Best of Gay D.C. is always a snapshot of life in LGBT Washington. This is the first year, for example, Town Danceboutique which closed in July, has not been represented in these awards since 2007. The legendary D.C. nightclub holds the all-time Best of Gay D.C. record with 32 total wins (counting wins for its drag queens and DJs). But it’s also a chance to welcome the new kids on the block — such as Pitchers/A League of Her Own, Dave Perruzza’s new venture in Adams Morgan.
For every perennial winner like Freddie’s Beach Bar or Miss Pixie’s, there are newer faces like Pretty Rik E (Best Drag King), Jesse Johnson (Best Fitness Instructor) and Roel Ruiz (Best Stylist). Sometimes somebody who’s been around for years but we kind of took for granted comes roaring back with a win like Kristina Kelly, D.C.’s much-loved plus-size queen. Ahhhh, I remember her from her Apex years.
Some winners and runners-up flip-flop in succeeding years. Rayceen Pendarvis and Bishop Allyson Abrams have something like a vollyeball game unfolding in these pages in the Best Clergy category.
Thankfully here, nobody has to “sashay away.” That’s the beauty of gay Washington — we can enjoy Trade one night, JR.’s another. Check out Distrkt C (“Is it hot in here or is it just me?”) one month and Mixtape another. It’s all good.
About 3,500 nominations and 20,000 votes were cast in 100 categories for the 17th annual Best of Gay D.C. Awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. The photographers are credited throughout. This year’s contributing writers are Brian T. Carney, Patrick Folliard, Evan Caplan, Michael K. Lavers, Chris Johnson, Mariah Cooper and Kevin Majoros.
The Washington Blade staff congratulates each of this year’s winners and finalists.
Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) in January made history as the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S. The former journalist has hit the ground running on behalf of her constituents in Virginia’s 13th District.
Roem served on the Counties Cities and Towns and Science and Technology Committees.
She is among the lawmakers who voted to expand Medicaid in Virginia. Reducing congestion on Route 28, which was a cornerstone of her historic 2017 campaign against then-state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), remains one of Roem’s top priorities.
Roem co-sponsored several pro-LGBT bills during the 2018 legislative session. She also continues to inspire trans people around the country.
She invited an 11-year-old trans girl from Roanoke and her mother who she met during her campaign and two other young people to stand next to her during her ceremonial swearing-in that took place in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber on Jan. 20. Roem, who was wearing her trademark rainbow scarf, hugged each of them after she spoke.
“This member pin that I have right now; this is on behalf of the people of the 13th District,” she said. “This pin belongs to the people of the 13th District. This pin and every pin like it for you, for you and for you, this is ours . . . this is ours too.”
Demi Lovato invited Roem to walk with her on the red carpet at the 2017 American Music Awards, which took place in Los Angeles shortly after she defeated Marshall. Roem in June traveled to Vermont and campaigned on behalf of Christine Hallquist, a Democrat who in August became the first openly trans woman in the U.S. to become a major party’s nominee for governor.
Roem attended the annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Sept. 13. She spoke at NOVA Pride that took place in Centreville on Sept. 29.
Roem has also spoken at events organized by the LGBTQ Victory Fund and other LGBT advocacy groups.
“I’m humbled to earn the 2018 Hero Award from the Washington Blade,” Roem said. “By focusing on the core quality-of-life issues that unite our communities and region like traffic, jobs, schools, health care and equality, I hope I’ve helped demonstrate that transgender people can be inclusive elected leaders who prioritize constituent service for all our constituents — no matter what they look like, where they come from, how they worship if they do, or who they love.”
Roem also thanked her constituents and the Blade’s readers.
“To my constituents in Manassas Park, Manassas, Gainesville and Haymarket and to the readers of the Washington Blade: You should be able to thrive because of who you are, not despite it and not for what discriminatory politicians tell you you’re supposed to be,” she said. “So, if you’re well-qualified and you have good ideas, then bring your ideas to the table because this is your America too and it’s time for you to run it.” (MKL)
Best Dance Party
Second consecutive win in this category.
Second Saturday of the month
3701 Benning Rd., N.E.
Editor’s Pick: Peach Pit, DC9
Winner: Jo McDaniel, A League of Her Own
Runner-Up: Dusty Martinez, Trade
Dusty was last year’s winner and also a 2014 winner.
She may be a new addition to Pitchers, the new gay bar in Adams Morgan, but Jo McDaniel is no stranger to the queer D.C. bar scene. Slinging drinks since 2005 across the region, McDaniel is now leading A League of Her Own, the queer women’s bar that opened in August in the lower level of Pitchers.
David Perruzza, who runs Pitchers, knew McDaniel from her work at Cobalt and brought her in to be a strong leader to manage A League of Her Own and make it a welcoming space.
“From the moment I met Jo, I was impressed,” Perruzza says. “When I realized I could open a bar for queer women, I immediately thought of Jo and only Jo. She has been a godsend and everyone loves her.”
McDaniel is also shining beyond D.C. This summer, she won the coveted Stoli’s Key West Cocktail Classic, and as the first woman to win the regional competition here in D.C.
“We’ve had an incredible response from the community,” the Southern California native says. “With queer people meeting up and hanging out every day that we’ve been open. It’s more than humbling to provide something so needed to our community and I’m thrilled that I get to be part of it.”
Before A League of Her Own, McDaniel has been helping the LGBT community toss back vodka sodas and other libations at Apex, Phase One, Freddie’s Beach Bar and Cobalt. McDaniel’s biggest task is now bringing together the LGBT community at A League of Her Own as part of the larger Pitchers community. (EC)
Best Burlesque Dancer
Winner: Ophelia Hart
Second consecutive win.
Runner-Up: GiGi Holliday
Best Avion Tequila Margarita
Winner: Nellie’s Sports Bar
900 U St., N.W.
Editor’s Pick: Left Door
Tezrah (real name Diana Weigel) became a DJ accidentally.
In college, a friend gave the 28-year-old Fairfax, Va., native a DJ program. She found herself “messing around” with the music software for hours and hours as she crafted her hobby. Eventually, she thought she could turn her side gig into a main hustle.
“After I graduated, I was like ‘Hey, why not try to make this hobby into something else and make money off it.’ It just snowballed from there,” Tezrah says.
This is Tezrah’s second consecutive Best DJ win for Best of Gay D.C. She says she believes her music is so appealing to partygoers because of her diversity.
“I think that I have a very pop ear which is appealing to a wide variety of people instead of just a smaller genre of music. I play house music, hip-hop, top 40. Maybe try to throw in a little dubstep now and then in my pop sets. I think it’s because my music is eclectic the audience doesn’t get bored of one genre of music because I’m playing lots of different types of music in one set,” Tezrah explains.
You can catch her DJing at multiple LGBT venues in D.C. including Cobalt, Pitchers, A League of Her Own, XX+ and more.
She’s also available to play corporate events, private events and weddings. Find out where Tezrah is playing next, or to book her for an event, at tezrah.com. (MC)
Best Drag King
Winner: Pretty Rik E
Runner-Up: Ricky Rose
Best Drag Queen
Winner: Kristina Kelly
Runner-Up: Jane Saw
If you’ve been to a drag event in D.C., chances are you may have seen Kristina Kelly.
Kelly (real name Christopher Smith), 39, makes the rounds at various drag events throughout D.C. She’s a regular performer at Cobalt and Shaw’s Tavern. She can also be seen at drag brunch at City Tap House and Taqueria del Barrio.
Kelly’s love for drag started at age 17 in her hometown of Lexington, Va. During a talent show around Halloween, she decided to perform in drag.
“I was like, ‘Let’s try it once’ and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Kelly says.
Now, her drag career has led her to become a full-time performer for the past decade.
Her favorite part about being in the D.C. drag community is the diversity.
