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40 Under 40: Queer women of Washington

Celebrating some of the city’s up-and-coming change agents

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40 Under 40, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and the Office of Women’s Policies and Initiatives, is proud to present: 40 Queer Women of Washington.

Here we celebrate some of the city’s many inspiring queer women who are the voices of change from a diverse group of industries. Nominations came from our readers; that list was then trimmed to the 40 queer women profiled here. Come meet the 40 Under 40 at a special event on Wednesday, March 27, 6-9 p.m. at the Google office at 25 Massachusetts Avenue. Get tickets online via the Blade’s Facebook page.

(Photo courtesy of the Washington Mystics)

Name: Washington Mystics

Occupation: Professional basketball team WNBA

Passion: Compete at the highest level on the court and bring a WNBA Championship to Washington. We play to excite, inspire and unite the D.C. community — all eight wards. Our passion for the game and this city is reflected in the memory-making experiences we strive to provide to our fans each game day. We invite all to celebrate and share in these moment with us. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Demonstrating fearless character will lead to your success. Tapping into the power of unified strength that comes with a sisterhood gives you the ability to overcome any challenge or adversity. We are a part of the community we represent and you are a part of us. Celebrate the power and beauty of being a woman. 

Amina Brown (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Amina Brown

Occupation: DJ

Passion: Being an entertainer/DJing

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? My mother told me I would grow up and have my own business when I was in the fourth grade. I would give young women the same advice that was given to me and it changed the trajectory of my life: “Fall in love with something you enjoy doing and turn it into a business!”

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? I thinks it’s important for women to be represented in the high ranks of corporations and politics. During my speaking engagements at schools, I always encourage our young girls to reach for the stars and never think that gender makes them inadequate in any industry.

Bela Muney (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Bela Muney

Occupation: External affairs team

Passion: Helping others in need.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Never give up on your hopes and dreams. The sky is the limit.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It means we’re all here and queer!

Be Steadwell (Photo courtesy of Be Steadwell)

Name: Be Steadwell

Occupation: Musician

Passion: My passion is for telling stories that make queer black folks feel seen and affirmed.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Someone out there needs to hear your story.  Tell it with sincerity, vulnerability and it will change someone’s life.  

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Black women at the center of leadership and politics is exactly what our country and our world needs. I believe the most marginalized communities have the perspective and incentive to look out for all people. Though I don’t agree with everything our mayor does, I’m proud to have her as a leader for our city. 

Elizabeth Lindsey (Photo courtesy of Byte Back)

Name: Elizabeth Lindsey

Occupation: Executive director, Byte Back

Passion: Leading an organization that helps people from all backgrounds thrive in the digital economy.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Be true to who you are. When we’re ourselves, when others see us being authentic and real, there’s nothing we can’t do. There’s such a confidence that comes from using our strengths and doing work that feels natural to us. And if someone — an employer, an investor, a partner — doesn’t want us for who we are, then they’re not the right fit for us. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? As a queer woman of color, a parent and a leader in the nonprofit sector, I am inspired every day by Mayor Bowser and the other women in D.C. leading our city. It is such a privilege for me to hardly ever be the “only” in D.C. — I’m rarely the only woman, or person of color, or member of the LGBTQ community in a room. And I’m thrilled to raise my daughters in a city like this. 

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan (Photo courtesy of NCTE)

Name: Raffi Freedman-Gurspan

Occupation: Director of external relations, National Center for Transgender Equality

Passion: Social justice and equal opportunity for those who have been most marginalized and historically oppressed including black people, Latinx people, indigenous peoples, women and feminine presenting individuals, LGBTQ folks, people living with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities in the United States. My passion is to create a better world for all.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Remember to laugh, remember to have a good cry once in a while and remember to hug those you care for and remind them why they are important to you. Being a strong woman requires knowing yourself, being honest with yourself and asking for the compassionate support you deserve from those whom you love. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Having a woman of color mayor as a woman of color myself is tremendously moving, inspirational and something I proudly share with people about our city. Mayor Bowser has been such a great friend of the LGBTQ community and as a queer woman I am proud to live in her city. 

Tiara Gendi (Photo courtesy of Tiara Gendi)

Name: Tiara Gendi

Occupation: Community organizer/trans activist

Passion: Black liberation and protection of LGBTQ+ youth

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? In a world that is designed against you, dare to be unapologetically you and do your part.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Being a black trans and immigrant woman, having a black woman mayor means there is platform to leverage the safety and meaningful participation of queer women in decision-making processes.

Alesia Lucas (Photo by Carletta G.)

Name: Alesia Lucas

Occupation: National digital manager

Passion: Connecting people

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? 1. Always trust your instincts. 2. Have an idea? Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Go for it. 3. Own your “no”; you don’t have to be anywhere or do anything you don’t want to. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? As a native Washingtonian, having a woman lead our city inspirers me deeply. It shows us what’s possible. They say D.C. is one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the United States and Mayor Bowser has no doubt contributed to that honor.

Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul (Photo courtesy of Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul)

Name: Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul

Occupation: I am an independent artist: a playwright, author, spoken word artist, actor and director.

Passion: I have a passion for healing indigenous transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming communities through the arts.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? It’s OK to not know who you are. It’s OK to discover who you are along your journey. It’s OK to love yourself and celebrate yourself. You got this!

