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Towns within a few hours’ drive of D.C. have major Pride events planned

From Shepardstown to Norfolk, festivities abound

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regional Pride events, gay news, Washington Blade

Baltimore Pride (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Not Prided out yet? Willing to hop in the car for a road trip? This weekend and the following have major Pride events planned in Shepherdstown, W.Va.,; Baltimore; Norfolk, Va.; and Frederick, Md.

W.Va.’s Panhandle Pride runs this weekend

regional Pride events, gay news, Washington Blade

Under new leadership, Panhandle Pride moves to downtown Shepherdstown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MARTINSBURG — West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle Pride is significantly different this year with new leadership and all new events.

Pride here started five years ago organized by the now-dormant Eastern Panhandle LGBTQ Alliance of West Virginia under the leadership of John Mason, a former minister. A Pride day was held in Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown, W.Va., a small college town about 73 miles from Washington, with live music, drag performances and a small festival. The Panhandle encompasses West Virginia’s Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties.

At last year’s event, Mason said illness prevented him from continuing and asked for others to volunteer to take the reins. Over the winter, a new group formed and is offering four main events this year:

• Vendor Street Fair is Saturday, June 16 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. featuring queer artisans, networking opportunities and live performances. DJ Jerrbear, a staple of Panhandle Pride who’s emceed all four previous years, will host. Luscious Purr, Michael Ratliff and Darrell Russ will perform.

• A Pride Float is planned for Saturday, June 16 from 2-6 p.m. Interested parties can meet at the Shepherdstown Library (100 E. German St.) at 2 p.m. with bathing suit in tow. River Riders will provide inner tubes and bus rides to and from the river. Cost is $36 per rider. Call 304-535-2663 to book a spot. The code is “Pride Float.”

• A Disco Party will be held Saturday night from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. at Domestic (117 E. German St., Shepherdstown). DJ Sidekick will spin. It’s free but a $5 donation is suggested.

• On Sunday, June 17, a Brunch & Art Exhibit will be held from 1-4 p.m. at the Town Run Tap House and Community Pub. Singer Chelsea McBee will perform. The Tap House will feature art from local LGBT youth.

Full details for all events is on Facebook — just search “Eastern Panhandle Pride 2018.”

Alex Orton and his partner Rod Snyder have helped organize the new group along with former state Del. Stephen Skinner (D-W.Va.) and Shepherdstown business owner Mark Harding, who leads the planning committee.

“We’re just a group of people here who really wanted to make sure this event continues in our area,” Orton says. “This is our first year bringing Pride into town and we want to make sure it’s a success.”

Flooding in the region prevented a drag show as has been held in previous years. Orton says they plan to have one later in the summer. A few hundred attended last year’s event. The decision was made to move from the park into town to increase LGBT visibility.

“We thought about bringing them to the brunch, but we didn’t want to do something half-way,” he says. “We want to take time to give that event the respect it deserves.”

DJ Jerrbear (aka Jarvis Jerry Leland Brooks) says he’s honored to continue emceeing.

“Eastern Panhandle Pride has always been one of my favorite events that I would headline and donate my time to each year,” he says. “I’ve seen what an impact showing love, sharing your talent or gifts at these events has over others because I know how it touches and blesses me.”

Mason says there’s no hard feelings.

“Our organization was very happy to turn over responsibility for Pride to the new Panhandle Pride organization,” he says. “We’ve offered them any help they need and we’re very happy with the job that they’ve done.”

Coming up in Shepherdstown, this year’s installment of the Contemporary American Theater Festival (July 6-29) features two plays with LGBT characters/themes — the unusually timely “The Cake” by Bekah Brunstetter and “Thirst” by C.A. Johnson. Details at catf.org.

— Joey DiGuglielmo

Hampton Roads Pride turns 30

Events near Norfolk, Va., kick off next week. (Photo via Hampton Roads Pride Facebook)

Hampton Roads Pride celebrates 30 years of Pride with a week’s worth of events on the theme “Stand Up Stand Out 30 Years Strong” starting Thursday, June 21. The organization’s first Pride event was organized by the social and political group, Our Own Community Press, who brought a June potluck picnic to the community in 1986. The tradition of a summertime festival began in 1988. 

Since then, the festival has expanded welcoming an estimated 30,000 guests to its celebration in 2017. It’s also the only Pride organization in the United States to host a Pride Boat Parade.

