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Adam Rippon on new life, loves, memoir and skating naked

Rippon says Ashley Wagner abuse allegations, Coughlin suicide rocked skating world

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Adam Rippon, gay news, Washington Blade
Adam Rippon says the time was right for his new memoir, ‘Beautiful on the Outside.’ (Photo by Peter Yang; courtesy Grand Central Publishing)

Adam Rippon

In conversation with Liz Dolan

Wednesday, Oct. 16

7 p.m.

Sixth & I Synagogue

600 I St., N.W.

Tickets: $20

ticket+book: $32

two tickets+book: $45

(books will be pre-signed but photos with Rippon will be taken)

We blitzed through a torrent of questions with Adam Rippon by phone last week. The bronze medal-winning gay breakout star (and self-proclaimed “America’s sweetheart”) releases his memoir “Beautiful on the Outside” Oct. 15. He and skier pal Gus Kenworthy each came out in 2015 and last year became the first openly gay male U.S. athletes to compete at the Winter Olympics. Rippon is in Washington (at Sixth and I Synagogue) Wednesday, Oct. 16 as the second stop on a 13-city book tour. His comments have been slightly edited for syntax and length. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How did the book come about?

ADAM RIPPON: Well, right after the Olympics, my team was saying that it might be a fun idea to write a book and I thought that this, like, really felt like a full chapter of my life sort of coming to an end and a new one was starting so I felt like it would be a really therapeutic almost experience. And I thought it would be a good thing for me to do, to kind of debrief and sort of be my moment to soak in everything that was like going on. So it was my team’s idea but then ultimately it was something that I did truly want to pursue. 

BLADE: How long did it take to write?

RIPPON: About six-seven months. It wasn’t too long but it was a substantial amount of time.

(Book cover courtesy of Grand Central Publishing)

BLADE: A lot of your appeal is the way you come across on camera. Were you concerned that that might not translate to the written page?

RIPPON: Totally. One thing that I really focused on was (making sure) the writing felt very in person, so that whatever you were reading felt like I could have been sitting right next to you like on a couch telling you this story and you were hearing my voice. So that was really important to me because I feel less like a writer and more like a storyteller. So I wanted to make sure, especially when I would be doing the audiobook, that it really felt like I wasn’t adding any words or saying any words that I wouldn’t say in a conversation. 

BLADE: You share a lot of hard-won wisdom in the book. Were those convictions about life already in your head and bones or did the process of writing the book kind of help you distill and articulate some of that?

RIPPON: I think when I wrote the book, that was such an important thing for me to add into it because those are lessons and scenarios and things that I had learned and they were just so important to me, that was something really I wanted to add into the story. …  Sometimes I just laugh at myself and move along through life through different struggles and things of that nature, but I really did learn a lot about myself, it really prepared me for the bigger moments. 

BLADE: A lot of the book is about how what was going on in your head affected your skating. Did you ever work with a sports psychologist when you were competing?

RIPPON: I did but … it’s funny now, post skating career, I see a therapist but when I was skating, I felt like, no that’s weak, I’m not going to go to a sports psychologist, I’m going to just suck it up. I wish I had, but it’s harder because when you’re a competitive athlete. One you don’t have a lot of means to go out and find someone on your own and they do offer someone but it’s like someone that everybody uses, like all of your competitors are going to use the same sports psychologist, so in a way I was like, “Am I really going to tell my deepest fears with somebody’s who’s then gonna work with all of my competitors too?” I was like, no, I’m gonna tell this bitch that yeah, everything’s fine and I’ve never felt better. So it’s hard but now as an adult, I can go out and find someone on my own who’s personally mine and that was just something I did not have access to when I was competing because it was really expensive.

BLADE: How often are you on the ice these days?

RIPPON: Maybe once or twice a month now. Just skating for myself. Sometimes if I have a day off, I’ll go work with one of the skaters I used to train with, Mariah Bell. Working with her some makes me feel connected to skating, but I don’t skate very much on my own anymore.

BLADE: Would you like to do more skating exhibition tours?

RIPPON: I would, but they take so much time and energy to prepare for and I would not ever want to do one and not feel like I was giving my best. … Right now I really do want to focus on pursuing these other endeavors that are available to me now and I do want to pursue them because I do think the time to do that is right now and if there is something comes up in skating, it’ll make sense. Right now, I think I’m really focused on writing this book and that kind of hustle. 

BLADE: It looks like you’ve stayed in great shape. Do you feel pressure to have perfect abs? I mean the shape you were in for Olympics has to be impossible to maintain I imagine.

RIPPON: Well, you know what? I’m gonna be super honest. After the Olympics, I went to the gym and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve gone here every day of my life for 20 years and I just don’t have the motivation,” and that was OK. But I didn’t go to the gym for maybe a year.

BLADE: Oh wow.

RIPPON: Yeah, I know. It was a lot.

BLADE: But you didn’t gain 300 pounds or anything. I haven’t seen you lately but you look like you were in great shape on “Dancing With the Stars.” 

RIPPON: I’m not 300 pounds yet, but no. … I realized I just needed to find new goals at the gym because it’s something I really enjoy. So I’ve been going for like the past month and have been working out pretty regularly with my old trainer again and, of course, the workouts are totally different, because it’s no longer about trying to be as good a skater as possible. But I really love the rush you get from finishing a workout. 

