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Pride, activist groups, the gay press and more take form in wake of Stonewall riots

Bumps and hurdles loomed in most areas as movement came of age in ‘70s and beyond

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The first Pride parade in New York, 1970. (Photo courtesy Gay and Lesbian Information Center, New York Public Library)

The most impactful legacy of Stonewall isn’t what happened those few nights, but what grew out of it — annual Pride celebrations, of course, but also the gay press, a proliferation of rights groups, de-classification of homosexuality as mental illness, disco, sexual lib, AIDS and more. Whole books have been written on each of these topics, for anyone interested in further study. 

THE BIRTH OF PRIDE

Some of the people who rioted starting on June 28, 1969, once things settled, started to organize and a group called the Stonewall Veterans Association, which is still in existence, formed. 

In November 1969, Craig Rodwell (1940-1993), owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop (the country’s first gay bookstore), along with his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy and Linda Rhodes, proposed a New York City march to commemorate the riots. He introduced a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organization (ERCHO) in Philadelphia.

“We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called Christopher Street Liberation Day,” the resolution said. “No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.”

The concept of Pride being held in other cities simultaneously was ingrained in the concept from the outset. 

“We also propose that we contact homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support,” the resolution stated.

Christopher Street Liberation Day was held June 28, 1970, the first gay Pride march in the U.S. It covered 51 blocks to Central Park with a parade permit reluctantly delivered just two hours before the scheduled start time. Marches were simultaneously held in Los Angeles and Chicago. In 1971, it had spread to Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee and three European cities as well. Pride in Washington started in 1975. 

Since 1984, the parade and related events in New York have been produced and organized by Heritage of Pride, a volunteer, non-partisan LGBT group. 

New York City Pride, World Pride, gay news, Washington Blade
A scene from 2012’s New York City Pride march. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

THE GAY PRESS

The gay press didn’t begin with Stonewall. The earliest known publication had an inauspicious start. In 1947, an underworked secretary trying to look busy, typed, stapled and distributed 12 copies of Vice Versa, which she dubbed “America’s gayest magazine.” Since then, thousands have followed in her steps producing about 2,600 — at their height — publications ranging from weekly newspapers to more radical tabloids to glossy monthly magazines.

Seminal pre-Stonewall publications included Ladder, Vector and the Los Angeles Advocate. 

The July 1964 cover of The Ladder. (Image from the Washington Blade archive)

The number of these publications exploded after Stonewall. It was seen as necessary as even the most liberal alternative press of the day — in New York, The Village Voice, refused to print the word gay. “Throughout the ‘70s, people who depended solely on mainstream media for news would hardly have been aware of the gay rights movement,” writes author/historian Eric Marcus in his 2002 book “Making Gay History.” “With a few notable exceptions, the television networks, daily newspapers and newsmagazines gave little coverage to gay issues.”

“After the apocalyptic Stonewall impulse, the press erupted in so many directions that it is impossible to document when each publication was founded, how long it existed or who edited it,” writes Rodger Streitmatter, author of “Unspeakable: the Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America.” 

“Our Own Voices: A Directory of Lesbian and Gay Periodicals” listed 150 publications by 1972, Streitmatter writes. 

One of the most influential was called simply GAY, started in December 1969 by gay press veterans (and partners) Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke, who’d covered Stonewall. It soon became, according to Streitmatter, the “newspaper of record for gay America.” 

Veteran activist Lilli Vincenz, who wrote a lesbian column for GAY, is quoted in “Unspeakable” as having said, “It was the newspaper of the day. If you were gay and you wanted to find out what was going on in the world, you turned to GAY.” 

It sold 20,000 copies of its first issue (at 40 cents per copy) and reached a monthly circulation of 25,000 by its second issue, figures that took the Advocate two years to build. Within six weeks, two other New York-based newspapers were launched — Come Out! and Gay Power. GAY continued until Clarke was murdered in 1975. 

Streitmatter writes later in the book that the publications “that survived the aftershocks of Stonewall were those with a combination of calm voices and stable finances,” citing GAY in New York and The Advocate in Los Angeles as leaders. 

