Jake Shears needed some time to find his footing.
“After more than a decade as one of pop music’s most cocksure and buoyant frontmen,” his press bio says, “Shears suddenly found himself alone and adrift a few years ago, nursing a broken heart and staring down an uncertain future.”
Since the early 2000s, Shears had anchored Scissor Sisters, the glam-pop band known for hits like “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin,’” “Fire with Fire” and “Let’s Have a Kiki.” They went on indefinite hiatus after the 2012 album “Magic Hour” but it took some time for Shears, who found himself single in 2015 after the demise of a decade-plus relationship, to figure out what was next.
After relocating to New Orleans in search of inspiration, he’s come roaring back in 2018 with a January stint as Charlie in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, the February release of his memoir “Boys Keep Swinging” and his eponymous debut solo album, which came out last month to solid reviews. He kicks off a North American solo tour next month and plays Washington’s 9:30 Club on Halloween.
He spoke to the Blade by phone Sept. 7 from his apartment in New Orleans. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Was it hard adjusting to the humidity?
JAKE SHEARS: No, I love it. I’m heading to London tonight and I’m just thinking like, “Oh God, I can’t just walk outside in a tank top and gym shorts 24 hours a day there.” I love it down here so much. It’s a pretty good life.
BLADE: So you live in New Orleans pretty much all the time now when you’re not touring?
SHEARS: Yeah, I’m walking into my apartment right now. I split my time. I end up all over the place but it’s where I am for long stretches of the year. … I spend about a third of the year here.
BLADE: Do you get recognized much there when you’re just out doing your normal routine?
SHEARS: Well it’s like a small town here so you kind of get to know everybody anyway and then on weekends, like Decadence was last weekend and there were lots of gays in town so yeah. But other than that, not really. It’s just a really small town here so everybody already kind of knows one another.
BLADE: What’s gay life like in the South? Just with friends, dating, sex — all that.
SHEARS: Well down here you don’t necessarily want to date other locals. … If you do sleep with somebody down here, you’re gonna see them for the rest of your life so you have to really think about whether you want that or not. But it’s just a funny little thing. It’s a sexy place to be. There’s always a huge influx of tourists so there’s always fresh faces and not only that, it’s people who are happy to be here and it’s a good vibe overall. It’s a very romantic city. You don’t have to wear a lot of clothes. It kind of fosters romance and flirtiness.
BLADE: You said in another interview you went there seeking inspiration. How long were you there before that really hit and the songwriting started?
SHEARS: About a week, maybe two weeks. It was pretty early on. I think it was more about the decisions I’d made in my life. I was making some big decisions just for myself that I needed to make. I really needed to change my life and once I made the decision to do that, moving to New Orleans was kind of symbolic and was part of that. And, you know, when that happens, when I’m happy and on the right path, I start writing songs. It didn’t take very long.
BLADE: I read that you recorded the album in live takes straight through and said that was nerve wracking. Now that it’s all done, was it worth it?
SHEARS: Oh my God, yeah. I couldn’t be happier with this thing. It’s been a big project and it’s nerve wracking in a way because just over the whole thing, I put a lot on the line. I hope I get to make a record like this again someday — just making a record exactly the way I want to. As far as the cost/benefit analysis, it cost me a lot. Just financially and time wise and all that stuff, but the benefit on the other side is that I’ve made something I’m just incredibly happy with and proud of.
BLADE: Was it hard to keep it fresh doing take after take in the studio?
SHEARS: No, no, no, no. When you’re recording like that, everybody was so rehearsed. It was really exciting. It never got boring, that’s for sure.
BLADE: When you were writing and/or recording “Creep City,” did you have a hunch it would be the first single or did that come later?
SHEARS: You know, it was really a toss up. I don’t think there was a really obvious first single on this record. I think it could have been a whole bunch of songs. I chose that song because I felt it was really good overall and I felt it really represented the whole album just sonically and I just felt like it was a great liftoff for the record. … I could also visualize a video for it. It’s one of my favorites on the record. It just sort of represented the whole thing in a way.
BLADE: Would you say this is your breakup album? That’s such a thing, were you conscious of wanting to avoid any clichés?
SHEARS: I don’t know if I can answer that. I don’t think it feels like a breakup album. I mean, this isn’t Beck’s “Sea Change.” It’s a pretty fun record. I don’t think it’s really about a breakup, I think it’s more about reassessing myself and sort of rediscovering who I am in this moment in time and I think it has less to do with a breakup necessarily, although that’s in there. Would you say that?