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It’s important to have representation of cisgender women, transgender women, transgender men, non-binary people and cisgender men of color, in government and other cisgender white male-dominated spaces. As a queer woman living in the capital of the empire, it’s important to see genders that have been in the minority in position of power, that are representing truth, justice and ancestor. 

Ashley Trick (Photo courtesy of Ashley Trick)

Name: Ashley Trick

Occupation: Community affairs engagement strategist with Capital One

Passion: Serving and elevating diverse communities.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Actively work to limit the use of “sorry” in your vocabulary, but practice radical candor every day. Women can care personally while also challenging directly. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Women’s leadership is imperative. Diversity in leadership breeds innovation and resilience and having a black woman as the mayor of our city sets an important precedent for further leadership. Through women’s innate leadership, they transform, nurture and empower their communities and I am so profoundly proud to work under so many exceptional women.

Amanda Dennison (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Amanda Dennison

Occupation: Director, programs and partnerships

Passion: I have spent much of my life with my nose in a book, so much so my family feared I wouldn’t know my way around in the real world. I have always been driven by the desire to learn and understand more about the world. Through books I was able to hear other peoples’ stories, learn about communities, my chosen field of work, the world beyond the small town I grew up in. All of those books, and constantly asking “why” or “so what,” have played a big part in shaping my view of the world now and getting to where I am today. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? There are probably three main pieces of advice I would given young women. One: you are worthy and deserve to be here and to be heard. Two: be brave and don’t let the fear of leaving your comfort zone prevent you from chasing your goals and dreams. Three: be unapologetically yourself and take pride in who you are. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Seeing Mayor Bowser leading our city and actively supporting the LGBTQ+ community is both empowering and inspiring. As a queer woman living and working in D.C., trying to live my best life and lift up our community, it means everything to have a strong female fighting to give every D.C. resident the opportunity to live their best lives. I know that our mayor supports me, our community and the important work we are trying to accomplish. 

Lisa Marie Thalhammer (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Lisa Marie Thalhammer

Occupation: LOVE artist

Passion: Painting, murals, art and activism.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Trust your journey, believe in your power and live your dreams in full color. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? When Mayor Bowser spoke at the Jan 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington, I felt an immense amount of pride to be a queer Washingtonian woman. I was in the crowd that day with a group carrying my “Strong Women LOVE” artwork, a painting on a 24-foot diameter parachute, which depicts a woman flexing her biceps in front of a rainbow-colored backdrop. I felt synergy with my mayor’s directive to speak up for women and their health care; like I was in that moment for a reason, with a purpose to live out my life’s mission of creating visual art and images that empower and uplift women.

Charlotte Clymer (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Clymer)

Name: Charlotte Clymer

Occupation: Press secretary for rapid response, Human Rights Campaign

Passion: Justice for marginalized communities, the written word and seeing women present their unapologetic authenticity to the world.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? You are never “not queer enough.” You are never “not woman enough.” The only scarcity that should ever concern you is being yourself. The world doesn’t need a copy. It needs an original. It needs you.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Mayor Bowser was one of the first public officials to speak out when I was discriminated against at a D.C. restaurant for being a transgender woman. She is not just my mayor; she is my sister. This is a leader who fights for the queer community.

Sharita Gruberg (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Sharita Gruberg

Occupation: Director, LGBT research and communications project, Center for American Progress

Passion: Making rights a reality.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? No one is ever as confident or certain as they seem. Most of the time we are all just trying our hardest and making it up as we go along. So don’t let doubt stop you!

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? We definitely need more women in every level of public office in this country. 

Ebone Bell (Photo by Maya Satori)

Name: Ebone Bell

Occupation: Founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine

Passion: Creating events, building community, learning new things and friends and family.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Keep reaching for the stars! You’re closer than you think.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? I’m proud to live in a city that continues to be groundbreaking in so many ways. Not only is our mayor leading the charge, but I consistently see LGBTQ women doing the same. D.C. is a beautiful, diverse city.

Lanae Spruce (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Lanae Spruce

Occupation: Manager of Social Media and Digital Engagement, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Passion: Locating trends on the internet and doing it for the culture. In my free time I am a foodie who loves exploring the local restaurant scene on my travels.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? When you walk into a room, don’t be afraid to be yourself and stand in your own truth. You’ve already made it past the door.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? I chose to make Washington my home because it has a long history of preserving and championing the rights of queer people. As a queer black woman, it means the world to me that my city has my back. 

Andrea Pino-Silva (Photo by Christopher Alonso)

Name: Andrea Pino-Silva

Occupation: Digital strategy and communications manager at The National Center for Lesbian Rights

Passion: I help tell the stories of our queer resistance for a living, and it inspires me every day. I fight for a world where our struggle isn’t our full story and envision a world where every student has access to a safe, equal education free from violence and oppression. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? As a niña, my abuelito always told me: “nunca, nunca, nunca pares de luchar.” He instilled in me a belief, that no matter my upbringing, or how seemingly impossible my goal, it was achievable. Apply to that college. Apply to that job. Write that memoir. Lead that protest. La lucha is in all of us and our resistance and our passion is a gift from our ancestors. Their lucha, and their dreams live on within us. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? I’ve never lived in any other city led by a woman until moving to D.C., nor have I lived in a city with as many protections for marginalized people. As a queer woman, I feel safer and prouder to live in a city led by a strong woman like Mayor Bowser and feel more confident investing in making this city even better. 

