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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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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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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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