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Best of Gay D.C. 2016: PEOPLE

Blade readers voted for their favorite people



people, gay news, Washington BladeLocal Hero

Eric Fanning, U.S. Army Secretary

President Obama has appointed a record number of openly LGBT people to his administration, but over the course of the last year none has received as much attention as Army Secretary Eric Fanning.

His approval by the U.S. Senate in May after a nearly yearlong process in which his confirmation was in question made him the first openly gay person confirmed to head a military service branch.

Since that time, Fanning has become a hero in the LGBT community and a favorite interview subject for the media.

In an interview with the Blade in August, Fanning said he’s aware of his fan base, which he said has grown with each advancement of his career at the Pentagon.

“I always think I’m prepared and then the wave comes when you’re nominated, when you’re confirmed, when you’re sworn in,” Fanning said. “There’s always something that’s a hook that gets a little bit of attention.”

Over the course of the Obama administration, Fanning has occupied a position in each of the military services. Before his confirmation as Army secretary, Fanning held the posts of Air Force under secretary and deputy secretary at the Navy. Fanning was also chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and served as acting Army secretary, but had to relinquish the job briefly to win confirmation.

No stranger to LGBT advocacy, Fanning was once a board member for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. He began his tenure in the Obama administration at the time Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In 2013, Fanning became the first senior defense official to endorse a non-discrimination rule for sexual orientation in the military and openly transgender service in the armed forces. The U.S. military has since adopted both ideas.

Fanning said in August the changes have been great for him to witness personally, but “far more important, I think, it’s been great for the U.S. military.”

“Opening up service to people who haven’t had the opportunities, but meet the requirements, means we can recruit from a broader pool of talent and get the best our country has to offer,” Fanning said. (Chris Johnson)

Army Secretary Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Army Secretary Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Amateur Athlete/Best Fitness Instructor

Grace Thompson, D.C. Front Runners

Runner-up: Mark Hofberg, D.C. Gay Flag Football

Runner-up (fitness instructor): Kyle Suib

Grace Thompson calls the D.C. Front Runners “welcoming, supportive and friendly.”

The D.C. native joined the group seven years ago and is one of between 15-20 women in the league.

“Our group is dynamic with a full spectrum of runners, from the sub three-hour marathon to walkers and every pace in between.”

Thompson, a lesbian, started running consistently about 10 years ago. Since then, she’s run five full marathons and four half marathons. On Oct. 30, she’ll add another to the list — the Marine Corps Marathon.

“I’m honored, surprised and thankful to win,” Thompson, who works by day as the owner of Embody Pure Fitness, says. “I honestly didn’t campaign at all. It was a surprise to me that I was even nominated.” (Joey DiGuglielmo)

Grace Thompson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Grace Thompson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Artist

John Jack Gallagher

Runner-up: Denis Largeron

John Jack Gallagher has been taking photos since his first boyfriend gave him a 35-millimeter camera for his birthday more than 30 years ago. In 2012, he started shooting professionally after members of the Stonewall Kickball team he’d been photographing insisted he shoot their wedding.

“I created a Facebook page and started getting a lot of likes and even some clients,” Gallagher, 57, says. “My friends ended up eloping so I did not get to photograph their wedding, but by then, John Jack Photography was started down the road to being a permanent thing.”

Gallagher shoots fundraisers, weddings and sports and says he’s working more hours than he ever has before. “But I love it,” he says. He aims for “colorful, candid and emotional” photos.

“I like my photos to be vibrant and tell a story, even when they capture a single moment,” he says.

Gallagher is single and has been traveling all over the East Coast to build his business.

He’s also learned to be more careful after getting banned from Facebook five years ago for accidentally posting a photo of a woman whose bathing suit had slipped during a Jello wrestling match. (Joey DiGuglielmo)

John Jack Gallagher (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

John Jack Gallagher (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Businessperson

Jim ‘Chachi’ Boyle

Town, Trade and Number Nine

Runner-up: Dr. Gregory Jones, Capital Center for Psychotherapy & Wellness

Jim “Chachi” Boyle has been involved in various nightlife ventures for 20 years. A decade ago he became business partners with John Guggenmos and Ed Bailey, the visionaries behind Town Danceboutique, Trade and Number Nine.