Hampton Roads Pride gets an early start with the Chrysler Kickoff at the Chrysler Museum of Art (1 Memorial Pl., Norfolk, Va.) on Thursday, June 21 from 6-9 p.m. Guests can pose with the LOVE sign outside and then go inside for a cash bar, food and live music by DJ Melody & Co., Ju Ju Drum and more. There will be a Make & Take table where attendees can create their own flags. The event is free for museum members and Hampton Roads Pride members. $5 for non-members.

Croc’s 19th Street Bistro (620 19th St. Virginia Beach, Va.) hosts a Pride Drag Brunch on Sunday, June 24 with showtimes at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Pride pre-party will have a fundraiser, raffle prizes, food, drinks and more. 

Beach Beats and Brews is at Smartmouth Pilot House (313 32nd St., Virginia Beach, Va.) on Monday, June 25 from 6-9 p.m. Details on this event will be announced closer to the event date.

The Hampton Roads LGBT InterFaith Group hosts its sixth annual Interfaith Celebration at the New Life Metropolitan Community Church (1000 Sunset Dr., Norfolk, Va.) on Tuesday, June 26 at 7 p.m. The service is open to all faith communities, members of the LGBT community and allies. An ASL interpreter will be provided. 

Hampton Road Pride and Pride on the Peninsula present Pride 30, a reflection of the last 30 years of Pride in the Hampton Roads area, at the Virginia Air & Space Museum Library (600 Settlers Landing Rd., Hampton, Va.) on Wednesday, June 27 from 4-6 p.m. Keynote speaker Dr. Charles Ford will lead an open moderated discussion on Pride history. 

The fourth annual Pride Party on the Peninsula is at Carousel Park (602 Settlers Landing Rd., Hampton, Va.) on Wednesday, June 27 from 6-8 p.m. There will be free rides on the historic Hampton Carousel, free food and drinks. Later in the evening, attendees can board the Miss Hampton II for the second annual Drag Down the River Boat Cruise. 

Crafty Queen Weekend Wind-Up is at O’Connor Brewing Company (211 West 24th St., Norfolk, Va.) on Thursday, June 28 from 6-10 p.m. Details will be announced closer to the event. 

The seventh annual Pride Block Party is at Norfolk Scope Arena (201 East Brambleton Ave., Norfolk, Va.) on Friday, June 29 from 7 p.m.-midnight. Advance tickets are $12 before June 25 and tickets at the door are $15. 

The Pride Boat Parade kicks off PrideFest along the Town Point Park (113 Waterside Dr., Norfolk, Va.) waterfront on Saturday, June 30 at noon. Small and large boats will travel along the waterfront with themed decorations. The “Out on the Boat” party on the American Rover (333 Waterside Dr., Norfolk, Va.) follows the festivities. 

PrideFest is on Saturday, June 20 from noon-7 p.m. at Town Point Park (113 Waterside Dr., Norfolk, Va.). “Empire” star Jussie Smollett headlines the music festival. There will also be a performance from the Hampton Roads Pride Mass Choir, a local LGBT history and walking tour, family games, vendors and more. 

For more information on Hampton Roads Pride, visit hamptonroadspride.org. 

— Mariah Cooper

Baltimore Pride is this weekend

Baltimore Pride (Washington Blade photo by Chris Jennings)

Tonight Baltimore kicks off its 43rd annual Pride weekend. One of the oldest U.S. Prides, Baltimore Pride began in 1975 with a rally of about a dozen activists. It has since grown tremendously over the past four decades, with about 30,000 people at last year’s festivities, and organizers are expecting an even greater turn-out over the weekend. This year’s theme, “United We Shine,” is about celebrating similarities and differences and embracing community as a means of combating injustice. 

The weekend begins tonight with several pride festivities, including a fashion show (7-10 p.m., 2 N. Charles St.), drag show (8:30-10 p.m., 10 W. Franklin St.) and fetish party (9 p.m.-2 a.m., 2022 N. Charles St.) to name a few. And Saturday and Sundayare equally packed from start to finish. 

Saturday begins at 12:30 p.m. at 25 St. and N. Charles St. with a race in which men wear not-made-for-racing heels of at least two inches to mark the official beginning of Pride weekend. To participate, sign up at baltimorepride.org. 