“The talent in D.C. comes in all forms. What I mean by that is we have drag queens, drag kings, bio queens. It’s so much talent that people don’t get to see it. That’s why I have so many shows to show all that drag has to offer,” Kelly says.
She hopes that one day D.C. will be recognized as a city with real drag talent.
“I think there’s a lot of creativity in D.C. and I don’t think that we get to showcase our talent as much as other cities do. I hope that eventually people can see exactly how much talent there is in D.C.,” she says. (MC)
Best Drag Show
Winner: Pretty Boi Drag
Editor’s Pick: Queeta’s Palace at Chateau Remix
Best Singer or Band
Winner: Wicked Jezabel
Wicked Jezabel is an out, all-female, party band. Skilled musicians, they play a diverse mix of Side-A hits from the ‘60s to the present and consistently raise the energy and fun wherever the gig.
Founded by partners in music and marriage, Pauline Anson-Dross (guitar, vocals, percussion) and Davi Anson-Dross (vocals, percussion, keys), Wicked Jezabel gelled in 2004. Other bandmates are Sandra “Jump” Dumas (guitar), Heather Haze (sax, keys, vocals), Martha Capone (bass), and Jackie Yuille (drums). The band’s steadfast sound engineer is Elaine Giles, Dumas’ longtime partner. This is their second consecutive win in this category and third overall. They also won in 2013.
Pauline and Davi married in 2000, and again shortly after same-sex marriage was made legal in Virginia in 2014. For them, working and living together is far from a problem. “We love it. We’re equally passionate about music and live performing so it works,” Pauline says. “We both have different strengths in the projects so it creates a balanced working relationship, and, for us, that adds dimension to our personal relationship. The only hard part is the day jobs.”
Wicked Jezabel is a continuum of Pauline and Davi’s former band, The Outskirts. “We lost some band members about 14 years ago, so we saw that as a good juncture to stop and rethink things, and that included finding some new musicians and renaming the band.”
Pauline credits Wicked Jezabel’s success and loyal fan base to the magic of live performance: “There’s nothing like it. That connection with an audience is miraculous. It’s therapy for everybody.” (PF)
Best Transgender Performer
Winner: Riley Knoxx
Runner-Up: Salvadora Dali
Best Straight Bar
Winner: Dacha Beer Garden
Fourth consecutive win in this category!
1600 7th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: DC9
Winner: DIK Bar (aka Dupont Italian Kitchen)
1637 17th St., N.W. 2nd floor
Editor’s Choice: Freddie’s Beach Bar
Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour
A flip-flop of last year’s outcome. Trade also won Best Neighborhood Bar last year.
1410 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Number Nine
Best Live Music
A perennial favorite in this category!
815 V St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Wolf Trap
Best Neighborhood Bar
2317 18th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Duplex Diner
Best Bar Outside the District
Freddie’s Beach Bar
21st win for this Best of Gay D.C. favorite. Freddie’s has won this award every year since 2002 in addition to several others. It’s a Best of Gay D.C. all-time record.
555 S. 23rd St.
Editor’s Choice: Grand Central
Best Outdoor Drinking
Winner: Dacha Beer Garden
1600 7th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: The Salt Line
Best Place for Guys Night Out
Winner: Number Nine
1435 P St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Uproar
Best Place for Girls Night Out
Winner: A League of Her Own
2319 18th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Women Crush Wednesday
Best Rehoboth Bar
Same winner and editor’s choice as last year.
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s choice: Blue Moon
Best Rehoboth Bartender
Winner: Zack West, Blue Moon
Runner-Up: Matt Urban, Purple Parrot
35 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
There are many reasons the Blue Moon (just named Editor’s Choice for Best Rehoboth Bar in this year’s Best of Gay D.C. competition) has such a dedicated fan base. For more than 30 years, tourists and residents have enjoyed great food, fabulous entertainment, wonderful ambience and an unbeatable location. But, satisfied customers also say it’s the attentive and friendly staff that keep them coming back.
Zack West is proud to be part of that team. As Tim Ragan, one of the Blue Moon’s owners, notes, “Zack’s growth as a bartender, an employee and friend has made him a highly valued part of the Blue Moon team. He embodies our philosophy of customer service.”
Zack adds, “Winning this award makes me feel honored to be part of this wonderful community I love. A big thanks to all the customers who make it easy for me to come to work every day.” (BTC)
Best Rooftop View
Winner: VIDA U St Penthouse Pool
1612 U St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: POV
Best Ethnic Restaurant
Winner: Beau Thai
1550 7th St., N.W. A
Editor’s Choice: Rasika
Best Bloody Mary
Winner: Logan Tavern
1423 P St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Commissary
1601 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Agora
Best Locally Made Product
Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.
Approachable, affordable and portable Southern staples. Second consecutive win and runner-up in this category.
2301 Bladensburg Rd., N.E.
Editor’s choice: Compass Coffee
Best New Restaurant
Winner: Unconventional Diner
1207 9th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Little Pearl
A cursory glance at the menu (chicken noodle soup, cheeseburger, iceberg salad) and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an actual diner.
Snug inside the Convention Center, this newcomer is anything but. Opened in December of 2017, Unconventional Diner has received several accolades for its modern comfort food, including a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand award.
The space is aiming for a cool, post-industrial, “California-chic” style that meshes with funky Warhol-esque prints on the wall and an impressive cooking pedigree. Head Chef David Deshaies worked side by side with the late and beloved Michel Richard, whose signature 72-hour short ribs grace the menu. A delicious bonus: pastry chef Ana Deshaies, married to David, churns flavorful and vibrant croissants, doughnuts, pies and other sweets during the day.
The restaurant shines brightest when getting creative with American classics. The PB&J sandwich is an umami bomb of a decadent DIY affair that involves dehydrated peanut butter, grape jelly, and foie gras custard; toast comes on the side. It’s instantly Instagrammable.
Musing on his restaurant’s first year, co-owner Eric Eden says, “Our first year has certainly been an unconventional one. We have hosted heads of state, a former First Lady and a couple of rock stars.” On its reception, Eden says, “We are so touched by how warmly we have been received by the community. We think It’s the familiar with an unexpected twist that keeps folks coming back.” (EC)
Best Food Festival or Event
Winner: RAMW Restaurant Week
Editor’s Choice: Taste of DC
Best Craft Cocktails
Winner: Hank’s Cocktail Bar
819 Upshur St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Service Bar
Best Fast Casual Dining
Locations in Chinatown, Columbia Heights, Dupont, H St., N.E., Navy Yard, Shaw, Tenleytown and Union Station
Editor’s Choice: Sweetgreen
Best Local Brewery
“Popular craft brewery offering free tours and tastings.” Fourth win in this category!
3178-B Bladensburg Rd., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: 3 Stars Brewing
Best Local Distillery
District Distilling Co.
Reclaimed barn doors and brick walls are the backdrop for American fare and drinks crafted from spirits made on-site.
1414 U St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Founding Spirits
Locations in Dupont Circle, F Street and Union Station. Second consecutive win in this category.
Editor’s choice: Duke’s Grocery
Winner: Old Blue BBQ
4580 Eisenhower Ave.
Editor’s Choice: Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company
Best Juice/Fuel Bar
Winner: Barry’s Bootcamp
1345 19th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Jrink
Best Liquid Lunch
1443 P St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Old Ebbitt
Winner: Jamie Leeds (owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar)
Leeds was last year’s runner-up. Locations at The Wharf, Dupont Circle, Old Town Alexandria and Capitol Hill.
Editor’s Choice: Patrick Vanas Events
Best Coffee Shop
Third consecutive win in this category!
1335 7th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: A Baked Joint
Best Special Occasion Restaurant
Winner: Pineapple and Pearls
715 8th St., S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Floriana
One of the premier tasting menu destinations in D.C., Pineapple and Pearls has the city falling in love. Opened in 2016, the Barracks Row restaurant is the brainchild of Aaron Silverman, who took the city by storm with the still-popular Rose’s Luxury, where lines routinely run down the street.
