Connect with us

a&e features

Pop culture casserole 2018 remix

‘Pose’ pops, Gaga soars, ‘Drag Race’ goes mainstream and Emmys gayer than ever

Published

on

pop culture 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Pose’ pops, Rippon becomes America’s sweetheart, Gaga soars and ‘A Fantastic Woman’ wins an Oscar.

No. 10 — Highly gay Broadway year

Broadway, of course, is always gay to some extent but 2018 seemed gayer than ever with revivals of landmark gay-themed works such as Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy.” 

“Boys,” which debuted 50 years ago, made its Broadway debut at the Booth Theatre in late April and ran until early August with an all-gay cast including Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. It got mixed reviews. “I wish I could report that …. I shuddered and sobbed in sympahy but even trimmed from two acts to an intermission-free 110 minutes, the show left me largely impatient and unmoved,” a New York Times critic wrote.

In February, the Royal National Theatre production of “Angels in America,” Kushner’s landmark, two-part AIDS-themed masterpiece, transferred to Broadway for an 18-week engagement at the Neil Simon Theatre with Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in the cast. The 25th-anniversary revival won three Tonys out of a record 11 nominations. The Times said the play “courses into your system like a transfusion of new blood … when you hit the streets afterward, every one of your senses is singing.”

Less overall successful was a slimmed-down revival of Harvey Fierstein’s 1980s piece “Torch Song Triology,” a classic about a drag performer looking for love and family. The revival, starring Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl got strong reviews but may have been a victim of gay Broadway fatigue after “Boys” and “Angels.” It closes Jan. 6 after weeks of weak ticket sales, the New York Times reports.

Oh, and Bette Midler returned to her Tony-winning role in “Hello Dolly!” at the Shubert Theatre July 17-Aug. 25. (JD)

No. 9 — Breakout year for Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan, gay news, Washington Blade

Troye Sivan cracked the mainstream with his ‘Bloom’ album this year. (Photo courtesy Universal)

Former YouTube star Troye Sivan solidified his status as an A-list “legit” pop star this year with the release of his sophomore album “Bloom,” which peaked at no. four on the Billboard 200 sales chart. Lead single “My My My!” became Sivan’s second no. 1 Billboard dance hit, though it only made it to no. 80 on the Hot 100. 

Sivan performed on “Saturday Night Live” and made several other high-profile media appearances. He toured the “Bloom” record (he played D.C.’s The Anthem in October) and shot an iconic, gender-bending video for the song “Bloom.” 

The 23-year-old South Africa native (raised in Australia) headlined at Capital Pride in June and co-starred in the acclaimed conversion therapy drama “Boy Erased.” 

Troye Sivan, Capital Pride Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

Troye Sivan previewed material from his new album ‘Bloom’ this summer at Capital Pride where he headlined. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Troye Sivan concert leaves one with two major impressions,” the Blade wrote of his fall tour. “One, it’s amazing the magic he can weave using so little and two, the juxtaposition of his sonic/video/TV show performances — where he comes off as an androgynous, gay sex-starved coquette gyrating lasciviously — dovetails quite nicely with his stage/interview persona where he’s self deprecating, down to earth, sweet seeming, even anodyne.”

Sivan tours Europe and Asia through winter and spring, 2019. (JD) 

No. 8 — Celebs come out in droves

Cory Michael Smith (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Once upon a time coming out was considered a move that could ruin a celebrity’s career. Times have changed and 2018 was the year many celebrities announced their gender identities and sexualities with empowerment. 

Actress and singer Janelle Monáe told Rolling Stone she identifies as pansexual. Actress Tessa Thompson, who has been rumored to be in a relationship with Monáe, revealed this year that she is bisexual. 

During a Q&A, a fan asked Paris Jackson if she is bi. “That’s what you guys call it, so I guess, but who needs labels?” Jackson said. This was her first time publicly addressing her sexuality but she says she’s been out since she was 14.

Singer Jason Mraz subtly came out in a poem for Billboard’s “Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community” writing, “We still have a long way to go. But know. I am bi your side. All ways.” He told Billboard he’s had sexual experiences with men and considers his sexuality “two spirit.”

Former Disney star Garrett Clayton came out as gay on Instagram after reflecting on filming his upcoming movie “Reach,” which tells the story of a teenager who contemplates suicide as a result of bullying. Clayton opened up that he and his boyfriend have had similar bullying experiences. 

Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie shared with Paper that “you could qualify me as pansexual” and said that he is simply attracted to people. Actor Amandla Stenberg, who came out as non-binary and bisexual in 2016, announced they are gay and have “a romantic love for women” in a profile for Wonderland. Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” creator and Silver Spring, Md., native, came out as non-binary. Pop star Rita Ora received backlash for her song “Girls,” which critics argued exploited bisexual and lesbian relationships. Ora revealed that the song mirrored her own experiences and that she has had romantic relationships with women. 

