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Meet D.C.’s Most Eligible LGBT Singles

20 locals on love, life and their biggest turn-ons

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LGBT singles, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

This is the fifth annual Washington Blade Most Eligible LGBT Singles issue. It began with reader nominations. From that list of about 200, our staff chose the 20 most eligible with an eye for locals with interesting stories, those doing compelling work and yes, those who are easy on the eyes. Meet them in person Saturday, Feb. 9 at Avalon Saturdays (1420 K St., N.W.) at 10 p.m. Singles will be introduced at 11:15 p.m. Cover is $15 (21 and up). The Blade staff thanks its sponsors Avalon Saturdays D.C., Bite the Fruit and Absolut. Click here for more details.

VOTE HERE ON WHICH SINGLE SHOULD WIN A FREE DATE NIGHT COURTESY OF HANK’S OYSTER BAR!

Shane Mayson

(Photo by Ana Isabel; courtesy Mayson)

Age: 52

Occupation: Business development, JL Restaurant Group

Identify as: He/him/his

What are you looking for in a mate? I’m looking for someone who can hold his own in social situations. Someone who has a great sense of humor and an optimistic outlook on life. Being romantic is super important to me. I’d like him to have a passion for what he does for a living. Someone who has compassion and gives back to the community. I want someone that has an active lifestyle and loves to travel.

Biggest turn-off: Someone who doesn’t keep his word. And bad tippers.

Biggest turn-on: Someone who is thoughtful and romantic.

Hobbies: Love to travel. Sing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.

Describe your ideal first date: My ideal date would be to meet at a restaurant where we can talk and get to know each other.

Pets, kids or neither? Pets

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? No

Celebrity crush: George Clooney

One obscure fact about yourself: I was a drama major in college. 

Jo McDaniel

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 37

Occupation: Bartender and manager of A League Of Her Own

Identify as: Queer; she/her

What are you looking for in a mate? At this point in my life, a great deal of flexibility and understanding is what I’m looking for. I have a ridiculous schedule and a lot going on, so if quality time is your love language, I’m likely not to be able to fill your needs. As a human goes, I’m looking for someone who is quick to laugh and slow to anger, someone who wants to seek joy everywhere, similar to me. I need someone who’s a cheerleader and can hang with how much I’m lucky enough to be doing.

Biggest turn-off: Malicious intent. If your intention is to harm, in anything you do, I’m just not interested. Also, an ugly tone will undo any attraction I’m feeling. Words of affirmation is my top love language, so if you’re capable of being ugly with words, particularly toward me, I struggle to come back from that.

Biggest turn-on: Abject kindness. Sweetness in nature goes a long way, with me. A balance of a bold nature and seeking consent is pretty hot — too shy can feel like mixed messages, and I don’t really have time for that. “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” (Basil King)

Hobbies: My entire life, I’ve been addicted to the written word. Any chance I get to settle into a book is one I’m going to take. Other than the one I run, my favorite bar is my backyard, hanging out with friends and my pup. All the better if I’ve got a fire going.

Describe your ideal first date: Because of the schedule I keep, I’m not generally up/available for Friday night dinners. A cup of coffee and a sunrise at Gravelly Point. A good museum in the middle of the week. Hell, be my gym buddy and let’s get lunch, after. I’m super easy, this way. Maybe I don’t know how to date.

Pets, kids or neither? Well, I’ve got both. Ava’s my blonde teenaged mini-me and Bentley’s my brindle pittie rescue. 

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? No, that’s a hard stop for me. There are enough people surrounding my life who are out to harm my community. I can’t add that to my romantic life.  

Celebrity crush: I’ve wanted to take Chili from TLC out on a date since probably high school. It’s more cerebral than anything, but I really want to hang out with Michelle Obama and let her talk to me.  

One obscure fact about yourself: I’m obscure on so many levels! I was head cheerleader — that surprises most people. My mom drew my first tattoo as a reward for getting straight As in high school. There are more McDaniel girls; I’m the oldest of four sisters. I started going by Jo professionally because Jordan was too hard to hear over the din of Apex when I first started bartending.

Alex Morash

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 34

Occupation: Writer

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? A partner in crime. A fun loving trouble maker. I like to press buttons and force people to think and am drawn to guys looking to do the same.

Biggest turn-off: Blandness

Biggest turn-on: A guy who has something to say. 

Hobbies: Does hanging out at gay bars with friends count as a hobby? Well if not, I also enjoy video games, photography and running.

Describe your ideal first date: An ideal first date would start with a cocktail or coffee before a visit to an art gallery or museum or maybe even a live show. Followed by a relaxing dinner where we talk into the night.