Adam Rippon (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

BLADE: You make a joke in the book about your hook-ups not believing you had an office job because nobody with a desk job would have an ass like yours. What kind of currency has having that kind of butt given you in your personal life? Is it something your boyfriends have gone on and on about or it something that maybe seems more exaggerated from afar? Tell me about your ass, Adam.

RIPPON: Well, here we go. How much time do you have? (laughs) No, I’m kidding. Um, the one thing I’ve noticed, now surrounding myself with people who are not athletes by profession is that everybody who works out and goes to the gym, the hardest thing for them is legs. I’ve noticed going back to the gym, that’s always been my upper hand because I’ve done only legs for so long. With my boyfriend, he’s mostly envious that I have these bigger legs and, like, a butt that really fills out my pants. Mostly he’s jealous but he does like it, which is good because I can’t really get rid of it.

BLADE: At one point in the book you say you were having trouble with quad toe so you had to switch to quad lutz. Why not quad sal?

RIPPON: It’s a little different with the quads. That’s why you see these Russian junior girls and some of them won’t do triple axels but their only two quads are toe and lutz. The lutz may be the hardest because that entrance is so hard but when you have the torque just right, it really snaps the quickest into rotation. I think when you’re learning triples, the skill of how you should learn them is correct, but with quads, it’s more like which do you feel and I think difficulty sort of comes in second.

BLADE: Did you ever play around with quad loops or flips?

RIPPON: Yeah. I think in my life, I’ve landed a (quad) flip, a salchow. It was just one day and it’s going really well, then the next day I’m just doing like cheated triples and I’m like, “Oh, OK, here we go.”

BLADE: Have we hit the ceiling on quads? Is it realistic to think somebody might land a quad axel someday?

RIPPON: I think so. I never thought I’d see a day where somebody has a program like Nathan Chen’s planned programs and it’s something he actually does and it’s not, like, a joke. And it’s the way he does it really effortlessly and you don’t really actually notice he’s doing all these quads ‘cause they’re so well done, which is the scariest part of his skating.

BLADE: Have you stayed in touch with him?

RIPPON: I’ve stayed in touch with pretty much everyone I competed with and with Nathan, we had the same coach for a while. I have such a soft spot for him and the things that he does. I’m always cheering for him. He’s just a really, really good kid and, you know, works super hard and is so well rounded. I love catching up and seeing how he’s doing.

BLADE: I know it’s probably hard to put into words, but how much harder is the triple loop than the triple toe as the second jump in a combination?

RIPPON: Adding the triple loop onto something is much harder because the room for error and correction on landing the first jump is so small. When you’re doing a triple loop in a combination, the biggest thing is you cannot readjust or fix the landing position of that first jump because it happens so quickly and it immediately needs to come together. With the toe loop, you can readjust the tap into the ice, you can tap a little further, tap quicker, you can jump a little more from the assistance of the free leg, so it’s still incredibly difficult but a triple loop combination is by far much harder than a triple toe loop combination. 

BLADE: Were you more team Zagitova or Medvedeva in the ladies’ event last Olympics? 

RIPPON: You know, I think that I was really impressed with Zagitova, I thought she skated very well, but I do have to say the way that Medvedeva handled herself as like a two-time world champion, and then to go out and skate two clean programs, I just felt she had a lot of substance to her skating maybe her style wasn’t the I don’t know, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. She performed, she had everything that an Olympic champion should have and I really felt that she kind of earned it. Zagitova skated a little bit like a really excellent junior lady in her first year senior. It wasn’t as refined and Medvedeva was a two-time world champion heading into that event, she was very refined and in that moment and was incredibly young, but yet had some womanly flair to her, which I really admired. I completely see why Medvedeva was the silver medalist and Zagitova was the gold medalist, I understand, but if I were judging I would have had Medvedeva first.

BLADE: Did it bother you that Zagitova back-stacked all her jumps? (Jumps completed in the second half of the long program are weighted in scoring.)

RIPPON: No. I mean, of course I want to be like, yes, it doesn’t make for a nice program, but then at the end of the day, we have rules and we have points and you know I think if Eteri’s goal, their coach, is that she has a student who wins, and that they compete and there’s no pecking order of who should win and who shouldn’t win, you’re gonna go and you’re gonna do the most that you can do. So, I mean she played the game within the rules and she knew that Medvedeva had better style, so the way to make Zagitova more competitive against Medvedeva would be to just technically you know, put everything at the end. So is it annoying, like a little bit, but is she cheating? No. Everybody had that option and everybody knew that, so it doesn’t bother me. I kind of look at it like I don’t like it, but you’re smart. 

BLADE: Why are they wrapping everybody up in those goddamn jackets now the second you step off the ice? They never used to do that.

RIPPON: It’s a sponsor thing. While you’re just sitting there in kiss and cry, they want the sponsor logo to be visible on TV. Obviously you couldn’t skate with a logo, but when you’re just sitting there waiting for scores, you can see what it says on the label.

BLADE: I wasn’t a big fan when they changed the rules to allow vocal music. You took advantage of it. What was your opinion?

RIPPON: I didn’t like it at first, but then I really enjoyed it as a skater. I just thought it opened the door for a lot of really cool ideas. 

BLADE: How was Tonya Harding on “Dancing With the Stars?” Did you develop any camaraderie with her?

RIPPON: I wouldn’t say camaraderie, but she was super nice and she’s fun. She’s super funny, really personable. You know, I doubt Nancy (Kerrigan) would think that, but she’s super personable. I had no problem with her. She was nice.