Rebecca Buckwalter-Posa (Photo by John Shinkle)

Name: Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

Occupation: Journalist

Passion: Helping others find their voice.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Be fearless.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It means everything to me, especially as a woman of color. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.” 

Lina Nicoli (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Lina Nicolai

Occupation: Owner

Passion: Little things in life.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Don’t give up. Work hard.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It means that the concerns of women issues are being addressed in policy.

Laura Durso (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Laura Durso

Occupation: Vice president of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress

Passion: Gender equity, fat acceptance, empiricism and music.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Try new things, care just a little bit less what other people think of you, tell friends you love them, make peace with your body, have confidence in your ability to adapt and change, learn to catch when your brain wants to give in to imposter syndrome and remember how badass you are, spend your time with people and things that nourish your soul, hire people smarter than you, lean on your networks to help you get shit done, believe you can fix things but remember not everything always needs fixing, forge a new path, bring people with you.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? The ability to govern effectively knows no gender and as a queer woman, I am both proud and comforted to live in a city where voters recognize the talent and leadership that women bring to the table. Electing leaders from diverse backgrounds and experiences opens the door for new conversations to happen and new policies to be enacted that better serve our communities and drive us toward more meaningful change.

Taissa Morimoto (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Taissa Morimoto

Occupation: Policy Counsel at the National LGBTQ Task Force

Passion: Playing guitar, crushing the patriarchy, apple juice, the Companion Cube, deconstructing colonialism and long walks on the way to protests.We each have such different life experiences, especially based on our social identities and how we are perceived in our society. I hesitate to give general advice because I can only speak from my own experiences as a queer woman of color who has many privileges. What changed my life, though, was the decision to put my own needs first. And that happened when I moved to D.C., where I was able to be my full self. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? So, for queer women of color in my shoes, I will share what I wish people had told me more often: Don’t ever apologize for who you are and who you are becoming. There are people who will love you for exactly who you are. Let them. Being vulnerable is not weak, it is a sign of growth. Lean into that discomfort. Ask for help, even when you think you can handle it on your own. You are enough. You will always be enough. I am so honored and proud to be in community with you all. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It means finally being able to live my full complete self. To me, it means freedom.

Breanna Diaz (Photo courtesy of Breanna Diaz)

Name: Breanna Diaz

Occupation: Co-director, Pull for Pride 

Passion: LGBTQ advocacy via access to typically closed-off spaces, such as powerlifting. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Remain authentic and accountable to yourself and your community. Always center who you are, your lived experience and your values in your work. Take pride in what you bring to the table. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Representation matters and seeing someone of the same gender as myself in a leadership position is empowering.  

Carlie Steiner (Photo courtesy of Steiner)

Name: Carlie Steiner

Occupation: Co-owner of Himitsu + Dos Mamis

Passion: Empowering women and making money.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Buy better shoes with good support. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Watching Muriel Bowser break through the glass ceiling by becoming D.C.’s mayor both empowered and inspired me to make the final push to open Himitsu at the age of 25. Now, two-plus years later, she continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. Women serving in positions of leadership and the visibility it provides to young women is paramount. Having a role model like Mayor Bowser who is equally respected and relatable is important to women of all ages, but especially to young girls who can look up to her as an example of a woman is making change and that’s how real progress happens.

Harper Jean Tobin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Harper Jean Tobin

Occupation: Lawyer/lobbyist for trans equality

Passion: Improving trans people’s lives and living my own rich life.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Listen to your passion. Find where you’re best suited to make a difference. Ask for support. Be kind to yourself.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? We need leaders and public servants who reflect the diversity of our communities today. Women may not necessarily be better leaders, but every conversation is different when the people in the room don’t all look the same.

Ashlee Keown (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Ashlee Keown

Occupation: Marketing specialist/entrepreneur

Passion: Creating opportunities for people

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Don’t be afraid to try something new and fail. It is also important to adjust your expectations so that you understand that anything that you do will involve growth and failure.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It mean we are lucky enough to have someone in office who understands the challenges women and people of color face. Some who has the insight and ability to think about others. 

Kyrisha Deschamps (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Kyrisha Deschamps

Occupation: Festival producer/operations manager

Passion: Using my skills, experience and access to create opportunities and help others. Also, intentionally finding joy in each day. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Surround yourself with positive people who support your wild dreams and act as your sounding board. Trust the process and take time for yourself when you need to.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? I’m a huge fan of women in positions of power. I am very excited about the number of women who are moving into politics to create the change that needs to be seen and felt in the world. As of today, a political career isn’t in the stars for me, but I would love to see more women and LBGTQ leaders in positions of power in government.

Jennifer Patience Rowe (Photo by Jeremy Mines; courtesy Rowe)

Name: Jennifer Patience Rowe

Occupation: Artist: primary vocalist, poet and actress.

