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QUEERY: Jill Stokes

The CAMP Rehoboth Chorus singer answers 20 gay questions

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Jill Stokes, gay news, Washington Blade
Jill Stokes (Photo courtesy of Stokes)

Jill Stokes is a charter member of the CAMP Rehoboth Chorus. She helped launch it 10 years ago when the Clearspace Chorus disbanded. 

“When CAMP decided to start a chorus, I was thrilled,” the 72-year-old Brooklyn native says. 

The chorus celebrates its 10-year anniversary next weekend with “Seasons of Love: Celebrating a Decade of Song” Feb. 15-16 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. at Epworth United Methodist Church (19285 Road 271) in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Selections will include a Beatles medley, an Armed Forces salute, rock, spirituals, Broadway and more. 

The 90-member, mostly LGBT chorus (there are a few allies as well) is directed by Doug Yetter with David Zipse on piano. Several others play more instruments. Tickets are $25 at camprehoboth.com.

Stokes did not grow up singing but discovered the hobby after retiring in 2002 after teaching for 34 years at Parsippany High School. She sings tenor in the chorus and a medley of songs called “Come Fly With Me” is her favorite selection in the upcoming show.

“I love all types of music,” she says. “I like that it can evoke different emotions in me.”

Stokes moved to Lewes, Del., (near Rehoboth) in 2001 drawn by friends, the beach and the gay community. She lives there with partner Lois. Stokes enjoys golf, reading, volunteering and singing in her free time. 

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell? 

Early 20s. My mother.

Who’s your LGBT hero? 

Ellen DeGeneres 

What’s Rehoboth’s best nightspot, past or present? 

Blue Moon 

Describe your dream wedding. 

I already had it! 

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about? 

Animal rights/cruelty 

What historical outcome would you change? 

The 2016 presidential election 

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime? 

The assassination of John Lennon.

On what do you insist? 

Honesty and integrity 

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet? 

The snow scene in my backyard.

If your life were a book, what would the title be? 

“Life is a Yo-Yo” 

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do? 

Nothing. I’m happy with who I am and what I have become. 

What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

That there is something out there greater than me. 

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders? 

Keep up the good fight. We still have lots to accomplish. 

What would you walk across hot coals for? 

To have been able to spend more years with my mother. 

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most? 

All lesbians are good athletes and effeminate men must be gay. 

What’s your favorite LGBT movie? 

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” 

What’s the most overrated social custom? 

Tweeting 

What trophy or prize do you most covet? 

The respect of my peers.

What do you wish you’d known at 18? 

That living openly as a gay woman was possible. 

Why Rehoboth?

Friends, fun and community 

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

Much history lost to generations of colonialism

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(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.

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

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

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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.

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Billy Porter takes center stage at Capital Pride

The grand marshal and headliner warns: ‘We’re in a fight and it can’t be ignored’

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Billy Porter — seen here performing at Black Pride last month — takes the stage at the Capitol Pride main stage on Sunday; the concert stage offers entertainment from 1-8 p.m. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Marching down Fifth Avenue in the summer of 1989 in New York City, Billy Porter took part in his first Pride event. 

He distinctly remembers that June day — his fellow cast members of the show “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” out of Montclair State University in New Jersey invited him. Porter’s friend told him not to be late. But Porter got lost. 

“We didn’t have GPS,” Porter recalls to the Blade. “I didn’t know where I was going.”

He eventually found the march, which began right in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, and his friends. As people slowly walked, his cast mates quickly pulled Porter into the crowd and threw a shirt over his head that read: “Silence equals death.” 

As the crowd marched on, they all chanted “Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS!” 

That chant still plays in Porter’s head all these years later. He’s fed up that there’s still a need for it. 

“It’s time to get in good trouble again,” Porter said, referencing the late civil rights icon and congressman, John Lewis. “To go back and fight for the rights that we already fought for. It’s ridiculous. We did this already, so now we have to go back and fight again for the same shit.”

Porter, an award-winning performer, and LGBTQ activist, is making several appearances at Pride events nationwide. One of those stops is Capital Pride here in the District. He’s serving as a grand marshal in D.C. alongside Keke Palmer and is set to headline the Capital Pride Concert on June 9 with Ava Max, Exposé, and Sapphira Cristál. 

Whether at a Pride concert or on tour for his latest album, “Black Mona Lisa,” Porter’s goal is to foster more safe spaces. This is especially important now, during times of turmoil for queer people, he said. The ACLU has been tracking more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2024. More than 30 of those have been passed into law, and more than 100 are advancing.  

Porter said he’s been in “music mode,” and he recently performed at the D.C. Black Pride at the end of May. One of the largest and first Black gay Pride events in the country, the multi-day event includes parties, wellness events, pageants, and performances. It’s the first Porter has ever attended. 

“It was really lovely. I loved the community,” Porter said. “I was very impressed.”

At the Capital Pride Concert, he’ll perform songs off his latest album, “Black Mona Lisa.” He toured across the country in the spring and summer of 2023 for his fifth album, including a D.C. stop. He just announced a UK tour for later this year. 

It’s always been his plan to create an album like “Black Mona Lisa,” he said. His first album, an R&B mainstream record, came out in 1997. But he was booted out of the industry because of his queerness, he says. Being able to return to the mainstream music space is a “blessing,” he said. 

The album, with house, disco and dance roots, is inspired by the clubs, which he labeled as “gay church,” and is where he first felt accepted and celebrated. “Black Mona Lisa” is his most personal album to date, he noted. 

“There’s a lot of things that are going on in the world that are very scary,” Porter said. “My work is always activist-driven. So I’m bringing that message in a party form.”

Art and activism are linked

Porter came out when he was 16 in 1985, at the height of the AIDS crisis. If he could go back and give his teenage self advice, it would be to not panic, he said. 

“It’s going to be all right,” he said. “There’s still work to do for me here on this earth.”

As LGBTQ rights continue to be threatened, Porter wants more people to lean into politics and become more engaged. Being a grand marshal is one way to inspire people to do that, and he is set to hold that honor in D.C., Dallas and San Francisco, and in Miami back in April. With this fight, people need to take care of themselves physically and mentally, too. 

“You can breathe and then come back into the fight,” Porter said. “We’re in a fight right now. And it can’t be ignored.”

For Porter, creating art, especially his most recent album, is his purpose. He’s always felt artistry was his calling and first began singing at his church when he was five years old. 

This career path is a “different kind of ministry,” he said. He’s not standing in a pulpit, but he’s inspiring people. Art is how he shows up, he said. 

“I want you to come out different than you were when you went in, for whatever it is I’m doing,” he said. 

In June, Porter is being honored with the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, which recognizes a member of the theater community who has made a significant contribution of time and effort to charitable or social services organizations. 

He’s specifically credited for his activism in LGBTQ rights. He serves as an ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, on the board of the Entertainment Community Fund and has worked closely with  Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, HRC and GLAAD. 

This isn’t Porter’s first Tony — in 2013, he took the prize for his leading role in “Kinky Boots” and as a producer on “A Strange Loop” in 2022. He also has a Primetime Emmy for his role in the hit show “Pose” and a Grammy for the “Kinky Boots” cast album, making him one Oscar shy of an EGOT. 

But he said his most meaningful work is yet to come. 

“I’m thinking about the legacy and what I leave behind, and it has to be about something real,” Porter said. “It has to be about helping people.”

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