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Best of Gay D.C. XVIII

Washington Blade readers vote on favorites in the community

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Christmas comes early this year! Long an October staple, the Blade’s annual Best of Gay D.C. readers’ poll awards gets bumped up to September this year as we’re keeping next month open for our 50th anniversary festivities (shameless plug: the Birthday Gala is Oct. 18; tickets at blade50th.com).

So we’re taking this week’s edition to celebrate who and what you think are the best Washington has to offer its LGBT residents. 

For every perennial winner like Freddie’s Beach Bar, the 9:30 Club or Miss Pixie’s — which have all extended their dominance again this year — there are newer faces like Ricky Rose (Best Drag King), Donald Mitchell (D.C. Gay Flag Football) and Lexie Starre (Best Burlesque Dancer). 

Some winners and runners-up flip-flop in succeeding years. Rayceen Pendarvis and Bishop Allyson Abrams have something like a volleyball game unfolding in these pages in the Best Clergy category. Time for a sermon-a-thon?

We’re also taking this edition to honor the Blade’s own Lou Chibbaro, Jr. a staple of the paper since the mid-‘70s and celebrating his 35th year as a full-time staff member this year. In a Blade “Best Of” first, we give an award to one of our own. Chibbaro is the recipient of this year’s Local Hero Award, a title that has previously gone to Danica Roem, Gavin Grimm, Rev. Dean Snyder and more.  

Thankfully here, nobody has to “sashay away.” That’s the beauty of gay Washington — we can enjoy Pitchers one night, JR.’s another. Check out Nellie’s Brunch one weekend and Hank’s Oyster Bar another. It’s all good. 

About 3,500 nominations and 20,000 votes were cast in 99 categories for the 18th annual Best of Gay D.C. Awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. The photographers are credited throughout. This year’s contributing writers are Brian T. Carney, Patrick Folliard, Evan Caplan, Philip Van Slooten and Joey DiGuglielmo. Awards presented Sept. 19 at Dacha Navy Yard. 

The Blade staff congratulates each of this year’s winners and finalists. 

HERO AWARD: Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

Lou Chibbaro, Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Longer than Johnny Carson was on “The Tonight Show,” longer than “Gunsmoke,” longer than Barbara Walters on “20/20” or Ted Koppel on “Nightline,” Lou Chibbaro, Jr.’s full-time run at the Washington Blade is not only a record (so far as we’re aware) in LGBT media, it exceeds the runs of many classic long-running shows or media personalities. 

Starting as a freelancer in 1976 and full-time in 1984 (the same year Alex Trebek started hosting “Jeopardy”), Chibbaro is not only an LGBT icon and institution, he’s a stalwart reporter still out there pounding the D.C. pavement with shoe-leather reporting of the highest kind. For these decades of selfless service, he’s the recipient of a Blade “Best of Gay D.C.” first — on the occasion of the paper’s 50th anniversary, Chibbaro gets this year’s Hero Award, an accolade previously won by Danica Roem, Gavin Grimm, Rev. Dean Snyder and others. 

Chibbaro moved to Washington in 1972, came out in 1975 and was alerted to the existence of the Blade (which had started just after Stonewall in 1969) by a gay counselor he knew in New York. Working as a reporter for a newsletter in energy and environmental issues, Chibbaro wandered into the Blade office, then on 19th St., on the second floor in the same building as the Lambda Rising gay book shop, and introduced himself to the editor, the late Joseph Crislip. He was soon contributing to the paper. He’d been contributing to a gay radio show broadcast out of Georgetown University but its plug had been pulled and Chibbaro was looking for another LGBT outlet. 

Chibbaro remembers an informal office. The paper was released monthly at the time. One of his early scoops (from tipster Paul Kuntzler) was about a plan — eventually abandoned — to have a gay presidential candidate speak at the Democratic National Convention in ’76. Initially, Chibbaro wrote under a pseudonym (Lou Romano), fearful his Blade work might inhibit his employability down the road. It was a common practice as Crislip, too, had a fake byline. By the late ‘70s, Chibbaro was writing under his legal name. 

Through many editors, location changes, buyouts and more, Chibbaro has remained. He attributes his longevity to a passion for the subject matter.

“I came to Washington as a political junkie and when you’re interested in politics, Washington is the place to be,” Chibbaro says. “And as a gay person and someone who slowly got to know the community quite well, the types of stories we do are very interesting to me. They have significance and can have an impact.”

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia recognized Chibbaro’s local crime beat reporting by presenting him with its 1998 Justice for Victims of Crime Award, citing his “outstanding service to crime victims and their families” through his news reporting.

Among his other life achievement awards are Community Pioneer from Rainbow History Project (2009), GLAA and GAYLAW  Distinguished Service Awards (2010, 2013 respectively), Anita Bonds Community Cornerstone Award (2016) and the Partnership Award from the CAEAR Coalition. 

“I have for many years viewed my career at the Washington Blade as both a job as well as a community service,” Chibbaro said. “It is truly an honor to receive the Hero Award.” (JD) 

NIGHTLIFE

Best DJ Presented by BYQueers

Keenan Orr

Keenan Orr (Photo courtesy of Orr)

His music has been called “a sharp mix of disco, electro, funk and classics of the ‘80s and ‘90s” with past residences at Cobalt, the Rock and Roll Hotel and more D.C. venues. Orr spins at Sleaze at Wonderland Ballroom (first Thursday of every month) and is starting a new Thursday event soon at Uproar. He also has residencies at Eighteenth Street Lounge and MARVIN. And yeah, he’s gay. Look for him on Facebook to follow his upcoming appearances. (JD) 

Runner-Up:  DJ TWiN

Best Dance Party

Avalon Saturdays, Soundcheck

Avalon Saturday at Soundcheck (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1420 K St., N.W.

dougiemeyerpresents.com

Editor’s Pick: Sleaze, Wonderland Ballroom

Poised to celebrate its one-year anniversary in October, Avalon Saturdays at Soundcheck is a hit. 

During lunch break from a day at jury duty, party promoter extraordinaire Dougie Meyer explains, “At Avalon, we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. We brought a community together and gave them another safe space in D.C. to have fun and be themselves. Those who wanted to come for a drag show and those who want to dance to circuit music into the wee hours get that too.”

Things are still being tweaked, a year into the proceedings. 

“We’ve learned that to make Avalon great, we have to change something every week whether it’s the position of couches or discounted tickets or whatever. Our dedication to making our customers happy has earned us regulars, week after week, and that tells you you’re doing something right.”

Nothing is on autopilot here.

“A lot of people think you open the door, and — boom — there’s a party,” he says. “No, we have a team of people busting their asses all week long to make it happen. But on Saturday, it’s a night of fun and a good time with a changing roster of drag queens and DJs.”

And yet Avalon Saturdays isn’t resting on its laurels. Meyer says, “Our lineup through October is insane — our one-year anniversary party is followed by a Halloween party. We’ve already booked an international DJ for January 2020. The party keeps going.” (PF)

Best Bartender

Jo McDaniel, A League of Her Own (at Pitchers)

Jo McDaniel (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jo’s second consecutive win! 

2319 18th St., N.W.

pitchersbardc.com

Runner-up: Matthew Strother, Green Lantern (a 2011 and 2012 winner for his work at Secrets)

Best Burlesque Dancer

Lexie Starre

Lexie Starre (Photo by Your Rouge Photography)

D.C. Gurly Show

dcgurlyshow.com

Runner-up: GiGi Holliday

Sexy Lexie Starre got her start in burlesque with the D.C. Girly Show, the District’s longest-running queer burlesque troupe. She’ll be back onstage in December with the troupe’s Raise the Roof show, a fundraiser that will benefit local organizations.

In the meantime, she produces Pretty Boi Drag with her wife Pretty Rik E (who was the Blade’s Best Drag King last year). They started the troupe in 2016 and have been selling out shows ever since. They focus on elevating the visibility of drag kings, especially drag kings of color, and present both large productions as well as Open Mic nights where both new and veteran kings can get stage time.

Lexie is also working on getting her new business up and running. Wingo Circle Birth Services (wingocircle.com) provides labor and postpartum doula services and inclusive childbirth education classes for queer parents and families.

Lexie’s been performing since 2011 and says that some of her favorite showbiz memories were performing “Proud Mary” with her wife as Ike and Tina Turner (fringe and all!) on the main stage at Capital Pride and auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” with the D.C. Gurly Show. (BTC)

Best Drag King 

Ricky Rosé

Runner-up: Pretty Rik (A flip-flop of last year’s outcome.)

Multi-title holding drag king Ricky Rosé’s ethos is pretty simple: follow your dreams and all drag is valid.

Speaking via phone from a bus en route to a gig in Richmond, Va., Ricky explains their drag persona: “I’d say Ricky Rosé is like the name — brings glam to ghetto. Also, I’m your cool dad. I like to throw it back to my Latinx culture, lip-syncing mostly reggaeton and salsa. I’m a very proud Puerto Rican.”