Pets, kids or neither? My baby cousins seem to like me, so I guess I could raise a child or two. But, it’s not a must for me.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? I enjoy a good debate, so in theory, yes. But if a guy’s views parrot some of the bigotry I see in our nation’s political discourse, then he wouldn’t be the guy for me.

Celebrity crush: Neil Patrick Harris

One obscure fact about yourself: A lot of guys see me as this unapproachable, loud personality, but I’m actually a lot more low key one on one with close friends.

Kelly Moses

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 29

Occupation: Sales at a software startup

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? A partner in every sense of the word. Someone who is always open to new things. Family oriented. Understanding and confident is a must. Work has me on the road pretty frequently and it takes a special type of person to deal with my schedule sometimes.

Biggest turn-off: Insecurity, phone/social media addiction 

Biggest turn-on: Confidence, intelligence, genuine, and self-aware with a great smile. A huge plus if they can handle my large, extroverted extended family.   

Hobbies: Working out, traveling, skiing, college football (Go Clemson!), golf, long weekends in the Outer Banks.

Describe your ideal first date: Keep it simple. Grab drinks at a bar where we can actually hear each other talk. 

Pets, kids or neither? I have a dog now and we are a package deal. Definitely want kids with the right person. 

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? I think so. I consider myself pretty moderate.

Celebrity crush: Natalie Portman, Anna Kendrick

One obscure fact about yourself: I love all things related to aviation. Chances are I can tell you what type of plane is in the sky. One day when I have the time I’ll get my private pilot license. Oh and I am a Type 1 Diabetic.

Meagan Simonaire

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 28

Occupation: Cosmetic tattoo artist at DOLLISTIC

Identify as: Queer

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone who awakens my soul and makes my heart smile.

Biggest turn-off: Jealousy, insecurity and possessiveness.

Biggest turn-on: Confidence. Someone who is living their best life independently.

Hobbies: Is wine a hobby? Also, travel, dance, cooking, art and pretending I’m a comedian.

Describe your ideal first date: Surprise me! (But tell me what to wear.) 

Pets, kids or neither? I don’t currently have either, but I’ve always dreamed about being a mommy.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Absolutely not. My experience as an elected official allowed me to see first hand how impactful political views are.

Celebrity crush: Ruby Rose

One obscure fact about yourself: I was the youngest Maryland State Delegate from 2014-2018 and successfully aided the ending of conversion therapy by publicly sharing my personal story.

Laura Napoliello

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 28

Occupation: Accidentally killing air-plants.

Identify as: Millennial dumpster fire

What are you looking for in a mate? I’m honestly just out here trying to exist.

Biggest turn-off: Jogs in place at red lights while on a run

Biggest turn-on: Doesn’t believe that drinking more water solves all of your problems

Hobbies: Marie Kondo-ing other people’s tchotchkes.

Describe your ideal first date: We rent a U-Haul. You help me move.

Pets, kids or neither? Committing to working out once a week is all I got right now.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? In this political climate?

Celebrity crush: Fiji water girl (she’s 31 don’t worry).

One obscure fact about yourself: I think I’ve shared enough.

Austin Auger

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 28

Occupation: Mortgage loan consultant

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone who’s equally happy spending the night on the sofa with the Dominos Pizza Tracker as they are bouncing between Trade and Number 9. They have to be able to make me laugh and know how to make French toast.

Biggest turn-off: Arrogance, smoking

Biggest turn-on: Confidence, goal oriented and a large vocabulary. Also, a beard doesn’t hurt.

Hobbies: SweatBox, 801 Sunday Brunch and buying my nieces the loudest toys I can find.

Describe your ideal first date: I don’t have one ideal first, but rather I think a great first date where the both of us are doing something that we share an interest in.

Pets, kids or neither? Need dogs.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Everyone is raised from a different background and there are opportunities to learn from those who differ from yours. As long as we can have a conversation and respect each other’s thoughts I’m open to it.

Celebrity crush: Sam Hunt

One obscure fact about yourself: I can turn my feet backwards.

Khorey Baker

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 34

Occupation: Higher education administrator

Identify as: Black/gay/male

What are you looking for in a mate? Common sense is not as common as it used to be, so some of that would be great. Someone who is naturally joyful and cares deeply for his friends and family. A love of ’90s R&B music is also a huge bonus.

Biggest turn-off Smoking and racism (not in that order)

Biggest turn-on: Authenticity, sense of humor and spirituality

Hobbies: Traveling, concerts, kickball, exploring new places in D.C.