“Glee” star Kevin Michael McHale came out as gay with the help of Ariana Grande tweeting, “#NoTearsLeftToCry is gayer than me and I ACCEPT. Ty @ArianaGrande.”

Actor Lee Pace confirmed his sexual orientation by revealing he has dated both men and women.

Journalist Ronan Farrow publicly declared he is “part of the LGBT community” while being honored with the Point Courage award for his work covering the #MeToo movement and transgender issues. He stated: ”being a part of the LGBT community — which recognized that reporting I was doing early on and elevated it, and has been such a stalwart source of support through the sexual assault reporting I did involving survivors who felt equally invisible. That has been an incredible source of strength for me.”

Other celebrities who came out this year include “Broad City” star Abbi Jacobson (bisexual), actress/singer Alyson Stoner (bisexual), “Gotham” actor Cory Michael Smith (queer) and singer Daya (bisexual). (MC) 

No. 7 — ‘A Star is Born’

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in ‘A Star is Born.’ (Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

“A Star is Born” is a quintessential tragic love story and rags-to-riches film trope that has become one of Hollywood’s favorite movies to crank out to the masses. The 2018 version follows the classic plot of country music superstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) who helps rookie singer/songwriter Ally (Lady Gaga) kickstart her career. 

Along the way, the pair fall in love while struggling with addiction and navigating fame. The film gave the co-leads monumental firsts in their careers. For Gaga, it’s her first lead role in a major motion picture. Meanwhile, Cooper made his directorial debut. 

Lady Gaga also became an unexpected meme for repeating a variation of the quote “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life,” in reference to Cooper, numerous times during the film’s press run. 

Despite it being the fourth remake following the original 1937 version, the 1954 musical starring Judy Garland, the 1976 rock musical led by Barbra Streisand and a 2013 Bollywood version, audiences and critics alike proved they were far from tired of the tale.“A Star is Born,” Lady Gaga, Cooper and Sam Elliot have all earned nominations ranging from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards. The film’s soundtrack is also nominated for a Grammy Award. It’s unclear if the movie will snatch any trophies but “A Star is Born” is already a winner for capturing attention yet again. (MC)

No. 6 — ‘Pose’ dramatizes late ‘80s ball culture

‘Pose’ is another hit from TV titan Ryan Murphy. (Photo courtesy FX)

“Pose,” Ryan Murphy’s latest television project, was co-created with Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals and made history with the largest cast of transgender characters in a fictional TV show. 

The groundbreaking series focuses on the black and Latinx ball culture and the luxury yuppie Trump era in New York City in the late ‘80s. Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) decides to leave the House of Abundance and become the founder and mother of the House of Evangelista. Blanca gathers together her makeshift group to try to compete with the legendary House of Abundance. However, balls aren’t their only worry as their family confronts the looming AIDS epidemic, finds and loses love and faces the everyday struggles of being transgender or gay.

Out actor Billy Porter portrays Pray Tell, the ball emcee and Blanca’s best friend. His role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor/Television Series Drama.

The series also was praised for adding transgender talent behind the camera. Transgender activist Janet Mock penned scripts, along with transgender writer Our Lady J, for a few episodes and served as director. Silas Howard, a transgender activist, writer and director, also directed an episode. “Pose” will continue into 2019 as the show was green-lit for a second season. (MC) 

No. 5 — Big year for gay movies

Gay-themed movies are released every year but they’re getting a little bit more mainstream with increasingly A-list budgets. This year was especially strong.

“Love, Simon,” a teen dramedy, opened in March and told of Simon Spier, a closeted gay high school student forced to balance friends, family and a blackmailer threatening to out him. It made back more than three times what it cost to make with worldwide grosses totaling about $66 million. It has a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” opened in the U.S. in August and told of the title character caught in a same-sex “encounter,” who gets shipped off to “conversion” therapy camp where she discovers solidarity with her fellow enrollees. It stands at 86 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and tells its story with “wit, compassion and an affecting overall generosity of spirit,” according to an aggregate review.

“Boy Erased” took a more serious glimpse at “conversion” therapy with a biographical adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name. Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, it opened in the U.S. in November to strong reviews and is up for two Golden Globe Awards. A Blade review praised the strong cast for carrying the film. It’s 80 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. 

And “Bohemian Rhapsody” depicts British rock band Queen with its late flamboyant lead singer Freddie Mercury who was gay (or perhaps bi; Mercury never officially came out). Long delayed, it finally debuted in the U.S. in November and has grossed nearly $600 million worldwide. At about $50 million, it had the highest budget of any of the aforementioned movies. A Blade review called it “full of exuberant energy and good-natured high spirits” and said it’s “an impossible film not to get caught up in.” (JD) 

A scene from ‘Love Simon.’ (Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox)

No. 4 — “A Fantastic Woman” wins Oscar

Daniela Vega, gay news, Washington Blade

Daniela Vega in ‘A Fantastic Woman.” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“A Fantastic Woman,” a 2017 Chilean drama, tells of Marina (Daniela Vega), a young trans woman in Santiago, Chile who experiences abuse and harrassment following the sudden death of her boyfriend Orlando, an older man who had recently moved in with her. 