Based in D.C., Ricky has been doing drag for two years. “Shortly after seeing my first drag king show, my heart wanted to jump out of my chest. I knew I’d found my calling and passion. I went home the same day and started practicing makeup.”

Offstage, Ricky’s chosen name is Yadiel. Ricky Rosé is a longtime nickname. “I wanted to stick true to myself while discovering my true form through gender identity. I’m non-binary in daily life. I’ve questioned gender identity as a kid and came into my non-binary gender through drag. I feel at home most in drag.”

Ricky, who frequently performs in queer venues all over town and holds down a day job at Sephora on 14th Street, is grateful for the votes from Blade readers. “It means people are seeing my work and appreciating what I bring to the stage. My goal has been to discover who I am and share and celebrate that with folks.” (PF)

Best Drag Queen

Bombalicious Eklaver 

Bombalicious Eklaver (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The drag-alter ego of Ed Figueroa, famous for making space for other Asian drag queens in the region. Follow her at @bombalicious.eklaver on Instagram.

Runner-up: Brooklyn Heights

Best Transgender Performer

Riley Knoxx

Riley Knoxx (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Runner-up: Ana Latour

Riley Knoxx is the world’s number one Beyoncé impersonator. A heady job that’s taken her around the globe and afforded her a comfortable life. And while Knoxx performs with drag queens, she isn’t a drag queen. “Because I’m transgender, my performance style is very much what you’d get if you went to a Beyoncé concert. I try to make it as close to that as possible.”

Need proof? Check out her cameo in Taylor Swift’s star-studded “You Need to Calm Down” video alongside luminaries such as Adam Lambert, Adam Rippon, Billy Porter, Katy Perry, RuPaul and many more! 

When Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” dropped in 2003, Knoxx took note. “People began to connect me with that song, and they started coming out to see me as her. My popularity grew with hers. So, naturally I thought there was something to this, and from that point on I only performed as Beyoncé.”

To remain on the top of the heap of a million Beyoncé impersonators takes work. As part of the job, D.C.-based Knoxx studies the star’s every move — how she walks, talks and holds the mic. She also dutifully mimics Beyoncé’s hair, wardrobe and makeup style. As a performer changes over the years, so must the impersonator.  

“Part of my career’s longevity is that I’m willing to change. I’ve never gotten bored, and so neither does the audience. It’s very different from year to year. If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. And growth has always been my goal.” 

Knoxx has always been a performer. She remembers being 5 years old, substituting a flashlight for a mic and pillowcase for long hair as she sang Whitney Houston songs around the house. 

“My trans experience was hard in the beginning, but performing helped to make it better. Having people who loved me before I loved myself was a big thing for me. As a transgender person, it has kept me going in a world that isn’t always loving toward transgender people.” (PF)

Best Rehoboth Drag Queen

Magnolia Applebottom

Magnolia Applebottom (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

The drag alter ego of Jeremy Bernstein hosts events all summer at the Blue Moon and other Rehoboth venues. Follow her at @mrsmagnolia on Instagram. 

Runner-Up: Regina Cox

Best Drag Show

Nellie’s Drag Brunch

Nellie’s Drag Brunch (Washington Blade photo by Vanessa Pham)

Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

900 U St., N.W.

nelliessportsbar.com

Editor’s Choice: Pretty Boi Drag (last year’s winner)

Best Singer or Band

Wicked Jezabel

Wicked Jezabel (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Also won this award in 2013, 2017 and 2018! Frankie & Betty held the title 2014-2016. 

Editor’s Choice: White Ford Bronco

Best Straight Bar

Dacha Beer Garden

Dacha Beer Garden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Fifth consecutive win in this category!

1600 7th St., N.W.

202-524-8790

dachadc.com

Editor’s Choice: Players Club

Best Karaoke

Freddie’s Beach Bar

Freddie’s Beach Bar (Washington Blade photo by Doug Horn)

Freddie’s was runner-up last year.

555 S. 23rd St.

Arlington, Va.

freddiesbeachbar.com

Editor’s Choice: Uproar

Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour

Number Nine

Number Nine (Washington Blade photo by Hugh Clarke)

A Blade “Best Of” ping-pong game — A repeat of the 2017 outcome after flip-flopping last year! 

1435 P St., N.W.

numberninedc.com

Editor’s Choice: Trade

Best Live Music

9:30 Club 

9:30 Club (Photo by Katherine Gaines)

A perennial dominator — whopping 14th consecutive win in this category! Won every year since 2006 (plus 2002 and 2003 — every time the category has been included).

815 V St., N.W.

930.com

Editor’s Choice: Wolf Trap

Best Neighborhood Bar

Larry’s Lounge

Larry’s Lounge (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1840 18th St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: JR.’s

Best Bar Outside-the-District

Freddie’s Beach Bar

Freddie’s Beach Bar (Washington Blade photo by Doug Horn)

Extending their record! — with this win and the Best Karaoke win, that makes 23 wins for this Best of Gay D.C. favorite. Freddie’s has won this award every year since 2002 in addition to several others. It’s a Best of Gay D.C. all-time record for a single category.

555 S. 23rd St.

Arlington, Va.

freddiesbeachbar.com

Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Eagle

Best Outdoor Drinking

Dacha Navy Yard

Dacha Navy Yard (Photo courtesy of Designing the District)

Dacha Beer Garden won last year! 

79 Potomac Ave., S.E.

dachanavyyard.com

Editor’s Choice: Red Bear Brewing Co.

Best Place for Guys Night Out Presented by BYQueers

Pitchers

Pitchers (Washington Blade photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

2319 18th St., N.W.

pitchersbardc.com

Editor’s Choice: Ziegfeld’s/Secrets

Best Place for Girls Night Out Presented by BYQueers

A League of Her Own (at Pitchers)

A League of Her Own (Washington Blade photo by Molly Byrom)

Second consecutive win in this category! 

2319 18th St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: Ladies Tea at Hank’s Oyster Bar

Best Queer-Friendly Night Out Presented by BYQueers

D.C. Weirdo Show

D.C. Weirdo Show (Photo by StereoVision Photography)

dcweirdoshow.com

Editor’s Choice: Gay Bash

The D.C. Weirdo Show, the monthly cult favorite for freaks, geeks and exposed butt cheeks, started in 2006 at the Palace of Wonders on H Street before settling into its current home at the Dew Drop Inn in Brookland. Since 2015, the show has been hosted by Dr. Torcher and her fabulously weird colleagues. She typically serves as host and also performs as a fire eater, sword swallower and comedian. Her husband Mark is the tech weirdo; he does sounds lights and posters. Abraxas is the stage manager extraordinaire; as Dr. Torcher says, “she keeps the show flowing, manages props and sets the cast up for success.”

Dr. Torcher says, “The show is a supportive, creative stage for performers with tremendous talents in burlesque, clowning, comedy, performance art and sideshow. We’ve also had yo-yo stunts, pole dance, contortion, drag, dire flow arts and voguing.  

“Our audiences know that they will see a polished, thoughtful, strange and entertaining show. We’re an intentional reflection of the stories and communities that make D.C. everything it is. We center performances by queer people and people of color.”

Their next show, called “Weirdos for Life!” is this weekend (Sept. 20). Dr. Torcher is always on the lookout for new talent. New performers are included in every monthly show and the annual “Happy New Weirdo” show is all “new-to-us” performers. There’s an application on the website. Dr. Torcher says the troupe is always looking for “those who perform amazing physical feats and who represent stories that don’t usually get told on stage.” (BTC)

Best Rehoboth Bar

Blue Moon

Blue Moon (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Blue Moon was editor’s pick last year. 

35 Baltimore Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

bluemoonrehoboth.com

Editor’s Choice: The Pines

Best Rehoboth Bartender

Jamie Romano, Purple Parrot

Jamie Romano (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Third win in this category! Won in 2011 and 2013; was runner-up 2016-2017 (fair warning — he’s straight). 

Purple Parrot

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Runner-Up: Sutton Ward, The Pines

Best Rooftop View

VIDA U Street Penthouse Pool

VIDA Penthouse Pool (Photo courtesy of VIDA)

Second consecutive win!

1612 U St., N.W.

penthousepoolclub.com/u-street

Editor’s Choice: POV Rooftop Lounge

FOOD

Best Ethnic Restaurant

Rasika

Rasika (Photo by David Liu via Flickr)

633 D St., N.W. & 1190 New Hampshire Ave., N.W.

rasikarestaurant.com

Editor’s Choice: Tiger Fork

Best Bloody Mary

Hank’s Oyster Bar/Hank’s Cocktail Bar

Bloody Mary at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

819 Upshur St., N.W.

hankscocktailbar.com

Editor’s Choice: Logan Tavern (last year’s winner)

Best Brunch

Le Diplomate

(Photo courtesy of Starr Restaurants)

Second consecutive win! 

1601 14th St., N.W.

lediplomatedc.com

Editor’s Choice: Farmers and Distillers

Best Locally Made Product

Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.

(Photo courtesy of Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.)

Approachable, affordable and portable Southern staples. Third consecutive win in this category. 