Describe your ideal first date: Something low key and casual with music, free flowing conversation and a meal. 

Pets, kids or neither? Maybe

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? In the words of the incomparable Randy Jackson, “It’s a no for me dawg!”

Celebrity crush: Senator Kamala Harris and Nyle DiMarco

One obscure fact about yourself: Take me on a date and find out!

Jocko Fajardo

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 41

Occupation: Lifestyle and entertaining consultant

Identify as: Male; he, him, his

What are you looking for in a mate? Curiosity, adventure and a sense of self

Biggest turn-off: Bad hygiene

Biggest turn-on: Thoughtfulness

Hobbies: Cooking, singing, calligraphy, paper-crafting, painting

Describe your ideal first date: A picnic indoor or outdoor

Pets, kids or neither? Either, provided mutual support

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Yes

Celebrity crush: Josh Duhamel

One obscure fact about yourself: I am a certified massage therapist

Sarah Biglan

(Washington Blade photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

Age: 38

Occupation: Private chef/owner District Elite

Identify as: Lesbian (she/her)

What are you looking for in a mate? A person who is honest, independent, confident and emotionally available. We make each other better and laugh a lot at jokes that only we get. 

Biggest turn-off: Games, attention seeking and flakiness. 

Biggest turn-on: Warm eyes, big smile and lipstick. Enjoys sandwiches as much as I do. Vulnerability. 

Hobbies: Food research, the gym and taking bubble baths. 

Describe your ideal first date: We go somewhere and have a really hard time ending the conversation. The result being a second date.

Pets, kids or neither? Cats: definitely; dogs: they’re cool; kids: maybe 

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? They need to align for the most part, but I respect differing views as long as they are reasonable. 

Celebrity crush: Tied: Halsey and DJ Kittens

One obscure fact about yourself: I learned how to juggle from a circus clown. I’m not too bad either.

James Barnett

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 29

Occupation: [solidcore] coach & VP acquisitions at CB Development

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? A life partner who is an avid traveler, gym junkie, confident, supportive, hilarious, hard worker, go getter, communicative, dancing queen, dabbles in drag, can cook and can equally enjoy a wild night out staying up till the sun rises or staying in and watching a movie.  

Biggest turn-off:  Bad smells (b.o. and cigarettes), ambiguity and, stage-five clingers. 

Biggest turn-on: Ambition, a cute face, competitiveness and when guys take my class at [solidcore] and can keep up with me (or better yet beat me) in a workout.

Hobbies: Going to the beach, throwing dinner parties and cooking, traveling, rosé — have I mentioned fitness and working out yet? 

Describe your ideal first date: Everyone knows you can only agree to casual drinks or coffee for first dates because you may potentially be meeting a psychopath and need to get out. If it’s going well, drinks turn into dinner, which then turns into more drinks to lead to a fun night, which is ideal. My ideal second date is dinner plus an activity (a show, concert, sporting event, workout). Something we can experience together and talk about how we felt about it and get to know each other better.    

Pets, kids or neither? Both — kids and pets but no cats. I’m allergic to cats and also they’re cats. 

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? No. I left a date once because this guy was bashing HRC and Venmo’d him money for the bill and only regret giving him any money.

Celebrity crush: Adam Rippon, Darren Criss, Michael B. Jordan, Zac Efron, and of course Ariana Grande.

One obscure fact about yourself: I was a diver in college.

Jared Godes

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 24

Occupation: Box office manager

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? Looking for someone who can reciprocate energy; professionally, personally, physically. Someone to be my biggest fan! And vice versa — pushing me to jump at opportunity, imagine and execute. 

Biggest turn-off: Dirty dishes.

Biggest turn-on: Someone who can order for me at restaurants.

Hobbies: Anything that involves Chief (dog). Runs, outdoors, long drives, farmers markets.

Describe your ideal first date: Something active or creative (e.g. pottery making, paint night, rock climbing). Finished off with food (your recommendations) and walking Chief. 

Pets, kids or neither? Pet: Chief. Genus: Canis. Species: Dachshund.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Sure! 

Celebrity crush: Anderson Cooper and Ryan Gosling.

One obscure fact about yourself: I grew up competing in rodeo, roping only.

Tarik S. Pierce

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 40

Occupation: Training and development director

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone who can make me laugh, is a friend and confidant, is smart and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Oh and he has to be his own person and happy in his own right. A complete person.

Biggest turn-off: Insecurity

Biggest turn-on: Knowing who and what you are.

Hobbies: Traveling, Stonewall (& Rogue) Sports, running, working out, my friends (believe me they are an activity in and of themselves), theater and brunch.