“It’s an honor to be recognized,” Boyle says. “My partners and I are fortunate to have amazing managers, awesome staffs and great customers.”

Boyle lives in Shaw. Town Danceboutique has won dozens of Washington Blade Best of Gay D.C. awards since it opened in 2007. (Joey DiGuglielmo)

John 'Chachi' Boyle (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jim ‘Chachi’ Boyle (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Clergy

Rayceen Pendarvis

Runner-up: Bishop Allyson Abrams

Racine Pendarvis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Racine Pendarvis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Most Committed Activist

Earl Fowlkes

Runner-up: Sarah McBride

Those who know Earl Fowlkes know the path he has taken over the past 30 years from an AIDS and gay rights activist in New York City and D.C. to his current role as leader of three prominent LGBT-related organizations and chair of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights.  He epitomizes the term “committed activist.”

Fowlkes served as a volunteer with various AIDS organizations in New York City and New Jersey during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1996, he moved to D.C. to take a job as executive director of Damien Ministries, a faith-based group that provides services to people with HIV/AIDS.

In 1999, he became one of the founders of the organization that expanded D.C.’s Black Pride celebration into a national federation that quickly evolved into the International Federation of Black Prides, which helped coordinate black LGBT Pride events worldwide.

While serving as its CEO and president, Fowlkes played a key role in 2012 in expanding the organization’s mission to take on black LGBT-related economic, social and health issues along with a change of its name to the Center for Black Equity.

In keeping with his interest in politics as a means of achieving social change, Fowlkes was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Caucus in August 2013 shortly after being appointed as a member of the DNC. In November 2014, Fowlkes won election as president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political organization.

As if this were not enough, the D.C. City Council in July 2015 confirmed Fowlkes’ nomination by Mayor Muriel Bowser to become chair of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights. The independent commission is charged with adjudicating discrimination cases under the city’s Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination, among other categories, based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“One thing led to another,” said Fowlkes in discussing his activist endeavors. “It’s the most humbling thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m so immensely proud to have this honor.” (Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

Earl Fowlkes (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Earl Fowlkes (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Council Member

David Grosso

Runner-up: Jack Evans

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Most LGBT activists who know Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) say he began with a running start in his support for LGBT issues during his first year on the Council in 2013 and hasn’t stopped since then.

“He has an extensive record of supporting LGBT concerns, including introduction and passage of bills to prevent youth suicide and to require LGBT cultural competency for medical professionals,” according to the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which gave Grosso its highest rating of +10 for D.C. Council candidates running in the Nov. 8 election.

During his first term in office, Grosso has introduced, co-introduced or co-sponsored at least a dozen bills that directly or indirectly benefit LGBT people.

Among them is the Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Amendment Act of 2015, a first of its kind measure that specifically lists “LGBTQ youth” as an at-risk subgroup requiring careful attention in school suicide prevention programs.

Other bills that Grosso introduced or co-introduced include the LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act of 2015, which requires all medical professionals to take LGBTQ cultural competency training to maintain their licenses; a bill banning co-called “conversion therapy” for minors; and a measure requiring the city to provide new birth certificates to transgender people to reflect their correct name and gender.

Grosso has attended meetings of LGBT organizations has appeared at numerous LGBT events, including the Capital Pride Parade, AIDS Walk Washington, D.C. Black Pride and the D.C. LGBT Center annual reception.

“As an at-large Council member I work every day to ensure that our city welcomes, embraces and respects the human rights of every person,” he wrote in his response to GLAA’s candidate questionnaire. “This commitment to inclusion is reflected in my staff that includes several individuals who live openly as members of the LGBTQ community.” (Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Best Hill Staffer

John Assini

Runner-up: Evan Dorner

For John Assini, public service has been a calling he has felt since his youth and one he now answers as legislative correspondent to Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

“When I was young, it was instilled in me to fight for my beliefs,” Assini said. “Working on the Hill allows me to do that every day. Working for passionate members of Congress over the last five years has allowed me to contribute in a small way to the national conversation, which has been a humbling experience.”