2301 Bladensburg Rd., N.E.

masondixiebiscuits.com

Editor’s Choice: Capital City Mambo Sauce

Best New Restaurant

St. Anselm

(Photo courtesy of Starr Restaurants)

Editor’s Choice: Little Havana 

St. Anselm

1250 5th St., N.E.

stanselmdc.com

Of the several Stephen Starr restaurants, St. Anselm shimmers bright. Located by Union Market, this meat-forward upscale-tavern-style restaurant is based on the Brooklyn locale of the same name. Executive Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley helms St. Anselm, a storied and award-winning chef, and a veteran of Jose Andres and Mike Isabella restaurants. 

Thick, hearty steaks livened by liberal helpings of herb butter are served in a vibrant atmosphere that’s part button-up and part button-down makes this an unsurprising choice for a favorite meaty meal. Beyond slabs of meat, diners are agog at the impressive shellfish and non-traditional steakhouse items like flaky biscuits with ramekins of pimento cheese and crispy “BoBo” chicken dressed up (or down?) with mumbo sauce. 

Chef Meek-Bradley, says that she and her staff “are so honored to be recognized by the (LGBT) community as Best New Restaurant. We are thrilled to be seen as a welcoming place to all of D.C.’s amazing diverse people.” (EC)

Best Food Festival or Event

Taste of D.C.

Taste of D.C. (Photo public domain)

“Largest culinary festival in the mid-Atlantic.” Runs Oct. 26-27.

thetasteofdc.org

Editor’s Choice: RAMW Restaurant Week

Best Craft Cocktails

Hank’s Cocktail Bar

Hank’s Cocktail Bar (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win! 

819 Upshur St., N.W.

hankscocktailbar.com

Editor’s Choice: Columbia Room

Best Fast Casual Dining

Stoney’s 

Stoney’s (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1433 P St., N.W.

stoneys-dc.com

Editor’s Choice: CAVA (last year’s winner)

Best Local Brewery

D.C. Brau

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Popular craft brewery offering free tours and tastings.” Fifth win in this category!

3178-B Bladensburg Rd., N.E.

dcbrau.com

Editor’s Choice: Red Bear Brewing Co.

Best Local Distillery

Republic Restoratives

Republic Restoratives (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1369 New York Ave., N.E.

republicrestoratives.com

Editor’s Choice: District Distilling

Best Burger

Duke’s Grocery

Duke’s Grocery (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A flip-flop of last year’s outcome. 

1513 17th St., N.W.

dukesgrocery.com

Editor’s Choice: Shake Shack

Best Caterer

Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company

(Photo courtesy of Rocklands BBQ and Grilling Company)

Washington, Alexandria and Arlington

rocklands.com

Editor’s Choice: Occasions Caterers

Best Juice/Fuel Bar

Barry’s Bootcamp

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win!

1345 19th St., N.W.

barrysbootcamp.com

Editor’s Choice: Smoothie King

Best Chef

Jamie Leeds, Hank’s Oyster Bar

Jamie Leeds (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win! Locations at The Wharf, Dupont Circle, Old Town Alexandria and Capitol Hill. 

hanksoysterbar.com

Runner-Up: Patrick O’Connell, Inn at Little Washington

Best Coffee Shop

Compass Coffee

Compass Coffee (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Fourth consecutive win!

1335 7th St., N.W.

compasscoffee.com

Editor’s Choice: La Colombe

Best Special Occasion Restaurant

Floriana

Last year’s runner up! 

1602 17th St., N.W.

florianarestaurant.com

Editor’s Choice: Rose’s Luxury

Best Ice Cream/Gelato

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (Photo via Instagram)

1925 14th St., N.W.

jenis.com/scoop-shops

Editor’s Choice: Ice Cream Jubilee 

D.C.’s hottest club, even in the throes of winter, is often this brightly lit scoop shop of national notoriety. Jeni founded the first of her chain’s premium, artisan-style, cult-fave ice cream shops in 2002, and opened the front-and-center 14th and U spot in 2017.

 Jeni’s uses all-natural ingredients and sources from direct- and fair-trade suppliers for the highly Instagram-ready cups and cones. The super-creamy scoops layer fruit, nuts and other ingredients for unusual combos. Two top flavors may explain why the shop’s a winner: the brambleberry crisp, vanilla mixed with toasted pie topping and thick, sweet-tart jam; and the almond brittle, of brown-butter-almond candy crushed into buttercream ice cream. Yes, you can taste test them all. The vegan hot fudge topping doesn’t hurt. Be aware of the price point: a scoop is a cool $7.50.

When it opened, the shop’s team said, “We believe ice cream has the power to bring people together, so we’ve created the kind of space we’d love to gather with friends and strangers over a scoop of ice cream.” (EC)

Best Farmer’s Market

FRESHFARM Dupont Circle Market

Dupont Circle Farmers Market (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win! Sundays 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. year round

1600 20th St., N.W.

freshfarm.org/dupont-circle.html

Editor’s Choice: Eastern Market

Best Food Truck

Peruvian Brothers

Peruvian Brothers (Photo via Facebook)

4592 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria

peruvianbrothers.com

Editor’s Choice: Captain Cookie and the Milk Man Food Truck

Best Pizza

Timber Pizza Co

(Photo courtesy of Timber Pizza Co.)

Editor’s Choice: Comet Ping Pong 

809 Upshur St., N.W.

timberpizza.com

When it comes to top District-beloved pizza, it’s going down: you’re yelling Timber. 

The sizeable crispy-bottomed, blistered pies attract down-the-block lines in their hot Petworth digs. 

Owners Andrew Dana and Chris Brady, both from the D.C. area, started Timber when they realized that, “we hated our jobs … but we loved lunch,” they wrote. Dana and Brady founded their current brick-and-mortar shop in 2016 in Petworth after wowing crowds at farmers’ markets from its food truck starting two years prior. 

To helm the pizzeria, they brought on Chef Dani Moreira, who brings a distinct South American panache to her creative pies that are just traditional enough to be called “Neopolitan-ish.” 

At the popping shop, diners share communal tables and lots of napkins over stylishly titled pies coming out fast and hot from the wood-fired oven. Cheekily named pies include The Bentley, with chorizo, sopressata, Peruvian sweet peppers, and locally made spicy honey.

White and green pizzas, just as popular as red-sauced pies, add pops of Italianate color, and Chef Moreira brings out killer not-to-be-missed Argentine empanadas stuffed with saucy braised beef and sofrito. 

“As a D.C. native the best thing in the world is being voted Best Pizza by the people of D.C.! We’re always proud to be a friend of the LGBTQ community,” says Dana, not only co-owner, but also self-titled “chief dough boi.” 

Comet Ping Pong, the restaurant made infamous for “Pizzagate” in the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, was a two-time repeat winner in 2017-18. (EC)

Best Rehoboth Restaurant

Azzurro Italian Oven + Bar

Cacciucco Alla Livornese at Azzurro (Photo courtesy of Azzurro)

210 2nd St., Rehoboth Beach, Del. 

azzurrorehoboth.com

Editor’s Choice: Blue Moon (last year’s winner) 

This new Italian restaurant features an irresistible menu of signature dishes like carpaccio di bresaola, a mozzarella bar, and a stunning frutti di mare overflowing with clams, mussels, lobster and more. All pastas are homemade in house. Chef/owner Francesco is a first-generation Italian who grew up in the restaurant business. His wife and co-owner Tonya makes everyone feel welcome and often brings limoncello with the check. The rooftop bar is one of the town’s too-few spots for outdoor dining and drinks. A new, must-visit dining destination in Rehoboth Beach.

Best Local Winery

City Winery

City Winery (Photo via Instagram)

Second year for both winner and editor’s choice! 

citywinery.com

1350 Okie St., N.E.

Editor’s Choice: District Winery

MEDIA

Best Local Website

DCist

dcist.com

Editor’s Choice: Popville (last year’s champ)

Best Local TV/Radio Personality

Ari Shapiro, NPR

Ari Shapiro (Photo by James C. Svehla of COD Newsroom via Wikimedia Commons)

npr.org/people/2101154/ari-shapiro

Runner-Up: Chuck Bell, NBC 4 (2015, 2016 and 2018 runner-up; 2014 winner)

You can hear Ari Shapiro’s velvet voice every weekday afternoon on NPR’s “All Things Considered” (broadcast locally on WAMU 88.5 FM). He’s been co-hosting the show since 2015. 

According to his bio on the NPR website, during his tenure at NPR he’s reported from above the Arctic Circle and aboard Air Force One and has filed stories from dozens of countries and most of the 50 states.

The out journalist began his reporting career as an intern for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in 2001. Since then he served as NPR’s Justice Correspondent in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, was embedded with the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, spent four years as White House Correspondent during President Obama’s first and second terms and spent two years as the network’s London correspondent before assuming his present position.

Shapiro has been widely recognized for the excellence of his reporting. At 25, he won the Daniel Schott Journalism Prize for his investigation into methamphetamine use and HIV transmission. He’s also been recognized for his coverage of disability benefits for injured American veterans, the American judicial system and Hurricane Katrina and has been included in the “Out 100” and the Advocate’s “Forty Under 40.”

