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OBITUARY: Roger Bergstrom, 90

Long-time Gay Men’s Chorus singer dies in New Mexico

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Roger Bergstrom, gay news, Washington Blade
Roger Bergstrom

Roger “Pearl” Bergstrom died from the flu and heart disease at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Jan. 20. He was 90. He had retired to Santa Fe after many years in Arlington, Va. His partner of 30 years, Barry Baltzley, was at his side.

Bergstrom was born in Rhinelander, Wis., on Nov. 1, 1929, just days after the October 1929 stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. He was small for his age when he started school. He recalled walking to school in the winter when the snow was piled so high to either side that all he could see was the narrow, shoveled path he was walking on and the sky above.

He attended the University of Wisconsin-Superior. In the summers, he worked as an assistant cook aboard Great Lakes ore boats, which were working vessels that carried iron ore from Minnesota to the steel mills. This began Bergstrom’s lifelong love of cooking and fine dining.

Bergstrom completed a bachelor’s degree with college exemptions from the draft, but upon graduation, he knew it was time to enlist or be drafted, as the Korean Conflict was taking place. He decided to volunteer for the United States Air Force, and he soon shipped out to Korea. An excellent typist, he was assigned to a typing pool in Korea.

After four years of military service, Bergstrom applied to Catholic University of America in Washington to get a master’s degree. He remembered being interviewed by Father Gilbert Hartke, the so-called “show-biz priest,” who had founded school’s department of speech and drama. Bergstrom graduated with a master of fine arts specializing in theater and film. He taught English, drama and advanced placement/accelerated courses at high schools in Virginia for many years, in both Alexandria and later in Fairfax County. Bergstrom was pleased to have the opportunity, in 2012, to congratulate former student Angus King on the occasion of his election as U.S. Senator from Maine.

During his teaching years, Bergstrom supplemented his salary by working weekends and summers as a salesclerk for the upscale men’s clothier Britches of Georgetown, founded in 1967. Upon retiring from teaching, Bergstrom worked full time at Britches. At the request of the owner of the Britches stores, Rick Hindin, Bergstrom wrote a manual and set up a training program for the store’s salesclerks, to meet the expectations of the kind of clientele that a high-end men’s clothier attracts. This led to Hindin hiring Bergstrom to be majordomo at his home on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, Va.,, where he used his gourmet cooking skills.

He joined the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington in 1984 and remained for 22 seasons. 

By the fall of 1989, Bergstrom had adopted his signature identity. At the GALA Choral Festival in Seattle that summer, a young singer from New Orleans flirted with Bergstrom by putting a string of Mardi Gras pearls around his neck. Bergstrom became “Pearl” and typically wore a string of real pearls at Chorus events for the rest of his life.

Over the years, Bergstrom landed numerous leading roles that showcased his many musical and dramatic talents. Some memorable ones include Auntie Em in the all-male version of “The Wizard of Oz”; “Pearl Ives” in a holiday show, dressed as a spitting image of the snowman portrayed by Burl Ives in a famous animated TV special; Ship of Pearl; Phyllis Diller, complete with long cigarette holder and one-liners; and a hilarious impersonation of First Lady Bess Truman. Within the chorus, Bergstrom could be counted on to be a costume hit at any party and during the fall campout retreat of the chorus. He was fun-loving, with a distinctive laugh.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Bergstrom volunteered to lead the Chorus Care Corps in making countless home, doctor and hospital visits to help relieve the suffering of the many chorus members who were suffering. Bergstrom was inducted into the chorus’s Circle of Excellence in 1996.

Bergstrom co-chaired an ad team that persuaded more than 100 local businesses to support the chorus with program advertising. He developed the travel specifications for the chorus’s first foreign tour to Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. In recognition of this work, he was honored in 2005 with the Harmony Award, the chorus’s highest honor for long-time outstanding contributions to the mission of the chorus.

At its year-end party, the chorus also gives out Crystal Awards for various funny, embarrassing and heroic moments in the previous year. One of Bergstrom’s Crystal Awards celebrated the time he was stuck in a small elevator with fellow singers wearing his large “Pearl Ives” snowman costume.