Pineapple and Pearls (named for items that represent hospitality and elegance, respectively) runs several rungs more upscale and daring. One reason it’s a special occasion: that 12-course tasting menu puts you back a hot $325, inclusive of tax, gratuity and drink pairings.
A mere $150 grants access to five courses at the bar.
Eschewing convention, Silverman’s dishes are performances themselves, joyful, spirited and intricately detailed. Head Chef Scott Muns paired with Silverman on Rose’s Luxury opening in 2013; he’s back again making masterpieces, many of which come out of the restaurant’s hand-built French stove. Check out the Fluke Veronique, in which the cut of fish floats effortlessly atop a vibrant green sauce and razor-thin slices of grape sit in for the scales; it’s a touch of sweet for the savory fish.
Another reason it’s special? The Michelin Guide awarded the restaurant with two stars for 2019, putting it in company with just one other restaurant in the city, Minibar. (EC)
Best Ice Cream/Gelato
Winner: Milk Bar Bakery
Locations in center city, The Wharf and Logan Circle (flagship)
Editor’s Choice: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Best Farmer’s Market
Winner: FRESHFARM Dupont Circle Market
1600 20th St., N.W.
Sundays 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. year round
Editor’s Choice: Eastern Market
Best Food Truck
Winner: DC Empanadas
1309 5th St., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: Red Hook Lobster Pound
Comet Ping Pong
5037 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: &pizza
Perhaps known as much for its pluck as its pizza and its ping pong, this restaurant’s signature thin-crust pies are only part of the game. This is Comet’s second consecutive win in this category.
At once a concert space, a kids’ birthday party venue, and trendy, always-busy pop-culture museum, it also is home to top-rated pies. Toppings range from mundane to fun combos. Try out the one with bacon, smoked mushrooms and smoked mozzarella. Of course, there are also hipster-millennial options, like wood fire-roasted beets and stuffed squash blossom salad.
Infamously, Comet Ping Pong was at the center of the bizarre Pizzagate conspiracy theory that fired up the alt-right during the 2016 Clinton campaign, so much so that a gunman traveled to investigate the “controversy” and fired shots inside.
It’s a little quieter today, though less so when the punk-rock show starts. Just don’t forget the paddle skills at home to relive those childhood pleasures of smacking around a little white ball. (EC)
Best Rehoboth Restaurant
Bright, remodeled Craftsman cottage serving upscale American fare with regular live entertainment. Second consecutive win in this category.
35 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Dogfish Head
Best Local Winery
Winner: City Winery
1350 Okie St., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: District Winery
Best Local Website
Editor’s Choice: The Two Beer Queers
Best Local Influencer
Winner: Dito Sevilla
Runner-Up: Timur Tugberk
Initially Dito Sevilla thought “Best Local Influencer” was kind of a cheesy category, but he’s since warmed to the title.
As a longtime bartender at cozy Dito’s Bar at Floriana restaurant on 17th St., N.W., Sevilla says he has been “influencing from behind the bar for years and years. But it became clear to me recently that influencing is really just giving people a new perspective and advice that works for them in their lives. That’s ultimately what it’s about.”
Sevilla’s bar banter segued perfectly to social media where Sevilla boasts an undeniably strong presence. His popular Facebook page is rife with satire, politics and thinly veiled truths that his followers often share. Some of his pithy yet thoughtful posts go viral. It’s been a natural progression to a larger audience, he says.
A native Washingtonian, Sevilla keeps a big Rolodex: “I hold on to contacts and I remember people’s stories and why they needed something and when. Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”? In it, he describes three types of communicators. Well, I’m the “maven,” he’s the one in the middle who hears something and passes it on. I’m like a one-man “Angie’s List.”
Currently single, Sevilla came out at 21 around the same time he started going to gay bars. “I was doing new things. It seemed only natural that people should know what I was doing and where I was going.” Always the influencer. (PF)
Best Local TV Personality
Winner: Larry Miller, WUSA9
Runner-Up: Chuck Bell, NBC 4
(Bell was also 2015 and 2016 runner-up; 2014 winner)
Larry Miller has three goals for viewers when he anchors the news for WUSA9: impact, inform, inspire.
“I think ultimately, we want to inspire people to do more for the areas in which we live, to have impact on the lives of people — especially young people, I think that can certainly use the encouragement,” Miller says. “And just to make sure that we’re engaged as well. We have a commitment to not only covering stories, but making sure that we’re out in the community, being a part of the community that we live in.”
Miller, who’s gay, joined the WUSA9 morning team in 2015, anchors the news at noon and develops original news stories for the TV station. The Baltimore County-native lived and worked as a TV journalist in Medford, Ore., Pittsburgh and Birmingham, Ala., before returning to the Washington area to work at WUSA9.
Among his honors are Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards for hard news reporting.
Has anything surprised Miller in his three years at WUSA9? Miller struggled to find any particular incident and said “nothing really surprises me because I think I’ve seen just about every level of weird you possibly can.”
“I think if there’s anything that I find unique about Washington is the amount of diversity,” Miller says. “I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I think really cool about the metro is there’s all these different pockets of people from all over the world. And, I think, for me, it keeps me not only interested, but it keeps me learning about different groups of people that I may not always have firsthand knowledge of or I may not have exposure to.”
Miller says his proudest moment at WUSA9 was a recent investigation of food issues in D.C. in which he profiled an 82-year-old woman who had difficulty getting to the grocery store. The woman, Miller says, had to do a two-hour roundtrip from her house to the bus stop to grocery store while carrying a cart that’s filled with groceries on the return trip.
Subsequent to the news story, Miller said a non-profit called the Justice Organization stepped up and volunteered to send free groceries to the woman’s home so she won’t have to make that trip.
“And now, a result of kind of telling this woman’s story and being open, honest and authentic, she’s now getting some help, and no one’s grandmother is now having to lug a cart around the city just to make sure her refrigerator is full,” Miller says.
Miller has a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Point Park University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. Miller is also a graduate of Montgomery College, Rockville Campus, where he received an Associate of Arts degree. Miller also teaches speech communication as an adjunct professor at Prince George’s Community College. (Chris Johnson)
Best Local Columnist
Winner: Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
Runner-Up: Brock Thompson, Washington Blade
Best Radio Station
Winner: Hot 99.5
Editor’s Choice: WAMU 88.5
A flip-flop of last year’s results.
Best Amateur Athlete
Winner: Grace Thompson, DC Front Runners
Also won in 2016; was last year’s runner-up.
Runner-Up: Kevin McCarthy, Capital Tennis Association
Winner: Lisa Marie Thalhammer
Runner-Up: John Jack Photography
John Jack Gallagher was the 2016 and 2017 winner.
Winner: Van Goodwin, Van Allen
Runner-Up: Robert Safro, LOGOmotion
Van Goodwin is the founder and managing director of Van Allen, a boutique technology strategy consulting firm. Drawing on his extensive experience working in the government, non-profit and private sectors, Goodwin founded Van Allen in 2014 to help large companies assess their long-term technical challenges and goals and to develop personalized solutions. Their clients now range from innovative tech startups to well-established Fortune 500 companies.
Goodwin also volunteers as the president of the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC). The Chamber is the non-profit, non-partisan network of several hundred queer and allied businesses and business leaders in the metro DC area. Its services include workshops, messaging and networking events. According to Goodwin, the Chamber helps “LGBT business owners and professionals create their success.”
“I’m honored and surprised to be getting this award,” Goodwin says. “It’s a vote of support from the LGBT community and also from the Blade, which has supported the area’s LGBT businesses and professionals for decades.” (BTC)
Winner: Rayceen Pendarvis
Runner-Up: Bishop Allyson Abrams
A two-spirited clergyperson who answers to “he,” “she,” “Reverend and “Miss” and identifies as gay, a “gender-bender” and “earth mother to the gays,” native Washingtonian Rayceen Pendarvis isn’t connected to a single denomination or one house of worship: “I’m the goddess of love and the church of life. I can’t be tied down to one thing.”