BLADE: Well, listening to it, I felt it was very bombastic and joyous so I was surprised when I read the lyrics and saw how dark some of it is.
SHEARS: Yeah, I love that and that’s one of my favorite things to do. I have like a real big dark streak in me and I love making happy, really fun music that has heavier themes to it. I just love that juxtaposition. That’s absolutely there, but it was really important to me to make, you know, a fun record with different colors to it. I love making my ballads too. That’s definitely part of what I do.
BLADE: Why did you feel now was the time for a memoir?
SHEARS: I wrote the book at the same time I was making the album and I thought it was really good as I was sort of reassessing where I am and who I am now, I had to go back and reassess where I’ve been and what I’ve done and I think they both kind of informed each other and it was sort of a good way to put certain things to bed in a way and make peace with certain things. It’s kind of a cliché to say it was good therapy but in a way it was good to reevaluate parts of my life while I was making this new thing and it was awesome to get to do both of them together.
BLADE: Would you like to do more Broadway or was “Kinky Boots” a one-off?
SHEARS: No, I do, I do. I love it so much. I mean, theater is a world I love being in. I love writing theater and making musicals. Now I love being in them. I definitely am going to continue. Now that’s part of my DNA and I absolutely would love to be in another show and I’m going to be writing more shows.
BLADE: How vocally taxing was it compared to your regular stuff?
SHEARS: I gotta say, it was really hard. Those Cyndi Lauper songs are no joke. They’re really tough and I worked and worked really hard at it. You know, your voice gets stronger and everything but doing eight shows a week like that, it’s also cumulatively exhausting and so by the end — I did about a hundred performances — I was really having to crank up the engine to get that final high note and the big punch at the end of the song. So it was super challenging, yeah.
BLADE: When you’ve been off the grid for a while, do you have to get back in shape or do you always stay pretty trim?
SHEARS: Goodness (laughs). I’ve got my moments. I’m a Libra so I have a lot of balance in my life. I work really, really hard and I play really, really hard. I really try to keep a balanced existence. I’m constantly just trying to take care of myself in the midst of the chaos of what I do.
BLADE: But you never just put on 20 pounds when you’re off the road for a year or something like that?
SHEARS: Oh, I’ve had moments of not being as in shape as I wanna be but I’m doing the best to take care of myself when I’m eating well or whether that’s just getting enough sleep and not drinking too much. I just do my best to try to feel as good as I can because otherwise life just isn’t much fun.
BLADE: Where did that cool vintage car in the “Big Bushy Mustache” video come from?
SHEARS: It’s my neighbor’s, LeRoy. I’m looking out right now at his back yard. He’s in the video too. The videos you see from this album are basically community productions. I made those videos out of my pocket on a shoestring and everybody from the locations to the costumes — everything that you see, people pitched in, everybody got together and it was so much fun. It took over a hundred people to make those videos and that’s one of the things that really warms my heart. It was a whole bunch of people banding together. The “Creep City” video — that’s just a snapshot of the New Orleans community.
BLADE: Is it going to be hard sequencing in Scissor Sisters material with the new stuff on tour?
SHEARS: No. I’ve just done a bunch of shows in the U.K. and it’s a really good pace I’ve got with the Scissors stuff. I’ve chosen certain songs very strategically and it’s fun mixing them up. I went out of my way to make sure this new stuff is part of the same body of work. I wanted it to feel that way and I wanted to be able to present it all as my body of work. In the show, it definitely goes together.
BLADE: You’re playing our market on Halloween. Do you have a costume planned or will your show be much different that night?
SHEARS: Oh, we have a big announcement to make about it that we’re saving but yeah, it’s gonna be really special. I’m just saying for now — nobody plan your costume just yet. There will be an announcement coming that I’m really excited about. You’ll find out soon.
BLADE: Are you touring with people who played on the album?
SHEARS: Oh yeah. Mr Hudson is on bass, Craig Pfunder is on guitar who does all the music director stuff, he plays guitar on my record. Mr Hudson, I wrote a bunch of songs with. Right now I’ve got Patrick Hallahan from My Morning Jacket on drums and I’ve got this amazing saxophonist, this awesome guy named Stephen J. Gladney on sax. So this is a pretty crackerjack band. It’s a great band.
BLADE: Was it an easier transition to the stage than usual since you recorded these songs live in the studio?