Describe your ideal first date: An activity. Something other than dinner or drinks. Whether we’re bowling, playing darts, walking through the memorials. Something other than sitting across from each other inorganically coming up with things to talk about. An activity makes for a loose environment and, if you want to get closer, there’s not a table between you.

Pets, kids or neither? Ha, this one is on him. I’m not opposed to either, but I am not doing it alone. 

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? I have and would, as long as he was able to have an intelligent conversation about his views. Maybe I can learn a different point of view and, in the process, learn more about him.

Celebrity crush: Celine Dion

One obscure fact about yourself: I think most people who know me would be surprised to know that I love my alone time.

Monika M. Pickett

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 51

Occupation: Author

Identify as: “The Lesbian” 

What are you looking for in a mate? I am looking for a partner who is courageous enough to adore me publicly and privately, someone who is kind and as beautiful on the inside as the outside. I’m attracted to feminine women.

Biggest turn-off: Pretentiousness, lack of compassion, dishonesty

Biggest turn-on: Confidence, self-awareness, laughter, kindness

Hobbies: Working out, Finding quaint consignment shops, watching foreign/indie films, care-free day trips to new places.

Describe your ideal first date: Lunch or dinner at a waterfront restaurant, laughing as we vibe on our mutual attraction. 

Pets, kids or neither? Not much of a pet person. I love kids. I have an adult son, an amazing daughter-in-law and two beautiful grandchildren.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Definitely, as long as their views aren’t aligned with classism, oppression and inequality. 

Celebrity crush: Ava DuVernay; Cate Blanchett

One obscure fact about yourself: From a very young age, I challenged assumptions on what a lesbian “looks” like.  I look like a girl on the outside but I am one chromosome from being my mother’s second son on the inside. 

Molly Byrom

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 27

Occupation: Social worker

Identify as: Queer

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone who has a close relationship with Jesus. Someone who is a fiercely loyal friend. Someone who will keep me on my toes while also making me feel one hundred percent safe.

Biggest turn-off: Inauthenticity and flakiness.

Biggest turn-on: When someone is secure in who they are.

Hobbies: Cooking, photography, serving in the church, reading and yard work. I stay busy, I have many more. 

Describe your ideal first date: I enjoy any combination of food or drinks and exploring. I would love a picnic at the Tidal Basin, where I bring homemade food. We can people watch together and walk around. 

Pets, kids or neither? Yes to dogs and kids.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Yes, if the differences are within reason and the person is understanding and respectful of my views. 

Celebrity crush: None, I’m not actually that interested in celebrities. 

One obscure fact about yourself: This is it. I created a public dating profile.

Emma Chadband

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 29

Occupation: Graphic designer for the United Nations Foundation

Identify as: Lesbian

What are you looking for in a mate? Hopefully a Hufflepuff. Someone who wants to talk through the intricacies of Ariana Grande vs Carly Rae Jepsen. Someone interested in radical friendships and community building. Someone who’s just as passionate about exploring this world as I am.

Biggest turn-off: Being too quick to judge. A lack of empathy. Too big an ego. I like to laugh at myself so I hope you will, too. 

Biggest turn-on: Kindness. Sounds lame, but I love people who love people.

Hobbies: I’m kind of a hobby queen. I’m currently learning how to play the piano. I also love pole dancing and DIY projects of any kind. If you have a denim jacket, I can embroider a custom patch for you. I also just backpacked through Europe for three months with my best friend, and planning a trip I might never even take might be my favorite way to whittle away a slow afternoon.

Describe your ideal first date: Wine, cheese, lots of laughter. 

Pets, kids or neither? I have one cat, Potato, who is my only roommate but he really runs the house. Yes to puppies and yes to kids!

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Yes. We can argue over whether or not D.C.’s straw ban is really relevant or making a difference. But if our views differ on things beyond straw policy — like Trump, travel bans, the general awfulness of this administration, it probably won’t work out.

Celebrity crush: Miley Cyrus, but I’m sufficiently embarrassed about it.

One obscure fact about yourself: I run the Bud Light Lime instagram, @budlightlimeofficial

Thomas Hudson

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 24

Occupation: LGBTQ policy associate

Identify as: Queer

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone who’s goal oriented with a nice sense of humor. Someone who enjoys arts, exploring nature, bottomless brunch and social justice. Someone willing to work through our imperfections together. 

Biggest turn-off: Lack of communication and dishonesty

Biggest turn-on: Intelligence, humor and goals

Hobbies: Exploring museums, nature walks, bottomless brunches, social justice lectures, dancing and singing. 

