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‘Queer Eye’s’ Karamo Brown on wedding, new memoir and life advice

Fab Five favorite in Washington for March 6 event at Sixth and I Synagogue



Karamo Brown, gay news, Washington Blade
Karamo Brown of ‘Queer Eye’ fame says now is the right time for a memoir because he’s learned so much about life. (Photo by Alex Rhoades)

Karamo Brown in Conversation with Sam Sanders

Wednesday, March 6

7 p.m. 

Sixth and I Synagogue 


Karamo Brown has become known as a gay, male version of Oprah as the resident culture expert of the Netflix reboot “Queer Eye.” 

Over the show’s past two seasons, Brown, who has a background in psychotherapy and social work, has offered life advice and shared a different perspective in a way that seems to profoundly change the “heroes” of each episode. Before he landed “Queer Eye,” he also unexpectedly made history as the first out gay black man on reality television during his stint on “The Real World: Philadelphia.”

However, Brown’s life view wasn’t always so grounded. In his memoir, “My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope” (out March 5), the 38-year-old chronicles how he came from a broken place of drug addiction and other traumas and was able to build himself into the advice guru he is today. He also brings light to rarely talked about topics such as how he discovered he was a father when his son was 10 years old. Now, Brown has full custody of his son and his son’s brother and is engaged to his fiancé, director Ian Jordan. 

Brown spoke with the Blade from another speaking engagement in Raleigh, N.C., about his memoir, new episodes of “Queer Eye” and an update on the stress of wedding planning. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Let’s take it back to when you were on “The Real World: Philadelphia.” You were the first out gay black man on reality TV in the U.S. When that happened were you trying to be a pioneer? Did you find out before the show? 

KARAMO BROWN: I found out after the fact. I was not even that strategic to say, at that age, “You know what I’m going to go on here and do something that’s never been done.” It wasn’t even that. I was like, “How can I go in this house and have a good time and party and have fun.” There was no thought in my mind about “Am I the first?” Once I came off the show and that was immediately told to me by MTV and that narrative started getting pushed, I immediately started to feel the pressure as people wrote to me and said, “Oh my god I haven’t seen anyone that looked like me. Thank you,” and I was like, “Wow, there’s a whole lot of eyes on me right now and if I don’t do what’s right I’m not screwing up myself I’m screwing up others.” And that was difficult but also pretty amazing because I opened up a door, just a little bit enough, so that other people could run through and do what they do. 

BLADE: How did the audition come about to be a “culture expert” on “Queer Eye”?

BROWN: Being in bed I hear Carson Kressley and Andy Cohen talking about the reboot. I got on the phone with my agent and said, “I have to be a part of this,” and he told me it was done. Luckily, he pushed for me to get in because the casting was already finished and they took a chance on me. But once I got in there I realized that culture couldn’t be what everyone else had seen it be the first go around where it was about Broadway tickets and art museums. Having training as a psychotherapist and a social worker, I was like, “Someone has to fix the hearts and minds.” Change is great, it is phenomenal, but if you only have outward change and no inward change then what happened?” You just go back to what you did before because you haven’t acknowledged the behavior. So when I think about culture, I think about the shared attitude and values that make people do the things they do. That’s how I approach culture.

BLADE: How is the fame circuit now different than it was when you did “Real World”?

BROWN: Oh my gosh, it’s great now. The first time around people were thinking, “Come here and come fight” and now people come to me and they’re like, “Please help me remove the drama from my life.” That is a major shift. Before, they wanted to be in the drama and now they’re like, “Please remove the drama from my life. I want to be happy with myself and with my boyfriend and my girlfriend and my family.” They’re like, “Help me understand how I can be drama free” and I think that’s what the biggest shift is. 

BLADE: You come off as though you have such a wealth of knowledge and life advice. Were you always this way?