Passion: My passion is facilitating spiritual experiences in secular spaces. I’m passionate about black folks being free. I’m passionate about honoring our grief.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? I would tell young black women that it’s OK to be unsure, its normal to constantly be discovering who you are. That change is the only constant. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? As a second generation native Washingtonian, it’s beautiful to have experienced all of the changes this city has and is surviving. Having a woman elected mayor has spoken to the great shifts and growth the capital city is capable of seeing. 

Kristin Lynch (Photo courtesy of Kristin Lynch)

Name: Kristin Lynch

Occupation: Communications director, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Passion: Politics, writing, news, sports, avocados, coffee porters

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? TDon’t be afraid to defy convention or take the road less traveled – being weird is a good thing. Work hard, be humble, and practice gratitude.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Representation matters. When leaders who look differently than what society typically associates with power — i.e. women, people of color, queer individuals — we begin to dismantle our preconceived notions of what a leader should be and reimagine what a leader could be. Having a mayor who is both a woman and a person of color breaks down barriers and shows underrepresented groups that we too can rise to powerful leadership positions, even if we may not always see that truth reflected in our day-to-day lives. 

Luella Garies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Luella Garies

Occupation: Massage therapist, dance organizer

Passion: A combination of love for partner dancing and of bringing that love to queer women and trans people.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? As a dancer, know that simply by being openly yourself in the very heteronormative world of partner dance, or by breaking gender norms therein, you are a revolutionary. You are changing the world one literal step at a time and that is something to be proud of. As an organizer, someone recently asked me what’s my secret to organizing successful events over the long-term. “Passion,” I said. Actually there are many other answers I could give, but that’s the one I would underscore. You don’t need to be extroverted, popular, talented or wealthy to bring people together. But if you have a dream that lights up your soul and you have an inkling of how to share that with others, you can find a way.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? To me this is one among many ways that D.C. is setting an example and leading the way for the rest of the country, especially since our mayor is like a governor. It’s all the more reason that we should have full voting rights.

Joy Whitt (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Joy Whitt

Occupation: Presidential Innovation Fellow

Passion: Creating safe, uplifting spaces for women/trans/non-binary folks who are interested in learning about technology. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Stay true to yourself. Surround yourself with people who will educate and amplify you; pay it forward.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? As a queer, black woman, it is an incredibly big deal to be a resident of a city led by a black woman. Mayor Bowser represents many of my identities while serving at D.C.’s highest level, and because of that, her initiatives (and council’s policies) create a more inclusive environment for people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. I lead initiatives in D.C. that create professional and social opportunities for technologists of underrepresented genders (i.e. women, trans and non-binary folks, etc.). Mayor Bowser and the government of D.C. have made these efforts possible by amplifying and celebrating tech inclusion.

Nicole Armstead-Williams (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Nicole Armstead-Williams

Occupation: Psychotherapist and mental health advocate

Passion: I’m passionate about dismantling the harmful stigma of mental health, with a particular heartbeat for reducing the risk of suicide and self-harm in QTPOC (queer/trans people of color) communities. I am passionate about creating eco-therapeutic healing spaces for survivors of trauma, loss and grief. I also really get excited about all things rooted in love, wanderlust and long-distance road trips, dogs and growing sweet potatoes.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? To a young woman walking in my shoes, I would say: wear the shoes that are the most authentic fit for you so that you can sustain the walk of your personal dream and journey.  

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? Experiencing leadership from not only a woman-identified mayor but a black woman mayor provides me with a greater hope that we as women/women of color can show up, can be seen and affirmed and can support growth as an agent of change. To me, as a queer women living in the District, this means voice and visibility.

Yesenia Chavez (Photo by Courtney Neale)

Name: Yesenia Chavez

Occupation: Policy and government affairs specialist

Passion: Developing leadership pipelines of LGBTQ youth and people of color, hiking, traveling and cycling.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Remember that when you are the only woman of color, the only queer person, or first-generation person in a classroom or a board room, you carry your ancestors into that room with you. Most importantly, once you are in the room, be sure to open the door and pull up a chair for the next generation. When you pull up that chair, be intentional about who you bring to sit there. Start with those who almost never get access to those seats, i.e. trans/gender non-conforming folks, queer people of color, people with disabilities, etc. That is how you make radical change in who gets access to these rooms. We can end being the first or only one in the room if we pull each other up. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? As a queer Latina, I think it is important to have representation in all levels of government and I value seeing women of color in leadership. I was raised by a Mexican immigrant single-mother in a low-income household and know that is a unique story in comparison to the backgrounds of the voices we typically hear from. I believe it is critical for people who don’t see themselves reflected in leadership, to work to change that because as the saying goes, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” Centering the voices of those of us who are at the intersection of marginalized identities is necessary during the policy-making process to ensure policy has a positive impact on our communities.

Ashland Johnson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Ashland Johnson

Occupation: Policy lawyer and sports equity advisor

Passion: Creating social equity in and through sports.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Don’t be afraid to bet on yourself. We as women, especially women of color, invest so much time warding of doubt and working to achieve someone else’s vision of success. You have to make it a priority to invest in you— your goals, your passion, your vision— all day, everyday until it becomes second nature. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? As a queer woman of color living in D.C., for me having a black female mayor is both an invaluable gift and a necessity. Representation matters. Empowerment matters. Our mayor represents and empowers women, especially women of color everyday she leads our district forward. 