BLADE: Did you admire her skating back in the day?

RIPPON: The first competition I ever watched was ’98, so I never grew up with her, but once I went back and started watching things, I’ll always remember that opening at 1991 nationals with the “Batman” theme and that mint green dress. 

BLADE: Did you like the movie “I, Tonya”? 

RIPPON: I mean Margot Robbie when she does press for the movie, she says it’s Tonya’s side of the story and I think she did a really good job of that. But I think even Margot would tell you that the truth probably lies in the middle.

BLADE: So many skaters — Brian Boitano, Jeffrey Buttle, Johnny Weir — came out after they stopped competing. I’m not asking for names, but are there still closeted skaters that you know of or is that era finally over?

RIPPON: I think we’re becoming past it and I really feel that like I hope that I had something to do with it, where people felt like it didn’t really matter and you could still be successful. But I do think that the pressures of someone like me and someone like Brian Boitano or Jeffrey Buttle are so different. I was never a favorite for a world title, there was no pressure like that. I was just trying to kind of make my world team and see if I, if someone’s having a bad day, could swoop in for a world medal. Or like at the Olympics, know that I could be a really good asset to the team event. So I knew that like the pressures for me were totally different, they were not the same as somebody trying to win a world title, I wasn’t going to be as scrutinized. I mean especially compared to somebody like Brian Boitano in the ‘80s. So it’s a totally different time but I do think that because a lot of the attention, I did get at the Olympics, I think it broke down a lot of stigma. Because yes, there was a gay athlete but everything else wasn’t about that, which I think was great. I think it was a really good thing.

Adam Rippon at the 2018 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BLADE: Why are there so many more medal opportunities in the summer games? Can you imagine if figure skaters had the number of medal opportunities as Michael Phelps? 

RIPPON: I think when you get into subjective sports where it’s all based on human judging, it’s really hard to break those into different categories. And it’s part of the drama of skating that there aren’t all these opportunities. That’s one reason I love the idea of a team event, not only because I’m a medalist from it, but I love that it’s brought different stars from the Olympics forward. I mean look at Yulia Lipnitskaya from Sochi. In the team event, she was the star of the whole competition and when we think about the individual, I even forget that she competed in it. So it gives other people the chance to be Olympic stars in a different capacity. The whole point of the Olympics is to inspire people to get into sports. That really is truly what it is. And I think the team event really does that.

BLADE: You obviously came up long after compulsories were eliminated. When you go back and watch old performances, do you think skaters in the ‘70s and ‘80s had better form, better edges, because of having to learn the school figures or not so much?

RIPPON: I think the quality of skating is going up because the demands of what you have to do now technically are so high. You have to do so many transitions into jumps and so many turns and steps into all of your elements so you get a nice transition score and I think that’s pushing people to learn these turns and steps in the proper way and faster than if they’d started with figures. This way you jump right into it and the learning curve is a lot quicker. You know you have to do it this way because that’s how it’s judged so it’s the only way to be competitive. 

BLADE: Were you really fully nude except for your boots for the ESPN shoot or did you have some kind of little loincloth on or something?

RIPPON: I was 100 percent naked and it was actually at the rink I trained at. There are three rinks and one is all the way at the end in the corner and they blocked it off and had security and everything but yeah, it was fully nude, and for the first two minutes it was like, “Isn’t it weird that I can see my dick and I’m skating,” but then you get going and you’re like it doesn’t really become a thing anymore and nobody’s really fazed by it because they’ve shot like a million naked athletes before so it’s a very cool experience.

BLADE: Isn’t it hard to skate with your dick flopping around?

RIPPON: No, because at that point, everything gets so small it’s like, “OK, this is what we’re dealing with.” It’s nothing to write home about. (laughs) 

ESPN’s 2018 ‘Body Issue’ cover

BLADE: What did you think of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski’s commentary of your Olympic performances?

RIPPON: They bring such excitement to skating. People tune in to watch the skating, but also to hear their opinions. They’re like Dick Button and Peggy Fleming for this generation, where you wanted to hear if Dick Button thought you were a good skater or not. They aren’t mean, they’re honest and now, being able to be more subjective, I see that. I remember there was one performance where Johnny said he thought I wasn’t interpreting the music well and I was like, “What? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” But as I watch it back now, I’m like, “No, he’s totally right.” He was just giving an honest opinion and it’s his job do to that. … They add flair to the whole competition.

BLADE: Did you ever hear from Mike Pence after the Olympics or was that just a big dog-and-pony show?

RIPPON: Well I knew that I never would, so I haven’t.

BLADE: Do you keep the Mirror Ball Trophy (from “Dancing With the Stars”) with all your skating medals? Or they displayed?

RIPPON: All my skating medals are in a container from the Container Store. The Mirror Ball Trophy is in a guest bedroom on the night stand. I have it out if somebody wants to see it, but it’s not something I’m looking at all the time. I want to focus on getting more things and — I know this is just in my own head — but not feel complicit in what I’ve achieved so far.

BLADE: You don’t even keep your Olympic medal out?

RIPPON: They came in beautiful boxes so I have it in the box on a side table with the medal inside. So it’s there if somebody wants to see it but it’s not like, “Oh wow, it’s hanging on the wall.”

BLADE: Any hint of sexual tension between you and (out Olympic skier) Gus Kenworthy or is that just totally a gay bromance?