Bergstrom and Baltzley traveled to Chile and Peru, with time at Machu Picchu; the Greek Islands and Israel; Western Europe; and most recently, a cruise vacation on the Baltic Sea with a private tour of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In 2006, the couple moved from the Washington area to Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, N.M., for retirement. Rainbow Vision was the first LGBT retirement community in the country to be completed. Bergstrom continued to express his love of music by singing for a time with the New Mexico Gay Men’s Chorus and by volunteering with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

In 2008, when same-sex marriage rights were beginning to be recognized in many States across the country, Bergstrom and Baltzley visited Palm Springs and exchanged vows at Palm Springs City Hall in a ceremony officiated by then-Mayor Steve Pougnet.

Bergstrom is survived by his husband, Barry Baltzley; son Eric Christopher (Anne), of Tampa, Fla.; daughter Jenni Treadwell, of Richmond, Va.; grandchildren Lindsey, Shawn and Lara; and two great-grandchildren.

Bergstrom’s ashes will repose in the columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery. A military funeral ceremony at Arlington and of a celebration of life are being planned.

Donations in honor of Roger “Pearl” Bergstrom may be made to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, 1140 Third St., N.E., second floor, Washington, D.C. 20002. Condolences may be sent online to Baltzley via email at [email protected].

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Missing gay man found ‘alive and well’

Police say Richard ‘Rick’ Woods found in good health

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man, was found alive and well.

D.C. police announced on Friday that Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man who police said was reported missing and last seen on July 14, has been located. But the announcement doesn’t provide information on where he was found or why he went missing.

Friends who know Woods say he operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business in various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, friends said, was in Georgetown a short distance from where police said he was last seen on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

“MPD does not publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding a missing person and how they are found, however we do release their flyer as well as a notification when they are located,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch. “Mr. Woods was found in good health,” Burch told the Blade.

Police sought help from the public in their initial announcement that Woods was missing. The announcement said he was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23.

Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate John Fanning, who said he has been friends with Woods for many years, said he was delighted to hear Woods was found in good condition.

“Rick is known by many in our community,” Fanning told the Blade at the time Woods was reported missing. Fanning said he and others who know Woods stand ready to provide support for him should he be in need of such support.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Woods for comment.

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Some D.C. gay bars to require proof of COVID vaccination

Action prompted by mayor’s order reinstating masks indoors

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Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own is among the area queer bars requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

At least four D.C. gay bars announced this week on social media that they will require patrons to show proof that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for being admitted to the bars.

They include the Logan Circle area gay bars Number Nine and Trade, which are operated by the same co-owners, and the Adams Morgan gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which are also operated by the same owner and share the same building.

The four bars, which also offer dining service, announced their proof of vaccination requirement shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday issued a new order reinstating the city’s requirement that facial masks be worn inside all businesses and other public establishments.

The mayor’s order applies to all vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the age of two. It was scheduled to take effect 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31.

At a July 29 news conference, Bowser pointed to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued two days earlier recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places where transmission of the coronavirus is considered “substantial” or “high.”

The mayor said that, at the advice of her public health experts, she decided to issue the new order to help curtail the rising number of COVID cases in D.C. over the past month or more due to the rapid spread of the virus’s delta variant, which is surging throughout the nation. Like other parts of the country, Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbit said people who are unvaccinated in D.C. make up nearly all of the newly infected cases.

“I know D.C. residents have been very closely following the public health guidelines, and they will embrace this,” Bowser said in referring to the new mask requirement.

The four-page order released by the mayor’s office, similar to the city’s earlier mask requirements, allows indoor patrons of restaurants and bars to remove their masks while “actively” eating or drinking.

But some representatives of restaurants and bars have pointed out that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, have followed the CDC’s initial policy of making mask wearing a recommendation rather than a requirement.

“Mayor Bowser’s announcement that nightlife hospitality patrons must wear a mask indoors when not ‘actively eating or drinking’ renders the reinstated mandate essentially unenforceable and results in the rule being reduced to a largely theatrical requirement,” said Mark Lee, director of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other nightlife related businesses.