Assini, 27, has already built a substantial resume since he began his career on Capitol Hill in 2011. Before working for Baldwin, he was a legislative aide for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources and an intern for now-Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Between 2012 and 2014, Assini was also a board member for GLASS, the affinity group for LGBT Senate staffers.

But Assini feels especially honored to work for Baldwin, whom he calls a “dedicated and thoughtful member who continues to work tirelessly on behalf of her state and its residents, and who shares my values of a fair, more equitable America.” The only out lesbian in Congress is up for re-election in 2018.

“That I also am part of the first openly gay U.S. senator’s team does not escape me,” Assini said. “She will always be a part of our shared LGBT history and I’m very lucky to work for her. Knowing that I play a role executing Sen. Baldwin’s vision of cleaner energy, better water quality and a brighter future for Wisconsin helps me stay focused every day.” (Chris Johnson)

John Assini (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

John Assini (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Local Pro Athlete

Katie Ledecky

Five-time Olympic Gold medalist in swimming

Runner-up: Bryce Harper

Katie Ledecky (Photo by Fernando Frazao of Agencia Brasil)

Katie Ledecky (Photo by Fernando Frazao of Agencia Brasil)

Best Massage

Gary Brennan

Arlington, Va.


Runner-up: Jacob Gough

Gary Brennan (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gary Brennan (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best LGBT Bureaucrat

Sheila Alexander-Reid

Director of LGBTQ Affairs for D.C. government

Runner-up: Jack Jacobson

National Coming Out Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Sheila Alexander-Reid (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Real Estate Agent

Michael Fowler, Compass

Runner-up: Jeff Taylor, Sotheby’s

Michael Fowler (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael Fowler (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Real Estate Group

The Evan and Mark Team, Compass

Runner-up: Ray Gernhart and Associates Re/Max

The Evan and Mark Team of Compass (Photo courtesy the Team)

The Evan and Mark Team of Compass (Photo courtesy the Team)

Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent

Chris Beagle

Berkshire Hathaway Gallo Realty

(Also won this category last year)

Runner-up: Jack Lingo

Best of Gay D.C.

Chris Beagle (Photo courtesy of Beagle)

Best Straight Ally

Hillary Clinton

Runner-up: Leigh Ann Hendricks

National Gay Media Association, Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Sec. Hillary Clinton (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Trans Advocate

Sarah McBride

Runner-up: Ruby Corado

Sarah McBride in July became the first openly transgender person to speak at a major party convention, but her advocacy efforts began long before she took to the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

McBride came out as trans in 2012 when she was the student body president of American University.

The Wilmington, Del., native had been involved with Equality Delaware, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, for several years. She joined the organization’s board of directors after she came out.

McBride testified three times in support of the bill that added gender identity to Delaware’s anti-discrimination and hate crimes law. Gov. Jack Markell said after he signed the measure in 2013 that his former intern “courageously stood before the General Assembly.”

McBride made national headlines in April when she posted a picture of herself on Instagram inside a women’s bathroom in North Carolina. The state’s governor, Pat McCrory, had just signed House Bill 2, which prohibits trans people from using public restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity and bans local municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures.

“Trying to pee in peace,” wrote McBride in her post. “Trying to live our lives as fully and authentically as possible. Barring me from this restroom doesn’t help anyone. And allowing me to continue to use this bathroom — just without fear of discrimination and harassment — doesn’t hurt anyone. Stop this. We are good people.”

McBride, who supports Hillary Clinton, worked at the Center for American Progress until she became a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign in June. She remains humble about her advocacy efforts.

“ I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of this community and this movement, especially at such an important time,” McBride says. “There are so many amazing trans advocates doing lifesaving work across the country.”

“This has been a tough year for transgender people, particularly in states like Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina, but I hope they know that there are so many people who see them, who care for them, and who are fighting to make this world a little kinder and safer for all of us.” (Michael K. Lavers)

Sarah McBride speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sarah McBride speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Stylist

Quency Valencia

Salon Quency

1534 U St., N.W.


Runner-up: Ryan Payne, Bang Salon

Quincy Figueroa (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Quincy Figueroa (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

To see winners in other categories in the Washington Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. 2016 Awards, click here.