BROWN: No. I wish that could say that I came out of the womb knowing the answer to every question but it’s not true. I went through a lot of hard times dealing with abuse, domestic violence, drugs, colorism, religion. I think what makes me so happy about my book is that I’m showing people that even in my darkest moments, I try to find what the lesson was in it so I can use that as a springboard to get toward my greater self. I think that’s hard to do for most people because we don’t have the language or the tools. In my book, I try to show people that you can find the tools, here’s the language, here’s how you do it. So who I am today is not who I was even on “The Real World.” And I’m glad because I was able to grow through and heal from all the traumatic things that have happened to me and still be able to do that work. That’s what I show people that they can do as well in my book. 

BLADE: The third season of “Queer Eye” returns in March. The show has become known for the memorable stories of people like Tom and Skyler. Can you give me a preview of any memorable stories coming up in the next season?

BROWN: They won’t let me tell you about the heroes but I will tell you this. For my category, I am most proud. Season one I was embarrassed for the fact that I didn’t fight for what the culture category was, being more about fixing the inside. I was doing that work but I didn’t have a clear conversation with executives. Even though they weren’t fighting against me, it was my own internal battle. Season two you saw me be more, “Oh he’s fixing the inside. Oh, he’s the mental health expert.” But season three, it comes full forward. If you loved the laughing and the crying, we do it so much. We have real conversations, really deep, real growth for these individuals. It’s more diverse. I think it’s almost half and half men and women, which is great. So more diverse in race. I think it’s great when people are able to say, ‘Wow, great I see myself” and a large part of that is what I’m doing and I’m really proud of that. My brothers and I when we first came into this a year ago, the Fab Five, we didn’t know each other. We were so worried. Someone said to us, “OK, we’re going to put you on a treadmill and you can’t crawl you have to run full speed.” And at first we were like, “Oh can we do it?” and we locked hands and we have done it. I’m so proud of us.

BLADE: You guys recently went to Japan to film “Queer Eye.” How was filming there different than filming in the U.S.?

BROWN: Us being in Tokyo was something the network wanted us to do because they wanted what we do to really translate internationally. Us going into a country with people who don’t speak the same language. It’s funny because in my book you see I talk about how emotions are universal and we all have them. Somehow we feel disconnected yet every single person whether you’re in Tokyo or Texas experiences the same thing. That experience lets me know, especially in my category, that you don’t really need words to understand what someone is going through. You can help them to realize that their emotions are the words. I can’t wait for people to see those. The Tokyo episodes aren’t a full season it’s just a special season that will be coming out who knows when. But we’re all excited about it. 

BLADE: Why did you decide that now was the time in your life to come out with a memoir?

BROWN: Because I’ve grown a lot. I’ve had a lot of life experience. I’ve also been trained as a psychotherapist and social worker, I know how to articulate what I’m feeling in a way that’s digestible and in a way the people can relate to it and apply to their own lives. This is just me telling infinite stories of how I’ve grown so that people can do the same with clear insights. I’m not saying my journey of growth is done but I’ve had enough life experience that I’m like, “Let’s share this with someone else.” I’m very transparent in the book. 

BLADE: You’re very open about fatherhood and how you found out you were a father. Why was that such an important story to share for you?

BROWN: You don’t really hear stories about single, black fathers stepping up, taking full custody of their children and still having a supportive relationship with the child’s mother. The narrative we get told in the media is that black fathers and black mothers don’t have a good relationship and everybody is fighting and, “You’re my baby mama” and whatever BS that gets put out there. That’s not the case for me. I am a black man raising two black boys on my own. Secondly, you never hear the story of gay, black men who are saying, “I can raise my children and there’s not any issues because of my sexuality, and yes, me and my child’s mother are going to be able to co-parent.” I have a very untraditional trajectory toward fatherhood. Though it’s not traditional it’s still the same in so many ways. I’ve worked with fathers and mothers across the country and we always are like, “We’re experiencing the same thing.” So although I got my son when he was a little bit older I still experience what it’s like to be a parent. I talk about that in the book because first of all look at the narrative that you’re hearing about people who look like you but secondly, stories are universal and here are some tips for you to understand how to talk to your kids, how to have better conversations with them and how to manage what you’re feeling as a parent. 