He and runner up Bishop Allyson Abrams are perpetual flip-flops in this category. Abrams won in 2015 and 2017. Pendarvis won in 2016 and was last year’s runner-up. Abrams was the 2016 runner-up. Pendarvis is host of the D.C.-based monthly “Ask Rayceen Show” which features a wide spate of varied content.
Pendarvis’ wide-ranging spiritual mission includes wedding officiant. “It’s something I do and would love to do more of. I’m a licensed and ordained to all I’ve read the Quran, the Bible and the Torah, and I embrace all faiths and nonbelievers alike.”
Despite his exceptionally positive outlook, Pendarvis ([email protected]) readily concedes that the struggle for LGBT and racial equality remains real. Still, he refuses to let it get him down: “Every morning when I get up, the first moment I breathe, that is my gift and that is my blessing. Our community comes from a strong tradition of fighters and we don’t give up. Every little bit matters and all of us have a role to play: Letters. Protest. Write checks. Organize. There is a part for all of us.”
“I’m the father of five and the mother to many,” adds Pendarvis who has five children from two relationships. “While I’m their father, I’ve served as both mother and father to them with the help of my own mother and extended family,”
“Love,” he says, “is the greatest gift, lesson, and it will live forever.” (PF)
Most Committed Activist
Second consecutive win in this category. Corado was named Best of Gay D.C. Local Heroine in 2014 and Most Committed Activist in 2015.
2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.
Runner-Up: Earl Fowlkes
Best DC Public Official
Winner: Mayor Muriel Bowser
Runner-Up: Randy Downs
Same winner and runner-up as last year.
Best Hill Staffer/LGBT Bureaucrat
Winner: Sarah Jackson
Runner-Up: Ben Rosenbaum
Despite Republican control of both chambers of Congress, Sarah Jackson said she’s motivated to work as a legislative aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) because she’s able to work on issues important to her, including issues affecting the LGBT community.
“I came to Capitol Hill thinking I would work on women’s and LGBTQ issues, but what drives me to stay in this male-dominated, heteronormative environment is working on issues that women, and especially queer women have traditionally been shut out of,” Jackson says. “As a staffer working on taxes, trade, financial services, housing and energy issues, I’m often the only woman in the room and usually the youngest. This gives me more motivation to continue learning and to continue the work to ensure a more equitable nation.”
The San Francisco-native has worked on Pelosi’s staff for three years and now serves as membership director of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association. Previously, Jackson was a congressional intern with the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
“The Hill’s energy, dynamism, and unpredictability is addicting; but what really motivates me is the power of believing in your boss and your caucus, especially in our current climate,” Jackson says. (Chris Johnson)
Best Local Pro Athlete
Winner: Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Runner-Up: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
In addition to her success on the basketball court (as the “small forward” for the Chicago Sky and the Washington Mystics she was named the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2013 and the WNBA MVP in 2015 and is a five-time WNBA All-Star), openly lesbian athlete Elena Delle Donne is an award-winning author.
Her memoir “My Shot: Balancing It All and Standing Tall” recently won a Parents’ Choice Award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation. Aimed at middle school readers, the book is an amazingly frank but age-appropriate discussion of both her career highlights and her personal challenges, including her decision to come out.
Earlier this year, she also launched the “Hoops” series of novels for young readers (ages 8-12). “Elle of the Ball” introduces Elle Deluca, who closely resembles Delle Donne herself. Elle’s height is an asset on the basketball court but a liability in her ballroom dancing class where she towers over her male dance partners. The series continues with “Full Court Press” and “Out of Bounds.”
Like her fictional counterpart, Delle Donne is very tall and had an early growth spurt. She’s 6’5” and wears a size 12 shoe. She gets her height from her parents. Her dad, a real estate developer, is 6’6” and her mom is 6’2.”
She also gets her feisty spirit and determination from them. When Delle Donne was in elementary school, her doctor wanted to start her on injections to stunt her growth. Her mother refused, and, according to an interview with ESPN, she told her daughter, “Why try to be like the rest of the pack? Be your own person.”
The young athlete also had to come to terms with the fact that she could do things that her beloved older sister Lizzie would never be able to do. Lizzie, with whom Delle Donne remains close, was born deaf and blind, with both cerebral palsy and autism, and is unable to speak.
Born in Wilmington, Del., in 1989, Delle Donne rose to national prominence as a high school basketball star at Ursuline Academy. She led her team to three straight Delaware State Championships and was ranked as the number one recruit by Scout.com.
Delle Donne was recruited by the University of Connecticut but ended up playing for the Blue Hens at the University of Delaware. In 2010, she was named both “Player of the Year” and “Rookie of the Year” by the Colonial Athletic Association. Although she was diagnosed with Lyme disease during her sophomore year, she continued to excel as a college athlete and was selected second overall in the 2014 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky. She joined the Washington Mystics in 2017.
In 2016, Delle Donne won a gold medal as a member of the Unites States women’s basketball team at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Delle Donne officially came out in an interview with Vogue magazine in August 2016 where she announced her engagement to girlfriend Amanda Clifton. The couple was married in 2017.
The award-winning out athlete, who has signed endorsement deals with Nike, DuPont and Octagon, is also a noted philanthropist. She founded the Elena Delle Donne Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for Lyme Disease research and special needs programs and is also a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics. (BTC)
Best Local Pro Sports Team
Winner: Washington Capitals
Editor’s Choice: Washington Nationals
Best Fitness Instructor
Winner: Jesse Johnson
VIDA Fitness U Street
1612 U St., N.W.
Runner-Up: Mark Raimondo
Jesse Johnson worked in a typical office environment where he wore “a suit and tie” every day. Unsatisfied with his work life, he decided to get fitness training certificates in his spare time.
After friends told Johnson he could make a living doing what he loved, he decided to become a full-time fitness trainer. He’s been working for VIDA Fitness since 2011.
A training session with Johnson will be “comprehensive.” Johnson, 32, says he writes down everything that takes place in his sessions and trains people on how to work out and what foods to eat. He also likes to prep clients on how to keep up training when they aren’t in sessions with him. His favorite fitness tip is simply to “go to the gym. Eighty percent of it is just show up.”
It’s a position that’s finally fulfilling to Johnson.
“D.C. is full of a lot of professionals. A lot of people here work really hard and at the end of the day when it comes time to take care of themselves and their bodies they might not know what to do. It’s a good place to help someone get something that they were having trouble getting on their own. I’m happy to do that,” Johnson says. (MC)
Best Real Estate Agent
Winner: Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty Inc
Runner-Up: Christopher Leary, Washington Fine Properties
Real Estate Group
Winner: The Evan+Mark Team, Compass
Last year’s runner-up.
Runner-Up: The Bediz Group, Keller Williams
Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent
Winner: Lee Ann Wilkinson
Runner-Up: Karen Gustafson
Best Straight Ally
Winner: Sean Doolittle
Runner-Up: Leigh Ann Hendricks
Ace relief pitcher Sean Doolittle was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Washington Nationals in July 2017. He eloped with his then-girlfriend, Eireann Dolan one day after the regular baseball season ended last year. Doolittle was named a 2018 All-Star this summer; he was a member of the 2014 MLB All-Star team and this season is rounding out to be one of the best of his career.
Doolittle and Dolan received national attention in 2015 when they purchased hundreds of tickets to the Oakland Athletics Pride Night after the event received backlash from fans. The tickets were donated to local LGBT groups and an additional $40,000 was raised.
Local LGBT youth leadership and housing program SMYAL had caught the attention of Doolittle and Dolan and they donated 52 tickets to the organization for Night OUT at the Nationals in June. Going a step further, they stopped in personally to deliver the tickets at the SMYAL youth program’s headquarters and the SMYAL transitional housing program.