Whitney Washington (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Whitney Washington

Occupation: Attorney/legal fellow

Passion: People are my passion. I love the process of getting to know folks and learning about them. As much as I am willing to get to know absolutely anyone from whatever walk of life, I acknowledge that not all folks are willing to do the same.  I understand that to greater society some folks are not worth anything because of who they are or what they may have done in the past. I feel lucky to be able to offer my skill set to show support to the people that society has written off. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? This is a funny question because I still think of myself as a young person. Three things that I remind myself of daily are one: nothing worth doing is easy, but also that the most difficult option is not always the answer — there is often a middle ground; two: I know a lot more than I think I do; and three: I have a lot to learn. Outside of my daily reminders, I think the biggest thing I would tell a younger person is: being a person is a process and that regardless who you are right now, and regardless of whoever you will become, you are valid.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? The socio-political impact of Muriel Bowser’s position as mayor of Washington cannot be overstated — it is crucial that voices like hers are amplified, especially in our current political climate. As a queer, non-binary individual, this signals to me that this historically black city values its legacy, champions its pioneers and strives to be at the forefront of change in our nation. 

Sarah Horvitz (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Sarah Horvitz

Occupation: National political director at Run for Something

Passion: Encouraging and supporting young women who want to serve their communities in elected office.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? You aren’t going to be amazing at everything you do on day one. Stay focused on the specific tasks and goals you are trying to accomplish and trust you will get better the more you try. Surround yourself with other women out there who are doing their best and befriend them.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? I love living in D..C for many reasons (honestly too many to name) but I am especially proud to live in a city with a woman in charge. I know that Mayor Bowser is fighting every day by making political and fiscal decisions that prioritize equity for women and girls, especially people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. She is not only an advocate in our national’s capitol for resident’s of D.C., but is also leading the charge nationally for more representation of marginalized communities in elected office. 

Amber Posadas (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Amber Posadas

Occupation: Specialty support

Passion: Defend the rights of the LGBT community and advocate for those who doesn’t have voice.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Never give up on your  dreams and fight for what you really want in life.  

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It gives me the power to know as a queer woman I too can achieve success.

Katie Nicol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Katie Nicol 

Occupation: As senior manager of public benefits and insurance navigation at Whitman-Walker Health, I focus on removing barriers to health care access, particularly for those who identify as LGBTQ, people living with HIV and the immigrant population. 

Passion: I’m passionate about helping others, geeking out over insurance eligibility policy and nuance, logistics and the work of Whitman-Walker Health. I have the privilege to be a part of an organization that represents what it means to provide culturally competent care free of stigma and judgement and to serve a patient population I identify with. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Stay true to your queer self, give yourself room to grow and evolve and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take every opportunity to learn from your experiences, mistakes and from others. Your relationships are your greatest assets — personally and professionally — so nurture those connections. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and follow your instincts; sometimes your greatest hurdle is fear. 

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? In today’s political climate where woman, let alone a woman of color, are marginalized, it’s a reminder that women — regardless if queer or not — are equal to men. It is additionally inspiring to live in a city where a woman of color of color is a true representation of Washingtonians and our values, which include inclusivity for all residents, regardless of immigration, sexual orientation or gender expression. 

Emily Hammell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Name: Emily Hammell

Occupation: Events manager for LGBTQ Victory Fund & Institute

Passion: Oh gosh, so many to chose from! My most noteworthy passion is my collection of commemorative plates. But I also love Raquel Raccoon (my three-legged cat), relationship anarchy, tattoos, LGBTQ+ rights, gender and racial equity, sex workers rights and harm reduction.

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Be as out and loud as you’re able to, it matters so much to those who can’t. And if you can’t be out and loud? Please be kind to yourself, you are still part of the queer family and you matter so much.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? It’s pretty dang inspiring to see a woman of color succeed in the political world. I may not always agree with Mayor Bowser, but I absolutely respect how hard she has worked to climb that ladder.

Brittany Rheault (Photo courtesy of Brittany Rheault)

Name: Brittany Rheault

Occupation: Director of sports operations at United Fray

Passion: My passion at work is making fun possible. I have the pleasure of bringing “play” into everyday life with my job. I couldn’t ask for a better profession. As for the rest of my life, my passion is to make people feel included, whether that’s on a dance floor or  with my friends, I’m always striving for laughter and fun and connection. 

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Hustle. What separates you from the pack is your willingness to step in or step up. Being complacent is never an option. You have to be willing to show up and impress with commitment and work ethic.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? To me, it’s inspiring that I am living in a city that would not only elect but reelect a female mayor. 

Check It Enterprises (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Name: Check It Enterprises; Star Bennett, CEO

Occupation: CEO of Check It Enterprises

Passion: fashion design

What advice would you give to a young woman walking in your shoes? Chase your dreams and never give up.

Washington is one of the few major cities in America with a female mayor. What does this mean to you as a queer woman living in the District? That females have the same ability men have. 