RIPPON: It’s very much a brotherly sort of relationship. I adore him. We don’t talk all the time, but he’s just somebody I think I’ll always be kind of close to.

BLADE: You say in the book you and (figure skater) Ashley Wagner were close friends. Do you have any comment on her decision in August to say she was sexually assaulted (11 years prior by pairs skater John Coughlin, who committed suicide in January under similar allegations)?

RIPPON: I think it was brave. I’m sure it was really hard for her to do it. I think it’s going to hopefully create some good conversations with people within the sport.

BLADE: You say in the book you two were super close. Did she tell you about this shortly after it happened? Did you know John Coughlin?

RIPPON: I did know John, I thought, pretty well. But I had no idea any of this was going on and it’s been pretty tough ‘cause I wish I could have said something to someone or said something to him, but I didn’t have that opportunity. It’s something I think a lot of skaters are struggling with because we don’t agree with it. It’s not good. So many athletes aren’t equipped to deal with the suicide of someone that they knew. So it was really something challenging for a lot of people to get through and it was just something that was still, you know, pretty raw I think for a lot of people.

BLADE: What did you think of Yuzuru Hanyu’s (gold-winning) performances in PyeongChang? 

RIPPON: I thought he was amazing. He’s incredible. Such a legend.

BLADE: Is he approachable or kind of in his own world? What’s it like being around such a great skater?

RIPPON: There’s a level of respect for everybody like that that all the competitors have regardless of who they are or what they’ve achieved. He’s always been super nice and I would say that I enjoyed competing with him as both gold older. One thing that helped is since he moved to Canada, his English got better so we could actually chat. As an adult, I enjoyed seeing him and getting to cheer for him and watch him compete.

BLADE: How do you feel about turning 30 (in November)? 

RIPPON: I can’t wait. I’m really excited.

BLADE: Why?

RIPPON: I just feel like it’s perfect timing. I’m retiring from skating and starting this new phase of my life and career so the time feels really good. And I don’t know, I felt like I was 30 for a few years already anyway, so it’s all good timing.

BLADE: Does (boyfriend) JP (Jussi-Pekka Kajaala) live with you now in L.A.? How are things there?

RIPPON: JP goes back and forth between L.A. and Finland. I’m actually going there Friday.

BLADE: How often do you get to see each other on average?

RIPPON: We probably spend about five months out of the year together.

BLADE: Are you and (“Dancing With the Stars” dancing partner) Jenna (Johnson) still BFFs?

RIPPON: Um, yeah. I love her. We talk, like, very often.

BLADE: Are you a morning person by nature or did you kind of just force yourself to be one all those years getting up to train?

RIPPON: I’m not, but if I don’t force myself to be a morning person, I could stay in bed for like years.

BLADE: What do you have coming up? What do the next six months look like for you?

RIPPON: I’m on the book tour for two weeks, then right after that I have a few stops and I’m working on a few other things that will be announced soon, which is cool. I also just filmed another series of Breaking the Ice, the little videos on YouTube. Yeah, just stuff like that. It’s all good, nothing super busy.

BLADE: What would you like to be doing in 10 years?

RIPPON: I would love to still be working in entertainment, in comedy, and be successful. Let’s see, I don’t know, I just would like to be really successful, have more awards, right? I’m an athlete, I love a good trophy. So I think I really enjoy the kind of stuff I’m doing now and just continue to be a performer but like in a different way. I’d love to still be doing all this in 10 years.

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Corcoran Street Group: LGBTQ lobbyists fighting for our rights

‘The most pro-LGBTQ+ thing you can do this election is to vote Democrat’

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Brad Howard is founder and president of the Corcoran Street Group

We often hear the term lobbyist associated with negative connotations. Think oil and gas initiatives that often seek to curtail environmental protections to further their industries. Consider “big pharma,” which is often vilified for keeping healthcare costs high. However, there are lobbyists fighting for our rights – not just LGBTQ rights, but human rights as well. Brad Howard, founder and president of the Corcoran Street Group (CSG) is one such out, gay lobbyist advocating for equality and equity. 

To start, Howard shares his definition of a lobbyist, which transcends the stereotype that the term originates with politicos literally waiting in D.C. hotel lobbies hoping to hobnob with politicians to foster their interests, often with cash in hand.

“Understanding how government works can be incredibly difficult, even to those on the inside,” he shared. “Lobbying is a constitutionally protected right explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment – the right to petition our government. At its most basic level, lobbying is essentially contacting a public official to express your opinion or ask them to take a certain action. So, if you have ever emailed or called your city council rep or Member of Congress – or even tagged them on social media – you lobbied.”

Howard, who came to Washington from a conservative background in Arkansas, had a journey from working with Republican leaders and causes to being more libertarian before eventually joining with the Blue Dog Democrats. This is quite a change for a young man who founded a teenage GOP group in high school, chaired the college Republicans group at Hendrix University, and became vice chair of Arkansas College Republicans. 

So, how did a nice conservative Christian Republican whose parents voted for Ross Perot instead of Bill Clinton from the Bible Belt end up as a gay lobbyist? 

“I was subconsciously rejecting any attempt to live my life the way someone told me to … a Libertarian streak if you will,” Howard said. “I was always pro-choice and pro-marriage equality as I didn’t want the government anywhere near me. Throughout all of this, I was starting to understand that I was gay and what that meant for my future in politics, it was bleak. Then the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 started pushing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in states across the country to drive evangelical turnout. That ran counter to my politics – to the basic principle of promoting individual liberty. So I left the party then and graduated college as an independent in 2006 with the goal of moving to Washington as quickly as possible.”