“In advance of the Nationals Pride night, we wanted to get involved,” Doolittle said in a July interview with the Blade. “We wanted to do something more than catch the first pitch or meet some people on the field before the game. And we love this community, we love being here, and we wanted to give back.” (KM)
Best Transgender Advocate
Winner: Charlotte Clymer
Runner-Up: Rayceen Pendarvis
Politically savvy transgender woman Charlotte Clymer didn’t set out to be a transgender advocate. She was pushed into the part. “Earlier this year, I had a bad night at a downtown restaurant. I was asked to show my ID before using the restroom at Cuba Libre. When I refused, the manager threw me out even though I used my phone to show him that he was breaking the law. But because of the work of longtime transgender advocates, I was able to have a sense of safety that night and I stood up for myself.”
Out of an unpleasant experience came a lot of good, she says. “The restaurant changed its policies. We got a huge donation for Casa Ruby and Cuba Libre partnered with Casa Ruby and other D.C. restaurants in becoming more LGBTQ inclusive.”
Currently single and dating, Clymer lives on East Capitol Hill. Her challenging job as Human Rights Campaign press secretary for rapid response keeps her busy. “Essentially, I direct all messaging strategy against the Trump White House.” How does she keep her sanity? “Alcohol,” she laughs. “But seriously, I have really good friends and a great support network.”
Future goals include strengthening workers’ rights for transgender folks, especially transgender people of color, she says. “But more than anything, I want to amplify the people who are longtime trans advocates. I want to help ensure that they’re supported in their important work.” (PF)
Winner: Roel Ruiz
Logan 14 Aveda Salon Spa
1314 14th St., N.W.
Runner-Up: Quency Valencia
Valencia won in 2016-2017.
Roel Ruiz has been styling hair for 10 years. He’s spent three years as a stylist in D.C. at Logan 14 Aveda Salon Spa where he specializes in men’s’ grooming and does color.
Ruiz built his Logan 14 book of business pretty quickly. “For a while I was bartending at Cobalt and styling hair. I asked bar customers to come for a haircut, and encouraged clients to come by for a drink. It worked hand in hand.”
Before entering hair biz, Ruiz studied nursing.
“As a stylist I found that I got to help people out differently while using my creative juices. And I had an instant knack for it and I love the industry.”
He grew up in small town Texas. “I had loving, gay-friendly parents in a red state. I like to say my mom allowed me to be comfortable with my sexuality and D.C. is where I found my pride.” Today, Ruiz lives around the corner from work. “My commute is five minutes from my bed to the salon.”
Future goals? Ultimately, he would like to open something of his own and currently is adding a barber’s license to his resume, he says. “This allows me to do razor work and straight blade. Logan 14 is working on merging the salon and barber experience. We have a lot of LGBTQ clientele. Many men with beards, me being one of them.” (PF)
Best Art Gallery
Winner: Renwick Gallery
1661 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Best Adult Store
Bite the Fruit
Third consecutive win in this category!
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Runner-up: Lotus Blooms
Best Car Dealership
New and used cars at locations in Suitland, Temple Hills, Silver Spring, Md. et. al. Second consecutive win.
Editor’s choice: BMW of Fairfax
Best Apartment/Condo Building
Winner: F1RST Residences
1263 First St., S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Atlantic Plumbing (2016-2017 winner)
Best Doctor/Medical Provider
Winner: Dr. Robyn Zeiger
10300 Sweetbriar Pkwy.
Silver Spring, Md.
Runner-Up: Dr. Ray Martins, Whitman-Walker Health
Dr. Robyn S. Zeiger is a licensed clinical professional therapist with 40 years of experience working with individuals and couples. In her practice, Zeiger emphasizes that patients should not approach counseling with feelings of shame or guilt.
“It’s important for you to know that I am not in practice to judge you or the information you share with me,” she says. “Thus, I am not likely to be shocked by anything you tell me.”
She also notes that “by exploring the issues that may have held you back in the past, you can open doors to many possibilities. The overall goals are for you to be happy, satisfied, and empowered, which will allow your true self to flourish and grow.”
As a passionate lover of animals, Zeiger is a member of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement and also offers pet loss counseling to help people through the loss of beloved animal companions.
Zeiger, who is winning this award for the second year in a row, is also an adjunct senior lecturer at University of Maryland School of Public Health where she teaches in the Department of Family Science. In addition to teaching courses on counseling families and individuals, Zeiger also designed a class called “Exploring Homophobia: Demystifying LGBT Issues,” for the Honors College.
A native of Baltimore and a dedicated fan of the musical “Hamilton,” Zeiger completed both her master’s and her doctorate at the University of Maryland,
She is married to Stacey Williams-Zeiger who is the winner of the Washington Blade’s 2018 Best of Gay D.C. Award for Best Real Estate Agent. (BTC)
Best Fitness or Workout Spot
Winner: Barry’s Bootcamp
1345 19th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: VIDA Fitness
Third consecutive win in this category!
Editor’s choice: Logan Circle (2016 runner up)
Best Hardware Store
Logan Ace Hardware
A perennial favorite in this category. Also won last year.
1734 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s choice: Annie’s Ace Hardware
Best Home Furnishings
Winner: Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams
1526 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Miss Pixie’s (last year’s winner)
Best Home Improvement Service
“Full-service home remodelers building your dreams.”
Editor’s choice: The Organizing Agency
Same outcome as last year.
Winner: Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington, D.C.
An upset — The W won the last three years.
700 F St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: The Line
Best House of Worship
Empowerment Liberation Cathedral
Fourth consecutive win in this category!
633 Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring
Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church
Winner: Michele Zavos
Zavos Juncker Law Group
Runner Up: Glen Ackerman
Flip-flop of last year’s outcome.
Best LGBT Social Group
Also won last year.
Editor’s Choice: Team DC
Best LGBT Sports League
Winner: Stonewall Kickball
Second consecutive win; 2016 runner-up.
Editor’s Choice: DC Frontrunners
Best LGBT-Owned Business
Winner: Crew Club
1321 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: District Title
Most LGBT-friendly Workplace
Second consecutive win.
1525 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: National LGBTQ Task Force
Best LGBT Event
Winner: Capital Pride Celebration
Second consecutive win.
Editor’s Choice: D.C. Black Pride
Winner: National Gallery of Art
6th & Constitution Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: National Museum of African American History (last year’s winner)
Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders
410 7th St., S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Center for Black Equity
Best Private School
A coed, K-12 independent school founded in 1911. Also won this category last year.
3000 Cathedral Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Edmund Burke
Best Pet Business
Doggy Style Bakery, Boutique & Pet Spa
Second consecutive win.
1642 R St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: District Dogs
Best Place to Buy Second-hand Stuff
Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot
A perennial favorite in this category! Same outcome as last year.
1626 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s choice: Buffalo Exchange (2016 runner-up)
Best Movie Theater
Landmark Theaters Atlantic Plumbing
New releases plus indie fare, foreign and avant garde. Second consecutive win.
807 V St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: AMC Loews Georgetown
Best Rehoboth Business
Winner: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Blue Moon
Flip-flop of last year’s outcome.
Third consecutive win in this category!
1314 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: The Burrow
Best Alternative Transportation
Editor’s Choice: Capital Bike Share
Best Day Trip
Winner: MGM National Harbor
101 MGM National Ave.
Oxon Hill, Md.
Editor’s Choice: Easton, Maryland
Best Place to Take Kids
Winner: National Zoo
3001 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: National Aquarium Baltimore
Best Tattoo Parlor
2444 18th St., N.W.
Second consecutive win.
Editor’s Choice: Jinx Proof Tattoos
Winner: Studio Theatre
An upset — Kennedy Center won the last three years. A flip-flop of last year’s outcome.