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Final season of ‘Pose’ is must-see TV that matters

Groundbreaking FX drama has left its mark

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When the COVID pandemic hit in the early months of 2020, there were certainly more pressing and essential worries for us to grapple with than how it would impact the next season of a TV show. Yet it’s a testament to the power of “Pose” that many among its legion of fans were at least as concerned about the show’s disruption as they were about the possibility of running out of toilet paper.

The powerhouse FX drama — which spotlights the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture in the late 1980s — had already made history. Not only did it feature the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles, it boasted the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever included in a scripted series. In its first two seasons, the show racked up accolades and honors (including a Primetime Emmy for Billy Porter as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) while breaking new ground for the inclusion and representation of queer people — and especially transgender people of color — in television, both in front of the camera, and behind it. With the end of its second season in August 2019, fans were hungry for a third — but thanks to COVID, its future was suddenly in question.

So, when word came that the show’s third season would have its debut on May 2, it was the best news since finding out the vaccines were finally going to start rolling out. But it was bittersweet: Along with confirmation of the series’ imminent return came the sad revelation that the new season would also be the last. “Pose” would be coming to an end with a final, seven-episode arc.

As any viewer of show can attest, there were a lot of threads left hanging when last we saw its characters. That means there’s a lot of ground to cover in these last chapters in order to give everyone — characters and audience alike — the closure they deserve.

The show’s official synopsis goes like this: It’s now 1994 and ballroom feels like a distant memory for Blanca, who struggles to balance being a mother with being a present partner to her new love, as well as her latest role as a nurse’s aide. Meanwhile, as AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44, Pray Tell contends with unexpected health burdens. Meanwhile, a vicious new upstart house is emerging in the ballroom world, and the members of the House of Evangelista are forced to contend their legacy.

Obviously, there are a lot of details left hidden in that broad overview, and fans are undoubtedly full of questions about what they can expect to see.

Fortunately, the bulk of the show’s main cast convened on Zoom last week (along with show co-creator and Executive Producer Steven Canals and Executive Producer Janet Mock) for a press conference to discuss their “Pose” experience, and while they didn’t exactly give away any spoilers, they definitely dropped some tantalizing hints about what’s in store for audiences in the farewell season.

In truth, most of the discussion was dominated by reminiscences and expressions of mutual appreciation, sure signs that the feeling of family we see onscreen is something that has taken hold off screen, as well. But in between the affectionate banter, the cast and creatives addressed several questions that might be most on viewers’ minds.

Perhaps the most pressing of these — why, after only three seasons, is the critic-and-audience-acclaimed show calling it quits? — was taken on by Canals, who explained:

“I always knew what the beginning and what the end of the narrative would be. And when Ryan Murphy and I first met in September of 2016, we felt really strongly that that particular narrative made sense. And so, while we certainly could have continued to create narrative around these characters and in this world, and we certainly had a conversation in the writers’ room about it … I think we all agreed that it just made sense for us to ‘land the plane,’ if you will, comfortably — as opposed to continuing to give an audience story that just simply didn’t have any real core intention or a real thrust towards specificity.”

Also of interest was the obvious subject of how the parallels between the current pandemic and the AIDS crisis that looms over the show’s narrative might be reflected in the new episodes. While he didn’t hint at any direct connections in “Pose,” Porter used the subject to underscore a theme that has always been one of the show’s most important elements:

“I think the parallels are quite profound. I know that as a Black gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis, I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this COVID time. It’s very reminiscent of what it was like then. The best news about that is that I survived. We got through it, and there is another side to it. We can get to the other side.

“I feel like that’s what ‘Pose’ really accomplishes this season, reminding the public that it’s when we come together and when we lead with love [that] we get to the other side.”

Mock elaborated on the theme of resilience by discussing the importance of showing the strength of House mothers like Blanca and Electra (Dominique Jackson), who hold together — and lift up — their entire community:

“It’s that matriarchal power and lineage that I think the ballroom is, and what trans women are to one another, that then feeds everyone else and enables them to shine and have all the things that they want in the world. For me, it is [about] that celebration […] of Black trans women — that they’ve created this space, that they brought everyone else in with them, and that, at the end of the day, they are often the ones most often forgotten.

“I think with this season, I want everyone across the industry, the audience, to realize that. I think it’s essential, and it’s important.”

Mock also talked about the way “Pose” focuses on the small, day-to-day lives of its characters as much as it does the larger-than-life splendor of the ballroom culture in which they participate:

“We wanted to ensure that we show the everyday, mundane moments, as well as the great, grand celebrations. The ballroom is are presentation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other, and our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, while we were plotting these big, grand moments […] we wanted to bring in traditions — weddings, matrimony, all this stuff — that our characters get to engage in. We wanted to be a part of the tradition of that, and all the moments that a family shares together. We wanted to make sure that all of those things were celebrated in this.”

When discussion turned to the unprecedented level of support and collaborative inclusion with which the show’s queer cast were bestowed by Ryan Murphy and the rest of the creative staff — from the presence of trans women like Mock and Co-producer Our Lady J in the writers’ room to the extensive reliance on the insights and talents of real-life members of the ballroom community — Jackson was quick to add that besides giving the show its ferocious authenticity, it gave her an increased recognition of her own worth:

“I will never, ever, ever walk into a space thinking that I need to impress them […] I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything. Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I’m an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value. So, when I walk into spaces now,they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you’re not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of ‘Pose,’ because of Ryan, because of Steven, because of Janet and Brad [co-creator/executive producer Falchuk), because of Our Lady J, because of my cast members.