The day continues from there with Saturday’s main event, the Pride Parade, with floats, musicians, civic leaders and more marching South on Charles St. from 33rd to 23rd. This year’s grand marshals are Shawnna Alexander, three-time winner of Best of Baltimore Drag Queen; and Davon Fleming, Baltimore native and semi-finalist on NBC’s reality singing competition “The Voice.” 

Saturday also marks the Pride Block Party (4 p.m., Charles St. and 22 St.), headlined by Miami Tip, Taylor Bennett and TT the Artist and featuring Grand Marshall Devon Fleming. Tailgating will also be available from 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. at the Lez Lot (1915 N. Howard St.) with food trucks on site. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com for $20 and include two attendees; each additional person will be $5 (cash-only) at the door. 

Sunday marks the annual Pride Festival (noon-6 p.m., Druid Hill Park), an all-day celebration with music headlined by Tish Hyman — native Bronx rapper best known for her song “Dreams” featuring Ty Dolla $ign — a drag stage, exhibitors and local food trucks. 

Both Family Pride and Elder Pride will also take place beginning at noon on Sunday at Druid Hill Park, offering a chance to celebrate elders of the LGBT community and educate the next generation about its history. For a map with specific locations within the park for each event, visit baltimorepride.org. 

While official Baltimore Pride festivities run just this weekend, there are lots of unofficial parties and events throughout the rest of June in celebration of Pride month. For a comprehensive list of all events, visit facebook.com/baltimorelgbtqpride or baltimorepride.org.

— Grace Perry

Frederick Pride continues to grow in Maryland

Frederick Center, gay news, Washington Blade

Frederick Pride (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Frederick Pride, now in its seventh year, is Saturday, June 23 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at Carroll Creek Linear Park in downtown Frederick, Md. 

Organizers are expecting up to 8,000 attendees and about 100 participating organizations. Admittance is free and families and allies are welcome. All attendees receive a Frederick Pride rainbow bracelet from welcome stations at each major park entry. 

There will be two entertainment areas featuring bands, drag shows, DJs, dancing and more at both the Carroll Street Amphitheater and the Market Street venue. The musical headliner is transgender country singer Brody Ray, who auditioned for both “American Idol” and “The Voice” as well as advanced to the celebrity judge auditions of “America’s Got Talent.” Chi Chi DeVayne, from season eight of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (and season three “All Stars”) is the drag headliner. 

The keynote speaker is Rebecca King, a community storytelling advocate for the National Center for Transgender Equality. 

Organized group youth activities will be located near East Street. 

food court featuring beer and wine will be next to the amphitheater. Official Pride merchandise from the Frederick Center, the LGBT non-profit that organizes Frederick Pride, will be available. Proceeds will go toward supporting local LGBT community center programs. 

For more information, visit thefrederickcenter.org/Frederick-pride. 

— Abby Wargo

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Girls Rock! DC empowers young people through music, social justice education

Organization founded in October 2007

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Youth leaders of Girls Rock DC! (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC, an organization operating at the intersection of art and activism, is dedicated to empowering young people through music and social justice education. 

Since its founding in October 2007; Girls Rock! DC has been creating a supportive, inclusive and equitable space that centers around girls and nonbinary youth, with a special emphasis on uplifting Black and Brown youth. At the core of Girls Rock! DC’s mission is a unique approach to music education, viewing it through a social justice and equity lens. 

“It’s a place where people can come explore their interest in music in a safe environment, figure out their own voice, and have a platform to say it,” Board Vice Chair Nicole Savage said.

This approach allows D.C.’s young people to build a sense of community and explore their passion for social change through after-school programs, workshops and camps.

The organization’s roots trace back to the first rock camp for girls in August 2001 in Portland, Ore. Similar camps have emerged worldwide since then, forming the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Girls Rock! DC is a member of this alliance, contributing to the larger community’s growth and advocacy for inclusivity in the music industry.

Girls Rock! DC’s annual programs now serve more than 100 young people and 20 adults, offering after-school programs and camps. Participants receive instruction on the electric guitar, the electric bass, keyboards, drum kits and other instruments or on a microphone and form bands to write and perform their own original songs. Beyond music, the program includes workshops on underrepresented histories in the music industry, community injustice issues and empowerment topics that include running for office and body positivity.

“I’ve been playing shows in the D.C. music scene for about six years, and I feel like Girls Rock! DC is the perfect amalgamation of everything that I stand for,” said Outreach Associate Lily Mónico. “So many music spaces are male dominated and I think there is a need for queer femme youth in music.”

