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Keri Hilson ready for some ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ at Capital Pride

Grammy-nominated hitmaker is psyched for D.C. energy

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Keri Hilson interview, gay news, Washington Blade

Keri Hilson recently spoke out about her personal battle with depression. (Instagram photo used with permission from Fort Knox Enterprises)

After a seven-year hiatus dedicated to her personal health and well-being, Keri Hilson is back in the spotlight once again. The 35-year-old Georgia native has had an impressive singer/songwriter career.

She began her career writing hit songs like Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” and Ciara’s “Like a Boy,” and has since had several Billboard Hot 100 songs of her own.

Released in 2009, her debut studio album “In a Perfect World…” boasts two of these songs: hit singles “Knock You Down” and “Turnin Me On.” This album also earned Hilson her first two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The following year, she released “No Boys Allowed” with the platinum single “Pretty Girl Rock” which has 100 million listens across Spotify and YouTube.

Hilson will perform at the Capital Pride Festival/concert at 5 p.m. on the CAPITOL Concert Stage (3rd & Pennsylvania) as part of the HOT 99.5 event. It’s free. Details here.

Hilson called the Blade from Atlanta where she had just returned from a trip to Mexico. She was leaving for L.A. Pride the following day, her final trip before coming to D.C. for Capital Pride. Her comments have been slightly edited for clarity and length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: You mentioned that you’re doing L.A. Pride as well. Have you done other Pride concerts in the past or is this the first year that you’re doing the circuit?

KERI HILSON: Oh no … we’ve done Atlanta a few times, we’ve done Indianapolis last year. Throughout the years, whenever my schedule allows me to do it, I make sure I come out.

BLADE: What has that experience been like, and why do you like to do Pride concerts?

HILSON: You know what, there’s just a freedom in the air, you know, there’s such a good vibe; the energy is always just perfect. I don’t know, I think it’s just the fun. Ever since the first one I did here in Atlanta, maybe seven or eight years ago or maybe even longer than that … it’s just the energy. Like I said, freedom in the air, everyone is just completely being themselves — just loud and proud — and I just love that. I love that energy.

BLADE: You also supported the It Gets Better campaign. What inspires you to be an LGBT ally?

HILSON: Well, I think it’s important that people understand that everyone is human and everyone is entitled to believe what they believe, live how they wanna live, love who they wanna love. I mean, that just goes with my beliefs in general about humans — whatever their choices are, whatever their fascinations or preferences are, we all are different human beings and we’re all made to be unique. I don’t know why that’s so hard for the world to grasp. … There’s so much scrutiny and it forces the LGBT community …(to) feel afraid and ashamed to be who they are. … There’s no reason we should live in the closet about anything. We should be who we are; we were made to be unique, we were made the way we are. … It saddens me when I hear stories about — especially the youth — who are trying to figure it out and they may be withdrawn from society in a real way. That just makes me really sad. So, I think that’s my main reason, is just we’re all allowed to be who we are; there’s no person who’s better than another person based on anything.

BLADE: What do you have planned for Capital Pride? Any new material?

HILSON: It’s possible, but I’m not sure at this time, so we’ll just have to wait and see. But I will say we’re gonna have a great time, it’s gonna be a very energetic show, I’m gonna be doing the hits for sure. I just look forward to giving my all and just going hard and making everyone feel the love that I’m gonna feel on stage, I already know, I’ve done it a few times, so I’m just excited to give and receive the love, that’s all. And I love D.C. too.

BLADE: Any updates about the upcoming release of “L.I.A.R.,” your next album?

HILSON: Well, no, but I’m handling the business first. It’s really important to me to make great business decisions, and that has afforded me the luxury of taking my time, the luxury of not having to rush. … I’m really grateful that I’ve made great business decisions in the past, so I just have to handle this first, and then I’m ready to go. Once we handle this, I’m pushing the button, so it should not be long. I can’t wait. I know my fans are waiting and I know people are anticipating and I’m here for them, I hear them. I feel the same, I’m ready, it’s just that I pride myself on doing good business, and that’s just the thing that has to happen first.

BLADE: How did you come to share your story on the panel for “Silence the Shame” (an initiative working to fight mental health stigma)?

HILSON: As I’m sitting here listening to you ask questions, I’m realizing how much it relates to the community that we’re talking about. I think that there is a lot of depression in the LGBTQ community, so it’s just now becoming aware to me that they can also relate to what I was going through, though it was not the same exact struggles. So, there is purpose in it. I hope that people will understand that they are not alone; we all have an inner struggle. … Since that panel, which was the first time I had ever spoken about it, I’ve realized how impactful it was and how impactful talking about it can be and should be for others, just from the outpour of support and people that related to it. I didn’t expect any of that; these days you expect ridicule. I’ve had a couple here-and-there of, “Oh that’s fake depression, you’re rich and famous,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah you don’t get it.” But for the most part, the purpose is in how many people can relate and how many don’t feel alone, and I think that’s what it was all about for me. You know, God wrote my story and I believe he wanted me to share it and that’s the reason why.

BLADE: How do you plan to continue promoting mental health awareness?

HILSON: I plan on doing it through my foundation. … A big part of my foundation deals with mental health and physical health as well — just health in general — through the arts, through physical health meaning sports, physical education and things like that and we plan on giving donations in schools because I believe that the arts are a very powerful tool for our mental health you know, finding an outlet — it being an outlet of expression. We go through different traumas, people have different life stories, but if you’re unable — you can’t find a way — or you’re not exposed to the importance of expression then you know, that to me is a very sad situation so we want to give education where it’s needed, tools where they’re needed, instruments for the arts, visual and audible arts and things like that. So that’s where I’m attacking that through the foundation from this point forward because it is a big part of my heart; you’ve seen the tearful story, you’ve heard my words and I’m super sincere about helping women find their way — women in particular and children — finding their way through life and through difficulties of life using the arts.

Keri Hilson interview, gay news, Washington Blade

Keri Hilson successfully spun out her own career after penning hits for Ciara and Britney Spears. (Photo courtesy of Capital Pride)

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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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