“I will never walk into spaces or live a life or an existence thinking that I need to impress anyone.”

Porter concurred, adding:

“There was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what‘Pose’ is, what Pray Tell is. I spent the first 25-plusyears of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat.‘Pose,’ and Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible […] the idea that the little, Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before. You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out.”

If the cast members themselves have found themselves feeling more empowered thanks to “Pose,” so too have the millions of LGBTQ people — and allies — who have tuned into it since its premiere in 2018. The show is one of those rare entries into the cultural lexicon that simply allows its queer and trans people to live authentic lives, giving long-withheld representation to countless viewers who were able to see themselves reflected back from the screen for perhaps the very first time. It’s that powerful sense of validation provided by “Pose” that keeps it standing tall in an entertainment market now providing so much LGBTQ inclusion that it’s becoming dangerously easy to take it for granted.

Whatever moments of heartbreak, joy, and celebration “Pose” brings us as it plays out its final act — and there are sure to be many — we can all be sure it will leave us with a message expressed through an oft-heard line of dialogue that Mock says she found herself writing “over and over again” during the series’ run:

“You are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.” It’s that nurturing sentiment the “Pose” has been instilling in us from the beginning, like a mother to us all.

And that’s why so many of us can’t wait until the first two episodes of its final season air at 10 p.m. (both Eastern and Pacific), Sunday, May 2, on FX.

The final season of “Pose” will begin to air on FX on Sunday, May 2, at 10 p.m. ET. (Photos courtesy of FX)

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At 75, John Waters has no plans to retire

‘I’d go nuts if I didn’t work’

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When writer and filmmaker John Waters turned 70 five years ago, he said he took six friends on a first-class trip to Paris for his birthday and “we had the best time.”

This year, for his 75th birthday on April 22, he was going to take his friends to Rome but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way and they couldn’t all travel.

Instead, a friend is having a small dinner party for him in New York City, and he’s going with a friend. “Everybody has had their shots, and that’s what I’m going to do…It will be low-key this year.”

The older he gets, he said, the less he cares about making a big fuss out of every birthday anyway.

“What difference does it make? Old means old. It doesn’t matter which one.”

Though he’s taking some time to celebrate his 75th birthday, Waters has no plans to retire.

“No, God no,” he said last weekend while on a Zoom call with fans from London. “I jump out of bed every morning. It hurts to jump out of bed. I have aches and pains. But no, I’d go nuts if I didn’t work.”

That’s probably just as well because he has a lot going on. Between shooting episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” getting ready for film festivals in several cities, planning a guided tour in Provincetown, and preparing for an exhibit of his private art collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, he’s staying busy.

The ultimate multitasker, he didn’t even stop working when he went for a COVID vaccination recently.

“I signed an autograph when I was getting the shot,” he said. “Well, not at the moment, but right before.”

In a Zoom session organized by London’s Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities — an early birthday present of sorts because it drew fans from at least three continents — Waters announced that he just last week finished the book he’s been writing for the past three years, “LIARMOUTH,” a novel about a woman who steals luggage at the airport. It’s due out next year from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

He also expressed optimism that some events that had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic will be back in 2021, including his Camp John Waters “sleepaway” weekend for superfans in Kent, Conn., and a new, renamed iteration of the Burger Boogaloo punk rock music festival that he hosts in Oakland, Calif.

There’s even a chance he’ll make another movie. Waters told his fans there’s still interest in “Fruitcake,” the children’s Christmas film that he’s been trying for years to make. “There is new possibility,” he teased. “That’s all I’ll say. I’m not going to jinx it.”

He’s waiting to hear about the several dozen spoken-word shows he performs around the country every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “I think a lot of those decisions are going to happen in September.”

Most of all, he said, he’s just eager to make in-person appearances after a year in lockdown. Some of his engagements that were cancelled due to COVID have been rescheduled for the coming year, including appearances in New York, California, and Pennsylvania, and he’s adding others.

“I’m dying to get back on the road,” he said last weekend. “I’m still amazed that 20-something-year-old kids know who I am. I want to see what they look like.”

He’s wondering whether Meet-N-Greets – the sessions where he signs autographs and poses for photos with fans after a performance – will be possible in a post-pandemic world.

“Even before this, when I did the Christmas tour, I had Meet-N-Greets for usually 50 people” after a show, he said. “I’d always get sick because you have to hug everybody and then get on an airplane the next day. So I think Meet-N-Greets might never come back. I don’t know how they’re ever going to do that safely.”

On a personal basis, too, he’s yearning to get out and travel more.

“I want to go to a movie theater. I want to go to a concert,” he said. “I want to be able to have even a dull day out with other people.”

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This year’s Oscars might be historic — but does anyone care?

Diverse nominees lacking LGBTQ representation

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Oscar, gay news, Washington Blade

It’s Oscar weekend. Are you excited?

