organizing Taste of Pride. It’s so each restaurant can be well-represented during the week, and different restaurants will be highlighted on social media on separate days. Capital Pride Alliance is also partnering with influencers to get the word out. 

From left, food from 801 Restaurant and Bar and a drink from Code Red. (Code Red photo by Michael Emond; photos courtesy of Capital Pride Alliance)

Visibility — all year long 

It’s important to have events like Taste of Pride outside of June, Bayton said. 

“We exist 365 days,” Bayton said. “So we need to make sure that we continue the celebration and invite others to celebrate with us and just be authentically ourselves. We enjoy and do a lot of things other people do. There’s no reason why we should just be constrained to one month.”

Queeman agrees. His identity as a queer Black man doesn’t stop or start at any given month. 

“I’m not just a queer or gay man in June or I’m not just a Black man in February,” he said. 

And food is a major intersection that all people of all identities enjoy, Bayton said. It’s a simple way to bring people together. 

“We do the exact same things that everyone else does,” Bayton said. “We all eat. We all love to eat.” 

Taste of Pride will run from Oct. 2-8. For more information and to make reservations, visit capitalpride.org/event/taste-of-pride.

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Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion

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Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.

The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.

I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me. 

Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre. 

Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, Andr​​é 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing. 

My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call. 

As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense? 

A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender. 

“Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.” 

The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.

“Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”

Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.

“Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.” 

This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio. 

And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of  patriarchy and homophobia. 

“‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”

“Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added. 

This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations. 

Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children. 

“You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100. 

In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.” 

In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop. 

“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”

So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.

Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms. 

“We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”

“More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added. 

(Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)

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Cuisine and culture come together at The Square

D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors

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(Photo by Scott Suchman)

Downtown got a bit tastier when “the next generation of food halls” opened its doors on Tuesday near the Farragut West Metro stop. Dubbed The Square, its half-dozen debut stalls are a Spanish-flecked mix of D.C. favorites, new concepts, and vendor-collaborative spirit.

After two years of planning – and teasing some big-name chefs – the market is, according to the owners, “where cuisine, culture, and community are woven together.”

Behind this ambitious project with lofty aims are Richie Brandenburg, who had a hand in creating Union Market and Rubén García, a creative director of the José Andrés Group who also was part of the team of Mercado Little Spain, the fairly new Spanish-themed Andres food hall in Hudson Yards.

Food halls have come a long way since the new Union Market awakened the concept a decade ago. Instead of simply rows of vendors in parallel lines, The Square has a new business model and perspective. This food hall shares revenue between the owners and its chef partners. Vendors are encouraged to collaborate, using one software system, and purchasing raw materials and liquor at scale together.

“Our goal was two-fold: to create a best-in-class hospitality offering with delicious foods for our guests; and behind the scenes, create the strong, complex infrastructure needed to nurture both young chefs and seasoned professionals, startups, and innovation within our industry,” says Brandenburg.

The Square has embraced a more chef-forward methodology, given that the founders/owners themselves are chefs. They’re bringing together a diverse mix of new talent and longtime favorites to connect, offer guidance to each other, and make the market into a destination. 

(Photos by Scott Suchman)

The first phase of The Square premiered this week. This phase encapsulates a selection of original concepts from well-known local chefs and business owners, and includes:

• Cashion’s Rendezvous – Oysters, crab cakes, and cocktails, from the owners of D.C. institutions and now-closed Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell (Ann Cashion and John Fulchino).

• Jamón Jamón – Flamenco-forward food with hand-cut jamón Iberico, queso, and croquetas, sourced by García himself.

• Brasa – Grilled sausages and veggies are the stars here. Chef García oversees this Spanish street-food stall as well.

 Taqueria Xochi – Birria, guisado, and other street tacos, plus margs. Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, and from a Jose Andres alum.

• Yaocho – Fried chicken, juices, sweets, and libations.

• Junge’s – Churros and soft serve ice cream. Brandenburg and García both have a hand in this stall.

• Atrium Bar – The central watering hole for drinks. Atrium Bar serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by The Square’s Beverage Director Owen Thompson.

“Having been part of Jose Andres’s restaurant group and getting to know Ruben and Richie, it’s amazing to see how their values align with ours at Taqueria Xochi. Seeing all these incredible chefs heading into Square feels like a full-circle moment,” said Geraldine Mendoza of Taqueria Xochi.

Slated for fall 2023, the next round of openings includes Flora Pizzeria, Cebicheria Chalaca, KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi, Shoals Market (a retail hub), and more. Additionally, chef Rubén García’s Spanish restaurant, Casa Teresa, will soon open next door to The Square.

The Square is just one of a handful of new food halls blossoming in and around D.C. Up in Brentwood, Md., miXt Food Hall is an art-adjacent space with tacos, a year-round fresh market, coffee, and beer. Across from Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin marketplace with everything from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant and a festive vibe. Closer to The Square is Western Market by GW University, which opened in late 2021 with a buzzy, relaxed style.

For now, the Square is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Square plans to open on weekends and extend hours to offer dinner service in the coming months. A few alfresco seats will accompany the hall.

(Photo by Scott Suchman)
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