1501 14th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Kennedy Center
Best Theater Production
Winner: Hamilton – Kennedy Center
Ran June 12-Sept. 16
Editor’s Choice: Waitress – National Theatre
CityPaws Animal Hospital
1823 14th St., N.W.
Fourth consecutive win in this category.
Editor’s Choice: Friendship Animal Hospital
Paradise lost: Remembering the popular Rehoboth men’s guest house
Beach town’s pioneering B&B welcomed gay clientele before arrival of AIDS
“What hath night to do with sleep?” John Milton, A Journey to Paradise
In February 1987, 30-something Bill Courville was at his Mt. Pleasant neighborhood home. He opened the new edition of the Washington Blade. As usual, he read it from beginning to end. With a Ph.D. in psychology, Bill enjoyed the classifieds. It lifted his spirits after reading obituaries of gay men and news of meager AIDS funding from the Reagan administration. Sandwiched between personals and escorts were real estate sales listings, including a one-inch ad about a B&B in downtown Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Bill thought about his youthful days living in New Orleans and working at the Maison De Ville, a small dusty red stucco painted guest house overlooking Toulouse Street. There Tennessee Williams had once lived while penning “A Street Car Named Desire” — when not sipping Sazarac cocktails in the garden courtyard.
He circled the ad and placed it on the kitchen counter for his lover, Bob, to read. The couple had met two years earlier crossing the P Street Bridge and had gradually merged their lives. After Bob looked at the ad, Bill suggested: “Let’s go look at this! We will have a business and an income — and a place to live!” Born in Minnesota, Bob Jerome, the more cautious of the pair, had grown up in California, attending college in Claremont and later working as a Senate staffer. Like Bill, he had a doctorate and traveled throughout the world before their P Street encounter. Unlike Bob, however, Bill never had been to Rehoboth. Nevertheless, Bill insisted this could be their next adventure or at least an excuse to visit the shore off-season.
“It’s a great seasonal resort,” Bob responded positively. “Everybody goes there. There’s gay life!”
The next weekend, they crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and drove to Paradise. Rehoboth was mostly shuttered. But the Renegade bar was open at the fringe of town as was the Blue Moon along the gaying Baltimore Avenue. Driving one street over, they arrived at 40 Maryland Ave.
John, the Realtor, whose lover “Dolly” performed at the Moon, met the couple at the 19th-century house. “It was pretty awful,” remembers Bill. The fatigued Paradise Guest House sign was washed-out and the wide front porch with its handcrafted trellis lusted for paint. The pipes were drained. There was no heat or electricity. There were slivers of mirrors glued on living room walls, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, 1930s over-stuffed maroon chairs, and yard sale grade furniture facing an old TV. The scent of stale cigarette smoke lingered in the ceilings and walls.
As they wandered through the 28 rooms — most barely wide enough for a floor mattress with a thin plastic sheet and an occasional odd-fitting dresser — they eyed stacks of men’s magazines (Honcho, Mandate, Bound & Gagged), iconic videos like “Boys in the Sand,” “Stryker Force,” and “Pacific Coast Highway,” along with chests of dildos in every imaginable size. Off the living room, a narrow passageway at a left angle to the main corridor led to the first-floor bedrooms. At the end was a trap door. They didn’t venture down. “Seasonal resorts like the Paradise were kind of like bars,” Bill explains. “They look great at night but don’t look at them during the day.”
On their drive back, the couple chatted about the venture. “I told Bill that if we were going to invest, he needed to run it so we could learn the business.” Bob knew his income would cover their personal expenses as long as Bill was willing to do the day-to-day management. “We were youngish. I don’t think we thought about what a massive undertaking it was…. But it seemed right.”
After purchasing the property, they along with some friends had just a few months before the 10-week season began on Memorial Day weekend. “We’d drag them down there and make them work, saying, ‘Oh, you can go to the beach.’ But, of course they never did go as it was always cold and rainy.” Bill wondered, “Does the sun ever shine here?”
Those next weeks were frantic: discarding discolored mattresses and sex toys; tearing out faux bedroom walls to restore the original 14 rooms; buying new white wicker furniture; upgrading the bathrooms, deck, and kitchen. Everything was thoroughly cleaned. Fresh white paint glistened on the walls and gray-painted floors replaced piles of tattered, sandy rugs. A local lesbian contractor built sturdy outside showers replacing a rickety wooden stall connected by a water hose and lined with reflective aluminum foil — designed more for strutting than showering.
“It was a huge undertaking,” admits Bill. “Everything we had was sunk into it. It had to be open!” He remembers one man calling a few days before asking if he could change check-in to Wednesday. “No, you can’t,” Bill said flatly. “You can come Friday at 2 o’clock, but not one minute sooner!”
With little time to advertise in this pre-Internet era, they did their best to explain the changes to former guests, beginning with its new name: The Rehoboth Guest House. More importantly, it now was open to lesbians as well as straights and there was no smoking. “We had a mix of friends,” says Bill. “So it would be gay-owned and operated but pretty much open to whoever wanted to come…. We had been discriminated against for most of our lives. If you don’t want to come you don’t have to.”
Reactions from Paradise veterans varied when Bill and Bob discarded the blue, white, and yellow “Paradise Guest House” sign and, more importantly, its ethos of male eros. One of the new owners’ early supporters was Charlie Allen, who worked in the Baltimore schools but summered in Rehoboth. “He was writing a book,” Bill reveals, “called ‘Summer Sisters’… they were sisters for the summer.” Bob interjects, “The other part of the title was ‘Some Are Not.’ So, it was ‘Summer Sisters [pronounced Some Are Sisters]: Some Are Not.’Charlie died before publishing his book—which has never been found.
Unlike Charlie, “some hardcore folks were upset,” Bob recalls. “This used to be a gay male oasis” where men could “be themselves: wearing dresses; walking around naked; having piercings everywhere. They could get out of their suits and live the lives they wanted with people like them.” In an understanding tone, Bob adds: “That’s hard to take away.” The Paradise was a safe spot not only for Philadelphia accountants, D.C. staffers, and Baltimore teachers, but college kids enjoying summer break, career embarking twinks, and closeted locals seeking safe harbor.
Charlie was best friends with the German-accented Paradise owner Herbert Koerber and his boyfriend, Alvarado Ortiz-Benavides, whom everyone called “Mami”— colloquial Spanish for sweetheart. A gregarious man with fading hair and a reddish beard, Charlie often helped Mami with housekeeping and other chores. Mostly, though, he just enjoyed the sexual freedom of Paradise and the camaraderie among male guests. Some returned each year for a week, others visited more frequently for long weekends, and a few stayed the entire summer. Most guests were younger than Charlie’s 40 odd years, but everyone seemed to get along.
Most of Koerber’s clientele came from word-of-mouth advertising, although there was a classified ad in summer issues of the Washington Blade: “friendly guesthouse, close to beaches and bars.” One of the very first media stories about gay Rehoboth appeared in the May 1980 issue of this iconic paper. It described Paradise as “utterly comfortable” and quoted 38-year-old Herbert: “Tell people I can put them up — maybe even give them a discount during the week — but on weekends, after the bars close, my lobby will be packed.”
Before Herbert opened Paradise, in 1979, there were no openly gay-owned or gay-friendly advertised guest houses in Rehoboth. The Sandcastle, a decrepit speakeasy-like rooming house owned briefly by several gay men, had burnt to the ground four years earlier. The grand Pleasant Inn Lodge, hosted by the reclusive, debonair bachelor Peck Pleasanton and his octogenarian mother, Bessie, welcomed an occasional well-behaved “single” gentleman.