This Sony Pictures Classics release could have been one of the 2017 year in review stories —  it won two major awards at the Berlin International Film Festival — but it went on to even greater acclaim this year winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first Chilean film to win this category. Openly trans star Daniela Vega became the first trans person to present at the Oscars at the Academy’s 90th annual ceremony on March 4. 

It holds at 94 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. An aggregate review said it handles “its timely, sensitive subject matter with care.”  (JD) 

Daniela Vega at the Academy Awards. (screen capture via ABC)

No. 3 — Biggest year in  “RuPaul’s Drag Race” herstory

Aquaria was the breakout star of ‘Drag Race’ season 10. (Photo courtesy Project Publicity)

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a veteran in reality TV. The show premiered in 2009, but the drag competition show has only recently gained mainstream attention with its switch from airing on Logo to VH1. 

“RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3” brought back seasoned queens from seasons past including Trixie Mattel (season seven), Shangela (season two and three), BenDeLaCreme (season six), Kennedy Davenport (season seven), among others. DeLa appeared to be the girl to beat as she won challenge after challenge.

For “All Stars,” Ru required the lip-sync winner to send one of their own home. As DeLa kept slaying the competition, she eventually eliminated herself because she couldn’t take the pressure of sending her sisters home. After her departure, Shangela became a fan favorite with many viewers believing she would win. However, Trixie won the title causing an uproar on social media from Shangela fans who wanted their fave to say “Halleloo” to the crown.

Season 10 ushered in 13 new queens and one returning queen. Eureka was welcomed back to compete after being removed from the show in season nine due to an injury. The final four came down to Aquaria, Eureka, Kameron Michaels and Asia O’Hara. The final lip-sync featured a poorly constructed butterfly release from O’Hara that earned her the boot. 

Aquaria, the self-proclaimed “bitch from New York City,” was crowned the winner after being a consistent judge favorite “turning looks” for the mini, maxi and runway challenges. Her win didn’t come as too much of a surprise but it was herstory-making. Aquaria became the youngest queen to ever win the competition at 21 years old. The fierce competition made season 10 the most viewed season in the show’s history. 

The show won five Emmys this year out of 12 nominations. A “Holi-slay Spectacular” aired Dec. 7 to mixed reviews. “All Stars” season four began Dec. 14 and will continue into the new year. Season 11 has been announced but no premiere date is set. (MC) 

No. 2 — The gayest Emmys ever

‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ wins at the 70th annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles in September. (ATAS ceremony screen capture via NBC broadcast)

The 2018 Emmy Awards may have been the gayest Emmys in the history of the award show. 

The ceremony opened with a dance number featuring out “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kate McKinnon, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star Tituss Burgess and RuPaul. The rest of the night was filled with LGBT wins and appearances. 

Ryan Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” won Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special and Darren Criss’ portrayal of spree killer Andrew Cunanan earned him a win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie. 

Australian comedian Hannah Gadbys, who received critical acclaim for her Netflix special “Nanette,” made an appearance to present the award Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” secured its fifth Emmy win this year with Outstanding Reality Competition Series. RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Ross Matthews and Carson Kressley all accepted the award on stage where Ru delivered his signature phrase, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen up in here? Now let the music play” to the star-studded Emmys crowd. 

The “Queer Eye” cast continued its pop culture reign with Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness all appearing as presenters. The Fab Five has been traveling around the Atlanta area to upgrade the lives of men and women on everything from grooming and fashion to personal development. The series released two seasons in just six months but already won the Emmy’s top reality show honor, and the show’s first Emmy, for Best Structured Reality Program. (MC) 

No. 1 — Adam Rippon, America’s sweetheart

Adam Rippon (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Figure skating is, of course, Adam Rippon’s initial claim to fame but in 2018, he became much more than that. 

Rippon’s skating career was highly uneven. He was the 2016 U.S. national champion but until this year, had never previously qualified for the Olympics and never placed higher than sixth at the World Championships. 

It was controversial that he even made the Olympic team after coming in fourth at nationals. But skating officials decided Rippon was a stronger candidate for the team than Ross Miner who came in second at nationals. Rippon, Vincent Zhou and Nathan Chen went on to compete in Peyongchang, South Korea coming in 10th, sixth and fifth respectively. Chen and Rippon took home bronze medals (along with several other U.S. skaters) in the team event which incorporates all skating disciplines. That made Rippon the first openly gay Olympic athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. 

He and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy were the gay toast of the Olympics. Rippon especially stayed in the headlines for refusing to meet with Vice President Mike Pence because of his anti-gay views and his spacey, ditzy on-camera interviews with NBC’s Andrea Joyce, the best straightwoman to Rippon’s antics as one could have imagined. 

Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon (Photo via Instagram)

That cemented Rippon’s status as the gay celebrity du jour and he went on to several high profile media appearances, magazine covers and a win on season 26 of “Dancing With the Stars.” Oh, and yeah, there was that harness he wore to the Oscars and the nude photo spread in ESPN Magazine. 

Rippon, now retired from competitive skating at 29, is a judge on “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” and guest on the “Will & Grace” reboot. 

Rippon has been praised for being “unabashedly nelly, effeminate, bawdy and obviously gay in a way we’ve been asked to cover up,” as writer Alxander Chee wrote. (JD) 

HONORABLE MENTION — Kathy Griffin makes lemonade

Kathy Griffin (Photo courtesy Griffin)

Kathy Griffin attends White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as guest of the Blade. In April, the Washington Blade invited Griffin to its table to thank her for her LGBT advocacy work over the years. At the dinner, Griffin had a run-in with Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley in which she told him, “Suck my dick.” The exchange garnered international media attention and Griffin landed on multiple talk shows after the dinner. 

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

a&e features

‘Queering Rehoboth Beach’ features love, loss, murder, and more

An interview with gay writer and historian James T. Sears

Published

on

'Queering Rehoboth Beach' book cover. (Image courtesy of Temple University Press)

James T. Sears book talk
Saturday, June 29, 5 p.m.
Politics & Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

When it comes to LGBTQ summer destinations in the Eastern time zone, almost everyone knows about Provincetown, Mass., Fire Island, N.Y., and Key West, Fla. There are also slightly lesser known, but no less wonderful places, such as Ogunquit, Maine, Saugatuck, Mich., and New Hope, Pa. Sandwiched in between is Rehoboth Beach, Del., a location that is popular with queer folks from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The dramatic and inspiring story of how Rehoboth Beach came to be what it is today can be found in gay historian James T. Sears’s revealing new book “Queering Rehoboth Beach: Beyond the Boardwalk” (Temple University Press, 2024). As educational as it is dishy, “Queering Rehoboth Beach” provides readers with everything they need to know (and possibly didn’t realize they needed to know) about this fabulous locality. Sears was kind enough to make time to answer a few questions about the book.

WASHINGTON BLADE: James, it’s been a few years since I’ve interviewed you. The last time was in 1997 about your book “From Lonely Hunters to Lonely Hearts: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life.” At the time, you were living in Columbia, S.C. Where are you currently based, and how long have you been there?

JAMES T. SEARS: It has been great reconnecting with you. After that book, we moved to Charleston, S.C. There I wrote several more books. One was about the Mattachine group, focusing on one largely misunderstood leader, Hal Call. Another book shared reminisces of a 90-year-old gentleman, the late John Zeigler, interweaving his diaries, letters, and poetry to chronicle growing up gay in the South at the turn of the last century. From there I moved to Central America where I chronicled everyday queer life and learned Spanish. We returned several years ago and then washed up on Rehoboth Beach.

BLADE: In the introduction to your new book “Queering Rehoboth Beach: Beyond the Boardwalk” (Temple University Press, 2024), you write about how a “restaurant incident” in Rehoboth, which you describe in detail in the prologue, became a kind of inspiration for the book project. Please say something about how as a historian, the personal can also be political and motivational.

SEARS: I want to capture reader’s interest by personalizing this book more than I have others. The restaurant anecdote is the book’s backstory. It explains, in part, my motivation for writing it, and more crucially, introduces one meaning of “queering Rehoboth.” That is, in order to judge this “incident”—and the book itself—we need to engage in multiple readings of history, or at least be comfortable with this approach. I underscore that what is accepted as “history”—about an individual, a community, or a society—is simply a reflection of that era’s accepted view. Queering history challenges that consensus.

BLADE: Who do you see as the target audience for “Queering Rehoboth Beach?”

SEARS: Well, certainly if you have been to Rehoboth or reside there, this book provides a history of the town—and its queering—giving details that I doubt even locals know! Also, for those interested in the evolution of other East Coast queer resorts (Ptown, Fire Island, Key West) this book adds to that set of histories. My book will also be of interest to students of social change and community organizing. Most importantly, though, it is just a good summer read.

BLADE: “Queering Rehoboth Beach” features numerous interviews. What was involved in the selection process of interview subjects?

SEARS: I interviewed dozens of people. They are listed in the book as the “Cast of Narrators.” Before these interviews, I engaged in a systematic review of local and state newspapers, going back to Rehoboth’s founding as a Methodist Church Camp in 1873. I also read anecdotal stories penned by lesbians and gay men. These appeared in local or regional queer publications, such as Letters from CAMP Rehoboth and the Washington Blade. Within a year, I had compiled a list of key individuals to interview. However, I also interviewed lesbians, gay men, transgender individuals, and heterosexuals who lived or worked in Rehoboth sometime during the book’s main timeframe (1970s-2000s). I sought diversity in background and perspective. To facilitate their memories, I provided a set of questions before we met. I often had photos, letters, or other memorabilia to prime their memories during our conversation. 