By 2007 he was living in Washington, D.C., interning for Simon Rosenberg’s New Democrat Network, and pursuing a master’s from American University. Coming out for Howard happened on the first day he entered college, quite a “daunting and scary” task summed up by him as: “I have blue eyes. I love playing cards. I’m a terrible, but very confident karaoke singer. Oh, by the way, I’m gay.”

The “it’s part of me, but not my whole identity,” is often expressed by those on the – shall we say – cusp of coming out. He cites a Foundry United Methodist pastor’s message as impetus for coming out as a defining part of his identity. 

“That seed of shame you feel for being gay – that was not planted there by God; it was planted there by the church, and I’m sorry,” here he’s referring to a sermon by Pastor Ginger Gaines-Cerelli. “I can’t describe what it [felt] like to be 33 years old and have your world completely upended like that. It wasn’t just the statement, which answered a question that had long haunted me; it was also the apology. I didn’t even know that I needed an apology, but I did, and it worked.” 

Before starting CSG, he worked at a bipartisan lobbyist group and was mentored by former Chief of Senate Staff Bob Van Heuvelen. Howard describes his mentor’s approach to lobbying as guided by a strong moral compass, and seeing people as people, not transactions. 

The way it should be: Since corporations are not people.

Howard also sits on the board of directors for Q Street, as treasurer. Q Street is an LGBTQ lobbyist organization. Yesenia Henninger, the out queer president of Q Street since January of this year – and board member for five years – explains in further detail what her group does to foster queer rights. 

“Q Street is the nonprofit, nonpartisan, professional association of LGBTQ lobbyists and public policy advocates. Q Street was formed to be the bridge between LGBTQ advocacy organizations, LGBTQ+ lobbyists on K Street,” District lingo for queer lobbyists, “and our colleagues and allies on Capitol Hill. Q Street has more than 3,000 recipients of our monthly newsletter, hundreds of attendees at our receptions, and our monthly luncheons have featured speakers such as Members of Congress, campaign managers, activists, plaintiffs in the most important LGBTQ+ Supreme Court cases of our time, and the Secretary of the Army. Q Street hosts nearly 25 receptions, lunches, and professional development events every year. Our goal is to provide the best networking opportunities and professional development trainings so our members continue to grow within the ranks of their field.”

According to Henninger there has been a growing population of queer lobbyists since the Obama years. Marriage equality, an impetus for Howard to perhaps “come out politically” equally spurred their growth. After Obama, this presence fought to maintain rights gained. This is amazing growth considering at one time people working for our equity did so in an almost secretive fashion. 

An aside here, Sean Strub the founder of POZ Magazine, wrote a powerful book in 2014 called “Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival,” which chronicles advocacy in D.C. in the years after Stonewall.

The majority of these K Street lobbyists are in their 30s and 40s. Although Henninger shares there are more junior and more senior-ranking lobbyists in terms of age or career. 

What do they do? Is it office-to-event, sleep, repeat? Henninger explained that a queer lobbyist’s lifestyle varies depending on the issue area they focus on. Her organization has lobbyists working in policy as well as members who focus on energy and transportation issues, and topics all across the spectrum.

“The lobbyists and advocates whose roles require them to engage in political activity may also have different lifestyles than those that do not. They likely have fundraisers (sometimes one, sometimes multiple) that they attend after work with Members of Congress or other politicians. However, we also have many public policy advocate members who spend their day talking to Members of Congress, or administration officials, trying to achieve their policy goals that do not have any fundraiser-related obligations. Q Street hopes to provide a great space for our members to network with one another and unite their social and professional experiences in the district.”

We are all aware what is at stake in the upcoming presidential election in what can only sadly be described as a deeply divided nation. What role will LGBTQ lobbyists play, I asked Brad Howard.  

“If you vote third party, if you leave the race blank, or if you stay home, you are helping to elect Donald Trump,” he said. “You are not punishing Joe Biden, you are punishing the millions of Americans, the millions of aspiring Americans who face deportation, millions of women who depend on access to reproductive health, and so many transgender young people who need protection – all of these people will be punished in a Trump presidency. And, Joe Biden is going to need a Democratic Congress – or we’ll need a Democratic Congress to stop Donald Trump. So to me, the most pro-LGBTQ+ thing you can do this election is to vote Democrat…because the choices have never been clearer.”

Visit Corcoran Street Group and Q Street to learn more about their work.

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Rehoboth’s Purple Parrot still soaring after 25 years

Owners Hugh Fuller and Troy Roberts reflect on keys to their success

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Longtime Purple Parrot employee Chris Chandler. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Two buildings, one romance, and 25 years later, the Purple Parrot is busy as ever. 

If the tropical purple paint covering the outside with rainbow flags and walls covered with love notes, affirmations, and drunk wishes scribbled on dollar bills don’t indicate it already, the Purple Parrot is an institution in Rehoboth. The gay-owned and operated fixture is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. 

The Blade sat down with owners Hugh Fuller and Troy Roberts of the Rehoboth establishment to discuss the past 25 years and plans for the future. 

Fuller and Roberts, both gay, have been working together since before the Parrot was even an idea. Fuller was a co-owner of the Iguana, another restaurant and bar in the town.  