Lily Mónico (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident not only in its leadership but also in the way it creates a safe space for queer and nonbinary individuals. Language is a crucial component, and Girls Rock! DC ensures that both campers and volunteers embrace inclusivity. 

“It is a very open and creative space, where there’s no judgment,” Zadyn Higgins, one of the youth leaders, emphasized. “It is the first time for a lot of us, to be in a space where we’re truly able to be ourselves.”

In creating a safe environment, Girls Rock! DC implements practices that include name tags with preferred names and pronouns, along with pronoun banners that help kids understand and respect diverse identities. 

“It’s really cool to watch these kids understand and just immediately get it,” said Higgins. 

Zadyn Higgins (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC is also more than a music education organization; it’s a community where individuals can embark on a transformative journey that extends beyond their initial participation as campers. Many start their Girls Rock! DC experience as enthusiastic campers, learning to play instruments, forming bands and expressing their creativity in a supportive environment. The organization’s impact, however, doesn’t stop there. This inspiration leads them to volunteer and intern within the organization. 

The unique progression from camper to volunteer or intern, and eventually to a full-fledged role within the organization, exemplifies Girls Rock! DC as a place where growth is not confined to a single week of camp but extends into an ongoing, impactful journey. It’s a testament to the organization’s commitment to nurturing talent, empowering individuals and fostering a lifelong connection with the values for which Girls Rock! DC stands.

One of the highlights of Girls Rock! DC is its summer camp, where kids between 8-18 learn to play instruments, form bands, write songs and perform in just one week. Higgins shared a poignant moment from a showcase,

“To see them go from, like, crying a little bit about how scared they were to going out on the stage and performing their little hearts out was so sweet,” said Higgins.

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! D.C.)

Nzali Mwanza-Shannon, another youth leader, agreed that the camp is the highlight of the program. 

“The summer camp, I’ve met so many friends, and it’s always kind of scary coming up to the end, but after we get to perform and everything, I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform and meet new people and be so creative and do it all in a week,” said Mwanza-Shannon.

Forty-three young people who showcased their original songs and DJ sets at D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club attended the first Girls Rock! DC camp in 2007. They performed to a crowd of 700 enthusiastic fans. The organization since then has grown exponentially, with each passing year bringing more energy, vibrancy and fun to the camp experience.

Since the pandemic, however, the organization has struggled financially, experiencing a funding shortage as well as reduced growth in attracting new members. 

Augusta Smith, who is a youth leader and a member of the band Petrichor, expressed concern about the potential impact on the unique and friendly environment that Girls Rock! DC provides. 

“We’ve kind of been really slow and barely making enough money. And this year, we’re having a funding shortage,” said Smith. 

The impact of Girls Rock! DC extends beyond musical skills, fostering leadership, self-expression and a passion for social change through creative collaboration and community power-building. Mwanza-Shannon hopes to be a part of Girls Rock! DC for a long time, 

“I want to keep on meeting new people,” said Mwanza-Shannon. “I want to keep on being able to perform at these different places and have different experiences.”

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! DC)
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‘Blindspot’ reveals stories of NYC AIDS patients that haven’t been told

Former Blade reporter’s podcast focuses on POC, women, trans people

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Kai Wright, a former Blade reporter, hosts the podcast ‘Blindspot.’ (Photo by Amy Pearl)

“We said that people had The Monster, because they had that look,” activist Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, said, remembering how people in her New York neighborhood reacted when people first got AIDS.

They didn’t know what to call it.

“They had the sucked in checks,” Reyes-Jimenez, added, “They were really thin…a lot of folks were saying, oh, you know, they had…cancer.”

“We actually had set up a bereavement clinic where the kids would tell us what they wanted to have when they die,” Maxine Frere, a retired nurse who worked at Harlem Hospital for 40 years and was the head nurse of its pediatric AIDS unit said, “How did they wanna die?”

“Nobody wanted to come on,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson, who in 1987 was Harlem’s state senator.

At that time, Manhattan Cable Television gave legislators the chance to do one show a year. “So I decided to do my show on the AIDS crisis and how there didn’t seem to be any response from the leadership in the Black community,” Paterson added.

These unforgettable voices with their searing recollections are among the many provocative, transformative stories told on Season 3 of “Blindspot,” the critically acclaimed podcast. 

“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” is co-produced by the History Channel and WNYC Studios. The six-episode podcast series, which launched on Jan. 18 and airs weekly through Feb. 22, is hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner.