BLADE: Under the heading of the more things change, the more they stay the same, the act of making homosexuality an issue in politics continues to this day. What do you think it will take for that to change?

SEARS: You pose a key question. Those who effectuated change in Rehoboth — queers and progressive straights — sought common ground. Their goal was to integrate into the town. As such, rather than primarily focus on sexual and gender differences, they stressed values held in common. Rather than proselytize or agitate, they opened up businesses, restored houses, joined houses of worship, and engaged in the town’s civic life. 

To foster and sustain change, however, those in power and those who supported them also had to have a willingness to listen, to bracket their presuppositions, and to engage in genuine dialogue. Violent incidents, especially one on the boardwalk, and the multi-year imbroglio of The Strand nightclub, gradually caused people to seek common ground.

That did not, however, come without its costs. For some — long separated from straight society — and for others — unchallenged in their heteronormativity — it was too great of a cost to bear. Further, minorities within the queer “community,” such as people of color, those with limited income, and transgender individuals, never entered or were never invited into this enlarging public square.

The troubles chronicled in my book occurred during the era of the “Moral Majority” and “Gay Cancer.” Nevertheless, it didn’t approach the degree of polarization, acrimony, fake news, and demagoguery of today. So, whether this approach would even be viable as a strategy for social change is debatable.

BLADE: In recent years, there has been a proliferation of books about LGBTQ bars, a subject that is prominent in “Queering Rehoboth Beach.” Was this something of which you were aware while writing the book, and how do you see your book’s place on the shelf alongside these other books?

SEARS: Queering heterosexual space has been a survival strategy for generations of queer folks. These spaces — under-used softball fields, desolate beaches, darkened parks, and out-of-the-way bars — are detailed in many LGBTQ+ books, from the classic, “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold,” to the recently published “A Place of Our Own” and “The Bars Are Ours.” Of course, these spaces did not encompass the kaleidoscope of queer life, but they provide us a historical gateway into various segments of a queer community and culture.

This was certainly true for my book. Unsurprisingly, until The Strand controversy, which began in 1988, all of Rehoboth’s queer bars were beyond the town limits. There were, however, homosexual watering holes in the liminal sexual space. For instance, you had the Pink Pony on the boardwalk during the 1950s and the Back Porch Café during the 1970s. So, in this sense, I think “Queering Rehoboth Beach” fits well in this ever-enlarging canon of queer history.

BLADE: As one of the most pro-LGBTQ presidents in U.S. history, how much, if it all, did the Biden Delaware connection have to do with your desire to write “Queering Rehoboth Beach?”

SEARS: It is just a coincidence. Interestingly, as I was researching this book, I came across a 1973 news story about Sen. Joe Biden speaking at a civic association meeting. One of the 30 or so residents attending was James Robert Vane. The paper reported the senator being “startled” when Vane questioned him about the ban on homosexuals serving in the U.S. civil service and military. Uttering the familiar trope about being “security risks,” he then added, “I admit I haven’t given it much thought.” In Bidenesque manner, he paused and then exclaimed, “I’ll be darned!”

Biden was a frequent diner at the Back Porch Café, often using the restaurant’s kitchen phone for political calls. Like the progressives I spoke about earlier, he had lived in a heteronormative bubble—a Catholic one at that! Yet, like many in Rehoboth, he eventually changed his view, strongly advocating for queer rights as Vice President during the Obama administration.

BLADE: How do you think Rehoboth residents will respond to your depiction of their town?

SEARS: Well, if recent events are predictive of future ones, then I think it will be generally positive. My first book signing at the locally owned bookstore resulted in it selling out. The manager did tell me that a gentleman stepped to the counter asking, “Why is this queer book here?”— pointing to the front table of “Beach Reads.” That singular objection notwithstanding, his plan is to keep multiple boxes in stock throughout the summer.

BLADE: Over the years, many non-fiction and fiction books have been written about places such as Provincetown, Fire Island, and Key West. Is it your hope that more books will be written about Rehoboth Beach?

SEARS: My hope is that writers and researchers continue to queer our stories. Focusing on persons, events, and communities, particularly micro-histories, provides a richer narrative of queer lives. It also allows us to queer the first generation of macro-histories which too often glossed over everyday activists. So, as the saying goes, let a thousand flowers bloom.

BLADE: Do you think that “Queering Rehoboth Beach” would make for a good documentary film subject?

SEARS: Absolutely, although probably not on the Hallmark Channel [laughs]! It would make an incredible film — a documentary or a drama — even a mini-series. Because it focuses on people: their lives and dreams, their long-running feuds and abbreviated love affairs, their darker secrets, and lighter moments within a larger context of the country’s social transformation. “Queering Rehoboth Beach” details the town’s first gay murder, the transformation of a once homophobic mayor, burned-out bars, and vigilante assaults on queers, the octogenarian lesbian couple, living for decades in Rehoboth never speaking the “L word,” who die within months of one another. It, too, is a story of how the sinewy arms of Jim Crow affected white Rehoboth — gay and straight. In short, “Queering Rehoboth Beach” is about a small beach town, transformed generation over generation like shifting sands yet retaining undercurrents of what are the best and worst in American life and culture.