The intrepid reporter has been out since high school where he wore a pink triangle on his knapsack. He married his longtime boyfriend Michael Gottlieb at San Francisco City Hall in February 2004.

When time allows, Shapiro also sings with the band Pink Martini. He can be heard on four of their albums singing in several languages. (BTC)

Best Local Influencer

Timur Tugberk, @timurdc 

Timur Tugberk (Photo courtesy of Designing the District)

Timur was last year’s runner-up. See this week’s Queery for more.

Runner-Up: Maggie McGill, @maggiemcgill

Best Radio Station

Hot 99.5

HOT 99.5’s Elizabethany at this year’s Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win! 

Editor’s Choice: The Tommy Show

PEOPLE

Best Amateur Athlete

Donald Mitchell

Donald Mitchell (Photo by Pedro Suárez)

D.C. Gay Flag Football

dcgffl.org

Runner-Up: Sharifa Love (D.C. Furies, Rogue Darts)

D.C. Generals captain and wide receiver, Donald Mitchell, led his team to victory in Gay Bowl XVII and was quick to spread the love. 

“Everybody on our team made some play that was memorable,” the Nashville native told the Washington Post after the win. “There wasn’t one or two or three standouts. Everyone put in.”

Whether this Southern generosity was a part of his charm or his nature, it was appreciated by his community who named Mitchell best amateur athlete for 2019. 

“I’ve been on several teams,” Mitchell continued in the Post. “And I’ve never been more proud of a team that came together to fight for each other.”

Well, this award is one win he can claim for himself and still be proud. (PVS)

Best Artist

John Jack Photography

John Jack Gallagher (Photo courtesy of John Jack Photography)

John Jack Gallagher has been taking photos since his first boyfriend gave him a 35-millimeter camera for his birthday more than 30 years ago. In 2012, he started shooting professionally after members of the Stonewall Kickball team he’d been photographing insisted he shoot their wedding. A flip-flop of last year’s outcome. John Jack Gallagher was also the 2016 and 2017 winner. 

johnjackphotography.pixieset.com

Runner-up: Lisa Marie Thalhammer

Best Businessperson

David Winer

EatWell D.C.

Runner-up: Lisa Wise (Nest DC & Roost DC)

Being ‘woke’ is more than something trendy for local restaurateur David Winer — it’s something he feels in his heart. 

“Everyday I try to reach out to people and help them grow,” he says with a humility that seems rare for businesspeople these days, even those who become president. “And if I reach a couple of them, then that’s good. That’s the theme of our management company, to help others grow.”

For Winer, EatWell D.C. is about growing healthy communities, not just his bottom line.

“We are trying to do a better job of bringing local producers into the market,” he says of the work still ahead. “We’re trying to be environmentally neutral not only with our food, but with our beverages as well. We’re looking forward to educating a new crop of chefs to be sustainable and natural. That’s where we’re going.” 

Winer is humbled by the award and felt being environmentally and socially conscious weren’t just good business practices, but about “trying to live a good life” as well. (PVS)

Best Clergy

Bishop Allyson Abrams

Bishop Allyson Abrams (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Abrams regains the title after Rayceen won last year. They’re perpetual flip-floppers in this category. Abrams won in 2015 and 2017. Pendarvis won in 2016 and 2018 and was the 2017 runner-up. Abrams was the 2016 runner-up. 

Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

Sundays at 1 p.m.

4900 10th St., N.E. (Faith UCC Chapel)

empowermentliberationcathedral.org

Runner-up: Rayceen Pendarvis

Most Committed Activist

Charlotte Clymer

Charlotte Clymer (Photo courtesy Clymer)

The trans activist reached a settlement earlier this year with the Cuba Libre Restaurant after a manager forced her to leave after she used the women’s restroom in 2018. 

Runner-up: June Crenshaw

Best D.C. Public Official

Mayor Muriel Bowser

District of Pride, gay news, Washington Blade
Mayor Muriel Bowser (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win for the mayor! 

Runner-up: David Grosso

Best Hill Staffer/LGBT Bureaucrat

Alec Buckley

@AlecBuckley6 

U.S. Senate legislative staffer

Runner-up: Jacob Trauberman

Even though Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, (D-N.D.) lost her 2018 re-election bid, her former legislative aide is still hard at work campaigning for causes on the Hill. 

“Our household believes we can do more to #EndGunViolence,” best Hill staffer Alec Buckley tweeted on June 7 above images of himself and his partner in matching Wear Orange T-shirts. “That’s why we #WearingOrange @Everytown @MomsDemand.”

With 47 Tweets, 45 followers and 643 likes, Buckley may not be in Trump territory on numbers, but he still uses his social media presence to inform the public on social issues.  (PVS)

Best Local Pro Athlete

Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics

Elena Delle Donne (Photo courtesy of the Washington Mystics)

Delle Donne’s second consecutive win!

Runner-Up: Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Elena Delle Donne keeps extending her accomplishments. This year, she joined the elite 50-40-90 club (NBA and WNBA players who have shooting percentages at or above 50 percent for field goals, 40 percent for three-pointers and 90 percent for free throws during an entire regular season), becoming the first-ever WNBA player to do so.

That puts Delle Donne alongside Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers including Steve Nash, Reggie Miller and Larry Bird. She was also named 2019 Associated Press WNBA player of the year and topped the league’s most popular jersey list for the third consecutive season.

In addition to her success on the basketball court (as the “small forward” for the Chicago Sky and the Washington Mystics she was named the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2013 and the WNBA MVP in 2015 and is a five-time WNBA All-Star), Delle Donne (who’s out as a lesbian) is an award-winning author.

Her memoir “My Shot: Balancing It All and Standing Tall” recently won a Parents’ Choice Award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation. Aimed at middle school readers, the book is an amazingly frank but age-appropriate discussion of both her career highlights and her personal challenges, including her decision to come out.

Last year, she also launched the “Hoops” series of novels for young readers (ages 8-12). “Elle of the Ball” introduces Elle Deluca, who closely resembles Delle Donne herself. Elle’s height is an asset on the basketball court but a liability in her ballroom dancing class where she towers over her male dance partners. The series continues with “Full Court Press” and “Out of Bounds.”

Like her fictional counterpart, Delle Donne is very tall and had an early growth spurt. She’s 6’5” and wears a size 12 shoe. She gets her height from her parents. Her dad, a real estate developer, is 6’6” and her mom is 6’2.”

She also gets her feisty spirit and determination from them. When Delle Donne was in elementary school, her doctor wanted to start her on injections to stunt her growth. Her mother refused, and, according to an interview with ESPN, she told her daughter, “Why try to be like the rest of the pack? Be your own person.”

The young athlete also had to come to terms with the fact that she could do things that her beloved older sister Lizzie would never be able to do. Lizzie, with whom Delle Donne remains close, was born deaf and blind, with both cerebral palsy and autism, and is unable to speak.

Born in Wilmington, Del., in 1989, Delle Donne rose to national prominence as a high school basketball star at Ursuline Academy. She led her team to three straight Delaware State Championships and was ranked as the number one recruit by Scout.com.

Delle Donne was recruited by the University of Connecticut but ended up playing for the Blue Hens at the University of Delaware. In 2010, she was named both “Player of the Year” and “Rookie of the Year” by the Colonial Athletic Association. Although she was diagnosed with Lyme disease during her sophomore year, she continued to excel as a college athlete and was selected second overall in the 2014 WBNA Draft by the Chicago Sky. She joined the Washington Mystics in 2017.

In 2016, Delle Donne won a gold medal as a member of the Unites States women’s basketball team at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Delle Donne officially came out in an interview with Vogue magazine in August 2016 where she announced her engagement to girlfriend Amanda Clifton. The couple was married in 2017.

The award-winning out athlete, who has signed endorsement deals with Nike, DuPont and Octagon, is also a noted philanthropist. She founded the Elena Delle Donne Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for Lyme Disease research and special needs programs and is also a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics. (BTC) 

Best Local Pro Sports Team

Washington Capitals

Braden Holyby, center, of the Washington Capitals marches in the 2019 Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s Choice: Washington Nationals

Same outcome as last year. 

Best Fitness Instructor

Mark Raimondo

Mark Raimond (Photo courtesy of Barry’s Bootcamp)

Barry’s Bootcamp

1345 19th St., N.W.

barrysbootcamp.com

Runner-up: James Crawford (Solidcore)

When best fitness instructor winner, Mark Raimondo of Barry’s Bootcamp, first heard Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down,” he knew he had to use it in his class. 

“I was like this is awesome,” he says. “It will make people feel safe, warm and invited to my classes.”

Raimondo teaches large classes of 50 or more, two to three sessions a day, but he’s still made personal connections and a few good friends in two short years. 

While students’ achievements inspire him, dance music motivates him. 