SHEARS: In a way because a lot of these songs were originally written with either guitar or piano. When you start small with a song then make it bigger, it just makes it easier. It was written in a very different way from the way I normally always wrote stuff. It’s been fun to play it from the top. It hasn’t been a huge challenge.
BLADE: I know it’s a much different style of music, but do you feel much kinship with Rufus Wainwright? For so many years, you two were about the gayest thing we had pretty much.
SHEARS: Oh my God, absolutely. I think you can hear, he’s a huge influence on my music and we’ve always been friends and I think he’s amazing, just a one-of-a-kind person. I think he’s brilliant and hilarious and I just love him a lot and I’m proud — if he’s my peer and part of my generation of music or if we’re viewed on any kind of level together, then I’m really proud of that.
BLADE: Lots of male pop singers today are doing the falsetto thing like you. Who has the best male falsetto voice?
SHEARS: You mean right now?
BLADE: Any era.
SHEARS: I would just have to say the Gibbs. You know, I was just listening to “Nights on Broadway” last week and it’s just so good. There are moments where they could do it perfect, then they could also do it ragged and imperfect as well and it just sounded so good. So I mean, I feel like they’re kind of the kings of that.
BLADE: Have you heard Troye Sivan’s new record?
SHEARS: Just the singles. I gotta sit down and listen to the whole thing. I’m really excited about it. What do you think?
BLADE: I like it. It’s so nice to see someone singing about gay life so unabashedly.
SHEARS: Seriously. I’m so happy about it. I love the singles and it seems like people are absolutely loving the album. I’m glad you reminded me of it. I’m gonna give the whole thing a listen today. But yeah, I want to see that really go through the roof. He deserves it and it’s just time. I just think we’ve waited long enough. It’s time for a big, queer just pop star and yeah, I just think it’s time so I’m very excited.
BLADE: Do you have any pet peeves about celebrity culture of the way it’s covered in media?
SHEARS: There’s nothing I hate more than a headline that says somebody is “clapping back” at so and so. Or so and so, “claps back.” Basically just news stories about people fighting on Twitter. That’s a pet peeve of mine. It’s just the snake eating itself.
BLADE: Why do you think the Scissors were bigger in the U.K. than the U.S.? Does the Hot 100 here just reflect more of the hetero, rednecky parts of the country?
SHEARS: Well I think it was just a narrative that took hold and I can pinpoint the top of that narrative. I talk about it in my book. We were over there working for like six months before we broke over there and at that time, album releases were staggered so we released in the U.K. in February and we didn’t come out in the U.S. until July so we broke in the U.K. in June. So when we put out our record, we were just getting started again and the New York Times wrote a little sidebar with the headline that said, “Scissor Sisters hot over there, cool over here” and I credit that one thing in the New York Times, that really snarky little piece to starting that narrative. I think that’s why I still get that question. I don’t think we entirely got a fighting chance over here but over the years, it kind of leveled out. By the time we put our our fourth record, we were at the Palladium two nights, we were at Terminal 5 two nights, so the whole thing leveled out. We had extraordinary success over there, the kind of success that barely anybody has anywhere, so I don’t necessarily — I just think it was an extraordinary moment and I’ve never ever felt we were less successful over here at all. … It doesn’t really bother me. But I think that’s the origins of it, this tale of the Scissor Sisters on both sides of the Atlantic.
BLADE: Any birthday plans? (Shears turns 40 Oct. 3)
SHEARS: I was going to Mexico City with a bunch of my friends and now they’re going but I had to cancel. Some work stuff came up so I’m heading to London tonight. I’m really excited about the work I’m doing, don’t get me wrong, but I’m kind of missing my own 40th birthday which is kind of sad. So no, I don’t really have any plans. Believe it or not, I think it might just be kind of a quiet, reflective one.
BLADE: Did you ever think about doing a solo album when the Scissors were together or was there just not really time? It’s not unheard of.
SHEARS: It never really crossed my mind as something I really wanted to do. I always thought a solo record would feel really sort of narcissistic. I never really thought of myself as a solo performer. I was always kind of shy about that. Even when I would do appearances without the band, I would always feel very much like, “Why am I here, I don’t really belong here.” I’ve always kind of had that self doubt thing when I was by myself. So no, I don’t really. But it’s been a little bit of a personal — I hate the word journey — but it’s been like a little bit of a road to get to the spot where I can, you know, feel like there’s a reason for me to be singing on my own.
