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Sandra Bernhard coming to D.C. for Pride performance

Comedian slated for June 8 show sponsored by Blade at Shakespeare Theatre

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Sandra Bernhard, the popular comedian and entertainer, will perform during Pride week in D.C. on Friday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Shakespeare Theatre Co., the Washington Blade announced today.

The performance marks the Blade’s third annual Pride Comedy Show. Tickets are on sale now and available at shakespearetheatre.org.

Bernhard is a pioneer of the one-woman show and brings a unique and raucous mix of cabaret, stand-up, rock-n-roll, and social commentary to the stage. She has starred in Broadway shows and films and her TV credits include “Roseanne,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Will & Grace,” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” among others.

“We’re excited to welcome Sandra to help celebrate Pride week,” said Blade Publisher Lynne Brown. “We could all use a laugh right now in Washington and Sandra will deliver.”

The Blade launched the annual Pride Comedy Show in 2016 with two sold-out shows by Leslie Jordan; last year’s sold-out performance featured comedian Kate Clinton.

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Mr. Bake on creating space for queer chefs of color

Local entrepreneur mentors young gay and Black bakers

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Kareem Queeman is known for custom cakes and Southern classic desserts that ‘give you that nostalgic feeling.’ (Photo courtesy Queeman)

Ever since his daily subway ride in high school, textbook in one hand and cake box in the other, Kareem Queeman has been balancing baking, career, joy, and representation.

Queeman, a gay man, is best known as Mr. Bake. Emboldened by his grandmother, who embodied the dynamic spirit of his close-knit family, Queeman took to the Kitchenaid and never looked back.

Known for custom cakes and Southern classic desserts that “give you that nostalgic feeling,” he says, he’s now a James Beard Semifinalist for the 2023 Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, a reality TV baking competition star, and proud bakery owner at the La Fantome Food Hall in Riverdale Park, Md.

“I want to make space for Black and queer food business. There’s not many queer people of color in this space, and I want to help open those doors,” he says.

Before he went oven-to-oven against Bobby Flay and started sending his cupcakes across the country, Queeman grew up in Harlem, with a grandmother who gave him space to pursue his passion. He’d watch Oprah – whom he counts as a role model – with an aunt who would bake sweet potato cakes for neighbors during the holidays.

“Like many Black families, food always brings us together and food is what my family was known best for.” He says.

He also credits his success to high school friends in Harlem, people who “allowed me to shove my experimental baked goods in their faces.”

Yet pursuing his career was not without its challenges.

“At that time, men, especially Black men, showed hyper-masculinity to be respected and not walked over by our white counterparts,” he says. “My queerness was concealed as much as possible because being ‘gay’ at that time in my community was frowned upon.” He turned to spaces like watching cooking shows, following chefs like Kwame Onwuachi and Carla Hall, and taking part in the New York ballroom community.

Queeman left New York, armed with a culinary arts degree, for the D.C. area in 2010 to help open a bakery in McLean, Va., and then later worked the opening of Crumbs Bake Shop. Queeman settled in Prince George’s County in Maryland, finding home in the African-American communities there.

Kareem Queeman (Photo courtesy of Queeman)

Queeman is the founder and owner – and brand ambassador – of Mr. Bake Sweets, which has both an online presence and a brick-and-mortar spot at the Le Fantome. He started Mr. Bake Sweets in 2008 as a catering company, workshop, and wholesale bakery, only recently moving into a physical space.

Mr. Bake Sweets was one of the first vendors at Le Fantome in 2021. Cupcakes in flavors like red velvet and “cookies n cookie,” doughnuts, brownies, and banana pudding topped with Nilla wafers (a recipe borrowed from one of his aunts) fly out the door.

Soon after Queeman kicked off his bakery, he also expanded his footprint into multimedia, starting a YouTube show, Baking With Mr. Bake.

To continue honing his craft, and challenging himself, Queeman decided to apply for a spot on a baking competition. He made it onto Discovery Family’s “Bake it Like Buddy” in 2018, coming home with the win. Yet having just lost his mother, he almost didn’t move forward with filming.

“From this experience, I noticed the lack of representation of queer chefs of color in the mainstream food industry. And I started on my path of creating space for my community. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to break into the food TV industry, so I did what I knew best: hustled.”

(Photo courtesy of Kareem Queeman)

From there, he stepped up to Food Network, where he appeared on a Girls Scout Cookie championship in 2020, followed by Beat Bobby Flay, (“he gave me the BIGGEST praise for being on the show”)

“When I applied for Netflix I made sure my team member was Black and queer. I wanted kids to see someone who looks like them baking and being authentic.”