BLADE: You give out so much advice to other people but what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

BROWN: Don’t be afraid of going slowly only of standing still. Because sometimes we get stuck in our lives doing something and we’re like, “I’m not going to be happy but I’m going to stay here.” But if you take one small step every day toward what you truly want you’ll make it. 

BLADE: You recently got engaged. How is wedding planning going?

BROWN: Wedding planning is going great for me. My fiancé not so much because he has full anxiety of it. This is a special day. I was the little boy who dreamed of my wedding and I’m not ashamed to say that. I want little boys to know around the world they can dream of their wedding day too. I don’t think it’s fair that we say girls should dream about their weddings but men can’t. Especially in heterosexual relationships. We tell girls, “Oh you should want a wedding” but you don’t tell the boys the same? What kind of screwed-up mixed narrative is that you’re sending? Marriage is not for everyone but it is for me. I have been planning an extravaganza. When I was at a Vanity Fair party, Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra were there and I so badly wanted to go up them and be like, “I’m rivaling your wedding.” Of course, they have more money than me so theirs is always going to be more fabulous. But in my mind I’m coming close to what they created. It’s giving my partner anxiety but luckily, it’s going well for me. 

Karamo Brown speaks at the 2018 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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Girls Rock! DC empowers young people through music, social justice education

Organization founded in October 2007



Youth leaders of Girls Rock DC! (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC, an organization operating at the intersection of art and activism, is dedicated to empowering young people through music and social justice education. 

Since its founding in October 2007; Girls Rock! DC has been creating a supportive, inclusive and equitable space that centers around girls and nonbinary youth, with a special emphasis on uplifting Black and Brown youth. At the core of Girls Rock! DC’s mission is a unique approach to music education, viewing it through a social justice and equity lens. 

“It’s a place where people can come explore their interest in music in a safe environment, figure out their own voice, and have a platform to say it,” Board Vice Chair Nicole Savage said.

This approach allows D.C.’s young people to build a sense of community and explore their passion for social change through after-school programs, workshops and camps.

The organization’s roots trace back to the first rock camp for girls in August 2001 in Portland, Ore. Similar camps have emerged worldwide since then, forming the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Girls Rock! DC is a member of this alliance, contributing to the larger community’s growth and advocacy for inclusivity in the music industry.

Girls Rock! DC’s annual programs now serve more than 100 young people and 20 adults, offering after-school programs and camps. Participants receive instruction on the electric guitar, the electric bass, keyboards, drum kits and other instruments or on a microphone and form bands to write and perform their own original songs. Beyond music, the program includes workshops on underrepresented histories in the music industry, community injustice issues and empowerment topics that include running for office and body positivity.

“I’ve been playing shows in the D.C. music scene for about six years, and I feel like Girls Rock! DC is the perfect amalgamation of everything that I stand for,” said Outreach Associate Lily Mónico. “So many music spaces are male dominated and I think there is a need for queer femme youth in music.”

Lily Mónico (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident not only in its leadership but also in the way it creates a safe space for queer and nonbinary individuals. Language is a crucial component, and Girls Rock! DC ensures that both campers and volunteers embrace inclusivity. 

“It is a very open and creative space, where there’s no judgment,” Zadyn Higgins, one of the youth leaders, emphasized. “It is the first time for a lot of us, to be in a space where we’re truly able to be ourselves.”

In creating a safe environment, Girls Rock! DC implements practices that include name tags with preferred names and pronouns, along with pronoun banners that help kids understand and respect diverse identities. 

“It’s really cool to watch these kids understand and just immediately get it,” said Higgins. 

Zadyn Higgins (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC is also more than a music education organization; it’s a community where individuals can embark on a transformative journey that extends beyond their initial participation as campers. Many start their Girls Rock! DC experience as enthusiastic campers, learning to play instruments, forming bands and expressing their creativity in a supportive environment. The organization’s impact, however, doesn’t stop there. This inspiration leads them to volunteer and intern within the organization. 