“The greatest disappointment for many venue operators and staff, however, is that the mayor’s decision does not allow an option for establishments to admit only fully vaccinated patrons and be exempt from the mandate, as a number of other jurisdictions across the country have done,” Lee said.

John Guggenmos, co-owner of the bars Trade and Number Nine, told the Washington Blade he and his co-owners adopted the proof of vaccination policy as an added means of protecting the safety of both patrons and employees of the two bars.

“We’re hopeful that this will be in effect for just a few weeks or a month or two,” Guggenmos said. “Our patrons have always been very supportive,” he said in referring to the city’s public health directives last year and early this year in which masks were required up until May of this year.

Guggenmos said Trade and Number Nine will allow an alternative to the vaccination requirement if patrons provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the previous three days of their admission to the bars.

In its social media postings, Pitchers and A League of Her Own said their proof of vaccination requirement was based on the concern for the health of their patrons and staff.

“We will require proof a COVID vaccination until further notice at Pitchers/ALOHO and masks per the mayor,” a Facebook posting says. “We take guidelines and the health of our patrons and staff very seriously. We will accept a picture or hard copy of your COVID vaccination card,” it says. “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”

Tammy Truong, owner of the gay bar Uproar Lounge at 639 Florida Ave., N.W., told the Blade the bar has no immediate plans to require proof of vaccination as a requirement for admission, but Uproar will fully comply with the mayor’s order requiring indoor masks.

Justin Parker, co-owner of the nearby gay bar The Dirty Goose at 913 U St., N.W., told the Blade he and his staff decided on Friday to also put in place a requirement that patrons show either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past five days. He said a 5-day window for the COVID test, which the CDC allows in some cases, was chosen rather than a three day requirement to accommodate people who may not be able to get tested during weekends.

Owners of other D.C. gay bars couldn’t immeidately be reached. But the Blade could not find any announcements by the other gay bars as of Friday afternoon that they planed to put in place a proof of vaccination requiremenet. 

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Judge dismisses lawsuit against Va. school guidelines for transgender students

Christian Action Network and other conservative groups filed suit

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Connor Climo, gay news, Washington Blade

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students that are to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.

The VDOE introduced the policies in March to better protect and affirm trans and non-binary students in schools, considering they are more likely to face discrimination and harassment from their peers and students. The directives would require Virginia schools to allow them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity and pronouns and a name that reflects their gender identity.

Several conservative organizations, including the Christian Action Network, and families whose children attend Lynchburg public schools had sought to overturn the VDOE’s policies. The groups cited their need to protect their right to free speech and religion under the First Amendment.

Challenging the enactment of non-binary and trans-inclusive school policies in Virginia is not a new occurence. 

Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County teacher, was suspended in May after stating he would not use trans students’ preferred pronouns. Circuit Judge James E. Plowman, Jr., who invoked Pickering v. Board of Education,  a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a teacher that stated they have the right to provide commentary on issues of public importance without being dismissed from their position, reinstated Cross after he filed a lawsuit,  

Equality Virginia on Tuesday a statement celebrated what they described as “a win for Virginia schools and students.”

“This ruling is important progress and emphasizes the continued need to protect transgender and non-binary youth in Virginia,” said Executive Director Vee Lamneck. “These policies will create safer classrooms and will reduce bullying, discrimination and harassment. It’s imperative school boards adopt these policies as soon as possible because the lives of transgender students are at risk.”

Equality Virginia, ACLU of Virginia, and more than 50 other organizations and school board leaders across the state filed an amicus brief earlier this month encouraging the court to deny the lawsuit.

The brief’s arguments included references to historic lawsuits like Brown v. Board of Education and Grimm v. Gloucester City School Board that specifically addressed inequalities in schools for minority students.

While Tuesday’s ruling is a win for LGBTQ rights advocates in education and their respective students, there still remains a final barrier to ensure that the VDOE’s policies are sanctioned in the fall. 

“The dismissal clears one statewide hurdle for the guidelines and limits future challenges,” reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “But it leaves the fight to continue at local school boards, which are currently debating how or if to implement policies before the start of the school year.”

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