Describe your ideal first date: Perfect first date would be dinner or brunch, a museum tour and walking the monuments at night while having a long meaningful conversation.

Pets, kids or neither? I love cats and dogs. I would love to have children. I definitely plan to foster and adopt in due time.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Yes and no. I value a difference of opinion and can respect someone with opposing views. However, when those views work to uphold the various forms of systemic oppression, I have to draw the line. I will not compromise my values, beliefs or identity for someone else’s comfort. 

Celebrity crush: Kofi Siriboe

One obscure fact about yourself: I have a really flexible back.

Laurel Powell

Age: 30

Occupation: Digital campaigns manager

Identify as: Queer transgender woman

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone whose life is full with drive and ambition and passion and isn’t afraid of communicating their thoughts and wants and desires in a healthy way. In short, let’s be a power couple.

Biggest turn-off: Indecisiveness, probably followed by treating wait staff poorly or being a bad tipper.

Biggest turn-on: Confidence, intelligence and humor. Bonus points if you can cook a good breakfast (I’ll make dinner). 

Hobbies: I’m a voracious reader and an avid PC gamer.

Describe your ideal first date: Dinner and drinks! Keep it simple and allow plenty of time to talk and get to know each other.

Pets, kids or neither? Same answer to both — I don’t have any currently, but am open to the possibility with the right person in the right situation.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? To a point. I don’t expect someone to feel the exact same way as me, but I won’t compromise on certain issues. Trump voters (and non-voters) need not apply.

Celebrity crush: Hayley Kiyoko

One obscure fact about yourself: I adore trains and my favorite vacation that I’ve ever taken was a solo cross-country train trip from D.C. to Seattle.

Michael Suh

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: 31

Occupation: Project manager

Identify as: Gay

What are you looking for in a mate? Someone who is open, honest, caring and thoughtful. Comfortable in his own skin and isn’t afraid to be himself with his friends, family and others. Has a good, smart sense of humor. I’m looking for a partner in life, so definitely someone who is also looking for commitment. Nerdy helps, too!

Biggest turn-off: Bigotry

Biggest turn-on: Romance, wit and a good cuddler with some scruff.

Hobbies: Musical performance, museums, video games, board games, trying new foods, movies, cosplay

Describe your ideal first date: Sharing stories over dinner at a new place neither of us have tried before (so we can both complain about it if we hate it), followed by a walk to get dessert and talking and laughing. We’d kiss and part ways, but continue via text at home until one of us (probably me) falls asleep.

Pets, kids or neither? Neither, though pets (dog) if I had to pick

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? Absolutely not

Celebrity crush: Dan Levy

One obscure fact about yourself: I did Army JROTC in high school. My hair was much shorter then!

Mundy Spears

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Age: Legal

Occupation: Composer, vocalist, teacher and performance artist

Identify as: Non-binary, queer. they/them

What are you looking for in a mate? An honest, kind, fun-loving partner in crime. Open-minded excitement for life. A patient person who loves art, music and nature. Passionate and considerate with a strong sense of purpose. A switch.

Biggest turn-off: Game playing/dishonesty. Be real.

Biggest turn-on: Kindness

Hobbies: Dancing in the garden, making things grow. Butterflies. Hiking with my dog and cuddling with my cat. Treasure hunting (I have a vintage clothing line). Word nerd.

Describe your ideal first date: Yummy food and a show of any kind. Drinks after to talk through the thoughts the show inspired. Or we just go dance it out.

Pets, kids or neither? Babies with and without fur.

Would you date someone whose political views differ from yours? No

Celebrity crush: Rosario Dawson

One obscure fact about yourself: When I was 13, I lived in an eco-village in Findhorn, Scotland.

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a&e features

Paradise lost: Remembering the popular Rehoboth men’s guest house

Beach town’s pioneering B&B welcomed gay clientele before arrival of AIDS

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The Paradise Guest House operated at 40 Maryland Ave. for eight seasons. Herbert and Mami are depicted in this painting. (Painting by Pamela Bounds)

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.”

The Rehoboth Guest House today.

Remembering Paradise

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.”

Paradise Lost

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.

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Lesbian Bar Project to the rescue

Founders complete second year fundraising campaign to save businesses

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Directors Erica Rose and Elina Street created a documentary about the history and significance of lesbian bars. (Photos courtesy Lesbian Bar Project)

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.

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Adopting an older child from overseas — one couple’s story

‘He really wanted a forever family, it didn’t matter that we’re gay’

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Jim and Ethan at their wedding, with Juan Carlos and Isabelle. (Photo courtesy the couple)

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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