The show is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija. LaBeija is a New York City-based artist who was born HIV positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit, which features portraits of people whose stories are heard on “Blindspot,” runs at the Greene Space at WNYC through March 11.

If you think of AIDS, you’re likely to think of white cisgender gay men. (That’s been true for me, a cisgender lesbian, who lost loved ones to AIDS.)

From the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, most media and cultural attention has been focused on white gay men – from playwright and activist Larry Kramer to the movie “Philadelphia.”   

“Blindspot” revisits New York City, an epicenter of the early years of the HIV epidemic.

The podcast reveals stories of vulnerable people that haven’t been told. Of people of color, women, transgender people, children, drug-users, women in prison and the doctors, nurses and others who cared and advocated with and on their behalf.

“Blindspot,” through extensive reporting and immersive storytelling, makes people visible who were invisible during the AIDS epidemic. It makes us see people who have, largely, been left out of the history of AIDS.

Wright, 50, who is Black and gay, cares deeply about history. He is host and managing editor of “Notes from America with Kai Wright,” a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.

Recently, Wright, who worked as a reporter at the Washington Blade from 1996 to 2001, talked with me in a Zoom interview. The conversation ranged over a number of topics from why Wright got into journalism, to how stigma and health care disparities still exist today for people of color, transgender people and poor people with AIDS to the impact he hopes “Blindspot” will have.

“I came to work at the Blade in 1996,” Wright said, “the year after I got out of college.”

He’d done two six-month stints at PBS and “Foreign Policy.” But Wright thinks of the Blade as his first proper journalism job.

From his youth, Wright has been committed to social justice and to understanding his community. Reporting, from early on, has been his connection with social justice. “I often say, journalism has been my contribution to social justice movements,” Wright said.

His first journalistic connection to the Black community came when he was 15. Then, Wright became an intern with the Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

“That’s how I got the [journalism] bug,” Wright said.

Since then, Wright said, he’s worked almost exclusively with media that have a connection with the community.

Wright grew up in Indianapolis and went to college at Emory University in Atlanta. He didn’t intend to be a journalist, he wrote in an email to the Blade. At Emory, he studied international politics.

Wright’s life and work changed direction when he began working at the Blade. “I was a kid,” Wright said, “I’d just come out. I used journalism to find out what it meant to come out.”

Wright, when he came to Washington, D.C., was, as he recalled, just a kid. He didn’t know anyone in D.C. and there was a Black, queer community. This helped Wright to come out. “I couldn’t have told you that at the time,” he said, “but in retrospect I can see that I moved to  D.C. to come out.”

Journalism was Wright’s way of finding his way through coming out.

“I didn’t know if the Blade was hiring,” Wright said, “I just walked in.”

He didn’t have a deep resume but he had a lot to say. The Blade hired him and immediately put him to work reporting on AIDS.

“It was a pivotal cultural and political moment – a pivotal moment for the community,” Wright said.

That year, when Wright began working with the Blade, life-saving treatments (early drug cocktails) were emerging for AIDS.

“There was no way that HIV and AIDS wouldn’t become a central part of my journalism,” Wright said, “I really wanted to report on it.”

With the emergence of treatments, white gay men with health insurance began to feel that they were turning the page and that AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

“But, as a reporter, I was meeting Black gay men who were going into emergency mode about the AIDS epidemic,” Wright said.

Black people, poor people, drug users and others without health insurance and access to treatment were still dying and transmitting AIDS. “‘This is getting more and more dire,’ the activists said,” Wright recalls.

They told Wright, “The rest of the community is starting to turn the page. We can’t turn the page.”

In D.C., Wright could see, through his reporting, the racial discrimination in the community at large in the AIDS epidemic, and in the queer community.

Two things are true simultaneously, Wright said, when asked if there is still stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS today.

“Science has made so much progress,” Wright said, “It’s no longer necessary for any of us to die from HIV.”

“I take a pill once a day to prevent me from catching HIV,” he added, “I can do that. I am a person with insurance…with a great deal of social and economic privilege.”

But many people in the United States don’t have health insurance, and exist outside of the health care system. The divergence in treatment and stigma that he saw as a young reporter in 1996 are still there today, Wright said.

“The divergence in class and race has grown even more profound,” he said, “among people of color, young people – transgender people.”