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PHOTOS: GMCW Holiday Show

Chorus performs at Lincoln Theatre



(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed its “Holiday Show” at Lincoln Theatre on Saturday. The Chorus has performances on Dec. 11 and 12. For tickets and showtimes, visit

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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PHOTOS: International LGBTQ Leaders Conference opening reception

Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott



Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ Victory Institute held an opening reception for the 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference at the JW Marriott on Thursday.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Meet the husbands and creative partners behind ‘Christmas Angel’

A funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast



Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner with pugs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron.

The Christmas Angel
Dec. 9-19
Creative Cauldron
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
Tickets:  $35. Students $20.
Masks and proof of vaccination are required

“Ours is like a lava lamp,” says composer Matt Conner describing the collaborative creative process he shares with musical writing partner and husband Stephen Gregory Smith. “We move together in motion in a continual ebb and flow.” 

A couple for 23 years, married for eight, and making musicals together for 11, the talented pair’s current offering is “The Christmas Angel,” opening on Dec. 9 at Creative Cauldron in Fairfax. 

A musical adaptation of the same-named 1910 novel by Abbie Farwell Brown, it’s the story of Angelina Terry (Kanysha Williams), a wealthy embittered recluse who learns the lessons of Christmas from a box of old toys that she casts into the street. Also featured in the hour-long one-act are Ryan Sellers as Horton, Angelina’s butler, and Carl Williams who plays her brother. The angel and toys are brought to life by an ensemble of a dozen teens plucked from the company’s musical theater training program. 

Via phone from their home in Arlington, Smith and Conner shared thoughts on their new show and working style. In attendance are pug dogs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron, whom they call Eddie and Byron in public – otherwise “it’s just too much,” says Conner whose ultimate fantasy involves living on a pug farm where he’d write music and present the occasional show.

Rather than finish each other’s sentences, the duo (both Helen Hayes Award winners – Smith for acting and Conner for directing) expound on one another’s thoughts.

While Conner composes the music, Smith writes the book and lyrics, and together they co-direct. “But there’s no end and beginning where my job ends and his begins,” says Smith. “What we do complements each other’s work.”

Still, there are differences. Smith’s approach is focused. He writes pages at night and edits in the morning. Conner’s method is more relaxed, preferring to sit at the keyboard and talk rather than writing things down. But throughout the creative process, there’s never a moment when the project isn’t on their mind. They can be watching TV or buying milk when an exciting idea pops up, says Conner. 

A clever nod to Dickens, the novel is more than just a female “Christmas Carol,” says Smith. And in some spots, he’s beefed up the 55-page book, fleshing out both storyline and characters including the toys whose shabby appearance belies a youthful confidence. 

He adds, “Every holiday season you go to the attic and pull down the box, or boxes in my case, of holiday decorations and it’s all old but it’s new. That’s the nostalgic feeling of toys from the attic that we’re trying to find through the show.”

The music is a combination of traditional carols performed by a hand bell chorus, and original Christmas songs that intentionally sound very familiar. The score includes songs “Don’t Hide Your Light,” “The Sweetest Gift,” and “Yestermore” – the moment when the past, present, and future come together. 

Also, there’s Angelina’s Bah! Humbug! number “Fiddlesticks,” her great renunciation of the holidays. She believes the world a disappointing place to be, and the sooner realized the better. 

Conner and Smith aren’t new to Creative Cauldron. Through the company’s Bold New Works project, the team was commissioned to write five world premiere musicals in just five years. The result was “The Turn of the Screw,” “Monsters of the Villa Diodati,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Witch” and “On Air.”

Judging from some of the titles and their slightly macabre content, it seems the duo was better poised to write for Halloween than Christmas, but nonetheless, they were commissioned. Creative Cauldron’s producing director Laura Connors Hull brought them the obscure yet charming book that surprisingly had never before been reworked for stage or celluloid, and the pair got to work last spring. 

Conner and Smith agree, “The show is a lot of things rolled up into one.”

Not only is it a funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast, but it’s also a story largely unknown to today’s audiences. Additionally, the show boasts intergenerational appeal while holding messages about Christmas, family, and finding light when you’re in a darker place. 

More information about Conner and Smith, including links to their music and popular podcast “The Conner & Smith Show,” can be found on their terrific website at   

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