“At the end of the day, it’s fitness and it’s supposed to be fun,” Raimondo says. “So, I might throw some old Britney (Spears) in there to get people jazzed up.” (PVS)

Best Real Estate Agent

Michael Moore, Compass

Michael Moore (Photo courtesy Moore)

michaelmoorehomesdc.com

Runner-Up: Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty Inc.

Michael Moore was a little frustrated working in retail clothing when a friend suggested he’d be terrific in real estate. Initially hesitant, Moore met with a savvy Realtor who encouraged him to give it a shot. With not a lot to lose, he took the classes, passed the test, and went to work for a boutique company broker in 1988. He’s been at it ever since. 

Today as a successful Realtor and senior vice president at Compass Real Estate, Moore credits his success to consistent customer service. “My career began with first-time homebuyers. In time, first-time buyers become sellers and they buy another house and they tell their friends. Now my business is almost entirely referrals and repeats.” 

Moore’s specialty is marketing and getting homes ready for sale. “I’m a huge proponent of staging and doing what it takes to project the property in its best light,” he says. “I try to create a situation that when a prospective buyer walks in the door, they love it, and think to themselves ‘won’t my friends be jealous when they see me living here.’”

While he does have a fair amount of LGBT clients, Moore never directed business toward or away from any one group. “Essentially I’ve always thrown the net out and taken what I get,” he says. “I’ve weathered good markets and bad markets and everything in between. … Real estate is crazy, maddening, exciting. It’s been a love affair.” (PF) 

Real Estate Group

Marin Hagen & Sylvia Bergstrom, Coldwell Banker

1617 14th St., N.W.

coldwellbankerhomes.com

Runner-Up: The Evan+Mark Team, Compass (last year’s winner) 

Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent

Lee Ann Wilkinson, Berkshire Hathaway

Lee Ann Wilkinson (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Second consecutive win!

16698 Kings Hwy A.

Lewes, Del.

leeanngroup.com

Runner-Up: Henry McKay, Jack Lingo Realtor

Best Straight Ally

Kathy Dalby

Kathy Dalby (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

runpacers.com

Runner-Up: Mari Rodela

In 2006, Kathy Dalby took a leap of faith. She left a dream D.C. job as a health care policy analyst for a high-profile law firm and took a full-time job at Pacers Running. She’s now CEO of the company, as well as the managing partner for Pacer Events, LLC, and publisher of RunWashington. The six stores serve as hubs for local runners and offer a full range of running gear along with training advice and a robust schedule of regular fun-runs and special race events. 

Based on her belief in “authentic and community-focused relationship building,” Dalby has been a staunch LGBT ally. Pacers Running has been a supporter of Capital Pride and the D.C. Front Runners. In turn, the Front Runners made one of Dalby’s childhood dreams come true when they asked her to be a member of their Pride Parade dance troupe.

Dalby says, “I try to create a culture at Pacers where we celebrate others. I am proud to be an award winner, but it’ll be a real win when we don’t feel like we need to single out straight folks for being supportive of our LGBTQ friends because frankly that should be the norm.”

She has some excellent advice: “Acknowledge your privilege and acknowledge the beauty in differences,” she says. “It’ll make you a better person, I promise.” (BTC)

Best Transgender Advocate

Ruby Corado

From left, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado and Lt. Brett Parson of the Metropolitan Police Department speak at a community forum on anti-LGBT violence on July 9, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A new title for Ruby after three wins as “Most Committed Activist” and the Local Heroine award in 2014. 

Casa Ruby

2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.

casaruby.org

Runner-Up: Sarah McBride  

Best Stylist 

Michael Ian Hodges 

Michael Hodges (Photo courtesy of Logan Aveda 14 Salon and Spa)

Logan 14 Aveda Salon Spa

1314 B 14th St., N.W. 

logan14salonspa.com

Runner Up: Roel Ruiz (last year’s winner)

For top stylist and Logan 14 Aveda Salon Spa owner Michael Ian Hodges, the recipe for success is simple: skills, consistency and friendliness. Also, location doesn’t hurt. There are more gays per inch in Logan Circle than anywhere else in the country, he notes. 

While adept at all types of styling, he’s best known for his men’s barber cuts. 

“I can do 44 cuts a day on a busy day. I have an assistant, and I double book: two guys every hour on a 12-hour day.”

Hodges first caught the hair bug sitting on the counter of his mom’s salon in England watching her do hair. When the family moved to the U.S., he brought his passion with him. After apprenticing with to an accomplished London-trained stylist in Maclean, Va.,, he began his professional career. Thirty years later, he’s still at it. 

At Logan 14, he maintains a large book of clients and helms a crew of 24 stylists. He’s grateful for his clients’ patronage. “They’re like family. I know their lives backwards and forwards. There’s a mutual support and caring. Relationships are important.”

Looking forward, Hodges, who lives with his husband on the D.C. line in Mount Rainier, Md., is expanding the size of Logan 14, and he’s considering opening a barbershop in the future. “I’m not getting any younger, (he turns 50 next year) but I see myself working and staying in the industry for a long time.” (PF)

COMMUNITY

Best Art Gallery

Renwick Gallery

Renwick Gallery (Photo public domain)

A repeat of last year’s outcome for both winner and editor’s choice.

1661 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

americanart.si.edu

Editor’s Choice: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Best Adult Store

Bite the Fruit

Fourth consecutive win in this category! 

1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. 

bitethefruit.com

Runner-up: Lotus Blooms

Best Car Dealership

BMW of Fairfax

BMW of Fairfax (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last year’s editor’s choice. 

8427 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va.

bmwoffairfax.com

Editor’s Choice: Maserati of Arlington

Best Apartment/Condo Building

Atlantic Plumbing

(Photo courtesy of Atlantic Plumbing)

Last year’s editor’s choice and the 2016-2017 winner.

2112 8th St., N.W.

atlanticplumbingdc.com

Editor’s Choice: City Market at O

Best Doctor/Medical Provider

Whitman-Walker Health

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A flip-flop of last year’s outcome. 

whitman-walker.org

Runner-Up: Dr. Robyn Zeiger

Best Fitness or Workout Spot

VIDA Fitness

A flip-flop of last year’s outcome.

Locations at U Street, Logan Circle and Gallery Place

vidafitness.com

Editor’s Choice: Barry’s Bootcamp

Best Gayborhood

Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle Fountain, Russian news agency, gay news, Washington Blade
Dupont Circle (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Shaw is dethroned after three consecutive wins! Logan was also the 2016 runner up. 

Editor’s Choice: Logan Circle

Best Hardware Store

Logan Ace Hardware 

Logan Ace Hardware (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A perennial favorite in this category. Third consecutive win! 

1734 14th St., N.W.

acehardwaredc.com

Editor’s Choice: True Value on 17th

Best Home Furnishings

Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams 

Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams in their 14th Street NW store. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Second consecutive win on the occasion of their 30th anniversary! 

1526 14th St., N.W.

mgbwhome.com

Runner-up: Room & Board

Best Home Improvement Service

Case Design

(Photo courtesy of Case Design)

“Full-service home remodelers building your dreams.” Third consecutive win! 

Locations in Washington and Bethesda.

casedesign.com

Editor’s Choice: Magnolia Plumbing, Heating & Cooling

Best Hotel

The Line

1770 Euclid St., N.W.

thelinehotel.com

Editor’s Choice: W Hotel

Best House of Worship

Foundry United Methodist Church

Foundry United Methodist Church (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Foundry fights back! Dethrones Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which had four consecutive wins (2015-2018). Foundry (church home to 17 U.S. presidents) held the title 2011-2014 was last year’s editor’s choice. 

1500 16th St., N.W.

foundryumc.org

Editor’s Choice: St Thomas’ Parish Episcopal Church

Best Lawyer

Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health

whitman-walker.org

Runner-Up: Michele Zavos (last year’s winner)

Since 2008, Amy Nelson has been director of legal services at Whitman-Walker Health. One of her milestone accomplishments was organizing the name and gender change legal clinic in 2012, which continues to serve hundreds of clients in updating their gender markers on identity documents annually.

Nelson is understandably proud about her work at the historic D.C. institution, saying, “Working at Whitman-Walker Health means being a part of history, part of a big messy family full of inspiration and passion, and is like no other job I could imagine. I am extremely excited about our expansion in Southeast and expanded services for youth.”

Nelson also underscores the importance of reaching out to D.C.’s diverse communities. “D.C.’s many (LGBT) and immigrant communities are fabulous and bold but need a little more love to stay healthy and safe as this country moves to erase them,” she says. 

The fierce advocate acknowledges the role her family plays in sustaining her work. “I am so grateful to be sharing my life chaos with the one and only amazing June Crenshaw whose commitment to D.C.’s queer youth experiencing homelessness is limitless,” she says. “Her heart inspires me to do better, be kinder and be OK with being me.”

She also unwinds by hanging out with her nieces and nephew in Arlington. “They are adorable rays of sunshine and happiness who ground me every weekend,” she says. But be careful if you ask to see pictures of them. Nelson warns, “I only have a few thousand photos of them on my phone.” (BTC)

Best LGBT Social Group

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Their show “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” is Saturday night (5 and 8 p.m.) at City Winery. The chorus knocks off Stonewall Sports after two consecutive wins. 

gmcw.org

Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Sports  

Best LGBT Sports League

Stonewall Kickball

Third consecutive win; 2016 runner-up. 

skdc.info

Editor’s Choice: DC Frontrunners

Best LGBT-Owned Business

District Title

A full-service provider of real estate settlements and title insurance. 

1150 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

districttitle.com

Editor’s Choice: Social Driver

Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace

Whitman-Walker Health

(Washington Blade photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

Third consecutive win.

1525 14th St., N.W.

whitman-walker.org

Editor’s Choice: National LGBTQ Task Force

Best LGBT Event

Capital Pride Celebration

The main stage at the 2019 Capital Pride Festival (Washington Blade photo by Drew Brown)

Third consecutive win! 

Editor’s Choice: Cherry Fund Weekend

Best Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian America Art Museum (Photo by Zach Frank via Wikimedia Commons)

F & 8th St., N.W.

americanart.si.edu

Editor’s Choice: National Museum of African American History and Culture

Best Non-Profit

SMYAL

SMYAL Fall Brunch fundraiser (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. Second consecutive win! 

410 7th St., S.E.

smyal.org

Editor’s Choice: Latino GLBT History Project

Best Private School

Barrie

13500 Layhill Rd.

Silver Spring, Md.

barrie.org

Editor’s Choice: Edmund Burke (also last year’s editor’s choice) 

Best Pet Business

City Dogs Daycare

1832 18th St., N.W.

301 H St., N.E.

city-dogs.com

Editor’s Choice: District Dogs

Best Place to Buy Second-Hand Stuff

Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot

Miss Pixie’s (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A perennial favorite in this category! Same outcome for third consecutive year. 

1626 14th St., N.W.

misspixies.com

Editor’s choice: Buffalo Exchange (2016 runner-up)

Best Movie Theater

Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema

Landmark’s Atlantic Plumbing Cinema (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New releases plus indie fare, foreign and avant garde. Third consecutive win. 

807 V St., N.W.

landmarktheatres.com

Editor’s Choice: AMC Loews Georgetown

Best Rehoboth Business

Purple Parrot

Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Second consecutive win! 

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

ppgrill.com

Editor’s Choice: Blue Moon

Best Salon/Spa

Logan 14 Aveda

Logan 14 Aveda (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Fourth consecutive win! 

1314 14th St., N.W.

logan14salonspa.com

Editor’s Choice: Bang Salon

Best Alternative Transportation

Capital Bike Share

Capital Bikeshare (Photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz via Wikimedia Commons)

capitalbikeshare.com

Editor’s Choice: Lyft

A flip-flop of last year’s outcome. 

Best Day Trip

Easton, Md.

Easton, Md. (Photo by Mellowcream via Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s Choice: Harper’s Ferry

Best Regional Pride

Annapolis Pride

Annapolis Pride (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Pride

Best Tattoo Parlor

Fatty’s Tattoos & Piercings

1333 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

516 H St., N.E.

8638 Colesville Rd. (Silver Spring) 

fattystattoos.com

Runner-up: Tattoo Paradise (winner last two years)

“It feels good, but we’re kind of used to it,” says Fatty (the only name he gives), owner of Fatty’s Tattoo on receiving this year’s Best Tattoo Parlor award. “We’ve been voted D.C.’s best tattoo shop 10 times now. Since 2009.”

It’s also their 25th year in D.C., and Fatty says success comes from welcoming everyone equally. When the Dupont Circle shop first opened, not all businesses embraced tattoo lovers.

“Back in the ’90s, tattooing was underground and being gay was still kind of underground, so we matched up pretty nicely.”

Fatty saw many shops close after the 2008 recession, but this match helped keep his parlor open. 

“That’s our mission of excellence,” he says. “The customer doesn’t need to see it posted, they need to feel it.” (PVS)

Best Theater

Kennedy Center

Kennedy Center (Photo by Make Male via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kennedy Center returns after an upset flip-flop last year; it held the title 2015-2017!

2700 F St., N.W.

kennedy-center.org

Editor’s Choice: Studio Theatre

Best Theater Production

“Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” (Studio Theatre, July)

Editor’s Choice: John Cameron Mitchell’s “Origin of Love” (National Theatre)

Best Veterinarian 

Friendship Hospital for Animals

An upset flip-flop of last year’s outcome — CityPaws held the title 2015-2018. 

friendshipanimaldc.com

4105 Brandywine St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: City Paws Animal Hospital 

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a&e features

Meet the LGBTQ leaders behind D.C. statehood fight

‘We’re still second class — it’s just so unfair’

Published

on

From left, Bo ShuffBarbara HelmickJohn KlenertMonica Hopkins and Phil Pannell are leaders in the fight for D.C. statehood. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the nation’s capital, home to one of the country’s largest LGBTQ populations and where more than half of the citizens identify as people of color, residents have no voting representation in Congress. LGBTQ statehood advocates have been fighting for decades to expand voting rights, autonomy, and representation to Washington’s 700,000-plus residents. 

Philip Pannell moved to the District from New York City in 1975 to work for the D.C. Council. As he made his way through his new home, he said he was immediately struck by the lack of representation. He felt then, and still feels today, like a second-class citizen, he said. 

“For us to be here in the District of Columbia, to be living in what is essentially a colony, is unconscionable,” said Pannell, 70, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council. “We’re still second class. It’s just so unfair.”

LGBTQ statehood advocates Bo Shuff, Barbara Helmick and John Klenert of DC Vote; Monica Hopkins of ACLU; Stasha Rhodes of 51 for 51; and Pannell all have two beliefs in common — a hope statehood will become a reality someday, and that the movement is intertwined with LGBTQ rights and racial justice.  

Residents pay federal and state taxes, serve on juries and register for the draft — but don’t have the same liberties as those who reside in the 50 states. Eleanor Holmes Norton represents the District in Congress but as a non-voting delegate.

Statehood is supported by the Biden administration and by Democratic representatives in the House and Senate. 

Bo Shuff, executive director, DC Vote 

Bo Shuff (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Shuff, who identifies as gay, has long worked on the frontlines of LGBTQ policy, including the fight for marriage equality. He became involved in the statehood movement when working as Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign manager. 

Statehood first appeared on the ballot in 2016 when Mayor Bowser called for a districtwide vote on whether the nation’s capital should become a state, Shuff said. Before that, statehood was introduced in Congress but never brought forward and other solutions were considered.

The bill for statehood has passed the House twice and was discussed in the Senate. But Shuff, 48, said legislation moves slowly and he expects statehood to take time.

“It is simply a large hill to climb,” he said. “And if you’re climbing Mount Everest, you don’t always make it on your first try.”

The current system where Congress oversees the District, which has no voting representation on the federal level, is “textbook racism,” he said. 

“You have a majority white body, the United States Congress, making decisions and passing all of the laws that impact a majority Black community,” he said. 

Other voting rights bills, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, are essential, and statehood should be considered when crafting legislation on voter suppression, Shuff said. 

Education around these bills across the country, including statehood, is important, he said. Including statehood in this advocacy educates those outside the area that statehood is, at its core, a voting rights issue, Shuff said. 

Philip Pannell, executive director, Anacostia Coordinating Council 

Phil Pannell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Pannell works in the revitalization of Washington’s neighborhoods east of the river and has led the Anacostia Coordinating Council for 25 years. The organization has accomplished much for Wards 7 and 8, including garnering community support to build the Anacostia Metro stop. 

Currently, Pannell and the council are sponsoring a poetry contest for middle and high school students on why statehood is important to them personally. 

“They understand what the issue of statehood is all about,” he said. “It’s just so encouraging.”

If statehood passes, the District would be home to the highest percentage of people of color in the United States. That in itself makes the movement a racial justice issue, he said. 

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said. 

Pannell has been arrested at several LGBTQ and statehood protests, including a

statehood rally in 1993 with then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and many others for blocking an intersection near the Capitol.

“Being involved in the statehood movement means just as much to me being involved in the struggle for LGBT rights,” he said. 

Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager, 51 for 51 

Rhodes, who identifies as queer, initially moved to Washington from Louisiana to work in gun violence prevention, but was struck when congressional Republicans sought to roll back measures.

“I was a little confused about how Republicans would be able to do that, considering they were local laws, and learned what lack of statehood meant for residents of D.C.,” she said. 

Now, as the campaign manager for 51 for 51, an organization advocating for statehood, she said she sees the movement as “the most intersectional work of our time.”

During a time when voting rights bills are being debated at multiple levels of government, statehood should be a priority, Rhodes said. 

“If we truly want to live up to the ideals of our democracy and fight the current wave of voter suppression sweeping across the country, D.C. must be granted statehood and D.C. residents must be given full voting rights,” Rhodes, 34, said. 

Rhodes comes from a family of advocates stretching back generations. Her grandparents, who lived in rural Louisiana, were active in the early days of the civil rights movement. They would help register people to vote and worked as key organizers in the area, she said. 

“I sort of had the bug early,” she said. 

Barbara Helmick, director of programs, DC Vote 

Barbara Helmick (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Helmick, 70, moved to the District in the late ‘70s. Her first brush with shortfalls due to the lack of statehood was when sodomy was decriminalized in 1981 but quickly overturned by Congress. It was not until 1993 when it was legalized. 

“That was a wake-up call — Congress wouldn’t let this jurisdiction, our locally elected officials, deal with that,” Helmick said.

The District’s lack of power and autonomy is inefficient, she said, and restricts the area from easily drafting and applying laws that work best for the community. 

But press coverage of statehood is a hopeful sign, as well, Helmick said. Activity in the House and Senate is also positive, she said. 

“I am extremely optimistic,” Helmick said. 

Monica Hopkins, executive director, ACLU DC 

Monica Hopkins (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hopkins, who identifies as bisexual, began leading the District’s ACLU chapter seven years ago after running ACLU Idaho. When she moved to Washington, she said she immediately felt a disconnect because of the lack of federal representation. 

“I don’t think that you can live in D.C. and not feel that disconnect of not having a voice,” she said. “It’s very disempowering.”

Hopkins, 48, said statehood is integral for the District for many reasons. More power would be allotted in approving and crafting budgets, and oversight without congressional votes would end, for example. 

The District’s lack of statehood has intersected with LGBTQ equality issues through the years, she said. In the ‘80s, the District attempted to start a needle exchange program to curb high rates of AIDS. In 1998, Congress banned the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs because of fears the program would encourage drug use. Local municipalities could still use their own money to pay for the program — except the District.

The ban was lifted in 2007, but Washington still sees the ramifications of nixing the program today, Hopkins said. 

“We couldn’t, at the time, do what D.C. residents wanted to do with our own taxpayer money,” she said. 

The District also has no control over its own National Guard, which was highlighted during the Jan. 6 riots when Mayor Bowser was unable to call in reinforcements and was forced to wait on approval from the Pentagon. This showed the rest of the country the issues in the District’s governance, Hopkins said. 

“Some of the most devastating sorts of things can happen when we don’t have control over our own state,” she said. 

John Klenert, chair, DC Vote board 

John Klenert (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Klenert, 72, developed his interest in the movement after writing a paper on voting rights in the District and the 14th amendment while at college at the Catholic University of America. He’s been involved on the fringes of the movement since then and joined DC Vote 10 years ago.

His gay identity is “the icing on the cake” in his advocacy for statehood, he said. 

A scholar of constitutional history, Klenert said statehood is essential in upholding democracy in the United States. 

Other solutions to the lack of representation have been attempted, but he believes statehood would be the most successful avenue in expanding protections to District residents. 

“We live here in the District of Columbia, many, many of us are citizens of this country, which means that we belong to a constitutional democracy,” he said. “And yet, we have no say in how this government is run.”

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D.C. summer ablaze with events, concerts, art

A plethora of activity in wake of COVID restrictions loosening up

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After a year of public events being cancelled and residents staying cooped up in their homes due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the “outside” is finally open and D.C. is effervescing with events. Check out ways to make up for lost time during the remaining months of this year’s summer season:

The Baltimore Museum of Art will open Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power & Protest, an exhibition dedicated to the women who rebelled on Sunday, July 18. The exhibition combines prints, photographs, and books to tell the stories of past heroines and modern trailblazers, celebrating women throughout history who broke rules, transgressed boundaries, and insisted upon recognition of their human rights. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

Tschabalala Self: By My Self is on view at the BMA through Sept. 19, 2021. Explore 13 paintings and two related sculptures curated by Cecilia Wichmann that reveal artist Tschabalala Self’s depth, intricacy, and singularity. The exhibition explores how the compositional process generates meaning in Self’s work, reflecting her theory of selfhood as a consciousness that is at once produced by external images and by an ongoing reworking and evolving of forms into a new whole. Self was born in Harlem, New York, in 1990 and is based in New Haven, Conn. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

The 1455 Summer Festival will begin on Thursday, July 15 at 4 p.m., featuring a stellar lineup of literary leaders and creatives (many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community) who will share their insights into the art of storytelling. The lineup will include literary superstar Brian Broome, author of “Punch Me Up to the Gods,” and Booker-Prize-winning author “Shuggie Bain” and fashion designer Douglas Stuart, among others. Some of the festival’s events include “What Makes a Successful (Queer) Narrative?” a panel that’ll dissect queer storytelling throughout the years. There will also be a teen poetry contest with a $5,000 grand prize. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

The National Museum of Asian Art will open Hokusai: Mad about Painting on Saturday, Aug. 28. The exhibition will feature work by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) best known for his iconic woodblock print, “The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa” and a breathtaking painting titled “Breaking Waves” that was created 15 years after Great Wave at the height of Hokusai’s career. Drawing on the museum’s impressive Hokusai collection, visitors have the opportunity to see a new presentation, with artworks being added throughout the summer. In addition to Breaking Waves, the exhibition includes works large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. For more information, visit the NMAA’s website.

Awesome Con will be from Friday, Aug. 20 to Sunday, Aug. 22. The event is D.C.’s own Comic Con, a celebration of geek culture, bringing more than 70,000 fans together with their favorite stars from across comics, movies, television, toys, games, and more. Awesome Con is home to Science Fair, Book Fair, Awesome Con Jr, Pride Alley, a celebration of queer creators and fans curated by GeeksOUT, and Destination Cosplay. For more information, visit awesomecon.com. 

A scene from 2019’s Awesome Con. This year’s event is slated for the weekend of Aug. 20. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland Renaissance Festival will begin on Saturday, Aug. 28 and runs Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday through Sunday, Oct. 24 for nine weekends of thrills, feasting, handmade crafts, entertainment and merriment in Crownsville, near Annapolis, Md. The 27-acre Village of Revel Grove comes to life each autumn with more than 200 professional performers on 10 stages, a 3,000 seat arena with armored jousting on magnificent steeds and streets filled with village characters. For more information, visit rennfest.com. 

The National Museum of Women in the Arts will be open for special evening hours from Thursday, Aug. 5 to Friday, Aug. 6 from 5-8 p.m. The featured exhibitions are Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood, which presents images photographer Mary Ellen Mark made throughout her career depicting girls and young women, and Selections from the Collection, which highlights historical and contemporary art by women around the world. Free timed tickets are required so that the museum can ensure the safety of patrons and their staff. Visit their website for more information. 

The 13th Annual Ukefest will begin on Friday, Aug. 13. Celebrating a decade dedicated to this small but mighty music maker, UkeFest Artistic Directors Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer return alongside extraordinary instructors like Peter Luongo, Kevin Carroll, Ginger Johnson and more. The program orientation will kick off on Friday night, followed by four days of classes and evening events. For those looking for more intensive skill development, Strathmore’s UkeFest is the only program of its kind that offers an advanced track. Admission is $225 and more information is available at Strathmore.org.

The Drive-In at Union Market will start at 7:30 p.m. every first Friday of the month through October. While watching films under the stars, enjoy dozens of local, regional, and international foods: Egyptian favorites by Fava Pot, night market noodles from Som Tam, ice cream locally churned by The Creamery, tasty takeout burgers from Lucky Buns and more. Movie audio will be transmitted through an FM transmitter on the radio and through speakers placed on Neal Place. All movies are shown with open captioning, and the movie plays rain or shine. Each showing costs $20 per car. For more information, visit unionmarketdc.com. 

Unwind with an hour-long vinyasa outdoor yoga session taught by District Flow Yoga every Tuesday and Thursday on District Pier and every Sunday morning on Recreation Pier at The Wharf. Enjoy waterfront views and fresh air as you shed the stress of the day or greet the new one. The outdoor yoga class on Sunday, July 25 is hosted on Recreation Pier from 9-10 a.m. and costs $10. Tickets must be purchased on Eventbrite. For more information, visit wharfdc.com. 

FUTURES, the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall, will open in the late summer and run through summer 2022. This exhibition is your guide to a vast array of interactives, artworks, technologies, and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter. Smell a molecule. Clean your clothes in a wetland. Meditate with an AI robot. Travel through space and time. Watch water being harvested from the air. Become an emoji. The FUTURES is yours to decide, debate, delight. Patrons are encouraged to dream big, and imagine not just one future, but many possible futures on the horizon—playful, sustainable, inclusive. Visit the Arts and Industries Building’s website for more information. 

The National Portrait Gallery will open “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” on Friday, Aug. 27. Hung Liu (b. 1948) is a contemporary Chinese American artist, whose multilayered paintings have established new frameworks for understanding portraiture in relation to time, memory, and history. Often sourcing her subjects from photographs, Liu elevates overlooked individuals by amplifying the stories of those who have historically been invisible or unheard. More information is available at the gallery’s website.