BLADE: Have you started thinking about or working on your next book?

SEARS: The manuscript for this book was submitted to the publisher more than a year ago. During that time, I’ve been working on my first book of fiction. It is a queer novel set in early nineteenth century Wales against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars and industrialization. I want to transport the reader into an era before the construction of homosexuality and at the inception of the women’s movement. How does one make meaning of sexual feelings toward the same gender or about being in the wrong gender? In the process of this murder mystery, I integrate Celtic culture and mythology and interrogate how today’s choices and those we made in the past (and in past lives) affect our future and those of others.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

a&e features

D.C. Latinx Pride seeks to help heal the community

Much history lost to generations of colonialism

Published

on

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Latinx History Project will host its 18th annual Latinx Pride with a series of 11 events this year.

Latinx History Project, or LHP, was founded in 2000 to collect, preserve and share Latinx LGBTQ+ History. Six years later, they began hosting DC Latinx Pride.  

Board member Dee Tum-Monge said organizers saw a need for the event that centered Latinx community members. 

“LHP knows our queer history as Latinx folks has most often been lost to generations of colonialism and imperialism,” they said. “Which is why we focus on documenting and highlighting the impact our community has in D.C. and beyond.”

According to UCLA School of Law, there are more than two million Latinx LGBTQ adults that live in the U.S.

“Events specifically for the Latinx community are important not only to make our experience visible but also to create spaces where we can grow closer with other groups and each other,” said Tum-Monge.

This year they kicked off DC Latinx Pride with a crowning ceremony for their royal court on May 31. 

Their three-part series, “La Sanación”, is underway with part two planned for June 16. 

“Sanación in Spanish means ‘healing’ which is a big part of what we want to bring to Pride,” said Tum-Monge. “Our communities go through a lot of trauma and hate, but we know there’s more to us. Our goal is to foster connection with ourselves, nature, community, and spirituality.”

In conjunction with the series there is a slate of other events; tickets can be purchased at latinxhistoryproject.org/pride.

In addition, Latinx Pride will march in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday and participate in the festival on Sunday. To stay involved with Latinx History Project after Pride and hear more about future events visit latinxhistoryproject.org.

Continue Reading

a&e features

D.C.’s queer nightlife scene thriving, bucking national trends

Deep Cvnt, Crush, other bars and events keep city venues bustling

Published

on

Deep Cvnt is a ‘mini ball deluxe-inspired party.’ (Washington Blade photo by Joe Reberkenny)

John Etienne is familiar with the drifting sounds from vodka-fueled conversations and the tapping of feet against the floorboards of Trade, a gay bar in D.C.’s Logan Circle. On any other Thursday night, Etienne — a party host, judge, and queer nightlife socialite — would be up on the dance floor, sipping a gin and ginger ale, dancing to the new Beyonce song with friends.

But this is not just any Thursday.

Tonight he is sitting directly beneath the dance floor in a salon chair, adjusting his sparkly green dress and white go-go boots, flipping between checking his phone and looking at the clock, waiting for the other judges to arrive. It is just after 9 p.m. and Deep Cvnt is about to begin. 

Deep Cvnt is a “mini ball deluxe-inspired party.” Etienne hosts the event once a month at Trade where queer people from across the city come to walk down a runway in categories, show off their best outfits to an established theme, and ‘vogue the house down’ making the “dive bar with a dance floor” feel like the set of a 2024 Paris is Burning. The party’s name is based on a slur, reclaimed into a symbol of feminine and queer empowerment.  

During the day, the 25-year-old works as a Digital Fundraising Director for the House Majority PAC. To him, gay bars that host events are instrumental in fostering a feeling of welcome and belonging for those who identify as LGBTQ.

“[For me] It’s the sense of community,” Etienne said. “ I think that being able to go to a spot where there are people who are like me, in some shape or form being that they’re queer or from a marginalized community, and can find refuge in these spots is something that’s incredibly important. And then, too, I think that these [queer] spaces are just a lot more fun.” 

Historically gay bars have acted as places for the LGBTQ community to gather, celebrate, and mobilize for political causes when the general attitude was more hostile to the community. D.C.’s unique queer nightlife scene sets it apart from other major gay hubs, like New York or San Francisco, due to the city’s number of welcoming spaces, its business appeal, and the strong presence of the federal government in its culture, allowing for the country’s capital city to be a statistical anomaly. 

Nationwide, gay bars have been on the decline since the 1980s. Damron’s Travel Guide, a database that has been recording the locations and ratings of queer/gay bars since the 1960s, found that in the year 1980 there were approximately 1,432 gay bars across the United States. A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine found that the number of gay bars in the U.S. has nearly been cut in half, with only 803 queer-identified bars in existence despite increasing numbers of public support for the LGBTQ community.