“I was in the Iguana first with another business partner,” Fuller said. “I was going to get out and move up to Pennsylvania with him [Roberts]. He decided that he was going to come down and said, ‘Well, what if I go in with you at the Iguana and we do it together?’ And I was like, ‘Alright,’ so we did, and it just snowballed from there. We were always in the restaurant business together from the beginning.” 

“Yeah, that was really luck, too,” Roberts began. “Because-” 

“Because Grindr wasn’t around then!” Fuller interjected, laughing as Roberts began to roll his eyes and smile. 

“I had a small place up in York,” Roberts continued. “Selling that kind of gave us some money to buy the other guy out. We just had friends supporting us and helping us along the way and it just kind of worked.” 

“Kind of worked” would be an understatement. The pair moved on from the Iguana and opened the Parrot. Then, after opening the Parrot, they decided to shift locations to a larger location down the street to accommodate the growing demand. Then in 2010, the Parrot expanded again, adding the land behind the Rehoboth Avenue location, which provided an additional 950 square feet as well as giving patrons access to Wilmington Avenue. 

The bar and restaurant, which serves American cuisine with a beach flair, has always focused on being a welcoming space to all regardless of sexuality, gender, race, nationality, or identity. This, the duo explains, is one of the reasons why the restaurant has had such a lasting impact on the Rehoboth restaurant and gay communities. 

The Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

“Back in the ‘90s when we first opened up, the amount of straight crossdressers that would come were like, ‘Oh, are we allowed to come in? Are we welcomed into a place like that?’ And we were like ‘Everybody that walks on this planet is welcome here!’” Fuller said. “Those are the kinds of things, you know, where people just felt comfortable. They would get stared at out on the street, but inside they would walk around and feel like they were in their own skin. It was just really cool to see.”

The feeling of acceptance has been a crucial part of the Parrot’s success.

“I got an email a couple of days ago — probably two weeks ago about a woman bringing her daughter down,” Roberts said. “She’s 16 and was bullied through school — hard times, depression, tried to harm herself a couple of times. It was just really sweet that she reached out and she’s like, ‘My daughter was a completely different person when I brought her into your bar. Everybody treated her nice — the bartenders, the waitstaff, I mean, everybody was friendly. She just doesn’t experience that often being an out 16-year-old lesbian. We just can’t even thank you enough.’ It’s those kinds of things that we get often.”

“[The mother] mainly wrote it because we put the Pride flag on the Parrot’s Facebook wall,” Fuller added. 

The colorful lights, disco balls, and staggering number of dollar bills stapled to the walls highlight that the Rehoboth community has embraced the Parrot. It’s not uncommon to see a group of gay patrons sitting at the bar in bathing suits sipping on orange crushes and talking about their day at Poodle Beach while a bachelorette party belts out Lady Gaga on karaoke night in the room next door. That is the vibe Fuller and Roberts have curated — a fun and friendly tropical oasis in the middle of Rehoboth Avenue.  

A crucial element of this curated vibe, the pair point out, is treating employees and guests with respect. When asked what they have learned that helped them be so successful over the past 25 years, Fuller and Roberts said the same thing.

“Patience, organization, and treating people well,” Roberts said.” I think that’s probably one of the bigger of the three — you treat them well and they treat you well. I think it’s just a mutual respect.” 

 “It took me about 30 years to learn that it’s not just all about work,” Fuller said. “I used to bust my butt in there all the time and the focus was [on] the restaurant. I know [Roberts] said patience, I would say mine was being patient too because I learned going in that it’s easier to deal with your employees without shouting at them. It took me a little while to get through that.” 

He added that compensating staff fairly was also one of their keys to success. 

 “Before we take a nickel out of our business, we put $1 back into our employees’ pockets,” Fuller said. We want the business to survive and it has been incredible.”  

Fuller added that this sentiment, of having patience and treating everyone with respect, goes both ways — it applies to the Parrot’s patrons as well. 

“If you leave the Parrot angry, it’s your own decision,” Fuller explained. “If we don’t make you happy there, it’s because you’re choosing not to be happy. We will go out of our way to correct anything and everything that we can. So if you leave [unhappy], it’s not because we couldn’t do it. It’s because you didn’t want us to.”

The two discussed their history together — anyone who has them interact can see their spirited energy and appreciation for each other. 

 “Troy and I used to be a couple when we first opened, and we were together for about 10 years,” Fuller said. “And then we kind of went our separate ways, but the restaurant kept us in very close contact. Sometimes I think we’re probably closer than most couples are because of the way that the restaurant has us tied together.” 

“Even during the worst of it, we never stopped communicating on a daily basis,” Roberts added. “Obviously, you can tell by his personality why that all went south,” he said laughing. 

“Well, you can tell by the way that he looks why it went south.” Fuller jabbed back, also laughing.

“Hey!” Roberts replied. 

“I wasn’t gonna continue dating my grandfather!” Fuller joked. 

Despite the end of their romantic relationship, there was still clear evidence of perpetual good energy between the business partners. The two then started to reminisce about the past 25 years and the struggles and successes they overcame to reach this milestone. 

The pair mentioned the two biggest struggles they have faced in the past quarter century. One was when Rehoboth Avenue was dug up for the Streetscape improvement project, and the second was the 2008 recession. 

“We were refinancing our houses several times to keep it afloat there for a little while,” Fuller said. 

“But hey, we got nice sidewalks now!” Roberts added. “So that’s good.”