The unique progression from camper to volunteer or intern, and eventually to a full-fledged role within the organization, exemplifies Girls Rock! DC as a place where growth is not confined to a single week of camp but extends into an ongoing, impactful journey. It’s a testament to the organization’s commitment to nurturing talent, empowering individuals and fostering a lifelong connection with the values for which Girls Rock! DC stands.

One of the highlights of Girls Rock! DC is its summer camp, where kids between 8-18 learn to play instruments, form bands, write songs and perform in just one week. Higgins shared a poignant moment from a showcase,

“To see them go from, like, crying a little bit about how scared they were to going out on the stage and performing their little hearts out was so sweet,” said Higgins.

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! D.C.)

Nzali Mwanza-Shannon, another youth leader, agreed that the camp is the highlight of the program. 

“The summer camp, I’ve met so many friends, and it’s always kind of scary coming up to the end, but after we get to perform and everything, I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform and meet new people and be so creative and do it all in a week,” said Mwanza-Shannon.

Forty-three young people who showcased their original songs and DJ sets at D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club attended the first Girls Rock! DC camp in 2007. They performed to a crowd of 700 enthusiastic fans. The organization since then has grown exponentially, with each passing year bringing more energy, vibrancy and fun to the camp experience.

Since the pandemic, however, the organization has struggled financially, experiencing a funding shortage as well as reduced growth in attracting new members. 

Augusta Smith, who is a youth leader and a member of the band Petrichor, expressed concern about the potential impact on the unique and friendly environment that Girls Rock! DC provides. 

“We’ve kind of been really slow and barely making enough money. And this year, we’re having a funding shortage,” said Smith. 

The impact of Girls Rock! DC extends beyond musical skills, fostering leadership, self-expression and a passion for social change through creative collaboration and community power-building. Mwanza-Shannon hopes to be a part of Girls Rock! DC for a long time, 

“I want to keep on meeting new people,” said Mwanza-Shannon. “I want to keep on being able to perform at these different places and have different experiences.”

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! DC)
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‘Blindspot’ reveals stories of NYC AIDS patients that haven’t been told

Former Blade reporter’s podcast focuses on POC, women, trans people



Kai Wright, a former Blade reporter, hosts the podcast ‘Blindspot.’ (Photo by Amy Pearl)

“We said that people had The Monster, because they had that look,” activist Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, said, remembering how people in her New York neighborhood reacted when people first got AIDS.

They didn’t know what to call it.

“They had the sucked in checks,” Reyes-Jimenez, added, “They were really thin…a lot of folks were saying, oh, you know, they had…cancer.”

“We actually had set up a bereavement clinic where the kids would tell us what they wanted to have when they die,” Maxine Frere, a retired nurse who worked at Harlem Hospital for 40 years and was the head nurse of its pediatric AIDS unit said, “How did they wanna die?”

“Nobody wanted to come on,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson, who in 1987 was Harlem’s state senator.

At that time, Manhattan Cable Television gave legislators the chance to do one show a year. “So I decided to do my show on the AIDS crisis and how there didn’t seem to be any response from the leadership in the Black community,” Paterson added.

These unforgettable voices with their searing recollections are among the many provocative, transformative stories told on Season 3 of “Blindspot,” the critically acclaimed podcast. 

“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” is co-produced by the History Channel and WNYC Studios. The six-episode podcast series, which launched on Jan. 18 and airs weekly through Feb. 22, is hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner.

The show is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija. LaBeija is a New York City-based artist who was born HIV positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit, which features portraits of people whose stories are heard on “Blindspot,” runs at the Greene Space at WNYC through March 11.

If you think of AIDS, you’re likely to think of white cisgender gay men. (That’s been true for me, a cisgender lesbian, who lost loved ones to AIDS.)

From the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, most media and cultural attention has been focused on white gay men – from playwright and activist Larry Kramer to the movie “Philadelphia.”   

“Blindspot” revisits New York City, an epicenter of the early years of the HIV epidemic.