During eight seasons, Paradise evolved as did Herbert and Mami. The two were an odd pair. Herbert, a “fussy queen” who swore like a sailor, was tall and thin with longish hair and a handlebar mustache. He was always tanned even though his forehead would get beet red given his German complexion. The much shorter Mami, whose family was from South America, was soft-spoken and very sweet. Compared to the larger-than-life Herbert, he was less memorable to guests. Bob describes Herbert as “the German businessman. Mami was the onetime boy-toy.” They wintered in Key West, operating a gift shop and hawking kitsch souvenirs like black velvet paintings and seashell coasters.
Herbert monetized every aspect of Paradise, creating a sexual Disneyland. With 28 “teensy rooms the size of bathhouse cubicles,” there could be upwards of 50 men checked-in along with their friends and friends of their friends, wandering in during the night. However, the number of bathrooms — two full baths and two halves — did not expand. “It was shabby and crowded, but we were young and didn’t care,” one Paradise regular muses. “It had a reputation. It was our party house.”
The second floor became clothing optional with men often walking around with towels during midnight hours. Plywood partitions were set between rooms with guests on one side having a window and the other windowless. Herbert’s “summer curtains” served instead of doors, which allowed air (and guests) to circulate. Those with bedroom windows overlooking the sundeck could easily extend an invitation to a coconut-lotioned twink or a weightlifting hunk. “Everything went on at the deck and in the windows and rooms behind it,” recalls a frequent guest. There were late Saturday afternoon happy hours and skit contests. Staging was festive, if not overly decorative, with a jerry-rigged backstage area for costume changing. A raucous backyard crowd cheered contestants.
Originally, there was a huge gabled attic bedroom that required ascending a steep stairway. Herbert slashed it into a tiny single air-conditioned room with the remaining space transformed into an after dark playground full of mattresses with an aroma of poppers and pot. “Herbert turned every square inch of that attic into a bed sleeping sex area. It was masterful,” Bob says in a praiseworthy tone. “Every inch was geared toward pleasure” And, as he and Bill later discovered, There was a leather sling in the “dungeon,” a 10 x 12 cinder block walled room accessed only from the first floor trap door.
Room rates were low and backyard camping was just $5 for those bringing tents. Campers, though, had to be late night partiers. Before dawn, visitors often entered from the alley along a little path leading to the unlocked side gate. Nocturnal grunts, gasps, and groans harmonized to sounds of crashing waves. Back then, as one Paradise regular stresses, “Sex wasn’t a taboo thing. It was like going to lunch! It was as common as going for a cocktail.”
During the day, Herbert was often found in his flip-flops, T-shirt, and khaki shorts, puttering in the garden or tending to his beloved lacecap hydrangeas gracing the front yard. Herbert was estranged from his German-speaking family so Paradise regulars became his family. Friendly, he knew everyone by their first name but don’t ask to reserve a specific room. One returning guest remembers phoning Herbert for a reservation and requesting a first-floor room with a door: “Oh, honey!” Herbert laughed. “It’s just first come, first served.”
Herbert did repairs only when absolutely necessary. But he’d always be painting, using just one color: white. The exception was the wrap-around front porch, lined with rocking chairs, which had a gray floor and ceiling along with knob and tube wiring. Throughout the house, guests used it to hang clothes since there were no closets.
In the early to mid 1980s, Paradise thrived as a money making machine — a bathhouse on the beach. As the number of gay-owned restaurants and bars multiplied along with accompanying media attention, more gay men vacationed at Rehoboth and visited Paradise. “There was a routine,” one recounts. “You’d get up late. Get yourself down to the gay beach. Do a day at the ocean, getting too much sun. Then there was happy hour at the Moon. You had to be there and have a nice look. Then you’d go back, take a nap, and then go to dinner. Then, onto the Renegade!”
Herbert provided a weekend shuttle to the Renegade. About 10 o’clock, he’d drive up in his light colored blue and white ’60s VW van, hop out and, as a regular recollects, “Scream down the hallways: ’Get your asses down here!’” He shuttled guests back-and-forth, with the last pick-up at 1. ”I remember Herbert telling people in his heavy accent, ‘If you miss the last bus, you have to walk the fuck home!” But his gruffness masked protectiveness. ”He’d warn them he was going and he would even count!” Another frequent visitor remembers Herbert “as the kind of guy you’d call at 3 o’clock in the morning to say, ‘I’m in jail.’ And he’d be there.”
In 1980, reports surfaced about clusters of young gay men contacting Pneumocystis pneumonia. Granted the majority of infections and deaths from this “gay cancer” were in New York City and San Francisco, but the Washington Blade published a landmark front-page story, “Rare, Fatal Pneumonia Hits Gay Men,” inJuly 1981.
Herbert began to worry. One guest, living in New York City and volunteering as an AIDS buddy, remembers porch conversations with Herbert. ”He was talking about buying a second one. Then he said, ’I’m concerned since so many people are getting AIDS, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll have a clientele.’”
For many gays, Paradise was a rare time to be themselves and to enjoy the camaraderie and support from other men at a beach resort. Sadly, for some, it was also a death sentence. Sexual desire and psychological denial coupled with governmental inaction and public apathy fueled the AIDS pandemic.
After the 1986 summer season, Herbert and Mami sojourned, as usual, to Key West; Herbert never returned. ”I can remember being surprised to hear that he was ill,” laments a longtime patron. ”He went quickly; we had no indications he was ill.”
Herbert died a week before Bill and Bob opened on Memorial Day weekend. Mami was with him until the end. Like Paradise, he disappeared into history and, along with Herbert and many of his guests, would be remembered by few.
James Sears’ latest book, “Behind the Boardwalk: Queering the History of Rehoboth Beach” will be published next year. Tom Kelch, manger of the Rehoboth Beach Guest House, contributed research to this article.
Lesbian Bar Project to the rescue
Founders complete second year fundraising campaign to save businesses
The Lesbian Bar Project, a New York-based group founded by lesbian filmmakers Erica Rose and Elina Street, raised $117,000 last year to help the nation’s lesbian bars stay in business during the height of the COVID pandemic.
Among the bars receiving financial assistance from the project was D.C.’s A League of Her Own, the Adams Morgan lesbian bar. Owner Dave Perruzza said he and his staff were grateful to receive a $7,000 check from the Lesbian Bar Project early this year when the bar was closed under the city’s COVID shutdown order.
The two women say their 2021 fundraising campaign for the project will raise well over $100,000 as part of their continuing effort to support the nation’s remaining 21 lesbian bars, including A League of Her Own.
“Like a lot of things during COVID, we took a lot for granted,” Street told the Blade in describing how she and Rose reacted when their city’s three remaining lesbian bars – two in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn – shut down like most other bars and restaurants during the peak of the COVID public health restrictions in 2020.
“Erica and I felt very connected to the bars there,” Street said. “And we started these discussions of, we miss our cherished spaces. And now they’re closed. Where do we go?”
With their filmmaking skills as a backdrop, and with the knowledge that the already diminishing number of lesbian bars across the country were struggling to survive under COVID, the two started a fundraising campaign for those bars called the Lesbian Bar Project. Among other things, they produced a video Public Service Announcement with archival scenes of lesbian bars and the women who patronized them.
With financial support from the Jagermeister liquor company’s Save the Night campaign, which was launched to provide financial support for nightlife businesses such as bars and restaurants, Rose and Street arranged for the production of a separate 20-minute documentary film about the role lesbian bars play in the lives of those who patronize them. Rose and Street are listed as the film’s directors.
Among those serving as executive producer and appearing in the documentary is Lea DeLaria, the lesbian comedian, actress and internationally acclaimed star of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”
Also appearing in the documentary is Jo McDaniel, longtime D.C. lesbian activist and bartender and manager at several D.C. gay bars who helped Perruzza open A League of Her Own as the city’s first full-time lesbian bar since the closing of the famed D.C. lesbian bar Phase One nearly a decade ago.
McDaniel says she left her job as A League of Her Own’s manager last year to undertake, along with her life partner Rachel Pike, the start of a new D.C. LGBTQ welcoming bar called As You Are, which began operating online. McDaniel says she and Pike are actively looking for a storefront building in which to open As You Are as an in-person café and bar with a dance floor that will be welcoming to lesbians and the LGBTQ community in general.
