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Rehoboth theater seeks support for new building

Town officials uncommitted on waiver for parking space requirement

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Paul Kuhns, gay news, Washington Blade
Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said the issue of a parking waiver for Clear Space Theater should be referred back to the city Planning Commission.

Many residents and visitors to Rehoboth Beach, the popular Delaware resort destination, are urging the mayor and city officials to back a proposed change in the city code needed to allow a beloved performing arts theater to move into a larger building.

The Clear Space Theater Company, founded in 2004, has produced highly acclaimed Broadway style plays and musicals and operates an Arts Institute that teaches theater to students of all ages in a former church building it rents on Baltimore Avenue near the boardwalk.

Last September, the theater announced plans to build its own larger building that would include a 300-seat theater on Rehoboth Avenue next to the traffic circle at the entrance to the beach city. The current theater in the space once used by Epworth United Methodist Church has 192 seats and has become too cramped for rehearsals, classes and other activities, according to its staff and board.

Clear Space Theater officials said they made adjustments to the architectural plans for the new 25,600-square-foot building, including lowering its height, so it meets all city codes except for a requirement that it include 128 on-site parking spaces.

Wesley Paulson, the Clear Space executive director, said the nonprofit theater company doesn’t have the funds to include more than 28 parking spaces, which would be located in a basement garage under the current plans and budget for the new theater.

He has asked Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns and the Board of Commissioners, which serves as the city’s legislative body, to consider designating the land on which the new theater is slated to be built as a performing arts district. Such a designation would exempt the theater from the parking space requirement.

During a Board of Commissioners workshop meeting on Feb. 4 two residents who said their houses are located directly behind where the new theater is planned to be built told commissioners it is far too large for what they say is a mostly residential area.

Paulson said the decision to lower the building’s height places it in compliance with the city code in terms of the theater’s size.

The Board of Commissioners, of which the mayor is a member, initially announced it would hold a vote on whether to make a code change or find another way to exempt the theater from the parking requirement at its Feb. 15 meeting. But during its Feb. 4 workshop meeting Kuhns and other commissioners said they prefer not to be bound by a vote or final decision on the matter by Feb. 15.

Kuhns said he believes the matter should be referred back to the city Planning Commission, which he said should make a recommendation on the best course of action the city should take in resolving the parking issue.

Kuhns noted, however, that he and commission members have received numerous emails and other messages urging them to support Clear Space Theater’s efforts to build its new theater at its chosen location.

Some of the messages are posted on the Rehoboth city website. Several point out that the theater brings people into Rehoboth from other parts of Delaware and nearby states who patronize the city’s restaurants and stores.

“We are encouraging people supportive of the theater to write to the mayor and city manager to urge them to support this project,” said Laura Mason, a member of the theater’s board.

“Seventy-five percent of our patrons dine in town at a restaurant when they come to the theater from outside of Rehoboth,” Mason told the Blade. “These are people who would not be coming to Rehoboth if not for a theater performance,” she said.

Among the plays performed at Clear Space Theater last year was “The Normal Heart,” the internationally acclaimed play by gay writer and activist Larry Kramer about how gay men grappled with AIDS during the early years of the epidemic.

Those interested in weighing in can email Mayor Kuhns at [email protected].

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District of Columbia

Gay couple assaulted on D.C. street by attackers shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’

Police list Aug. 7 incident in Shaw as suspected hate crime

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Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.

The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.

The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.

The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.

The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.

As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.

“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.

“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”

To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.

“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”

The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.

The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.

As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.

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District of Columbia

Lesbian activist assaulted with barstool at D.C. lounge

Police say victim’s claim of anti-gay hate crime under investigation

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Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was attacked in a local bar. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. police say they are actively investigating an Aug. 3 incident in which lesbian activist and Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was hit three times in the head with the metal legs of a barstool swung by a man yelling anti-gay names at her.

A police report says the incident took place at the Player’s Lounge, a restaurant and bar at 2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E., in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood shortly before and after midnight on Aug. 3 and 4.   

Ford, who witnesses say was covered in blood when she stepped outside the restaurant after other patrons intervened, was taken by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital for treatment of a head and scalp injury that required multiple stitches. 