But two months before GAY was launched, in October 1969, Vincenz and a small group of men and women met in the basement of a Connecticut Avenue building to work on the first issue of the Gay Blade. The monthly, mimeographed one-sheet issued by a volunteer staff contained three columns of news, community notices and a small advertisement for someone who wanted to sell a car, writes author Edward Alwood in his 1996 book “Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media.” 

“By distributing copies at the city’s gay and lesbian bars, they quickly established the Blade as a source of valuable information that was not available from any other source,” Alwood writes. 

Editor Nancy Tucker told Alwood they printed “things that we thought were important to the mental health and social welfare of other people like us,” Alwood quotes her as having said. “Periodically we ran warnings of blackmailers who hung around Dupont Circle or the gay bars. We wrote about rough cops. There were plenty of military and government workers who were undergoing some type of security investigation and all of those people needed to know about their rights. These were a heavy orientation for us.” 

The first issue of the Blade was distributed in October 1969.

It was the first of a new generation of gay papers that included Gay Community News in Boston, NewsWest in Los Angeles, Gay News in Pittsburgh and GayLife in Chicago, Alwood writes.

“Unlike the early homophile press, which stressed identity and cooperation, this second generation concentrated almost solely on political change and resistance,” Alwood writes. 

The Gay Blade was rechristened the Washington Blade in 1980 and went to weekly publication in 1983. It’s the oldest continually operating LGBT newspaper in the country. It celebrates its 50th anniversary in October. 

REGIONAL GAY RIGHTS GROUPS

The late Barbara Gittings and the late Frank Kameny in 2005. Their pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian activism wasn’t always appreciated by groups that formed in the wake of the riots. (Photo courtesy National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration)

Although groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis had been around since the ‘50s, things became more emboldened after Stonewall. The Gay Liberation Front was the first organization to use gay in its name. Previously, all “homophile” (as they were known) groups purposefully did not.

Legendary early activists Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen were vacationing on Fire Island when they heard about Stonewall. Upon returning to the city in September, they began attending meetings of the Gay Liberation Front and encountered a much different group of people and ethos.

“They were huge meetings, it was the best theater in town,” Lahusen is quoted as having said in “Making Gay History.” “This was the heyday of radical chic … and here I was this plain Jane dinosaur from the old gay movement.”

Gittings said there was zero acknowledgement of the pre-Stonewall efforts.

“Suddenly here were all these people with absolutely no track record in the movement who were telling us, in effect, not only what we should do but what we should think,” she’s quoted as having said in “Making Gay History.” “The arrogance of it was really what upset me.” 

Gittings said she and Frank Kameny were even asked at one Philadelphia meeting who they were and what they were doing there. 

“For once, I think even Frank was dumbfounded,” Gittings is quoted as having said. “As if we owed them an explanation.” 

Gittings said right after Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Front and the Mattachine Society, which some perceived as having been slow to respond to the riots, were the only two active groups. 

“Mattacine was so stuffy and its day was over,” Lahusen said in “Making Gay History.” “These organizations seem to have a built-in life expectancy.”

“Mattachine wasn’t up to managing the lively response to the Stonewall riots and GLF came in to fill the void,” Gittings told author Marcus. 

The Gay Liberation Front (a name used by multiple groups over the years), however, disbanded after just four months when members were unable to agree on operating procedure. In December 1969, some people who had attended Front meetings but left frustrated formed Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), an “orderly” group to be focused entirely on gay issues. A D.C. chapter had formed by 1971. It became the Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance in the ‘80s, and continues to this day. 

Many of the main groups with major name recognition today started later. The National Gay Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force) started in 1973. Two groups merged to form the largest, Human Rights Campaign, in the early ‘80s. 

Many of the state groups came much later, uniting around the marriage issue. The California Alliance for Pride and Equality was founded in 1999 and only became Equality California in 2003. The now-dissolved Empire State Pride Agenda was founded in 1990 through a merger of two earlier groups. By 2005, it was the largest state lobbying group. 

AIDS

In a roundabout way, Stonewall, in time, also brought attention to the disparate health care needs of LGBT people. That’s the contention of Perry N. Halkitis, dean of Rutgers School of Public Health and author of the new book “Out in Time: From Stonewall to Queer; How Gay Men Came of Age Across the Generations.”