Yet being a competitor didn’t take the cake. Queeman, wanting to truly showcase representation on TV, appeared as a judge on Food Network’s “Buddy vs. Duff.”

Today, he’s one of the subjects of Food Network’s “Bake it Til You Make It.” There, he doesn’t hold back: he uses gay and Black vernacular, purpose-driven in showcasing his identity.

Back at home, Queeman spends time mentoring young gay and Black bakers, teaching classes, and participating in the community. He also notes that half of Mr. Bake Sweets’ employees are queer. He recently launched a dinner series to bring the queer community together through food and curated conversation.

Beyond the food hall, Mr. Bake Sweets’ products can be found in several area restaurants and cafes like Georgia Brown’s, 600 T, and Here’s the Scoop ice cream shop.

“Creating visible space for queer chefs of color in mainstream media within the food industry is important. I want us to walk into rooms taking up space of being our full selves.”

Kareem Queeman (Photo courtesy of Queeman)
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A rainbow shield

Parasol Patrol protects children from protesters at LGBTQ, BIPOC events

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Parasol Patrol volunteers in action at a recent protest. (Photo by Jon Farina)

In the wake of LGBTQ events like drag queen story hours being the target of far-right protesters across the country, a national nonprofit is aiming to protect children from hate.  

Founded in March 2019 by Pasha Ripley and Eli Bazan in Denver, Parasol Patrol now has grown to 14 official chapters, including in the D.C. area, Idaho, Illinois, and Rhode Island. The goal of the nonprofit is to protect children and young people from protesters at LGBTQ and BIPOC-centered events. 

Volunteers with the nonprofit use umbrellas, rainbow or otherwise, as shields to block kids and families from hateful signs and pass out noise-canceling headphones to protect attendees from abhorrent language. Sometimes volunteers will also escort families into the venue to keep them safe. 

“We just started this way of creating a turtle shell around families,” Ripley said. “We envelop that family as best we can and get them through, or past, protesters.” 

The mission of Parasol Patrol is twofold, Ripley said. One part of it is to keep kids safe, and the other is to show that there is community support. 

“Showing them that we love them. We support them. Not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are,” Ripley said. “We’ve helped the venue create a safer space for them to be themselves.” 

Originally raised in rural Oklahoma, Ripley, who is queer, said Parasol Patrol provides a security that she and many others didn’t necessarily have coming of age. 

“We want to be those adults that we wish we had had growing up,” she said. “And we’re not trying to turn kids gay. We’re trying to keep the gay kids alive.” 

Ripley stressed volunteers with Parasol Patrol are not counter-protesters or security. The mission is nonviolent, and volunteers are encouraged to not engage with protesters. 

John Zittrauer, a local volunteer with Parasol Patrol since the early summer of 2022, said volunteers serve as a “welcoming committee” for families attending these events. 

“That’s where the umbrellas come in. To create not only a beautiful hallway of people but also to shield little kids from things that might get thrown their way,” Zittrauer said. “We are this wall of positivity, just welcoming families and making sure that everybody comes in and leaves with a smile on their face.”

But sometimes, these events can get hectic. 

For example, in late February, the far-right group Proud Boys targeted a drag queen story hour in Silver Spring, Md., the Washington Blade previously reported. About 40 volunteers with Parasol Patrol came out to protect the event, including Zittrauer.

While shielding families from the protesters, Zittrauer was hit in the face on the bridge of his nose. In the melee, he doesn’t know if it was an elbow or a signpost that hit him. He didn’t realize he was bleeding until he turned around to check in with other volunteers, and the look on their faces signaled to him that something was wrong. 

Zittrauer still carried on protecting the event from protesters. But he still says volunteering at that event was a positive experience because the families watching the drag story hour did not know too much of what was going on. 

This is exactly what Ripley hopes for — that at the end of the day, the events are fun and inspiring for everyone involved, she said.  

“For the most part, we stayed happy and upbeat, and unfazed,” Zittrauer said. “It was, all in all, a good day,” he said. 

Parasol Patrol members gather in front of Crazy Aunt Hellen’s restaurant in Barracks Row on Feb. 25, 2023, during a Drag Story Hour event. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)
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Golden Girls return to D.C.

‘The Laughs Continue’ to run at Warner Theatre from Feb. 23-26

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‘Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue’ cast (Photo by MP Present)

Miami’s sassiest seniors will take D.C. by storm when they take the stage at the Warner Theatre from Feb. 23-26.

Robert Leleux — whose previous work includes “The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy” and “The Living End” —  wrote “Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue.” It documents the lives of the four cheesecake-loving older women in “The Golden Girls.”