This trend is occurring at the same time as a record number of anti-LGBTQ legislation is popping up in state legislatures across the U.S. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2024. These laws restrict the ability of transgender Americans to get gender-affirming care, force teachers to out their students to parents, and ban First Amendment-protected actions like performing in drag, among other issues. 

Meanwhile the number of bars that cater to the LGBTQ community in the nation’s capital has increased from six in 1980 to at least 22 in 2024. 

The LGBTQ population is still large in D.C., with some estimates putting the number at just over 66,000. Historically the “gayborhood,” or primary LGBTQ neighborhood was on 17th Street and in the Dupont Circle area. That has changed as numbers have increased over the years, making the whole city feel like the gayborhood.

“Being one of the gayest cities in the world — with one of the gayest per capita populations — that is kind of baked into the fabric of the nightlife economy,” said Salah Czapary, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture, when asked about how the LGBTQ community has changed the landscape of the city. “If you look at these certain neighborhoods [17th Street and Dupont], their character has really been defined by the ‘gayborhood’ in the area. That has kind of changed and now you can’t really point to one area as being the sole gayborhood.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, causing the government to pause all non-essential businesses, including bars. After the pandemic, the growth in the number of gay bars accelerated.  “I think that’s kind of just generally after COVID, people are willing to take a risk on something new,” Czapary explained when discussing the impact of the pandemic on the gay bar community. 

Ed Bailey, a well-known DJ and co-owner of gay bars Trade and Number Nine, located around the corner from each other in Logan Circle, agrees about the economic opportunities COVID was able to provide but says that gay bar success boils down to the economics of real estate. 

“I have a very boring and not very sexy answer to why I think these things happen,” Bailey said when explaining the history of the prominent locations of gay bars in D.C. “At the end of the day, it’s all about real estate. Over time the gay community’s bars, restaurants, and nightclubs that catered specifically to, or were owned by, gay people were in underdeveloped neighborhoods… It wasn’t available to us to be in the high-priced areas. All the clubs and the bars were kind of on the ‘other side of town,’ whatever that meant.”

Bailey said the COVID-19 pandemic helped create a path for the current sprouting of gay bars all over D.C., especially in what are the mainstream, popular areas. “I think luckily the pandemic, at least in D.C., did open up an opportunity for a number of entrepreneurs to say ‘Hey! I have an option here.’ Some of these businesses are looking for people to buy them out or to move in, and so a bunch of people took advantage of that.”

The LGBTQ community has always had a presence in the city. It has been recorded that as early as the 1950s, Washington had become a space recognized for its ability to bring LGBTQ people together. 

“I feel like every time I take two steps, I run into another gay person,” Etienne said about living in Logan Circle and the queerness of the city. “I love it. I also think about the nature of what goes on in D.C. Historically, the government has always had a significant number of gay people working for it. Looking back to the Lavender Scare and even before then it’s always been a spot where gay men have either come professionally or personally.”

Mark Meinke, a 76-year-old self-described gay historian founded The Rainbow History Project, an organization that works to “collect, preserve and promote the history and culture of the diverse LGBTQ communities in metropolitan Washington, D.C.” His research supports exactly what Etienne described. 

“Between the [19]20s through the [19]60s, most of the gay spaces were owned by straight people,” Meinke said. A consequence of this, he explains, is that there was less of an outward recognition of these spaces as being LGBTQ friendly, keeping the community a secret. “Tolerance comes and tolerance goes,” he said as he explained why the number of accepting spaces increased and decreased during that time. 

This fluctuation of accepting bar owners began to change in the 1960s, as places that offered a safe space for LGBTQ people to meet, dance, drink, celebrate, and politically organize became more frequent and owned by more LGBTQ people. Meinke was able to track the increase of acceptance for the LGBTQ community by collecting advertisements from past issues of the Washington Blade (originally called the Gay Blade) from the ‘60s on as more gay-owned or more publicly gay-friendly establishments began to distribute the newspaper. Meinke also tracked additional gay literature in these gay bars, like that of Franklin Kameny’s Mattachine Society literature and their “Gay Is Good” buttons. The literature Kameny distributed was some of the first documented forms of LGBTQ activism in the U.S. and encouraged LGBTQ people to mobilize. 

Meinke noticed that during this time, one gay bar called JoAnna’s on Eighth Street in Southeast D.C. became a popular designation for gay people after the owner installed a dance floor. 

“In 1968, in Capitol Hill with JoAnna’s, a new social option had emerged for women, one with a dance floor,” Meinke said. In his presentation for the 2002 Washington Historical Conference titled “The Social Geography of Washington, D.C.’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community,” Meinke said that the gay community wanted more gay dance floors.

This inspired others in the gayborhood to create more dance spaces. “Johnnie’s (across the street [from JoAnna’s]) saw the future and installed a postage stamp-sized dance floor, and began getting lots of customers…Same-sex dancing in the clubs was perhaps one of the greatest innovations on the social scene in the 1960s,” Meinke wrote.