Unless you’re actually one of the nominees, odds are pretty good that you’re not – but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is geared up to present its prestigious annual film awards for the 93rd time on Sunday night, really, really wants you to be. Why else, a week ahead of the Big Night, would they roll out the show’s producers for a press conference to drop hints that the upcoming broadcast would “look like a movie” and incorporate satellite hookups from “multiple locations?” It was a clear bid to drum up excitement.

More details came Monday, when a letter from that same trio – producer Steven Soderbergh (himself an Oscar winner for directing “Traffic” in 2000) and co-producers Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher – went out to the nominees. As it turns out, the ceremony will be held at LA’s historic Union Station (site of Saturday’s press conference), which will be treated “as an active movie set” in terms of COVID-related safety protocols, with “additional elements” of the show being incorporated live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre via satellite hook-up.

More interestingly, the letter revealed, “The first—and most obvious—point we want to get across with this year’s show is STORIES MATTER.” In keeping with that theme, nominees are requested to submit to a brief interview to “tell the story of your path to April 25,” as part of an effort to “highlight the connections between all of us who work in the movies and show that the process is uniquely intimate, collaborative, and fun.” The emphasis on “story” was further reflected by instructions about messaging in the speeches (“If you’re thanking someone, say their name, not their title… make it PERSONAL”) and a dress code described as “a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational.” Whatever Soderbergh and crew have planned for the show, their letter leaves little doubt they intend to tightly manage the narrative it presents.

That’s not surprising, of course; Hollywood is in the business of creating narratives, and the one it takes most seriously is the one it creates about itself. Nevertheless, it’s particularly telling that the story it is working so hard to tell seems designed to brush its problem with inclusion comfortably into the background.

This year, the organization might well feel that when it comes to diversity, the nominations speak for themselves. For a year in which tremendous social upheaval has brought Black experience in America to the forefront of the public conversation, the Oscars have chosen an impressive number of Black-led films and Black artists among an overall slate that offers the most diverse lineup of nominees in its history. Women are also represented, thanks to the inclusion of Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” among the Best Picture contenders and the first-ever two nominations for women – Fennell and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) – as Best Director. Additionally, Zhao, who is Chinese, is the first woman of color ever nominated in that category, Steven Yuen (“Minari”) became the first Asian-American to receive a Best Actor nod, and in the same category, Riz Ahmed (“The Sound of Metal”) became the first person of Pakistani descent to be nominated in any acting category.

In the midst of all this inclusion, however, the LGBTQ community – traditionally a stronghold for some of Oscar’s most ardent fans – has this year been largely left empty-handed, once again. Besides two Best Actress nods for women playing bisexual characters (Viola Davis and Andra Day, for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” respectively), there are no major nominations for films with significant LGBTQ content – though it’s worth noting that the aforementioned “Young Woman” features trans actress Laverne Cox in a prominent supporting role. While it’s not a problem for us to stand on the sidelines and cheer for the victories achieved by representatives of other marginalized communities, it’s becoming harder to ignore the nagging feeling that our willingness to forgive an institution that continues to disappoint and diminish us is really something akin to Stockholm Syndrome.

In any case, this year’s Academy Awards have the potential for making history. Nine of the 20 acting nominees are people of color, and at least two of them are considered frontrunners in their categories. Zhao could become the first woman of Asian descent to win the Best Director prize. And while the potential for those wins lends a kind of excitement to the proceedings, an inescapable feeling of “too little, too late” – coupled with a pandemic-induced awareness of the relative unimportance of awards like these in the greater scheme of things – makes it more difficult than ever, perhaps, to care.

With that in mind, here are the currently leading “official” predictions for the winners in the top six categories, based on a combination of Oscar history, industry buzz, review consensus, and plain old-fashioned gut instinct:

BEST PICTURE: “Nomadland” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are considered the front-runners, thanks to previous wins in the equivalent category at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, respectively. “Nomadland” is favored to win.

BEST DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao, who has taken the directing prize at both the Globes and the BAFTAs, seems a sure bet for “Nomadland.”

BEST ACTOR: Chadwick Boseman, whose death in 2020 after a secret battle with colon cancer devastated fans and co-workers alike, would seem the inevitable winner for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” even without his already-racked-up wins at the Globes, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Awards. If he takes it – and it’s almost certain he will – it would make him only the second Best Actor winner to be awarded the prize posthumously (the first was Peter Finch, for 1976’s “Network”).

BEST ACTRESS: There are no clear front-runners here. With one high-profile win each under their belt Davis (SAGs), Day (Globes), Frances McDormand (BAFTAs for “Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (Critics’ Choice for “Promising Young Woman”) are all positioned as possible winners. However, with Davis already making history with this performance as Oscar’s most-nominated Black actress, the appeal of also making her the first to win in both Actress categories (her performance in 2016’s “Fences” earned her the Best Supporting prize) might just give her the edge.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Having won for his performance as slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” at all the other major film awards, Daniel Kaluuya is the definition of a “shoo-in.”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: As is often the case, this category might be the most wide-open. Buzz has favored both Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) and Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), but her win at the BAFTA Awards puts Youn in place as the probable frontrunner. If she wins, she will be only the second Asian actress to win an Oscar, after Miyoshi Umeki (1957’s “Sayonara”).

You can find out the winners when the Oscars air on ABC, Sunday April 25 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. But don’t worry – if you don’t care enough to watch, you can always Google it afterward.

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