Sophia (Christopher Kamm) is out on bail after the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested her for running a drug ring for older adults. Blanche (Vince Kelley) and Rose (Adam Graber) created CreakN, a “sex app for seniors.” And the relationship-challenged Dorothy is with a much younger man (Jason Bowen) on the aforementioned app.

Bowen also plays Dorothy’s ex-husband Stanley.

Eric Swanson, co-founder of the Detroit Actors’ Theatre Company, directs “Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue” and Murray and Peter Present produced the play. A version of it showed at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre in July 2022.

“You will feel like you have watched sort of this hour and a half sort of special on a TV and it should feel just like you’re hitting play or whatever it is on your streaming service and here it is,” Swanson told the Washington Blade during a recent Zoom interview from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The set looks like the set and we utilize the cheesecake — there’s so much cheesecake in this play. You can’t do Golden Girls without cheesecake.”

Swanson said he and Leloux binge watched “every episode” of the original show in four days.

“We wanted to create new content, that was our number one goal,” Swanson told the Blade. “We didn’t want to parody anything. We wanted to completely attack new material and new ways of thinking for women and aging adults in this generation.”

Blanche ‘weaponizes what God has given her’

Kelley told the Blade from Michigan during a telephone interview that Blanche is “very free and my brand of sassy.”

“I love the sensuality of Blanche and that she weaponizes what God has given her to her advantage.”

The scene in season two’s “The Actor” episode in which Blanche’s inflatable breasts deflate when she is hugging an actor during an audition to be his love interest is among Kelley’s favorite from the original show. Kelley also noted CreakN is difficult for Blanche to use because “she doesn’t identify as a senior.”

Blanche in season seven’s “The Case of the Libertine Bell” episode that takes place during a murder mystery weekend points out “flirting is part of my heritage” because she is “from the South.” Rose asked Blanche what she meant, and Dorothy told her that Blanche’s mother was “a slut too.”

“There’s a few of those zingers in this one too,” Swanson told the Blade. “Sometimes they just lay it down.”

‘Ahead of their time’ on LGBTQ issues

“The Golden Girls” premiered on NBC on Sept. 14, 1985.

The series ran for seven seasons until it ended on May 9, 1992. “The Golden Palace” in which Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty starred after Bea Arthur left “The Golden Girls” ran for one season.

“The Golden Girls” is one of the first primetime shows that discussed AIDS, marriage equality, and other LGBTQ issues.

Blanche’s brother Clayton, for example, comes out to his sister as gay in season four’s “Scared Straight” after he claimed he slept with Rose. Clayton and his boyfriend Doug during season six’s “Sister of the Bride” episode tell Blanche, Dorothy, and Sofia that they want to get married.

Dorothy’s brother Phil was a crossdresser, and her friend Jean is a lesbian who falls in love with Rose during season two’s “Isn’t It Romantic?” episode. Rose in season five’s “72 Hours” episode tests HIV-negative after she fears a blood transfusion she had exposed her to the virus. 

“They were so ahead of their time in the things that they were tackling: AIDS and all that kind of stuff, and LGBTQ rights and discrimination against Jewish people. All things we’re still dealing with today, which is unfortunate, but it’s nice to turn to them and see how your good friends Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia are dealing with the same problems that you’re dealing with today,” said Kelley.

“I love the progressiveness that they had, especially when you look at the time and the era and what was going on, not just politically, but regarding feminism and sexuality and all of that. it was just incredibly brave,” Swanson told the Blade.

He further noted “The Golden Girls” also addressed interracial marriage and aging.

“They were addressing these things about what it’s like to age,” he said. “Whether you are a conservative, you’re a liberal, you are gay, you are straight, the one thing we all have is age. We can all relate to age and they led that narrative on what is it like to age and feel left out and have to fight again.”

Swanson and Kelley both teased bits of the play.

Kelley notes it is Dorothy’s “day in the sun” when she mets her younger man on CreakN. He also told the Blade that Sophia “had to do another small stint in Shady Pines due to another slip and fall.”

“While there she decided, how can I make a quick buck,” said Kelley. “I’m going to turn into Walter White and monetize that.”

Kelly noted the play is “all new material.”

“You’ll get a whole new fun story that even if you seen every episode twice, you’re gonna get something new. But we definitely have all your favorite lines, all the catchphrases, all the tropes and scenarios that you would expect,” he said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the Golden Girls, we’re just trying to add on to them.” 

“We wanted to create something in their honor,” Swanson told the Blade.

“Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue” will be at the Warner Theatre (1299 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.) from Feb. 23-26. Tickets start at $30. A VIP experience that includes a meet and greet with the cast after the show is $99. Tickets are available at warnerthreatredc.com.

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