The podcast reveals stories of vulnerable people that haven’t been told. Of people of color, women, transgender people, children, drug-users, women in prison and the doctors, nurses and others who cared and advocated with and on their behalf.

“Blindspot,” through extensive reporting and immersive storytelling, makes people visible who were invisible during the AIDS epidemic. It makes us see people who have, largely, been left out of the history of AIDS.

Wright, 50, who is Black and gay, cares deeply about history. He is host and managing editor of “Notes from America with Kai Wright,” a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.

Recently, Wright, who worked as a reporter at the Washington Blade from 1996 to 2001, talked with me in a Zoom interview. The conversation ranged over a number of topics from why Wright got into journalism, to how stigma and health care disparities still exist today for people of color, transgender people and poor people with AIDS to the impact he hopes “Blindspot” will have.

“I came to work at the Blade in 1996,” Wright said, “the year after I got out of college.”

He’d done two six-month stints at PBS and “Foreign Policy.” But Wright thinks of the Blade as his first proper journalism job.

From his youth, Wright has been committed to social justice and to understanding his community. Reporting, from early on, has been his connection with social justice. “I often say, journalism has been my contribution to social justice movements,” Wright said.

His first journalistic connection to the Black community came when he was 15. Then, Wright became an intern with the Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

“That’s how I got the [journalism] bug,” Wright said.

Since then, Wright said, he’s worked almost exclusively with media that have a connection with the community.

Wright grew up in Indianapolis and went to college at Emory University in Atlanta. He didn’t intend to be a journalist, he wrote in an email to the Blade. At Emory, he studied international politics.

Wright’s life and work changed direction when he began working at the Blade. “I was a kid,” Wright said, “I’d just come out. I used journalism to find out what it meant to come out.”

Wright, when he came to Washington, D.C., was, as he recalled, just a kid. He didn’t know anyone in D.C. and there was a Black, queer community. This helped Wright to come out. “I couldn’t have told you that at the time,” he said, “but in retrospect I can see that I moved to  D.C. to come out.”

Journalism was Wright’s way of finding his way through coming out.

“I didn’t know if the Blade was hiring,” Wright said, “I just walked in.”

He didn’t have a deep resume but he had a lot to say. The Blade hired him and immediately put him to work reporting on AIDS.

“It was a pivotal cultural and political moment – a pivotal moment for the community,” Wright said.

That year, when Wright began working with the Blade, life-saving treatments (early drug cocktails) were emerging for AIDS.

“There was no way that HIV and AIDS wouldn’t become a central part of my journalism,” Wright said, “I really wanted to report on it.”

With the emergence of treatments, white gay men with health insurance began to feel that they were turning the page and that AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

“But, as a reporter, I was meeting Black gay men who were going into emergency mode about the AIDS epidemic,” Wright said.

Black people, poor people, drug users and others without health insurance and access to treatment were still dying and transmitting AIDS. “‘This is getting more and more dire,’ the activists said,” Wright recalls.

They told Wright, “The rest of the community is starting to turn the page. We can’t turn the page.”

In D.C., Wright could see, through his reporting, the racial discrimination in the community at large in the AIDS epidemic, and in the queer community.

Two things are true simultaneously, Wright said, when asked if there is still stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS today.

“Science has made so much progress,” Wright said, “It’s no longer necessary for any of us to die from HIV.”

“I take a pill once a day to prevent me from catching HIV,” he added, “I can do that. I am a person with insurance…with a great deal of social and economic privilege.”

But many people in the United States don’t have health insurance, and exist outside of the health care system. The divergence in treatment and stigma that he saw as a young reporter in 1996 are still there today, Wright said.

“The divergence in class and race has grown even more profound,” he said, “among people of color, young people – transgender people.”

Wright hopes  “Blindspot” will make people who lived through the epidemic and whose stories weren’t told, feel seen. And that “they will hear themselves and be reminded of the contributions they have made,” Wright said.