The documentary, which helped generate support for the project’s fundraising efforts, can be viewed on the group’s website free of charge at lesbianbarproject.com.
Earlier this month, the national dating app called Hinge announced it was entering into a partnership with the Lesbian Bar Project and would make an initial donation in August of $50,000 to help the project support lesbian bars in need of financial aid.
The announcement said Hinge would educate all its U.S. users about the “importance of LGBTQIA+ establishments” and encourage its LGBTQ members to visit one of the bars for a date.
“The bars that comprise the Lesbian Bar Project are not only a safe space but an essential part of LGBTQIA+ culture,” said Justin McLeod, founder and CEO of Hinge. “Our hope is that this support will help these sacred spaces to stay open through this summer and beyond,” he said in the company’s statement.
The Lesbian Bar Project website provides a list of the 21 lesbian bars that the project has supported. In a notice on the website, Rose and Street note that their initial fundraising campaign for 2021 has been completed, and a financial statement with information on how much has been raised will be released around the time of Labor Day weekend.
Rose told the Blade that until she and Street decide the project’s next plan of action, they are calling on people to donate directly to one or more of the 21 lesbian bars listed on the website.
However, a notice on the website says three of the bars – Cubbyhole of New York City; Sue Ellen’s of Dallas; and Wildside West of San Francisco, “have graciously decided to opt out” of the 2021 pool of funds raised to allow for more contributions to the other bars in greater need.
“In the late 1980s, there were an estimated 200 Lesbian Bars across the country,” a statement posted on the Lesbian Bar Project website says. “These bars are disappearing at a staggering rate, and we cannot afford to lose more of these vital establishments to the fallout of COVID-19,” the statement says.
Rose and Street said the decline in the number of lesbian bars, which began long before the onset of the COVID pandemic, is due to a number of factors, including the overall success of the LGBTQ rights movement. The two said nondiscrimination protections in state and local laws and the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, opened the way for lesbians and LGBTQ people in general to feel comfortable patronizing bars that were not specifically catering to lesbians.
They said that like its impact on gay bars in general, the rise of the Internet and online meet-up sites has also had the effect of enabling lesbians to meet each other outside of bars and other “brick and mortar” establishments.
“So, it’s like all of these factors combined with the pandemic are why many of these places are disappearing,” Rose said. “And that’s why Elina and I jumped into action. Our goal is always to raise awareness. The money raised is definitely a bonus,” she said. “We wanted to raise awareness and tell the stories of these bars. That’s going to make sure we remain indelible in our culture and ensuring our survival.”
Rose was referring to one of the themes of her and Street’s 20-minute documentary – that the in-person interaction offered by lesbian bars and LGBTQ bars in general provides, among other things, an important part of LGBTQ culture and the diversity of LGBTQ people that online and virtual venues cannot provide.
“We believe what makes a bar uniquely Lesbian is its prioritization of creating space for people of marginalized genders; including women, non-binary folks, and trans men,” according to the statement posted on the Lesbian Bar Project website. “As these spaces aim to be inclusive of all individuals across the diverse LGBTQIA+ community, the label Lesbian belongs to all people who feel that it empowers them,” the statement says.
“Without space, we lose power, validity, communal safety and access to intergenerational dialogue,” the statement adds. “With the support of our community, we can make sure these bars receive not only the financial assistance they need but the reference they deserve. When our history isn’t protected, we must protect it ourselves.”
Following is a list of the 21 remaining lesbian bars in the United States released by the Lesbian Bar Project:
A League of Her Own — Washington, D.C.
Alibi’s — Oklahoma City, Okla.
Babes of Carytown — Richmond, Va.
Blush & Blu — Denver
Boycott Bar — Phoenix
Cubbyhole — New York City
Frankie’s — Oklahoma City, Okla.
Ginger’s — Brooklyn, N.Y.
Gossip Grill — San Diego, Calif.
Henrietta Hudson — New York City
Herz — Mobile, Ala.
My Sister’s Room MSR — Atlanta
Pearl Bar — Houston
Slammers — Columbus, Ohio
Sue Ellen’s — Dallas
The Backdoor — Bloomington, Ind.
The Lipstick Lounge — Nashville, Tenn.
Walker’s Pint — Milwaukee, Wisc.
Wildrose — Seattle
Wildside West — San Francisco
Yellow Brick Road Pub — Tulsa, Okla.
Adopting an older child from overseas — one couple’s story
‘He really wanted a forever family, it didn’t matter that we’re gay’
Jim Walker and Ethan Taylor had talked about adoption but weren’t sure how to go about it. Ethan himself was adopted and the biological father of a 13-year-old daughter (Bella) from a previous relationship.
Then, one evening in 2018, a Rainbow Families Facebook post caught their attention. “It mentioned Kidsave,” Ethan said, “a non-profit organization that brings older Colombian orphans to stay with host families for five weeks to experience life here with an American family. They’re unadoptable in their own country because they are over eight years old.”
Jim and Ethan had been together five-plus years by then and known each other for 18. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do this!’ Next thing we know, we’re signed up to host Juan Carlos,” reminisced Jim.
After a five-week visit, many families decide to adopt the children. In fact, 80% of the children who participate in Kidsave’s “Summer Miracles” program are eventually adopted, and those who are not, often come back for a second visit and are adopted later.
During those five weeks, Kidsave and the host families help the children meet potential adoptive families. The children may or may not know adoption is a possibility, but host families aren’t allowed to talk openly about it during the visit.
Jim and Ethan plowed through the paperwork at warp speed and were approved to host. They attended orientations and training with other host families. Soon they were at Dulles Airport, wearing their yellow Kidsave T-shirts so the kids could easily identify them.
When Juan Carlos came through the customs doors, “He ran up to us, gave us big hugs, and then presented each of us with a braided bracelet from his home country,” recalled Jim. “Right then and there, we fell in love with him and knew we were going to adopt him.”
Juan Carlos didn’t care that a same-sex couple hosted his visit. “Since he never had a father figure in his life, he was thrilled to have TWO dads — and a sister,” said Ethan. “Juan Carlos just really, really wanted a forever family that would love and protect him. It didn’t matter that we happened to be gay.”
“The most surprising thing was how happy, resilient, and adaptable he was — and continues to be,” said Jim. “He had spent more than half his life in an orphanage but he never complained about his circumstances,” said Jim.
After hosting, the process of adoption includes many additional steps and hurdles, and unexpected things can and do happen so an effort is made not to get the children’s hopes up. After a two-week “quiet” period people can apply to adopt. The interest must be two-way – the children must want to be adopted by that family.
“When we did bring him home for good,” recollected Ethan, “he immediately ran upstairs to his bedroom and pulled out a bag of quarters that he had hidden and declared, ‘I always knew that I would be coming back!’”
“We learned about that we have a lot of love and patience to give to a child. Being a parent, especially to two device-obsessed teenagers, can be stressful on any relationship but we have learned effective communication and the value of doing things with each other that don’t always involve the kids.”
Jim and Ethan were married in 2019, and both Juan Carlos and Isabelle participated in the wedding.
“Kidsave is very welcoming for people of various backgrounds and sexual orientations,” said Ethan. “There is a great and growing community of Kidsave families in the D.C. area, including several same-sex and single-parent families. We have made some wonderful friends though Kidsave. We strongly encourage others to consider hosting through Kidsave’s ‘Summer Miracles’ program!”
Summer Miracles kids are here until Aug. 14, and desperately need forever families. Visit Kidsave.org to learn more.
Now 16 years old, Juan Carlos is adjusting well to life as an American teenager. “Every night, when I tuck him into bed, the smile on his face says everything. Being his dad,” noted an equally smiley Jim, “is a dream come true.”
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