“The riots allowed gay people to say ‘we exist’ and create a demand for health equity,” Halkitis said in a recent interview with tapinto.net. “The civil disobedience of Stonewall served as a catalyst to the activism of the AIDS era, which in turn has contributed to the foundations of how public health today emphasizes social justice and health equity.”

Although initially about wholly separate issues, Stonewall started a movement that was eventually “catapulted” 13 years later when HIV hit, he says.

“As the riots framed the basis for the recognition of gay people as viable members of the population, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ’90s created the circumstances by which they would come to demand that the government and society attend to their well-being,” Halkitis said in the tapinto.net interview. “Before then, gay people kept silent and were invisible to their doctors, who were unaware they were gay or did not understand the mental health and drug issues they were facing. The AIDS crisis shined a light on the fact that there was this population that needed specific health services beyond what was given to the general population.”

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a New York Times interview last week that the histories of Stonewall and AIDS are inextricably linked and have affected what’s still happening today.

“It’s so critical that you had an uprising, and it became not just folks being downtrodden by their system but actually then fighting back,” Daskalakis told the Times. “I feel that the fighting spirit now is like the ACT UP experience in New York. There was a feeling that it was part of LGBTQ rights to ask for faster, better support and funding to fight HIV. … I think the legacy of activism remains powerful decades later.”

As the number of deaths soared, gay and lesbian people and gay rights organizations redirected their energies, Marcus writes in “Making Gay History.” 

“Many thousands of gay people who had never participated in gay rights efforts were motivated to join the fight against AIDS,” he writes. “New organizations joined existing ones to provide care for the sick and dying, conduct AIDS education programs, lobby local and federal governments for increased funding for AIDS research, pressure medical researchers and drug companies to become more aggressive in their search for treatments and a cure and fight discrimination against people with AIDS and those infected with HIV.”

AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 

In the mid-20th century, some homophile activist groups accepted psychiatry’s illness model as an alternative to societal condemnation of homosexuality’s supposed “immorality” and were willing to work with professionals who sought to “treat” or “cure” them, Jack Drescher writes in his 2015 study “Out of DSM: Depathologizing Homosexuality.” Other activists, however, forcefully rejected the pathological model as a major contributor to the stigma and in the wake of the Stonewall riots, brought modern sex research theories to the attention of the APA.

Believing psychiatric theories to be a major contributor to anti-gay social stigma, activists disrupted the 1970 and 1971 annual APA meetings.

Although, Drescher writes, there were rumblings happening within the world of psychiatry that helped the gay cause, “the most significant catalyst for diagnostic change was gay activism.”

Kameny and Gittings spoke on a 1971 APA panel entitled “Gay is Good.” They returned in ’72, joined by Dr. John Fryer, who appeared anonymously as a “homosexual psychiatrist.” 

John Fryer, gay news, Washington Blade
Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and John Fryer (in disguise). (Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via Wikimedia Commons)

APA’s Nomenclature Committee eventually recommended removing homosexuality when it determined it unique among the supposed mental disorders in that in and of itself, it did not cause distress nor was it associated with generalized impairment in social effectiveness of functioning.

It wasn’t a completely cut-and-dried affair; the psychiatric world continued grappling with the controversial decision for years, Drescher writes in his scholarly article, but it was “the beginning of the end of organized medicine’s official participation in the social stigmatization of homosexuality.” 

Many people, both inside and outside the psychology profession, claimed the APA had succumbed to pressure from gay activists and while it was true that many gay men and lesbians had exerted pressure, there were also respected psychiatrists within the organization who worked to affect the change, Marcus writes in “Making Gay History.” One was Dr. Judd Marmor, a Los Angeles psychiatrist.

“We didn’t merely remove homosexuals from the category of illness. We stated that there was no reason why a priori a gay man or woman could not be just as healthy, just as effective, just as law abiding and just as capable of functioning as any heterosexual,” Marmor is quoted as having said in Marcus’s book. “Furthermore, we asserted that laws that discriminated against them in housing or in employment were unjustified. So it was a total statement.”

Shortly thereafter, the American Psychological Association and the American Bar Association came out in support of gays.

“It was an important step that we took,” Marmor said in “Making Gay History.”