BLADE: You’ve played a lot with genderfuck in photos and magazine shoots. Do you like to wear dresses or paint your nails in your regular life?
SHEARS: Oh, I love wearing big frilly dresses (laughs). Especially in New Orleans. Like for Decadence, I have a naughty nurse uniform. Everybody was in harnesses and I have my little candy striper outfit. So, I don’t know, it’s just that I have a good time wearing a dress sometimes. I don’t even really think about it. I’m just kind of drawn to what feels good.
BLADE: Do you think there will be deluxe reissues of the Scissor Sisters albums eventually? Are there many outtakes from those sessions? B-sides and alternate takes and stuff like that.
SHEARS: My dream for the 10th anniversary of “Night Work” is to do — there’s a whole album that’s attached to that that was scrapped. There’s this whole lost record to that that I would love to put out in 2020. I’m hoping Babydaddy and I can get together to do that. I would love for people to hear that stuff. Just great songs.
BLADE: This is all just sitting on a hard drive somewhere?
SHEARS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally. And there’s a lot of it. There’s hundreds of songs.
BLADE: What was the longest or most arduous video shoot you ever did?
SHEARS: The “Comfortably Numb” video. It was two days in a big water tank in Devon, England and …. it was a very, very, very tough video to shoot. I got very sick afterwards.
BLADE: You’ve talked about enjoying the freedom the solo record has afforded you but it also seemed like you held an enormous amount of influence in Scissors. I know you dug in your heels about the controversial Mapplethorpe butt photo for “Night Work,” for example. So how strong was that itch really?
SHEARS: Well the thing about being a band is you just want everybody, yeah, you’ve got your vision and what not but also you want everybody to be happy and you want everybody to feel like they’re represented. I definitely had my own vision for the band that was implemented in many ways, but at the same time, the thing that’s nice about doing stuff by myself is that I don’t have to worry about making everybody happy. … All I have to worry about is making myself happy and that’s an amazing feeling creatively and it’s made me feel very liberated in a lot of ways.
BLADE: Are you seeing anybody now?
SHEARS: No, I’m not. I wish I could but I’m not physically in the same place enough now to really be able to spend enough time with anybody that it would really make sense. I don’t know if it’s gonna be possible for me for awhile because (of that) which is kind of a bummer. I’d love to be in a relationship. I’m definitely romantic and I get lonely and I would definitely love to have that connection with somebody. But it wouldn’t be fair to somebody else to not be around.
BLADE: Do you have a type?
SHEARS: I used to think I did but now I’m really only truly attracted to somebody when I spend a lot of time with someone and get to know them. Maybe it’s just a thing about getting older but it’s a lot more about personality to me now and I can get surprised by somebody. I’ll always realize that somebody can be right in front of you and you don’t even know it yet. So my thing is just about getting to know somebody and that’s what I’m into. It could be any kind of type, but it’s just more about who somebody is.
BLADE: Are you and your ex on speaking terms? Were you able to salvage any friendship out of that?
SHEARS: Oh yeah, absolutely. I love him very much and I’m proud of him and he’s an amazing person. He was actually just calling my phone a few minutes ago when we were talking. But yeah, absolutely. And we co-parent a little border terrier so we’re very much still connected.
BLADE: Were there any epiphanies about yourself that surprised you writing the book and album?
SHEARS: I think the main thing that I learned from all of it is I used to kind of think that there was always some kind of a deadline all the time and I think I just really learned, just as far as the work itself, I just want to make good stuff that I love and that’s totally satisfying to me. So whether it takes another five years for me to write another record now, I really don’t care just as long as it’s something that I love and that means something to me. That’s the most important thing about putting stuff out in the world. And by the way, that’s a lesson I keep learning over and over and over again since day one. It’s always something I keep realizing.
Tagg turns 10
D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women
In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012.
“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”
As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.
“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”
Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals.
“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”
Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments.
“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”
Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said.
“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”
Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Battling the pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception.
“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”
However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community.
The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe.
There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication.
“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.”
While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets.
“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”
Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs.
Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis.
For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.
Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’
Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following
Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan.
With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.
BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?
DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.
BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?
EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.
BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?
EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.
BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.
BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?
EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.
BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?
EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.
BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?
EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.
BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?
EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.
BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?
EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.
BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?
EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.
CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future
Wesley Combs marks six months in new role
June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.
Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.
For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.
Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.
In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.
Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.
Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.
Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”
Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.
Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.
“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.
Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.
Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.
“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”
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