Not only did the expanding gay bar scene impact who was visiting the city, but the presence of the federal government and the number of universities located in the area also helped attract the gay community, Meinke explained. 

As more LGBTQ people moved to D.C. to pursue careers related to the federal government, a backlash was brewing and created a time we now call the McCarthy era. This era, which extended from the early 1950s into the 60s, brought in political repression of left-leaning individuals in D.C.

This repression and eventual prosecution of people based on the fear of communism was led by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and became a major part of the Republican Party’s platform. This fear also heightened political tensions, eventually leading to Republicans accusing homosexuals of espionage. This period was known as the “Lavender Scare.”  

Robert Connelly, an adjunct senior professorial lecturer for American University’s Critical Race Gender and Culture Studies Department, explained that this scare was real for many LGBTQ people working in the government. “In [McCarthy’s] mind, homosexuals’ perceived duplicity and emotional instability made them susceptible to foreign espionage and blackmail, you know, which meant that the gays were giving away our secrets,” Connelly said. 

This fear prompted the 34th president to take more legal action against the LGBTQ people working in government. “When Eisenhower took office in 1953, one of his first executive orders that he signed was Executive Order 10450,” Connelly explained. “This codified the exclusion of perverts from government employment and thousands of lives were ruined because of this in the early 1950s.” This homophobia eventually led to the firing of thousands of LGBTQ people within the federal government during the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

This systematic injustice triggered many LGBTQ people to adapt techniques other marginalized communities were using, mostly inspired by the increasingly successful Civil Rights movement, to politically mobilize and reclaim their power. The homophile movement, one of the earliest precursors to the modern gay rights movement, had major players located in Washington to help push for gay rights. The activism ignited by LGBTQ people during this time endured for decades, addressing a multitude of issues, including anti-war protests and the fight for expanded civil rights.

Some, like Chadd Dowding, 35, a regular patron of gay bars across Washington said that Washington’s gay bar scene has been successful due to the high number of LGBTQ residents and their desire to feel connected to their community. 

“I think D.C. has the largest gay population per capita of any city in the country, so that draws a larger audience of queer folks here,” he said. According to the Williams Institute, D.C. still holds the highest percentage in the U.S.  “I think there’s also a need for spaces for community, mostly because a lot of people in D.C. are transplants from other parts of the country.” 

Others, Like Bombshell Monroe, a drag queen from the House of Mulan (a chosen family, that works to support and mentor queens in Balls and beyond) said that contrarian attitudes are baked into the nature of the city. 

As Bombshell slipped on her flower-adorned flared jeans and orange tank top, getting ready to make her first appearance on the dance floor of Trade for Deep Cvnt, matching the spring bling theme of the night, she explained why she felt D.C.’s gay nightlife has been able to grow.

“I feel like D.C. has always been a place of independence and where people, even if we’re not accepted, will fight to be accepted,” Bombshell said while pulling on a fuzzy white and orange bucket hat. “I’m D.C. born and raised and can attest personally. I think that it’s so crazy because it’s political, but it’s not political. I feel like once we get the pushback from other states, we’re the ones that take it and say, ‘Well, bitch! We got something for y’all. You don’t want the gay bars here, we’re gonna put another one here!’” 

And put another one they did. Within the past three years, at least six new gay bars have opened up with very different styles and goals. Some bars cater to particular groups within the LGBTQ community, like that of Thurst Lounge on 14th Street N.W., which is a predominantly Black gay space. As You Are Bar, at 500 8th St., S.E., seeks to make an accessible and comfortable space for all in the LGBTQ community, focusing on often overlooked female and non-binary members of the community. Others focus on creating unique nightlife experiences, like that of the craft cocktails in Logan Circle’s Little Gay Pub with its Instagram (and Grindr) famous selfie mirror, or like that of the freshly opened Crush bar, focusing on creating a dance bar for LGBTQ people. 

Regardless of the specific reason people visit gay bars, It is clear that they offer platforms to authentically express queer identity in a world that does not always deem this acceptable. 

“If we get to a point where we have to start sacrificing more physical spaces for online ones, these spaces could be easily invaded by people who may not have the best intentions,” Etienne said, preparing to head up the scuffed stairs to Beyonce’s Jolene.  “There is something very valuable about having a physical space with a physical location because, at the end of the day, that’s what we have fought for.”

As the lights dimmed the Trade dance floor began to hush. A path opened up in front of the stage as the crowd of floral wearing ballroom fans stepped back, accommodating Etienne’s entrance. With the glittery green dress, knee-high go-go boots, and oversized sunglasses it is clear he is in charge of the night. 

“Since this is Deep Cvnt I need everyone to raise their hand up,” Etienne said with a smile. “And now put it below your waist. Check how deep your motherfucking cunt is.” The crowd roared with laughter and cheers. “Alright let’s get into it!” Deep Cvnt has begun.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular