It’s been 20 years ago this month since the release of “Boys Don’t Cry,” the Fox Searchlight movie that depicted the true story of Brandon Teena, a trans man played by Hilary Swank, who adopts a male identity in Nebraska but is murdered in a hate crime.
Directed by Kimberly Peirce, whose interest was piqued by a 1994 Village Voice article about Teena, the film was made for $2 million and made $20 million at the box office. It premiered Oct. 8, 1999 at the New York Film Festival and went into wider release later in the month.
Swank won a bounty of awards for the role including prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Independent Spirit Award, the Golden Globe and the Oscar. It was both widely praised in reviews at the time and holds an 88 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s unlikely, though, that Swank would get cast in the role were it made today. With trans actresses Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross having been cast on the Ryan Murphy FX drama “Pose,” and Scarlett Johansson all but forced to withdraw last year from her planned movie “Rub & Tug” (she was to play a trans character based on Dante Gill, who ran massage parlors in the ‘70s and ‘80s that were brothel fronts) after a backlash ensued, many say it’s a new day for trans actors. Of Johansson, trans actress Trace Lysette (Shea on “Transparent”) wrote on Twitter, “Not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived.”
Elle Fanning drew ire the year before for being cast in “3 Generations” as Ray, a female-to-male trans teen. A groundswell had been building with actors like Matt Bomer in “Anything” (2017), Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” (2015) and Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) drawing muted but present backlash.
Conversely, on TV, trans actress Candis Cayne earned the distinction of being the first trans actress to play a recurring trans character on a primetime show when she played Carmelita on ABC’s short-lived “Dirty Sexy Money” (2007-2009). Trans actress Nicole Maines plays the first trans superhero as Dreamer/NiaNal on The CW’s “Supergirl.” In its latest report, GLAAD says there are 26 trans characters currently on TV, vs. 17 in its previous report.
Leto ended up winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role. Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his and back in 2005, Felicity Huffman was nominated for playing trans in “Transamerica.” A trend was clearly at play — playing trans is Oscar catnip for cisgender actors.
That’s a problem, working trans actors today say.
“The Academy seems to see it as some heroic transformation, but is it any more a feat of acting than what, say, Daniel Day-Lewis did as Lincoln, or any number of great performances you could name,” says Samy Nour Younes, a trans male stage and screen actor in New York. “Beyond the fact that they’re playing another gender identity, the roles are usually not that good. If you watch ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ ‘Transamerica’ or ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ which is the worst among them, they’re not particularly well written characters period, not because they assumed a marginalized identity, but we think there’s something inherently taboo or exotic, but in a stigmatized kind of way, about it. Like, ‘Oh, you’re so brave, you deserve an Oscar,’ when it actually wasn’t that great.”
Younes says “Transparent,” the hit 2014-2019 (it just wrapped with a musical finale on Amazon Prime Video Sept. 27) show on which he guested twice in its fourth season, was a game changer just before “Pose” hit big. Although cis actor Jeffrey Tambor played Maura, a retired college professor who comes out as trans, creator Jill Soloway enacted a “transfirmative action program” for the show (cast and crew) where trans applicants were hired in preference to cis applicants. Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show,” “Arrested Development”) left the show in late 2017 amid sexual misconduct allegations.
“Just letting trans people in the room — directors, writers, consultants — makes a huge difference,” Younes says. “That’s when we start getting layered and nuanced characters that tell stories beyond their transitions, with interesting people. We’re seeing less and less of a need for the Eddie Redmaynes of the world who say, ‘Oh, I did so much research,’ which I call bullshit on that because if you’d really done so much research, you’d have an understanding that we’re not just some costume you can slip on which just helps solidify the Academy’s thinking that that’s all it is and playing trans becomes a farce.”
The casting conundrum
Tammara Billik, a veteran Hollywood casting director known for her work on “Married … with Children” and the famous coming-out episode of “Ellen” in 1997, says things have come a long way since the “Boys Don’t Cry” era.
For one, she says, TV has come into a “golden age” that has “provided a lot more opportunities for all kinds of inclusive roles.”
“Not just with ‘Pose’ and ‘Transparent,’ but now there are a number of trans actors,” Billik, a lesbian, says. “I just read something about their being a trans actor in a series regular role on ‘The Politician’ with Ben Platt. I didn’t know anything about that. It’s happening without a big splash, it’s happening on weekly shows, so I think there is tremendous progress in terms of the trans actor community, particularly on TV.”
Film, she says, is different.
“When ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ came out, gosh, I don’t think I knew a trans actor at the time. … It certainly wouldn’t have been a time when a trans actor would have been cast. Now you would be hard pressed to cast that role with a cis actor,” Billik says. “You just wouldn’t do it, right?”
She says the Johansson episode was “a giant shift.”
“In both a good and bad way,” Billik says. “It’s good for the actors and a good way to show more diversity on television but we’ve also seen a backlash against particularly trans women of color. I’m not saying ‘Pose’ is responsible for it, but people get angry when you show them the truth. We’re all wondering why so many trans women of color are being targeted for violence. Is it because we’re seeing their images more on TV, is it because people have been emboldened by Trump? I don’t know the answer to that.”
It’s an issue GLAAD has been working on for years. Nick Adams and Alex Schmider, GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program team, work with TV networks, production companies, showrunners, script writers, casting directors and agencies as well as PR firms to help bring what it calls “fair and accurate representations for transgender people to the screen.”
They say things are improving dramatically.
“Hollywood is beginning to tell more accurate and well-rounded stories about transgender people and casting trans characters more authentically,” Schmider said in an e-mail comment to the Blade. “Not only are trans characters starting to be written with more nuance, complexity and humanity in the worlds in which they exist, but casting has also begun to evolve in positive ways.”
By their count, there’s only one cis actor still playing a trans role on TV.
The issue is a bit more complex, casting vets say, than “casting more authentically.” Alexa L. Fogel, casting director for “Pose” and a slew of HBO shows such as “Oz,” “The Wire,” and others, says it’s “a really complicated issue” that has multiple angles.
“TV is easier in that you’re creating characters, you’re creating roles, you’re creating stars,” she says. “In the case of ‘Pose,’ none of these people were known before. A lot of them hadn’t really acted before. These roles could be crafted around these people’s strengths to some degree, not so much in the character of Elektra, with her we had to find someone who could deliver what was on the page, and that was challenging for sure, but I think the other side of it is that certainly with films, there are certainly situations in which you need to sell tickets to things. Certain things might not get made without movie stars. These are complicated questions and I don’t know that anyone knows the answers to them all yet, but it’s a conversation.”
The decision to cast trans actors on “Pose” was made prior to Fogel’s involvement with the show. She says that added a layer to the casting process, but she didn’t see it as an extra burden.
“It’s part of the joy of the job,” says Fogel, who declined to state her own sexual orientation or gender identity. “It’s about rising to the challenge. I never considered that it couldn’t be done. It was just about, you know, doing the research, getting ambassadors to the community, making sure I had enough time to meet enough people. Anytime you do something that’s less visible, it’s more time consuming.”
How deep was the talent pool?
“I wouldn’t say it was a huge talent pool, but I’ve done a lot of projects where you just have to really put your head down and do extra research and this was one of them,” she says. “It was challenging but it never felt that it was going to be impossible. It just meant we had to do extra work.”
She’s not aware if the Screen Actors Guild tracks its members’ gender identity (SAG did not respond to requests for clarification on that). Fogel says membership is easy to secure once she casts a lead role.
Could ‘Pose’ be a fluke?
Is “Pose” a one-off or a game changer?
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think yeah, the ground is certainly shifting in terms of the conversation,” Fogel says. “I think it’s ultimately about the writing, about the culture and what people feel like they want to see. People want real representation and that seems to be happening across the board.”
“‘Pose’ is telling a story that’s really spectacular and a lot of people are really responding to it, so I don’t think it will be a one-off,” she says. “I think we’ll see a whole slew of trans actors cast because of it.”
Aneesh Seth, a trans actress on the Netflix show “Jessica Jones,” says there’s still “a long way to go.”
“Athough trans folks have gained some control over the types of trans narratives out there, they can still tend to be reductive and focused on our trauma,” she said in an e-mail. “Where are the stories of trans folks winning? Falling in love? Having successful marriages and careers?”
Is this the end, at least, of the big stars taking home Oscars and nominations for all the major trans movie roles? And how realistic is it — theoretically — for a trans actor to have given the caliber of performance Swank gave in “Boys Don’t Cry”?
Some say it’s a chicken-or-the-egg argument. If trans actors had been given time to build up their resumes on equal footing with a Swank or a Jared Leto, who knows what they might have achieved? That’s not to say they had easy rides — Swank and her mother, for a time, lived out of a car upon moving to Los Angeles as Swank pursued her dream. But inarguably, upon starting her acting career, she got cast in varied roles far faster and more regularly than any trans actor would have fared, especially in the ‘90s.
Fogel, especially, says it’s hard to account realistically for “what ifs.”
“You can’t really know the answer to that without doing the work,” she says. “I couldn’t have answered any of these questions about ‘Pose’ before I’d done it. The process is so important when it comes to casting. You really have to do the work to find the people, it’s all about the process.”
The path ahead, many agree, is bright.
“I actually think Time magazine jumped the gun a little bit when they put Laverne Cox on the cover for ‘Orange is the New Black’ and said it was ‘The Transgender Tipping Point,’” Younes says. “Not to take anything away from her, but I think the tipping point is actually now because it’s not just one, it’s multiple roles. There’s a brand new pool of talent and we’re more open to the fact that it could come from anywhere.”
Several folks interviewed for this piece mentioned bit parts they’d seen trans actors cast in of late. Billik just saw “Moulin Rouge” on Broadway and said one of four ladies in the opening number was trans. Younes knows a trans colleague in the ensemble in “Tina: the Tina Turner Musical,” which opens at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway next month (previews are in October). He also cites two trans actors with brief speaking parts in this summer’s “Spider Man: Far From Home.”
GLAAD reps helped cast Zoey Luna, a trans Latina actress, in “The Craft” reboot from Sony as Lourdes, one of the lead girls in the coven who happens to be trans. In 2018, not one of the 110 major studio films released included a trans character, according to GLAAD.
“So this casting and character are game changers in the film landscape,” Schmider says.
Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon on Showtimes “Billions,” is another positive step, many agree. And Daniela Vega made history in “Fantastic Woman,” a 2017 Chilean drama that won an Oscar. Vega was the first trans presenter in the history of the Academy Awards when she presented in 2018.
“This isn’t a trend, this isn’t just the topic du jour,” Younes says. “For decades, all we could get were playing the dead hooker on ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ … I hope it’s a continuing trend for trans people making inroads in entertainment.”
SIDEBAR: ‘Boys Don’t Cry’: problematic in retrospect?
Although it was seen as fairly groundbreaking in its day, the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry” hasn’t aged particularly well, some argue.
Donna Minkowitz, the writer of the original Village Voice story that inspired the movie, apologized last year in a piece she wrote (also for the Voice) called “How I broke, and botched, the Brandon Teena Story.”
“For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit anti-trans framing,” Minkowitz wrote. “Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated ‘her’ body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape. … At the time, I was extremely ignorant about trans people. Like many other cis queer people at the time, I didn’t know that there were gay trans men, trans lesbians, bisexual trans folks, that being trans had nothing to do with whether you were straight or gay, and that trans activism was not, as some of us feared, an effort to stave off queerness and lead ‘easier,’ more conventional heterosexual lives.”
The trope of the butch lesbian who takes things “just a little too far” and comes out as trans, is a recurring one, trans actor Samy Nour Younes says. He, too, found the film adaptation “problematic.”
“There was a similar storyline on ‘The L Word,’ when Max Sweeney starts taking hormones and becomes this raging monster, a really awful storyline. Seeing some of those things and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ were the first representations I saw of a trans masculine storyline and stopped me from coming out sooner.”
The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021
These handpicked presents will leave recipients jumping for joy
Stumped over what gifts to give your family, friends, and neighbors this year? Check this list then check it twice, because while you’ve been naughty, they’ve been nice.
YuJet Surfer Electric Jetboard
If ocean-based watersports scare the bejesus out of you – because sharks! – the YuJet Surfer Electronic Jetboard offers a compromise to satisfy your thrill seeking, all limbs intact. With a top speed of 24 mph, range of 16 miles, and a 40-minute ride time, users can sit or stand on the battery-powered, remote-operated board that quietly glides across lakes, rivers, canals, and other bodies of water devoid of man-eating monsters. $10,000, YuJetUSA.com
Mind-Pop Casserole Pans
Perfect for campground cooking or gourmet meals made at home, Darling Spring’s ultra-pretty Mind-Pop enamel casserole pans by Kapka add a Pollock-splashed joie de vivre to the meal-making experience, which seamlessly moves from stovetop to serving table without dirtying another dish. $45, DarlingSpring.com
Oclean Water Flosser
Traditional floss isn’t exactly a budget buster, but the Oclean W10 Water Flosser is a sleek, no-waste and, yes, cheaper-in-the-long-run alternative with five distinctive modes and four high-performance nozzles to keeps the crevices between those pearly whites crud- and cavity-free. $60, Oclean.com
Flat Brim Wines
Bring a trio of varietals to the holiday table with Flat Brim Wines’ Not Series, including the 2020 “Not Tragic” Pinot Noir, 2020 “Not Basic” Picpoul/Roussanne, and 2020 “Not Extra,” which, if it were Opposite Day, two out of three would describe you to a T. flatbrimwines.com
Playcraft Shuffleboard Table
Playcraft edges out its at-home gaming competition with the Georgetown Espresso Shuffleboard featuring solid wood construction, richly stained accent features, and furniture-grade finishes that are a far cry from the warped, frat boy-abused tables dying slow deaths in dive bars everywhere. $1,595, SawyerTwain.com
Round up your favorite rice, soybeans, nuts and oats for homemade vegan milk alternatives that cost pennies on the dollar compared to pre-packaged versions of the same at your local supermarket. Just add water and a handful of your desired ingredient to churn out 20 ounces of liquid health in about 15 minutes. $200, MyChefWave.com
Cambridge Audio Evo 75
You may not regard London as synonymous with audio innovation, but you’ll change that tune after listening to your favorite artists streaming through Cambridge Audio’s Evo 75, the sleek, cutting-edge, all-in-one system pumping out crystal-clear sound quality fit for a queen. $2,250, CambridgeAudio.com
Wild Roots Spirits
Wild Roots Spirits’ five-times filtered, five-times distilled corn-based vodkas – in seasonal flavors like pear, cranberry, and apple-cinnamon – will spice up your soft and hard holiday seltzers and sodas for a little added zip on your lips. $30, WildRootsSpirits.com
Takumi by Yokai Express
Not only can the Takumi machine cook ramen, dim sum, rice, dumplings, pasta and more, but it also has the dubious distinction of being the choice ramen-making machine of Tesla’s offices – because of course it is: Elon Musk wouldn’t be caught dead microwaving Oodles of Noodles like the rest of us. $400, YokaiExpress.com
Oliver Charles Sweater
What do you get when Tibetan yak wool meets the world’s most advanced 3D-knitting machines? An antimicrobial, soft-as-cashmere, day-to-night sweater that instantly becomes one of the most versatile and comfortable pieces in your closet that rarely needs washing. $220, Oliver-Charles.com
Knitting Knowledge Starter Kits
If the summer Olympics taught us anything it’s that Tom Daley is a multitalented athlete poised to take knitting gold someday, and you can train for your spot on the team with Knitting Knowledge starter kits, including beginner socks, baby blankets, and beanies that include everything you’ll need – from yarn to needles to patterns – to complete the project with a perfect score. $18-$80, KnittingKnowledge.com
If you’ve been on the fence about installing a backside-cleansing bidet in your bathroom, consider this: Toilet paper isn’t getting any cheaper, and it only takes a moderate COVID-induced run on the supermarkets before you’re forced to hunt it down on the black markets – again. $140-$650, Brondell.com
Stark Custom Kitchen Knives
Upgrade your store-bought block knives to a set of Stark Creations chef’s, paring, and nakiri custom knives, forged from scratch to complement your personality or overall kitchen aesthetic. $265-$515, StarkCreationsUS.com
American Blossom Organic Blanket
Roast your nuts by an open fire during an in-the-buff cuddle sesh featuring your fave holiday flicks in American Blossom’s herringbone weave blanket made from West Texas Organic Cotton. $195, AmericanBlossomLinens.com
Erica’s Tea Room Scones
Gild the proverbial lilies of your holiday breakfast spread with a selection of Erika’s Tea Room “Florida Famous” scones in comfort-food flavors like orange-cranberry, white chocolate-apricot, rum raisin, caramel-walnut, and piña colada, among other classic mashups. $36-$42/dozen, ErikasTeaRoom.com
RadRover 6 Plus
From a custom geared-hub motor that climbs hills 25 percent faster with more torque and extended range to all-new hydraulic brakes that provide superior stopping power, the best-in-class RadRover 6 Plus is basically the Range Rover of e-bikes – with far less depreciation per dollar. $2,000, RadPowerBikes.com
Hoppy Hanukkah Experience + Santa Clausthaler
Celebrate a “Hoppy Hanukkah” with Brewvana’s nontraditional advent calendar that conceals eight beers, one for the first night of the Festival of Lights and a full week after. If you’re laying off the hooch this holiday season but still want to participate in the spirit of it all, throw back a few non-alcoholic Santa Clausthalers, infused with cinnamon and cranberry for a cider-like refresher. $75, Brewvana.com; $10, Schofferhofer.us
Wildwood Candle Co.
Sick of pumpkin spice stinkin’ up the joint? Fill your rooms with more nuanced fall scents – like maple, sandalwood, cypress, and birch – available in a bundled seasonal foursome from eco-friendly Wildwood Candle Co. and inspired by the enchanting, well-traveled trails of Portland, Ore.’s Forest Park. $88, WildwoodCandleCo.com
Whiskey lovers who grab life by the horns will count this hand-blown, lead-free bull decanter among their prized possessions this Christmas while you enjoy the holly-jolly feeling of knowing that each purchase plants a tree. $80, PresitgeHaus.com
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.
Sharon Gless on new memoir and connection to LGBTQ community
Beloved TV icon’s book was seven years in the making
Have you ever read a memoir that is so intimate, so revealing, so honest, that as you were turning the pages it felt like the writer was sitting next to you, speaking directly to you?
Kudos to multiple Emmy Award-winning actress Sharon Gless for making that a part of the experience of reading her new memoir “Apparently There Were Complaints” (Simon & Schuster, 2021). The Los Angeles native with Hollywood in her veins (her maternal grandfather was a hotshot entertainment lawyer), Gless rose to prominence via her portrayal of New York police detective Christine Cagney in the popular and groundbreaking 1980s TV series “Cagney & Lacey”(alongside Tyne Daly). As if she hadn’t already established an LGBTQ following through that show, she went on to play Debbie Novotny, the smart and sassy mother of Michael on Showtime’s equally groundbreaking “Queer As Folk”in the early 2000s. Gless sat down for an interview in advance of the publication of her book.
BLADE: Your new memoir, “Apparently There Were Complaints” opens on a serious note with your 2015 pancreatitis diagnosis. So, I’d like to begin by saying that, from one Gemini to another, I hope you are in good health.
SHARON GLESS: Thank you, honey, I’m in very good health. Thank you, my fellow Gemini.
BLADE: Why was now the time to write your memoir?
GLESS: Well, it’s taken seven years. It’s not like it was yesterday. I never actually intended to write a memoir, Gregg. I was called in to a meeting by CBS for what I thought was a conversation to offer me a new series. We talked for an hour and, apparently, I was so entertaining that at the end of the hour meeting, the president of CBS said, “You know we own Simon & Schuster.” I said, “I didn’t know that.” She said, “We do, and I think you’ve got a book in you.” I said, “I don’t usually write.” She said, “That doesn’t matter. You’re a storyteller, Sharon.” So I walked out with a book deal [laughs] with Simon & Schuster and not the series I was hoping for. Actually, I didn’t meet (with) Simon & Schuster for another year. I sort of let it go. The next day there was a text from the president of Simon & Schuster. I sort of ignored it because I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to act! A year went by, and I wasn’t so busy, and I was in New York, and I said, “What the hell!” I went to meet him. I read one chapter to him, one chapter that I had written in case he asked for anything. He signed me that day [laughs].
BLADE: Were you a journal or diary keeper or did you rely on your memory for the details?
GLESS: Never. No. My very best friend Dawn (LaFreeda), who’s been my best friend forever and … I’m a talker, a storyteller, and I would tell her stories about my life throughout our relationship. She kept them! She said, “You have a book in you.” So, there’s another person saying so. She kept the stories. When Simon & Schuster made me the offer, Dawn dragged out all my stories. A couple of times I had gatherings at my house where I had four people over, and I said, “Ask me some questions,” and put a recorder down. I’d just start talking. Then as more of my life coming out on the page, which is hard to do, I started remembering more and more. It took a form that I had always intended. I came up with the title, “Apparently There Were Complaints,” very early on. I made the book about all the complaints people had about me throughout my life. It helped that Dawn had kept records of all the stories I’ve told. Some of those I used in the book. It’s funny, as you write, as you keep going, you start remembering more and more and more because one emotion leads to the next emotion or the next time someone hurts your feelings or the next complaint.
BLADE: I’m glad you mentioned the emotional part of it, because writing a memoir means revisiting the past, including your complicated relationship with your grandmother, whom you called Grimmy, as well as your parents. Did you find it to be painful, freeing or both?
GLESS: Sometimes because some of the memories were painful. There were times when I was reading some of it that I would go back to that place. I just finished recording [the audio book] a couple of weeks ago. What surprised me is when I’d get to certain places, especially about Grimmy, you can hear on the recording, my voice breaks. I left it in. They asked me if I wanted to rerecord it and I said, “No. Leave it in.” She was really the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s that she was tough.
BLADE: One of the things that stood out to me about “Apparently There Were Complaints”is the way that not only does it sound like you — I’ve interviewed you before so in reading the book, it sounded like you…
GLESS: Thank you! It’s very important to me that you hear my voice in that.
BLADE: It totally comes through. The other thing that shines through is your sense of humor and comic timing.
GLESS: Thank you!
BLADE: How important was it for you to make that aspect of your personality a part of the book?
GLESS: Very important. I do have a sarcastic, not a mean sarcastic, a funny sarcastic side. Some of the complaints and some of my addictions and some of the things I talk about…you’ve got to take some of it lightly or who’s going to want to read that? Clearly, I survived. It’s not all bad news. When I came up with the title, [laughs] which was perfect because there were so many complaints about me in my life, sometimes you just have to laugh, even at the sadder stuff. I’m still standing, Gregg!
BLADE: Yes, you are! Memoirs, like TV shows such as “Finding Your Roots,” are a way for both the subject and the audience to uncover fascinating details that might not otherwise have been public knowledge. The story about your boarding school classmate Gibbie, also known as the late Abigail Folger, in chapter seven feels like an example of that. Would you ever consider being on one of those genealogy tracing shows?
GLESS: I didn’t know a show like that existed. I would never do something like “This Is Your Life”[laughs], remember that? I didn’t know about a show that traces your genealogy. I’m always fascinated in my background. I’m certainly not opposed to anybody scraping up my genealogy.
BLADE: You write about your interactions with LGBTQ+ people in your life, personally and professionally, and Chapter 43, titled “I’ll Be There,” which is about your experience playing Debbie Novotny in Showtime’s “Queer As Folk”made me weep, it was so beautiful. This is less a question than it is an expression of gratitude for, well, being there.
GLESS: Thank you! The pleasure, for lack of a better word, is all mine. You have all changed my life. I became so much more educated. I thought, “Oh, I know it all. All my best friends are gay.” Right? But I learned so much on “Queer As Folk.” Thestories that they wrote and the performances. I didn’t realize the real plight, the behind-the-scenes pain that went on in the gay community. Because of “Queer As Folk” I became quite educated and impassioned. I meant it when I said, “I’ll be there.”
BLADE: The Peacock streaming service is doing a “Queer As Folk” reboot. What do you think about that?
GLESS: Yes, I’m aware they’re doing a reboot of it. What I think about it is I’m so sorry they’re not using the original cast. It’s never going to be better. But good luck to them, and I hope they have even close to the hit we were. I think the biggest star of that show right now is going to be the city of New Orleans. We’ll see how the stories go.
BLADE: Because the entertainment industry is a central component to your memoir, if “Apparently There Were Complaints”was to be made into a theatrical movie or TV miniseries, who would you want to play you?
GLESS: It would take several actresses because there’s a lot of years. If there was somebody who could span it. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence. She has a husky voice, too. And there’s also an irreverence and a sensitivity to her. If anybody ever wanted to do that, I think she’d be great.
BLADE: Finally, in addition to us both being Geminis, we also share South Florida as our home. What do you like best about living here?
GLESS: The happiness on my husband’s (TV producer Barney Rosenzweig) face. When he retired he moved us here. I’m married to a man who if he’s happy, everybody’s happy [laughs]. He adores Florida. Los Angeles was always my home. I was born there, raised there. I’m an Angeleno, through and through. I’ve been to Los Angeles over the last year and I don’t like what’s happened to it. Now I’m grateful to be returning to an island as beautiful as the one I live on. Los Angeles needs a total reboot, rebuild, re-everything. It’s fallen on hard times, L.A. I remember it when I lived there. It was a magical city.
20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C.
Your favorites in dining, entertainment, and more as city returns to normal
Welcome to the Washington Blade’s 20th annual Best Of LGBTQ D.C. issue. This is a fun project to put together each year, but made even sweeter this year as the city has slowly returned to a new sense of normal post-vaccines. This year’s awards are a bit smaller in scope as so many venues and events were closed or postponed last year — but this list represents growth from 2020 and we’re excited to reinstate our annual Best Of party.
In the following pages, we celebrate the best of the LGBTQ community in Washington. We reduced our usual 100 categories to 60 given all the COVID closures and restrictions on nightlife and arts & entertainment events. About 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in 60 categories for the 20th annual Best Of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. The photographers are credited throughout. This year’s contributing writers are Philip Van Slooten, Joey DiGuglielmo, Patrick Folliard, Kaela Roeder, and Tinashe Chingarande. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, DC Brau, Hook Hall and The Washington Regional Transplant Community.
Community advocate, event moderator and Queen of the Shameless Plug, D.C. icon Rayceen Pendarvis wears many crowns as host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” streaming the first Wednesday of each month through November.
For 10 years, Pendarvis has been host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a live monthly variety program in D.C. In addition to live music and other performances, segments include panel discussions, interviews, competitions, comedy, and games.
The program made its debut in May 2012 at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre and moved to the Human Rights Campaign Equality Center in 2017. For its 10th and final season, “The Ask Rayceen Show” went virtual.
In addition to Team Rayceen events, Pendarvis has hosted community Pride celebrations, Story District’s Out/Spoken, Reel Affirmations International LGBTQ Film Festival, and a series of programs for the DC Office on Aging.
Pendarvis is also an inspirational speaker and a tireless advocate for the community.
“God is so good,” Pendarvis told a cheering crowd in June 2020 before leading a prayer in Black Lives Matter Plaza. “I’m still marching. I marched with Dr. King. I marched on Washington for gay and civil rights for everyone, for marriage equality, for women to have an equal place at the table…and here I am, still marching.”
In June, the D.C. Council approved a resolution recognizing Pendarvis’s accomplishments and roles as a former commissioner, moderator and advocate, and in September Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 1 as a day to recognize the contributions of both Pendarvis and the long-running program to the District.
During a lengthy public career, Pendarvis has been recognized by Casa Ruby, the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church, Capital Pride and a variety of other community organizations.
Numerous awards Pendarvis has also received include the Triumph Award, Spirit of Light, Us Helping Us Lifetime Achievement Award, the Wilmore Cooke Award, the Gillard-Alston Award, and the Red-Era Ballroom Legendary Award for outstanding community service.
Pendarvis is currently active online via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and as a co-host on the Team Rayceen YouTube channel. (PVS)
Best Drag Queen: Bombalicious Eklaver
Bombalicious Eklaver, the drag alter ego of Ed Figueroa, is the resident drag queen at the Baltimore Eagle and hostess of “BLOWOUT!” every Saturday.
She’ll also be at “Drag Underground” at Dupont Underground on Oct. 22 and she has recurring brunches at Firefly and Mercy Me in D.C. The next is Oct. 31. Starting next month, she’ll be at “Drag Social” at TallBoy every other Monday. Her show “Superstar,” derailed by the pandemic, features up-and-coming drag talent and will be back at Songbyrd’s new location starting Nov. 19.
She says performing in the COVID era has been a game changer.
“It’s definitely not the same,” Eklaver says. “Performers and audiences are still taking heavy precautions while the virus and its variants are still there. Many venues still require masks and proof of vaccination. I work as an RN in my day job so I know this nightmare isn’t over yet for sure.”
Figueroa, a native of the Philippines, came to the Baltimore area more than a decade ago to work at Mercy Medical Center. He and husband Ivn Manahan live in Hanover, Md., with their Pomeranians Bogart and Bertha.
Follow Bombalicious at @bombalicious.eklaver on Instagram. (JD)
Best Drag King: Rico Pico
(Runner-up: Majic Dyke)
Rico Pico, the drag alter ego of Jenni Serrano, is a life-long D.C.-area native proud of his Salvadorean heritage. His style is punk rock, genderfuck and “a whole lot of Latin flavor,” he says.
Serrano has been doing drag since January 2020.
“I always loved drag and was inspired by local drag performers, but I didn’t see enough performers like me,” Serrano says. “King, alternative, Latinx, genderfluid, etc. I didn’t feel represented, so I chose to represent myself.”
Serrano says Rico “saved my life.”
“I’ve been through a lot of trauma as a queer person,” they says. “Rico allowed me to express that pain through art. It makes me so happy and alive.
Look for Serrano on Halloween at DIK Bar.
Serrano performs in various spots in the region and is active in queer Latinx events. Serrano, who identifies as genderfluid and pan, works by day as a stylist at Bang Salon Metropole. Follow him @kingricopico on Instagram. (JD)
Best Drag Show: Freddie’s Follies
555 S. 23rd St.
(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear’s Drag Bingo)
The Freddie’s Follies Drag Show is every Saturday at 8 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd St., Arlington, Va.) and boasts “the best drag entertainment the DMV has to offer.”
Cast regulars are longtime D.C.-area drag legends Destiny B. Childs, Monet Dupree, Tatiyanna Voche and Ophelia Bottoms along with a rotating cast of guests.
Reservations, which are not required but encouraged if you want a table seat, can be made at freddiesbeachbar.com or 703-685-0555. (JD)
Best Absolut Happy Hour: Trade
1410 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Number Nine)
Throughout history, gay bars and clubs have been safe spaces where queer people can gather and be themselves without fear of judgement. Trade, located on 14th Street, N.W., is exactly that. All its events — especially happy hour — guarantee a great time to express yourself while enjoying others’ company over a drink. (TC)
Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade
(Runner-up: Carl Parker, Town Tavern)
Dusty Martinez, celebrating his fifth year at Trade as bartender/general manager, is glad to have “made it through last year.”
“I’m a strong advocate for the vaccine because I lost my mom to COVID at the beginning of the year,” he says. “The community really rallied behind me. I’m grateful for the bar and the community for being there for me. Trade has always been a safe and inviting place and I’m happy to be part of that.”
This award was not given last year, but Martinez (who formerly worked at Town) was runner up in 2018 and 2016 and won in 2017 and 2014. He says he always tries to have fun with Best of LGBTQ D.C.
“Anytime the bar is nominated for something, I try to make some funny videos and images to add to my feed,” he says. “I really try to make light of it. It’s both an honor and delight to even be nominated.” (JD)
Best Neighborhood Bar: Pitchers
2317 18th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Uproar)
Pitchers launched in 2018 and bills itself as “a sports bar/restaurant for the LGBTQIA+ community where all are welcome.”
Owner Dave Perruzza says things are slowly getting “somewhat back to normal.”
“We haven’t fully bounced back yet,” he says. “We still have to pay off loans and it’s hard to keep inventory because of the constant shortage of products.”
Recurring events include:
• Thirst Trap Thursdays feature a rotating cast of drag entertainers and is hosted by Venus Valhalla and Cake each week from 9-10 p.m.
• Black Friday, featuring drag performers of color, is the first Friday of each month at 10 p.m.
• Show tunes is all day every Sunday in the First Base area.
Pitchers is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Proof of vaccination required for entry. (JD)
Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden
79 Potomac Ave., S.E. (Navy Yard) and 1600 7th St., N.W. (Shaw)
(Editor’s Choice: DC9)
Whatever your taste, Dacha Beer Garden has you covered. Dacha offers a variety of German, Belgian, and American craft beers along with wines, ciders, and other refreshments. Dacha previously won Best Outdoor Drinking in 2018 and 2019 and Best Straight Bar for five consecutive years until 2019. (KR)
Best Bar Outside the District: Freddie’s Beach Bar
555 S. 23rd St.
(Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Eagle)
Extending its record — with this win and the Best Drag Show win, that makes 25 wins for this Best of Gay D.C. favorite. Freddie’s has won this award every year it has been given since 2002 in addition to several others. It’s a Best Of all-time record for a single category.
Freddie’s is Northern Virginia’s only “LGBTQ+, straight-friendly” restaurant and bar and is a queer D.C.-area institution. (JD)
Best Museum: National Museum of African American History and Culture
1400 Constitution Ave., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art)
Nothing included in the 100-years-in-the-making National Museum of African American History and Culture (officially established in 2003), which cost $540 million to build ($315 million came from private funds) and which broke ground in February 2012, was considered lightly.
Among artifacts included in the 400,000-square-foot building situated on five acres adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall, are Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a slave cabin dating to the early 1800s, a dress handmade by Rosa Parks, a fedora worn in concert by Michael Jackson, pieces of a slave ship, a plane from the Tuskegee Institute used to train African-American pilots during World War II, a bill of sale for a Black teen named Polly in 1835, glass shards from a Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and, of course, much more.
Perhaps the most significant LGBTQ item that has been displayed there is an inscribed watch that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Museum was “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won it in 2017. (JD)
Best Transgender Performer: Gigi Paris Couture
(Runner-up: India Larelle Houston)
Miss Gigi Paris Couture has won numerous titles and awards for her blend of sweet and sexy burlesque performances. Beginning with Miss Luchos Continental in 2001, Couture won Miss Continental preliminary titles of Miss New York, New York Continental in 2002 and Miss Tennessee Continental in 2003. Her other awards include Miss Diamond International in 2007 and Miss Freddie’s in 2015. Couture currently delights crowds at local favorite Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St. S, Crystal City, Va.), just outside of Arlington, with her award-winning artistry. (PVS)
Best Entertainment Venue: 9:30 Club
815 V St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Wolf Trap)
D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club is no stranger to accolades. In recent years it’s been named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow.
Since its opening in 1980, the club has played host to thousands of bands and artists ranging from the Psychedelic Furs to Tony Bennett. Initially billed as the “first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years,” a welcome concept that’s worked impressively both at the club’s original location at 930 F St., N.W., a then-blighted part of town, and since 1996 at its larger space on V Street.
Currently, a version of the original F St. 9:30 Club, is in the planning stages. The new, intimate venue will be located behind the existing 9:30 Club in the old Satellite Room space.
Best A&E Event: D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground
19 Dupont Circle, N.W.
(Runner-up: Maryland Renaissance Festival)
D.C. Royals at Dupont Underground is an exhibition that celebrates drag and its roots in America. Through a collection of pictures gathered from the Washington Blade’s archives and video footage from interviews with Shi-Queeta-Lee & Pretty RikE, the exhibition honors the “power, pride and leadership that define the drag community,” according to Dupont’s website. The events, held earlier this year, were sponsored by the Blade and Dupont Underground. (TC)
Best LGBTQ-owned Business: Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M St., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Miss Pixie’s)
A relatively new gay-owned venue in the District, Red Bear Brewing Co. offers made in-house beers and classic bar food in the heart of NoMa. Red Bear hosts several types of events including drag shows, trivia and stand-up performances. Red Bear Brewing’s Bryan Van Den Oever won Best Businessperson in 2020. (KR)
Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace: Whitman-Walker Health
(Editor’s Choice: Compass Realty)
Whitman-Walker Health, D.C.’s LGBTQ supportive health care provider, conducts research, hosts community events and advocates for policy change. Since 1973, the organization has been a driving force in advocacy for health equity. During the AIDS epidemic, Whitman-Walker became a safe haven when many hospitals and clinics turned gay people away.
At the patient care level, Whitman-Walker offers primary, gender-affirming, behavioral and dental care at three separate locations. Whitman-Walker is set to open a new facility at the redeveloping St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Campus in Southeast Washington in 2023. (KR)
Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14
1314 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Bang Salon)
The folks at Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa say “back to normal” isn’t quite the way to characterize their current modus operandi.
“We are forever changed and moving forward,” says Katie Rose, general manager. “The pandemic has given us the opportunity to be curious again about all aspects of our business and how we operate.”
She says it’s “been great” to have its capacity restriction lifted in May, the team back on site and to “feel that salon buzz” once again.
Business is not at pre-pandemic levels, but has improved since 2020.
About 75 percent of Aveda’s clientele is LGBTQ. This is Aveda’s sixth consecutive win in this category. (JD)
Best Hotel: The Line D.C.
1770 Euclid St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: The Viceroy)
Inspired by the District and housed inside a 110-year old historic church, The Line D.C. is the product of a community effort by local chefs, bartenders, artists and cultural contributors.
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, the Line “delivers a uniquely rich way to experience the nation’s capital,” its marketing states.
The Line is pet friendly and has a restaurant and gym on site. A robust COVID policy is also in place.
The Line D.C. was named “editor’s choice” in this category in 2018 and won in 2019. (JD)
Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness
Multiple D.C. locations
(Editor’s Choice: Cut Seven)
VIDA once again displays its dominance. This is its third consecutive win in this category and 10th win in this category overall.
VIDA has six locations — U Street (1612 U St., N.W.), Logan Circle (1517 15th St., N.W.), The Yards (1212 4th St. S.E. #170), Ballston (4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), Gallery Place (601 F St., N.W.) and City Vista (445 K St., N.W.). The VIDA chain is gay-owned by David Von Storch. Membership packages run between $119-179 per month and include access to all locations, virtual classes, indoor and outdoor classes, discounts at Aura Spa and Bang Salon and more.
Readers praised the gym for surviving COVID. Last year it won “Best Virtual Fitness Classes.” (JD)
Best Real Estate Agent: TIE! Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty and Michael Moore, Compass
Best Real Estate Agent: TIE Michael Moore, Compass & Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty
In a Best Of rarity, we have a tie this year for Best Real Estate Agent.
Over the course of a real estate career spanning 30 years, Michael Moore has received numerous industry recognitions and honors. A client testimonial also celebrates him as “very professional” with a “great personality,” and interestingly Compass not only heralds his skills as a market expert and a negotiator but as “a bit of comedic relief.” It is this blend of skill and personality that has made him a community favorite.
Stacey Williams-Zeiger opened her own auto dealership in her native Maryland. Later she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and she is now the president and principal broker of Zeiger Realty, Inc., which she calls an equality-based business.
“Even if you work with an agent who is equality minded, their brokerage may use money generated from your home sale to fight against you,” she told the Blade a few years ago. “Zeiger Realty Inc. is your company and everyone with whom you come into contact will be on your side.”
She works in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (PVS)
Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass
(Runner-up: Marin Hagen & Sylvia Bergstrom, Coldwell Banker)
“Stacked townhouse, condo, or apartment?” The Jenn Smira Team at Compass posted Oct. 3 to its Facebook page, breaking down the differences and the advantages of each. The Wall Street Journal reported the Smira Team is among the top 30 large real estate teams in America, and this team stands out for educating potential homebuyers in the midst of a housing crisis. Jenn Smira is also on the board of D.C. W.I.S.E. (Women in Solidarity for Empowerment), a non-profit raising money for local organizations that serve women and children, and the team supports a number of other D.C.-area charitable causes. (PVS)
Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health
1525 14th St., N.W.
(Runner-up: Dr. Robyn Zeiger)
Since its beginnings as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic in 1973, Whitman-Walker Health has been serving the LGBTQ community in the D.C.-area through numerous health crises, including the AIDS/HIV epidemic and the current global COVID-19 pandemic. For more than 40 years Whitman-Walker Health has been a sanctuary for the District’s underserved populations, providing a lifeline and advocacy as well as an affirming space. (PVS)
Best Lawyer: Jordan Foster
(Runner-up: Whit Washington)
“He showed up to every court date and was always there on time,” reads one testimonial for D.C. lawyer Jordan Foster. “Never left me hanging last minute worrying if he’d be there.” When people are in a tough situation and need help, Foster has shown he’s a criminal defense attorney they can count on. Even his peers have posted he “always proves to be prepared and is a strong advocate for his clients.” But this staunch advocate finds himself in a tough position when choosing which of his alma maters to root for when college basketball season takes to a different court. (PVS)
Best Private School: Barrie School
13500 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring, Md.
(Editor’s Choice: Burgundy Farm Country Day School)
Located in Silver Spring, Barrie School is a progressive independent school serving students with Montessori (12 months to Grade 5) and Project-Based Learning (Grade 6 to Grade 12) curricula. The student body is drawn from neighborhoods throughout the greater D.C. area, reflecting the cultural and economic diversity of the region.
Originally named Peter Pan Kindergarten, Barrie School was founded in 1932 by Frances Littman Seldin. Over the years, the school tried on various names and D.C. spaces before settling as Barrie School at its leafy Maryland campus in 1960.
Barrie’s website stresses inclusion and features a link to Rainbow Families (rainbowfamilies.org), a terrific organization dedicated to educating, connecting, and supporting LGBTQ+ families and parents-to-be. (PF)
Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax
8427 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va.
(Editor’s Choice: DarCars)
BMW of Fairfax prides itself on customer service and selection. In addition to its extensive new car inventory, they carry an excellent range of pre-owned vehicles.
When Blade reader Vicki Richardson returned to D.C. after teaching abroad, she needed a car but also wanted to minimize her carbon footprint. She looked around before buying a BMW i3 electric with range extender at BMW of Fairfax. “They were terrific,” says Richardson. “It was my first time purchasing an electric vehicle. They patiently explained how the car works. And what’s more, when they found out I was a teacher, they gave me a discount.
“Yes, I’d go back again,” she says. (PF)
Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (second floor)
(Editor’s Choice: G Books)
Bite the Fruit aims to please. And apparently, it’s doing just that.
Housed in the former Leather Rack location in Dupont Circle, the second-floor shop has been voted Best Adult Store by Blade readers multiple times (its walls are festooned with the framed awards from past years). In business since 2012, the “gay-owned, straight-friendly and kink forward” store boasts a large inventory of sex toys, revealing and fetish attire, books, films, and erotica of all kinds. As a satisfied reviewer wrote, “If it’s not there, it probably doesn’t exist.”
Items are available both in the physical store and online. (PF)
Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard
1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.
(Editor’s Choice: City Winery)
Based on the traditional family farm wineries of the French countryside, Montifalco Vineyard offers an intimate experience at the winemaker’s charming family farm winery in Ruckersville, Va., a small town not far from Charlottesville in the beautiful Monticello American Viticultural Area of Virginia.
Montifalco Vineyard is owned and operated by sommelier and winemaker Justin Falco who expresses a commitment to high standards, caring for his vineyards, and creating small batch boutique wines with distinct personality. He describes wines produced at Montifalco as an exciting fusion of Old World tradition and New World taste and flavor.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome on a leash. (PF)
Best Tattoo Parlor: Tattoo Paradise
2444 18th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Fatty’s Tattoos)
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, Tattoo Paradise has been supplying the city with tattoos and body piercings since 2003. Along with its celebrated in-house tattoo artists, the parlor hosts a constantly revolving cast of international and national guest tattooists. Also on offer are microblading (permanent makeup), and merchandise like T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, and hats.
With additional locations in Wheaton and Rockville, Tattoo Paradise strives to serve the needs of both area and visiting ink enthusiasts. For instance, during the Women’s March on Washington, Tattoo Paradise satisfied scores of marchers from near and far with much-in-demand feminist and Women’s March-related tattoos.
Customer requests are varied. The artists are versatile and creative. (PF)
Best Pet Business or Vet: Friendship Hospital for Animals
4105 Brandywine St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: City Paws Animal Hospital)
Friendship Hospital for Animals understands the unique bond between humans and animals, according to its website. Therefore, this hospital provides state of the art pet health care to ensure that animals are as safe and healthy as possible. Friendship Hospital for Animals provides primary care, emergency care, and specialized care from doctors who specialize in a variety of fields like orthopedic and specialty surgery, medical oncology and neurology. (TC)
Most Committed Activist: Preston Mitchum
(Runner-up: Sultan Shakir)
“I can’t take it anymore,” tweeted Black queer attorney, advocate, and Georgetown Law Professor Preston Mitchum following a second Netflix special in which comedian Dave Chappelle doubled down on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. “Currently (writing) a piece on why Chappelle’s special — and any others like it — is problematic and will undoubtedly fuel flames against LGBTQ people.” Mitchum currently brings his passion, his insight and his legal expertise to his role as director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. He has also served as Georgetown’s director of policy at URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. (PVS)
Best D.C. Public Official: Eleanor Holmes Norton
Main District Office
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
(Runner-up: Christina Henderson)
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has proudly represented D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991. Prior to serving in Congress, Holmes was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Since then she has been named one of the 100 most important American women and one of the most powerful women in Washington. She continues to push for D.C. statehood and for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for District residents. (PVS)
Best Clergy: Bishop Allyson Abrams
Empowerment Liberation Cathedral
4900 10th St., N.E.
(Runner-up: Rev. Dwayne Johnson)
Bishop Allyson Abrams, founder and pastor of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, has come a long way since resigning from her church in Detroit in 2013 after announcing she had married Bishop Diana Williams. Abrams similarly tweeted in 2014 for followers to “shake off” what’s been holding them back and not let anyone keep them from their destiny. Since 2015, this proud wife, mother, feminist, and author has been named Best Clergy, and her church Best House of Worship, numerous times by Washington Blade readers. (PVS)
Best House of Worship: Metropolitan Community Church of D.C.
474 Ridge St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church)
For LGBT folks of faith, finding an accepting house of worship doesn’t always come easily. But the Metropolitan Community church of Washington (MCC-DC) is a Christian Church with a special ministry to the LGBTQ community where the welcome is warm.
Founded in 1970, MCC-DC’s congregation grew consistently through its first decade. In the ‘80s, the church unflinchingly responded to the AIDS epidemic, partnering with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the NIH, MCC Baltimore, and Georgetown University Hospital to host one of the first AIDS forums in the nation (the event was held at the church). Also, MCC-DC was among the first houses of worship in D.C. to hold a same-sex wedding.
At MCC-DC there’s something for everyone. Its many ministries are broad and far-reaching. They include, to name a few, choir, drama, Bible study, and Pride outreach. (PF)
Best Regional Pride: Baltimore Pride
(Editor’s Choice: Virginia Pride, Richmond)
Baltimore Pride got its start as a smallish rally in Charles Plaza in 1975. And from those comparatively small beginnings, it’s grown into a major annual celebration each June with the first day of Pride weekend involving the Baltimore Pride parade in vibrant Charles Village and the Baltimore Pride Block Party in Station North. The second day involves the Baltimore Pride Festival held at verdant Druid Hill Park.
Though its centerpiece parade was cancelled in 2021due to COVID-19, the spirit and energy of Baltimore Pride was undimmed. From festive Zoom happy hours to open discussions about how racism impacts the LGBTQ community, there were socially distant safe ways to celebrate Pride last June.
Charm City’s flavor is inimitable. We look forward to Baltimore Pride’s full force return in June 2022. (PF)
Best LGBTQ Event: D.C. Black Pride
(Editor’s Choice: Miss Adams Morgan Pageant)
First celebrated at Banneker Field in 1991, D.C. Black Pride is the world’s oldest Black LGBT Pride event. Now attracting 40,000 participants, the festival takes place annually in late May over Memorial Day weekend.
Conceived by local Black activists as a fundraiser for AIDS groups, D.C. Black Pride turned a holiday weekend already popular with the community, into an official annual event with workshops, films, plays, poetry slams, dance parties, awards, and barbeques.
Today’s D.C. Black Pride (pre-pandemic) boasts a week of day and night programming that includes deep diving professional and personal workshops, premier entertainment, and leading nightclub venues. Additionally, the Center for Black Equity hosts awards to recognize exemplary members and allies of the Black LGBTQ+ community and presents monthly virtual (and hybrid as feasible) engagement experiences.
Whatever the changes, D.C. Black Pride remains an unbeatable destination for Black Queer liberation, community fellowship, and lots of celebration. (PF)
Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics
(Editor’s Choice: DC United)
The Washington Mystics is a women’s basketball team located in D.C. and it competes in the Women’s National Basketball Association as a member club of the league’s eastern conference. Led by general manager and head coach Mike Thibault, assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti and associate coach Eric Thibault, this team shows that D.C.’s women basketball teams are strong national contenders within the sport. (TC)
Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C.
1140 3rd St., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Sports)
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. sings to inspire equality and inclusion through musical performances, according to its website. Formed in 1981, the group now has more than 250 members and five select ensembles that have performed nationally and internationally and hundreds of donors who ensure that GMCW can continue to promote justice through song. (TC)
Best Non-Profit Powered by Pepco: SMYAL
410 7th St., S.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Center for Black Equity)
Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders trains LGBTQ youth to become future leaders. Through service and advocacy, this non-profit organization teaches queer youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community, according to SMYAL’s website. (TC)
Best Website/Blog: DCist
Covering everything from D.C. Council legislation to nightlife, this site for Washingtonians dynamically covers city events. Launched by volunteers in 2004, it was bought by DNAinfo in early 2017 only to be shut down by the organization’s owner. However, DCist was able to re-launch in 2018 with support from Washington’s NPR affiliate WAMU and readers. This fan favorite continues to engage audiences with its exciting online presence and design. (PVS)
Best Brunch: Perry’s Drag Brunch
1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Class Act Drag Brunch at Sign of the Whale)
Perry’s Drag Brunch is D.C.’s longest-running and “most fabulous drag brunch,” according to its website. Hosted on Sundays, this event treats guests to food catered by Perry’s Restaurant and performances from icons in D.C.’s drag community like Whitney Gucci Goo and India Larelle Houston. (TC)
Best Burger: Duke’s Grocery
1513 17th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Lucky Buns)
With locations in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Foggy Bottom, this restaurant serves guests with hearty portions of classic American food and their award-winning burgers. Added to that is friendly service for which the East London-style restaurant is famous. (TC)
Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Dolci Gelati)
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together, according to its website. Packaged in Instagram-worthy colorful cups, Jeni’s ice creams have a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” that allow one to savor the sweetness of flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble. (TC)
Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza
2016 9th St., N.W.
Andy’s Pizza makes pizza that transports patrons to New York — a strong contender for the American city with the best pizza. Featuring stone deck ovens, long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, California tomatoes, and a skilled pizzaiolo, this neighborhood pizzeria brings New York to D.C. while serving classic combinations. (TC)
Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse
1609 17th St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Le Diplomate)
Taking the prize for the second year in a row, a Washington pillar Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse offers a variety of hearty American dishes including burgers and salads for lunch, savory omelets and benedicts for brunch and classic steaks for dinner.
Annie’s has operated for 73 years, and the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award in 2019, which honors restaurants with “timeless appeal” and that serve “quality food that reflects the character of their communities.” Annie’s was only the third D.C. restaurant to earn that distinction.
George Katinas and his family opened Paramount Steakhouse in 1948. Katinas hired his sister Anne “Annie” Katinas Kaylor, to work the bar. Her popularity led to the restaurant changing its name to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse. She died in 2013.
Annie’s has been a favorite for years winning Best Overall Restaurant (2001, 2002), Tried & True (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), Best Late Night (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012), Best Brunch (2005) and Best Steakhouse (2007, 2008). Kaylor was named Local Hero Female in 2001. (KR)
Best Outdoor Drinking: Dirty Goose
913 U St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Dacha Beer Garden)
Located in the heart of U Street, The Dirty Goose Bar has been crafting specialty martinis and cocktails since its opening in 2016. Signature drinks include the drunken java martini and a classic cosmopolitan. Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The Dirty Goose doubled the size of the rooftop patio and tripled its self-proclaimed obsession with pop star Britney Spears. (KR)
Best Carryout/Delivery: Beau Thai
3162 Mount Pleasant St., N.W. (Mt. Pleasant) and 1550 7th St., N.W. Unit A (Shaw)
(Editor’s Choice: Ben’s Chili Bowl)
Beau Thai has been serving the D.C. area authentic, made-from-scratch Thai food since 2010. Offering a variety of dishes like shrimp cakes, pineapple fried rice and chicken satay, there’s no shortage of dynamic options to try. (KR)
Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee
(Editor’s Choice: La Colombe)
Founded in 2010 by two Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Compass Coffee has 12 brick and mortar locations in the Washington area and one roasting facility in Shaw. Compass Coffee can be found in many local restaurants and grocery stores across the mid-Atlantic.
The roaster is no stranger to this award — Compass had four consecutive wins in this category through 2019. (KR)
Best Restaurant: Logan Tavern
1423 P St., N.W.
(Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern)
Known for its buzzy scene and delicious dishes, Logan Tavern is taking the prize yet again after winning Best Restaurant in 2020. Logan’s dishes call to a casual American style, with classic burgers, southern fried chicken and crispy skin-on rockfish being staples on the menu.
In addition to a reliable dinner menu, Logan offers sweet and savory brunch dishes and affordable drinks.
Logan also won Best Bloody Mary in these awards in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012. (KR)
Best Local Brewery: DC Brau
3178 Bladensburg Rd., N.E. Suite B
(Editor’s Choice: Red Bear Brewing Company)
For decades, the District had no local brewery whose products were available in local stores and on tap outside the site of production. DC Brau founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock decided to change that in 2011 when the duo tapped their first keg of beer entirely brewed, packaged, and sold in the District.
Offering beers and hard seltzers, DC Brau crafts drinks for everyone’s tastes. DC Brau and the Blade are currently holding the fourth annual PRIDE PILS fundraiser to benefit SMYAL and the Blade Foundation. A small batch of the PRIDE PILS launched on Oct. 1 in local stores, restaurants, and bars. (KR)
Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery
1369 New York Ave., N.E.
(Editor’s Choice: Green Hat Distillery)
Women-owned, community-led and made in the District — Republic Restoratives Distillery offers an array of high-quality spirits. Republic’s queer-owned vodka, Civic Pride, was created out of frustration with popular brands co-opting the rainbow flag while also supporting organizations or efforts that directly harm LGBTQ people.
Republic also offers drink kits, like sangria and mint juleps, to make at-home cocktails a breeze. Locally, pick-up or home delivery is available seven days a week. Republic took the prize in 2019 for Best Local Distillery, as well. (KR)
Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)
The Purple Parrot pivoted quickly during the pandemic to keep its doors open and its customers happy and fed. The tireless staff, led by owner Hugh Phelps and mainstays Chris Chandler and Jamie Romano, worked overtime to keep patrons safe, separating tables and enforcing strict masking policies. The Parrot and its popular Biergarten remain Rehoboth mainstays. The place was packed throughout summer 2021 and it’s easy to see why: competent service, some of the best cocktails in town, consistently good bar food, plenty of specials and entertainment all in a festive, beachy atmosphere. No visit to Rehoboth is complete without a stop at the Parrot.
Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Kristina Kelly
(Runner-up: Magnolia Applebottom)
Rehoboth Beach has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to drag entertainment as more and more venues embrace the art of drag. Even nearby Milton and Dewey Beach have seen drag brunches and other events debut in the past year or two. This year’s top honor goes to the tireless Kristina Kelly, much beloved in D.C. after years of performing here. Kelly can now be found holding court at The Pines, hosting Sunday brunch along with Mona Lotts, as well as other events. Kelly recently hosted the Blade’s annual Rehoboth Beach party, handling everything from checking guests’ vaccine status at the door to ensuring the buffet remained stocked. With ongoing labor shortages at the beach, Kelly has been forced to wear multiple hats all while keeping The Pines entertainment calendar filled.
Best Rehoboth Bartender: Todd Nolan Meredith, Lupo Italian Kitchen
(Runner-up: Chris Chandler, Purple Parrot)
Todd Meredith is a newcomer to this category, which has long been dominated by the trio of Holly Lane-Chris Chandler-Jamie Romano. Meredith tends bar at Rehoboth’s always bustling Lupo Italian Kitchen on Rehoboth Avenue. Lupo’s bar is small and Meredith makes sure to introduce his customers to one another, facilitating friendly conversation in the cozy setting. And if you go once, chances are Meredith will remember your drink of choice on your next visit, even if it’s months later. His memory is remarkable and his positive vibe and top-notch bartending skills keep the regulars and tourists alike coming back.
Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Pamala Stanley
(Runner-up: Climax with Magnolia Applebottom)
There’s no keeping Pamala Stanley down. This perennial winner moved to virtual shows during last year’s pandemic to keep her many fans entertained. She even staged a series of fundraisers during quarantine, donating thousands to Beebe Healthcare in Sussex County, Del. Stanley returned to the stage at The Pines, which hosts her ever-popular Sunday night dance party, as soon as COVID restrictions were lifted. She has since launched a popular Wednesday night virtual show, reaching fans far and wide. Just last month, Stanley was inducted into the Legends of Vinyl Artists Hall of Fame, honoring her long, successful recording career. Unfortunately, Stanley was sidelined with COVID several weeks ago, which she has publicly addressed on social media. The good news is she’s doing better and preparing to return to the stage. Stay tuned for details on the resumption of her Wednesday night show online and her Sunday night party at The Pines.
Best Rehoboth Coffee Shop: Rise Up
502 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: The Coffee Mill)
You can’t miss Rise Up as you enter downtown Rehoboth Beach, with its bold black-and-white building, often festooned with holiday-themed décor on the roof. Rise Up offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a full bar, which sits to the right of the coffee station. The 502 Bar and Rise Up offer outdoor seating and are pet friendly, a perfect option in these socially distanced times.
Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Blue Moon
35 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Perhaps we should retire this category, as the Blue Moon seems to win each year, including last year. The food remains among the very best in town, consistently impressing diners for decades. This year saw a pivot to cabaret-style seating and entertainment with the talented pianist Nate Buccieri holding court five nights a week all summer. (Buccieri is expected to make several return visits this fall.) Don’t miss the Blue Moon’s Tasting Tuesday, a three-course dinner with wine pairings for just $45. And if you want an even better bargain, try Sunday night’s $25 steak special. No matter when you go, you can’t go wrong with dinner or Sunday brunch at the Moon.
Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson
16698 Kings Hwy A.
(Runner-up: Jason Abela)
This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fourth consecutive win in this category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group has ranked #1 in real estate sales in Sussex County, Del., for more than 20 years and ranks #3 nationally for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate network. She is a regular contributor to the Blade. Her informed articles on real estate trends at the Delaware beaches and her insights on the market proved beneficial throughout the pandemic. There are many smart, capable Realtors in the Sussex County market, several of whom have been honored here in the last decade, and Wilkinson is among the very best.
Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(Runner-up: Aqua Grill)
Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber bounced back from a difficult 2020 and not only kept Rehoboth visitors entertained at Diego’s but found the time to open a new restaurant that became an instant hit this summer, Square One, offering an impressive dinner menu and arguably the best martinis in town. Diego’s offers a regular and growing schedule of entertainment, dance parties, and happy hours and the beach-themed outdoor bar is always busy and a safe option for those still practicing social distancing. The duo are an unstoppable force in Rehoboth and we look forward to what they do in 2022.
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