Ford and an employee at Player’s Lounge said the man who allegedly committed the assault is a regular customer at the restaurant but is known to people only by his nickname of Black. A police spokesperson said that as of Monday no arrest had been made in the case but that it remains under “active investigation” by a detective with the department’s Seventh District in Southeast.

A police report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as an assault with a dangerous weapon, but it does not classify the incident as a hate crime.

“There is no indication at this time that this incident was motivated by hate/bias,” said D.C. police spokesperson Alaina Gertz in response to a question by the Blade about the police report. “Should further interviews with the complainant reveal information that suggests that this should be a hate crime, the report can be amended with the new information,” Gertz said.

“Anyone who has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” Gertz said in an email message. “The Metropolitan Police Department currently offers a reward of up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for a violent crime committed in the District of Columbia,” she said.

Ford told the Blade she believes she made it clear to the police officers who spoke with her at the scene of the incident that the man who assaulted her called her anti-gay names, including “dyke bitch.” In a video of herself talking about the incident that she posted on Facebook Ford refers to the assault against her as a “gay-bashing.”

The police report says officers arrived on the scene while Ford was being treated by paramedics with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

“Victim 1 stated that she was talking to a friend of hers at the location when another person who frequents the location interjected himself and began to curse at Victim 1,” the police reports states. “The verbal altercation escalated, and Victim 1 stated Suspect 1 began to assault her with a bar stool,” the police report continues. “Other patrons at the bar broke up the altercation and Suspect 1 fled,” according to the report.

It adds, “Witness 1 corroborated Victim 1’s story and stated that Suspect 1 frequents the area but doesn’t know his name, only his nickname.”

Ford told the Blade the incident began while she and three or four Player’s Lounge customers were engaged in a conversation about local community issues, including the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said that, among other things, she expressed her strongly held opinion that the violence interruption program was not working and was a “joke.”

It was around that time, she said, that the man who assaulted her approached the group and interjected himself into the conversation and indicated that he was interested in possibly becoming one of the violence interrupter program volunteers or participants. Ford said the man, who appeared to be over six feet tall, began referring to women as “bitches” and hurled other curse words.

“So, we’re all going like, what?” Ford said of her and the others’ reaction to the man’s comments. At that point, most of those she was speaking with left the restaurant because it was close to its 11 p.m. closing time.

“And I’m like, who are you talking to?” Ford said she recalls asking the man. According to Ford, he responded by repeatedly reciting the words “dyke bitch” in a hostile way.

“At that point I immediately knew he was talking to me because I’m the only openly lesbian person in that space that frequents there regularly and who was in that room,” Ford told the Blade.

She said she questioned the man’s motives, including whether he could become a violence interrupter, and the two began to argue back and forth until, according to Ford, he walked up to her and stood almost shoulder to shoulder next to her.

“He continues to call me all kinds of homophobic slurs,” Ford said. “He calls me all kinds of bitches and continues to encourage the bar staff to get me to shut up before he shoots me and whatever else he will do to bring my death,” Ford said.

“Before I know it, he has picked up this barstool and hit me in the head,” said Ford. “He takes a second barstool and proceeds to hit me again,” she said, adding that he hit her a third time in the head with one of the barstools, each time with the metal legs of the stool.

Ford said she has learned that the man who assaulted her has told people she spit on him, which he considered to be an assault by her against him. Ford called that allegation a lie, saying she absolutely did not spit on the man.

When the Blade contacted Player’s Lounge for comment, a man who answered the phone arranged for Teresa “Auntie” Smith, one of the longtime employees who was present at the time of the incident, to speak with the Blade. Smith said while she was getting ready to close the restaurant she saw and heard what sounded like a heated argument between Ford and the man known as Black, but she said she was busy doing something in another part of the room and did not see the assault take place.

But she said both Ford and Black, whom she has known for a long time from their role as regular customers, were each saying “very mean things” that she had not heard either of them say before. Among other things, she said she heard Ford say to Black that he engaged in “oral sex with other men.”

When asked about Smith’s claim that she raised the issue of oral sex with Black, Ford said, “Yes, after he called me a dyke bitch I most certainly did.” Ford added, “It sounds like she’s saying that I deserved to be hit with a barstool. Nothing a woman says to a man that is yelling and encroaching on her personal space justifies hitting her in the head three times with a weapon,” Ford said.