Wright hopes  “Blindspot” will make people who lived through the epidemic and whose stories weren’t told, feel seen. And that “they will hear themselves and be reminded of the contributions they have made,” Wright said.

The queer press plays an important role in the LGBTQ community, Wright said. “We need a place to hash out our differences, share stories and ask questions that put our experience at the center of the conversation,” he emailed the Blade.

“There’s more space for us in media than when I started my career at the Blade,” Wright said, “but none of it is a replacement for journalism done by and for ourselves.”

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Valentine’s Day gifts for the queers you love

From pasta and chocolate to an Aspen getaway

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Share the love on Feb. 14 with our thoughtful Valentine’s gift picks for everyone you like and lust.

Centrolina V-Day Pasta Kit

Washington, D.C.-based Centrolina’s seasonally inspired restaurant menu gets the delivered-to-your-door treatment with Chef Amy Brandwein’s holiday gift baskets featuring four handmade pastas and from-scratch sauces, including heart-shaped beet ravioli with ricotta and lemon butter, a mushroom and black truffle ragu, sunchoke tagliolini and oyster cacio pepe, and chestnut pappardelle, among other elevated-Italian recipes that you and your lil’ meatball can whip up on date night. $175, CentrolinaDC.com

La Maison du Chocolat

Heart-shaped candy clichés are much more palatable when the contents within are made in Paris instead of Hershey, Pa., and your intended will be sufficiently satisfied with La Maison du Chocolat’s selection of premium confections – including melt-in-your-mouth ganaches, pralinés and bouchées, oh my – available in festive and indulgent 14- and 44-piece boxes. $60-$140, LaMaisonDuChocolat.com

‘Spread the Love’ Plantable Pencils

SproutWorld’s set-of-eight Love Edition pencils set themselves up for seed-spreading jokes given Cupid’s context, but the real sentiment is sweeter: Plant the lead-free, graphite writing utensils (engraved with romantic quotes on certified wood) in potted soil and enjoy striking flowers and fragrant herbs in one to four weeks. $15, Amazon.com

W Aspen Getaway

Missed Aspen Gay Ski Week? No sweat. You’ll fight fewer crowds as the season winds down – without compromising your commitment to luxury – during a late-winter getaway to the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains at the W Aspen. Book unforgettable outdoor adventures, like heliskiing and dog sledding, with the property’s always-available concierge; spend après hour on the rooftop WET deck before diving into delicious dishes at onsite restaurant 39 Degrees; see and be seen at Ponyboy, the property’s cocktail-focused modern speakeasy rooted in New York City nightlife; and pour yourself a nightcap from your in-room mini bar before relaxing in the suite’s deep soaking tub – because, ya know, all in a day’s work. Marriot.com

Nexgrill Ora Pizza Oven

Not a fan of fancy dining out? Slip into those grey sweats he won’t let you wear in public, top off the Veuve, and fire up Nexgrill’s Ora 12 portable propane pizza oven wherein a to-temp cordierite baking stone will cook your personalized pies to perfection at up to 900 degrees. That’s burnin’ love, baby. $299, HomeDepot.com

‘Just Happy to Be Here’ YA Novel

Have a they/them in your life excited to expand their winter reading list? Gift a copy of Naomi Kanakia’s newly published YA coming-of-age novel, “Just Happy to Be Here,” about Tara, an Indian-American transgender teenager seeking quiet support and acceptance within her school’s prestigious academic group but instead becomes the center of attention when she draws the ire of administrators and alumni. $16, Amazon.com

Perfect Pairings 

Set it off this Valentine’s Day with a curated selection of wine and spirits, including the Pale Rosé, created by Sacha Lichine, of Whispering Angel fame; Flat Creek Estate’s red-blend trio, featuring the 2017 Super Texan, 2018 Four Horsemen, and Buttero; Ron Barceló’s Imperial Premium Blend 40th Aniversario rum; and the Bourbon Rosemary cocktail-in-a-can from Spirited Hive. $17-$199

Moon Bath Bomb

Stars aligned for that little meet-cute you told everybody about on TikTok, and you can trust the universe to provide ample relaxation when you plop Zodica Perfumery’s Moon Bath Bomb in the tub – there’s a specific formulation for every sign, which promises vibe-setting aromatherapy, activated charcoal for deep cleansing, and skin-soothing olive oil for the self-love glow-up you’ve been waiting for. $18, ZodicaPerfumery.com

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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