DISCO

Disco music, a type of dance music and the subculture around it that emerged in the ‘70s from the U.S. urban nightlife scene, is inextricably linked to post-Stonewall gay life.

Its “four-on-the-floor” beats, syncopated basslines and shimmery instrumentation flourished in venues popular with black, Latinx and gay nightlife lovers mostly in major cities on the East Coast at the dawn of the ‘70s. The most popular disco artists were Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, the Bee Gees, Chic, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Village People, Thelma Houston and others. Pop acts like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, who’d had hits in other genres, jumped on the disco bandwagon with success.

In his essay “In Defense of Disco,” gay writer Richard Dyer writes that disco gave gay men a mainstream musical genre they could embrace.

“All my life, I’ve liked the wrong music,” he writes. “I never liked Elvis and rock ’n roll; I always preferred Rosemary Clooney. And since I became a socialist, I’ve often felt virtually terrorized by the prestige of rock and folk on the left. … Disco is more than just a form of music, although certainly music is at the heart of it. Disco is also kinds of dancing, club, fashion, film — in a word, a certain sensibility.”

Thematically, Dyer (whose essay is included in the 1995 anthology “Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture”), writes that disco has both rhythmic and lyrical appeal to gay men.

“No wonder (Diana) Ross is (was?) so important in gay male scene culture for she both reflects what that culture takes to be an inevitable reality — that relationships don’t last — and at the same time celebrates it, validates it.”

“Our music owes so much to the gay clubs that first nurtured it, which in turn helped to create safe spaces that allowed a marginalized population the freedom to be themselves,” writes Ned Shepard in a 2016 Cuepoint essay.

He cites a comment from Barry Walters from Billboard.

“The history of dance music in America and the history of LGBT folks — particularly those of color — coming together to create a cultural utopia was and still is inseparable. Neither would have happened without the other,” Walters is quoted as having said. 

SEXUAL LIBERATION

Sexual liberation in the pre-AIDS era for lesbian and gay activists was a heated topic. Gay men especially enjoyed dabbling liberally without any of the baggage sexually adventurous women — despite this being the era of Helen Gurley Brown and her landmark 1962 book “Sex and the Single Girl” — faced, but the concern that gay rights would be overly associated with a free sex narrative was contentious and variations of that argument continue to this day.

The 1980 William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”)-directed movie “Cruising” was a nadir of the conundrum.

“There was … a political and ideological split in the gay community about whether or not it was valuable or necessary to show the leather and sadomasochism aspect of the community on screen,” recalls “The Celluloid Closet” author Vito Russo in “Making Gay History.” “There were middle-of-the-road gays who found this kind of thing horrifying. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you were necessarily acquainted with the more far-out aspects of gay sexuality, especially in the 1970s. There were a lot of gay men, and certainly lesbians, in this country who would have been deeply shocked by the sex bars in New York. … Suddenly the issue became, ‘Do we want to present this to the world as the way gay people are?’ The public was not going to distinguish between one group of gay people and another.”

Nancy Walker (not the “Rhoda” actress) writes of her volunteer work in the early ‘70s at the Boston-based weekly Gay Community News in “Making Gay History.” 

“We wanted gay liberation but what did that mean,” she writes. “Did it mean equal rights? To me, that’s all I ever wanted. On the other hand, some of them wanted to be able to fuck in the parks. Well, that’s wonderful, but if they did, I wouldn’t take my children there either. How far is sexual freedom supposed to go? Are you allowed to have intercourse on the street corner because you feel like doing it? How does that make you different from a dog? What happens to civilization when people lose all their socialization and have sex, where and with whom they please? We have to have a little bit of self control, a little discipline. I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in sexual freedom. I’m interested in being able to live.” 

Ultimately things somewhat self calibrated — AIDS brought a day of reckoning writ large, it didn’t manage to kill off gay bathhouse culture and, of course, antiretroviral meds and PrEP were game changers in the AIDS war. But it’s not all gay “Pollyanna.” Entrapment of cruising gay men remains a problem. As recently as 2015 in Rehoboth Beach, Del., of all places, 12 men were arrested for public lewdness by undercover police officers.

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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

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Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant

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‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

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National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

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