 It’s not just the customers who grew up with the Parrot; so did the staff.

“I mean one of the kids who bussed for us is now our dentist,” Fuller said.

“One of the busboys from the Iguana days, he’s our dentist now,” Roberts explained. “They actually started dating in high school while working together at the Iguana. One of them followed us to the Parrot and her daughter just worked for us two summers ago as a host. He’s our dentist, and they’re still local. We just sold him a house over in Lewes, because we’re both Realtors on the side. When you look back at that, you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, you were just a kid. And now you have a kid graduating college!’ It goes fast.” 

It seems that many of the staff have a soft spot for the Parrot, and for good reason. An important aspect of keeping their employees happy is supporting them. At first, it was trips to Disney World with some of the servers and renting out the local waterpark to give kids time to enjoy the summer. Then it became Christmas bonuses, which are not common in the food service industry. 

The Parrot helped raise more than $10,000 for one of their employees dealing with fallout from the war in Ukraine. 

“One of our bartenders being from Ukraine, when all that went down, amazingly, how he was able to bring a lot of his family over,” Roberts said. “And until they actually got grounded, he had places for them to stay all lined up.”

“The reason that he was able to get them over is because we did a fundraiser at the restaurant and our customers raised over $10,000 to help sponsor his family and one of our other employees’ families,” Fuller said. “They brought them all the way up through Mexico and into the country and now they’re here with citizenship cards and working for us. We got them houses and apartments too.” 

“We don’t care what they are, whether they’re straight, Black, Chinese, Mexican. It’s like the Benetton of Rehoboth in here,” Fuller added. “It’s the United Nations. We support everybody and we’re not afraid to show our support for everybody.”

In addition to reminiscing about some of the good things the restaurant has done for its employees, they both talked about notable guests of the Parrot. 

“My mind went right to the guys from Manhattan, who would always come down,” Roberts said when asked if any guests have stuck out to him over the past 25 years. “They just happened to find us. They had never been to Rehoboth before. They walked into the original Parrot and had every single year after that until two of them passed away. It just became like a yearly week, then it turned into two weeks, and then it turned into two times a year. And it was all just because they came to one bar, and had so much fun. They would sit there all day, all night, go home take a nap, and come back for dinner. And it was just their place.” 

They have faced some objections from those who were not as receptive to their tolerance of different people.

“We get the same hate that everybody else does — the same hate that the city got when they put the rainbow crossings in and the flag up,” Fuller said. “I was just telling Troy about a conversation I had yesterday with a guy. The front of our business for Pride month has flags on it and says ‘Happy Pride.’ And he said, ‘I was going to come in here but I see you’re supporting the gay community with your rainbow flags.’ And I said ‘Yes.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I don’t see why you don’t have flags for veterans.’ And I said,’ Well, as a veteran, I can tell you that we don’t serve to be recognized, we serve to protect and to give you guys your freedom. It’s not something that we want recognition for. But there is a flag, the American flag, that flies over the top of our business every day to represent the veterans of this country.’” 

Despite the opinions of some who are less than welcoming of the LGBTQ community, the Purple Parrot will always be a safe space to celebrate, the two affirmed. And celebrate they will. 

The Parrot already hosted one party to celebrate the milestone of the bar early in the summer, but will throw an even bigger bash at the end of the season to commemorate the history and hard work that has gone into making the Parrot ‘fly.’

“On May fifth we had a big party,” Fuller said. “We’ll have another one at the end of the summer in September. We did one at the beginning and then we’re going to do a really big one at the end of the summer. The first celebration, that weekend, turned out to be a little rainy, and misty so it wasn’t as big as it could have been. It was packed inside but it wasn’t packed outside like it normally is. We usually do a full cookout barbecue, all that stuff and we’ll do that again at the end of the summer. We’ll have another one of those with DJs. I am not sure about a drag show, but we’ll probably have something because the girls are trying to get something together. We don’t want to spoil anything but there will be a surprise.”  

When asked to give their final thoughts on owning and running one of Rehoboth’s most successful businesses as gay men, the two made it clear that it has to be a safe and welcoming space for all for it to succeed. 

“I think you have to be all-inclusive,” Roberts said. “I don’t think in today’s world you can just really limit it to the gay community. You have to be gay-friendly, and accepting as well. And I think that helps because it gets non-gays in there and everybody just starts to get along. It becomes more accepted and then becomes the norm.” 

Fuller agreed but emphasized being true to one’s character in collaboration with being inclusive is the key to their success.

“Being gay isn’t who we are, you know, it’s what we are,” Fuller said. “You can’t be afraid to be you. … If you’re going to open up a business, you want to make sure you lean on the community, because the community is going to be your biggest support. And that’s how we definitely lean on the gay community.”

The Purple Parrot is located at 134 Rehoboth Ave. in Rehoboth Beach and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and is open from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit their website at ppgrill.com.

Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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Queer TV anchors in Md. use their platform ‘to fight for what’s right’

Salisbury’s Hannah Cechini, Rob Petree are out and proud in Delmarva

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Hannah Cechini and Rob Petree anchor the 5:30 p.m. newscast at WMDT 47, the ABC affiliate in Salisbury, Md. (Photo courtesy WMDT)

Identity can be a tricky thing for journalists to navigate. The goal of the job is to inform the public with no bias, but this is difficult, if not impossible, to do in practice. Everything from your upbringing to the books you read can impact how you view and cover the world. But sometimes these factors can help shine a light on an underrepresented community or issue.  