 After a long COVID drought, music is back! The 9:30 Club has a schedule of shows starting in September, notably the return of the Bob Mould Band on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. (tickets are $25 and still available). Tinashe performs her “333Tour” on Oct. 3 (tickets on sale July 16). Visit 930.com for the full schedule and hurry, because many shows are already selling out. 

Bob Mould, gay news, Washington Blade
The Bob Mould Band plays 9:30 Club on Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, at I.M.P.’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, more shows are headed our way, including James Taylor and his All-Star Band on Aug. 10. Wilco and Sleater-Kinney perform Aug. 20. For more throwback fixes, New Kids on the Block are slated for Aug. 4 and Alanis Morissette with Garbage and Liz Phair play on Aug. 31. Visit merriweathermusic.com for the full lineup. 

Wolf Trap has a full schedule of events planned this summer as well. Highlights include Renee Fleming on Aug. 6, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Aug. 12, and ABBA the Concert on Aug. 15. Visit wolftrap.org for the full schedule.

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Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington celebrates 40th anniversary with virtual concert, retrospective

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals

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Members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gather in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GMCW Turns 40
Streaming begins Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m.
Available through June 20
Tickets: $25
gmcw.org

Discussion of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington quickly becomes emotional for its members both veteran and newbie(-ish). They’re the kind of strong feelings that only exist when one has sacrificed and invested in something.

“It’s an experience that touches our soul in a way that not that many LGBTQ+ people get to experience,” says tenor Javon Morris-Byam, a gay 28-year-old music teacher who joined three years ago. “We have music tying us together and in the end, we make a product that we can share with the public and that’s a humbling experience.”

Steve Herman, 79, is a founding member, though he doesn’t sing. One of a group of “non-singing members,” he joined in June 1981 and has helped over the decades painting scenery, designing ads, serving on the board and more. His partner at the time had joined the chorus as a singer.

A Gay Men’s Chorus performance in 1983. (Washington Blade archive photo by Leigh Mosley)

Now retired after 47 years in the federal government, he says the Chorus “has been a major centerpiece of my life.”

“This may sound corny, but I couldn’t imagine my life without the chorus,” Herman says.

The chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a streaming concert simply dubbed “GMCW turns 40” that can be streamed starting Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed until June 20.

Selections will include “From Now On” (from “The Greatest Showman”), “Rise Up,” “Make Them Hear You” (from “Ragtime”), “Truly Brave” and a new song called “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” written for the occasion by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, composers of “Ragtime.” Video clips of past performances will also be included in a montage. Tickets are $25 at gmcw.org.

Thea Kano, the Chorus’s artistic director since 2014 (she was associate director for a decade prior), says “Make Them Hear You” has “kind of become our anthem over the last 10 years,” so contacting its composers for a commission made sense. They premiered it last summer virtually at the Chorus’s Summer Soiree, a COVID-induced postponement of its usual Spring Affair.

Thea Kano, center, joins members of the Chorus at the United States Supreme Court on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision in June of 2015.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kano, a straight ally, directs the Chorus with aid from Associate Conductor C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor Joshua Sommerville and accompanist Teddy Guerrant. Justin Fyala has been the Chorus’s executive director since 2016. Staff also includes Craig Cipollini (director of marketing), Kirk Sobell (director of patron services) and Alex Tang (accompanist).

Under the main Chorus umbrella are five ensembles: 17th Street Dance, a 14-member performance troupe started in 2016; Rock Creek Singers, a 32-voice chamber ensemble; GenOUT Youth Chorus, a teen choir of about 25; Potomac Fever, a 14-member harmony pop ensemble; and Seasons of Love, a 24-voice gospel choir.

GenOUT Youth Chorus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Musically, the Chorus’s repertoire is eclectic.

“(We sing) everything from spiritual to glam rock to punk to traditional classical, and everything in between,” Morris-Byam says. “I love when the chorus is all together and able to produce a big powerful sound.”

Kano says working with Fyala is “a dream” and says under his leadership the Chorus is “in a very healthy financial place, which is wonderful and a very humble thing to be able to say right now particularly given that we’re in a pandemic — that’s not the case with a lot of arts organizations.”

The D.C. Chorus is a quasi-unofficial spin off of its San Francisco counterpart. During an early ’80s national tour, the San Francisco group performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and had a profound effect on local audiences. Marsha Pearson, a straight woman who lived in Dupont Circle at the time and enjoyed hanging out with gay men, was one such person.

“I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one of these,” she told the Blade 10 years ago for a story on the Chorus’s 30th anniversary. “I thought, ‘We’re the nation’s capital, how come we don’t have this?’”

The Chorus performs at the popular gay nightclub Tracks in 1984. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

She hand wrote fliers — four to a sheet — had her sister photocopy them at her office, cut them up by hand and passed them out at Capital Pride in 1981. Accounts vary about how many showed up to the first practice at the long-defunct gay community center (no connection to the D.C. Center) on Church Street. Pearson remembers about 30. Others say it was more like 15-ish. It was June 28, 1981 and, by all accounts, an innocuous beginning.

Pearson never sang with the group — it was exclusively a men’s chorus. She asked if anybody had any conducting experience. The late Jim Richardson did and became the first director.

“I still remember the first chord,” Pearson told the Blade in 2011. “It was just a simple thing, you know, like do, mi, so, do, but I just got goosebumps. I was just elated that even one note came out, I was so excited. I got those same goosebumps at the anniversary concert last weekend. I put their CDs on and I get the same thing, especially on certain things they sing. You just can’t believe it sounds so great.”

Click here for more about the history of the group. A bio/history is also available at gmcw.org.

COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the operation. Thankfully, Kano says, no members have died from it, though a handful (she says fewer than 10 that she knows of), including Kano, have had it and recovered.

The Chorus continued its Sunday evening rehearsals via Zoom, which, because of the precision required for musical performance, was tougher to take online than, say, a business meeting. It never occurred to the Chorus leadership to take a hiatus.

“I look back now like, ‘Why didn’t we take some time off,’ but I think off the top of my head at the time it was like, “We sing and we’re a social justice organization and community is such a big part of who we are,’” Kano says. “And so for suddenly, with no notice, to have something that we love so much and are so passionate about …. to suddenly just turn the lights off, that wasn’t even an option.”

A GMCW rehearsal in 2007. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

With the Chorus and dancers and GenOUT, there are about 200 current volunteer performers. It’s been slightly higher at times. Some were deterred by the thought of rehearsing via Zoom although some former members no longer in the D.C. area — even a few overseas — rejoined when virtual participation became possible.

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and beyond was a galvanizing event. The Chorus responded with its “Let Freedom Sing” concert, which Kano says celebrated the intersection of Black and LGBTQ people.

Featured soloists perform in ‘Let Freedom Sing.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It was our way of saying we raise our voice in solidarity with those facing injustice,” Kano says.

But does that get messy at times? Surely not everyone in a choir of this size is on the same page politically, even in a progressive city like D.C., right?

As a nonprofit, the Chorus avoids anything ostensibly political. Kano says the issue did arise when they were invited to sing at a Virginia-based gun-reform event last year. They participated, but carefully.

“So anytime you mentioned guns, it becomes political,” Kano says. “It’s not about whether or not we support the Second Amendment. It’s us standing in solidarity with those who have been victims of gun violence.”

Kano says there’s “a very good chance had this been a non-pandemic year,” they would have been invited to sing at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which she says they “absolutely” would have agreed to.

“We did wonder, though, a few years ago what we would have said if 45 were to ask us,” she says. “We didn’t spend a lot of time on it because we knew that wasn’t gonna happen,” she says with a chuckle.

The holiday shows for the Chorus often involve elaborate costumes, as in this scene in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herman says performing at big, pro-LGBTQ “statement”-type events is woven into the Chorus’s history and is understood.

“Every Christmas Eve, we’d sing for the patients at NIH,” he says. “We still do, only then it was primarily AIDS patients. We sang special concerts when the (AIDS) Quilt was first displayed and when there was a March on Washington. We did a lot of community work and outreach at a time when it was really needed.”

Morris-Byam says even today, with so much progress having been made, the Chorus still is needed. He, by the way, calls Kano “one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met.”

“I believe the Chorus is a strong political statement in itself,” he says. “When we’re making a strong, joyful noise, it’s celebrating everything we are, what we can be, and everyone who has gotten us where we are.

The Chorus celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in a performance at Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There have been challenges over the years — finding new office space, patching together individual vocal parts for virtual performances — but no warring factions. Kano is, by most accounts, extremely well liked.

The future, Kano says, is bright. She hopes to resume in-person rehearsals in the fall. She spent a big chunk of early lockdown transcribing a Puccini “Gloria Mass” for tenor/bass chorus. She plans to program it with works by Cole Porter eventually.

Ultimately, Kano says, her goals for the Chorus are about making great art.

“Art comes first,” she says. “Because that’s how we deliver our mission. And if we put great art first, it’s going to attract great people. It’s going to both as members and as audience members and patrons, and therefore it’s going to attract great funding, and then all that goes right back into the arts we can further our expansion and our ability to get the mission out.”

Craig Cipollini leads the ‘Grease’ dance auditions in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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