“We at Players had a very sad incident on Wednesday night,” the restaurant said in an Aug. 5 post on its Facebook page about the assault case. “We are mostly family here and we look out for each other. We are so sorry for what happened and hope she will be ok,” the message says. “We are still trying to sort out the details of what happened, but we know that no one here would support gay bashing or any type of violence.”

Phil Pannell, a longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and Ward 8 community activist, said he has organized LGBTQ community events at Player’s Lounge, saying it has the reputation of being an LGBTQ-friendly establishment for many years. He told the Blade that he was surprised upon learning of the assault against Ford because he was unaware of that type of incident ever having occurred at Player’s Lounge.

Ford, among other things, serves as executive director of the Future Foundation, a Ward 8-based community organization that provides services to local teenagers and their families. The organization’s website says one of its programs, called LGBTQ+ You, has provided a “safe space” drop-in facility for LGBTQ youth living in the city’s east of the Anacostia River neighborhoods.

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Maryland

AIDS Action Baltimore to honor John Waters at 35th anniversary commemoration

Honorees to include John Waters and Pat Moran

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John Waters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

AIDS Action Baltimore will mark 35 years of service next month by paying tribute to six people who have helped keep it in operation, including filmmaker John Waters and his friend and movie industry colleague Pat Moran.

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration, planned for Sept.18, is a cocktail reception and brunch that’s also a fundraiser for the non-profit organization, which was started in 1987 to fight HIV/AIDS and provide a safety net for people living with HIV/AIDS and experiencing a financial emergency.

“John has supported us from the beginning,” said Lynda Dee, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “All of his movie premieres benefitted AIDS Action Baltimore. Without his help, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Waters has directed 16 movies and written 10 books, and he was named in June to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based in Baltimore, he has two museum exhibits coming up, “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” an exhibit of art from his personal collection that he’s donating to the Baltimore Museum of Art, at the museum from Nov. 20, 2022, to April 16, 2023, and “Pope of Trash,” a career retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles next summer.

Moran is a three-time Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked closely with Waters and others on films and television shows made in Baltimore. She is one of three co-founders of AIDS Action Baltimore, along with Dee and Garey Lambert, who passed away in 1987.

Waters said he’s pleased to support AIDS Action Baltimore. 

“I’m really happy to be involved,” he said. “Pat was one of the first people that started it. I’ve been a supporter always just because I believe I’m lucky I didn’t die of it. Plain and simple. I give money as a superstition that I won’t ever get it. And Lynda Dee is a tireless AIDS warrior. The gay community owes her great, great credit … It’s an organization in Baltimore that has kept many, many people alive … I’m just honored to help them in any way I can.”

Other honorees include:

Richard Chaisson, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Hopkins Center for AIDS Research;

Carla Alexander, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, and an internationally recognized expert for those living with HIV disease;

Debbie Rock, a disco singer-turned-HIV activist who is the founding CEO of LIGHT Health and Wellness, a non-profit that provides a range of services for children, families and individuals in Baltimore affected by poverty, addiction, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, including day care and respite care for children with HIV/AIDS; and

Carlton Smith, a community health worker with the state of Maryland, founder of the Center for Black Equity, and chair of the Ryan White Planning Council, which provides medical care and support services for people with HIV in Baltimore. 

Since 1987, AIDS Action Baltimore has helped more than 8,750 people, distributing $3.145 million in assistance for items such as rent and utilities. It also has a number of programs to fight HIV, from town hall meetings to testing assistance to prevention campaigns, including outreach efforts to at-risk populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31,676 people aged 13 and older were living in Maryland with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2020, and an estimated 3,559 people in Maryland were living with undiagnosed HIV at the end of 2019.

Dee wrote in June that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for AIDS Action Baltimore to provide the services it does.

“COVID-19 is eating a large percentage of U. S. Health and Human Services funding,” she wrote she in an open letter to friends of the organization. “We are in danger of losing all our hard-won treatment and prevention gains. Because of COVID-19, it is much harder to obtain the money we need to fight HIV.” 

That’s why AIDS Action Baltimore holds events such as the one next month, she added: “We are still doing our best to help ourselves.” 

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration will be held at the Belvedere (1 E. Chase St.) in Baltimore, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. Tickets cost $175 per person or $1,750 for a table of 10. They’re available at aidsactionbaltimore.org or by calling 410-437-AIDS. 

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