Two broadcast journalists in Salisbury, Md., are using the subtle, yet impactful choice of sharing their queer identities to strengthen their reporting and connection to the community. 

Hannah Cechini, who is non-binary, and Rob Petree, who is gay, co-host the 5:30-6:30 p.m. newscast for WMDT 47. They are the only known anchor team that are not only both queer, but also open out about their identities on air and, as Petree put it, “always use [their] platform and power that [we] have to fight for what’s right.”

Cechini’s passion for journalism played an important role in the discovery of their gender identity. They knew they were meant to be in the newsroom before they figured out they were non-binary.

“I was doing this job before I started to identify as non-binary,” Cechini told the Blade. “I’d always watch the evening news with my dad growing up and thought it was the coolest thing. And throughout high school, I worked on the school paper.”

After graduating from Suffolk University in Boston, Cechini’s passion for journalism only grew as they began to work in the world of news media, eventually ending up in Salisbury. As they honed their writing, editing, and anchoring skills at WMDT, Cechini also started to take an introspective look into their gender identity.

A little more than two years ago Cechini came out as non-binary to their coworkers in the newsroom and was met with support all around. “It was definitely smoother than I anticipated,” they said.

“It is very freeing to be able to do this job as a non-binary person because I haven’t really seen much of that representation myself.” 

Petree, on the other hand, knew he was gay right around the same time he became interested in news media, at age 14. He started working for his high school news show and used it as a way to be open about his sexuality rather than hide it. 

“I broke into broadcasting doing the morning announcements,” he said. “I did the weather and started doing a segment called issues and insights,” Petree said, explaining his introduction to the news. Eventually, students would ask him questions about his sexuality after seeing him on the school TV. “It had gotten to the point in school, that if you’re going to come up and ask me if I’m gay, well shit, I’m going to tell you!”

To him, this was the exact reason he had come out. Petree wanted to motivate others to live honestly. 

“There are a lot of people who will spend most of their lives not being out so if they can see someone like me, who’s out and proud doing his thing, so to speak, then maybe that’s the inspiration for them,” Petree said. “To search their own soul, find out who they are, and live their full life.”

Petree explained that he got his start in a space that was not always welcoming to his queerness. This tested the delicate balance between being a journalist and holding your identity close.

“I’ve always been out and it was a challenge because I got my start in conservative talk radio,” Petree said. “I’m going to be honest, some of the things I heard from people I’ve worked with, from the callers to the radio stations were absolutely abhorrent. But I never let it discourage me. It made me work that much harder.” 

Cechini highlighted the same sentiment when explaining why it’s important to have out LGBTQ figures in news media. They want to show everyone that it is possible to be openly queer and successful.

“I just think that representation matters because if ‘Joe,’ who’s never seen a transgender person before, sees a transgender person or a non-binary person, doing a job that they’ve only ever seen straight cis people doing before, it kind of creates that understanding or bridges that gap,” Cechini said. “It’s like, ‘OK, maybe they’re not that different from me.’ And that facilitates being able to connect among different communities.”

Both Cechini and Petree agree that having a queer coworker has made their bond stronger. 

 “It’s great to have someone else next to me who I can relate to and work alongside,” Petree said. “And they’re a joy to work with, they really are. There is a tremendous amount of things that we relate to together — like we both share and have the same affinity for Lady Gaga,” he said laughing. “Although they’re more of a Lady Gaga fan than I am.”

“Hannah is a tremendous journalist who really goes out of their way to make sure that the stories that they do are on point 100% of the time,” he added. “They’ve been great to work with and to learn from and to grow alongside. I’m very happy to have them as my co-anchor.”

Cechini explained that the relationship between two co-anchors can make or break a newscast, and having Petree as their partner on air is a major part of the show’s success.

“Co-anchoring is not just the relationship that you have on camera,” Cechini said. “It’s really, really important to have a good relationship with your co-anchor off-camera as well because you have to have a level of trust between you.”

Cechini continued, saying that this relationship is crucial to working together, especially when things don’t go as planned. 

“Not everything always goes to script,” they said. “Sometimes you have to be able to work together without even really talking to each other and just kind of know what to do. When you have a relationship like that with someone who identifies similarly to you or has had similar life experience, I think that just only strengthens that [relationship].”

Although they have had similar experiences being from the LGBTQ community, Petree said it was a change for him to use “they/them” pronouns on air.

“Prior to working with Hannah, I’ve never worked with a non-binary individual who went by the pronouns ‘they/them,’” Petree said. “It was new for me to not use traditional pronouns on air, but I can say that I have never misgendered them on air and never will. You get conditioned to using traditional pronouns and it’s easy to make that mistake, but I never have.”

At the end of the day, they both explained, it is about doing the job right. For the duo, a part of that is understanding the diversity of people and issues in the community. 

“When you come from a more marginalized community, I think that kind of helps to inform you a little better as a journalist because you have a better understanding of what it’s like to be ‘the other guy,’” Cechini said.

“Our talent and our drive for journalism speaks for itself,” Petree said. “And that resonates with people. Have we shown ourselves to be an inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community here in Delmarva? Yes, we have. And that’s something that I’m proud of.”

The primetime nightly newscast with Hannah Cechini and Rob Petree airs weeknights from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on ABC affiliate WMDT 47.

From left, Rob Petree and Hannah Cechini. (Photo courtesy of WMDT)
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