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Meet D.C.’s Most Eligible LGBT Singles

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



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.


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.


a&e features

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

Much history lost to generations of colonialism



(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

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

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a&e features

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

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



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’



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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