The queer press plays an important role in the LGBTQ community, Wright said. “We need a place to hash out our differences, share stories and ask questions that put our experience at the center of the conversation,” he emailed the Blade.

“There’s more space for us in media than when I started my career at the Blade,” Wright said, “but none of it is a replacement for journalism done by and for ourselves.”

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Valentine’s Day gifts for the queers you love

From pasta and chocolate to an Aspen getaway



Share the love on Feb. 14 with our thoughtful Valentine’s gift picks for everyone you like and lust.

Centrolina V-Day Pasta Kit

Washington, D.C.-based Centrolina’s seasonally inspired restaurant menu gets the delivered-to-your-door treatment with Chef Amy Brandwein’s holiday gift baskets featuring four handmade pastas and from-scratch sauces, including heart-shaped beet ravioli with ricotta and lemon butter, a mushroom and black truffle ragu, sunchoke tagliolini and oyster cacio pepe, and chestnut pappardelle, among other elevated-Italian recipes that you and your lil’ meatball can whip up on date night. $175,

La Maison du Chocolat

Heart-shaped candy clichés are much more palatable when the contents within are made in Paris instead of Hershey, Pa., and your intended will be sufficiently satisfied with La Maison du Chocolat’s selection of premium confections – including melt-in-your-mouth ganaches, pralinés and bouchées, oh my – available in festive and indulgent 14- and 44-piece boxes. $60-$140,

‘Spread the Love’ Plantable Pencils

SproutWorld’s set-of-eight Love Edition pencils set themselves up for seed-spreading jokes given Cupid’s context, but the real sentiment is sweeter: Plant the lead-free, graphite writing utensils (engraved with romantic quotes on certified wood) in potted soil and enjoy striking flowers and fragrant herbs in one to four weeks. $15,

W Aspen Getaway

Missed Aspen Gay Ski Week? No sweat. You’ll fight fewer crowds as the season winds down – without compromising your commitment to luxury – during a late-winter getaway to the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains at the W Aspen. Book unforgettable outdoor adventures, like heliskiing and dog sledding, with the property’s always-available concierge; spend après hour on the rooftop WET deck before diving into delicious dishes at onsite restaurant 39 Degrees; see and be seen at Ponyboy, the property’s cocktail-focused modern speakeasy rooted in New York City nightlife; and pour yourself a nightcap from your in-room mini bar before relaxing in the suite’s deep soaking tub – because, ya know, all in a day’s work.

Nexgrill Ora Pizza Oven

Not a fan of fancy dining out? Slip into those grey sweats he won’t let you wear in public, top off the Veuve, and fire up Nexgrill’s Ora 12 portable propane pizza oven wherein a to-temp cordierite baking stone will cook your personalized pies to perfection at up to 900 degrees. That’s burnin’ love, baby. $299,

‘Just Happy to Be Here’ YA Novel

Have a they/them in your life excited to expand their winter reading list? Gift a copy of Naomi Kanakia’s newly published YA coming-of-age novel, “Just Happy to Be Here,” about Tara, an Indian-American transgender teenager seeking quiet support and acceptance within her school’s prestigious academic group but instead becomes the center of attention when she draws the ire of administrators and alumni. $16,

Perfect Pairings 

Set it off this Valentine’s Day with a curated selection of wine and spirits, including the Pale Rosé, created by Sacha Lichine, of Whispering Angel fame; Flat Creek Estate’s red-blend trio, featuring the 2017 Super Texan, 2018 Four Horsemen, and Buttero; Ron Barceló’s Imperial Premium Blend 40th Aniversario rum; and the Bourbon Rosemary cocktail-in-a-can from Spirited Hive. $17-$199

Moon Bath Bomb

Stars aligned for that little meet-cute you told everybody about on TikTok, and you can trust the universe to provide ample relaxation when you plop Zodica Perfumery’s Moon Bath Bomb in the tub – there’s a specific formulation for every sign, which promises vibe-setting aromatherapy, activated charcoal for deep cleansing, and skin-soothing olive oil for the self-love glow-up you’ve been waiting for. $18,

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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