Connect with us

Local

OBITUARY: Roger Bergstrom, 90

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

Published

on

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].

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

District of Columbia

Bernie Delia, attorney, beloved Capital Pride organizer, dies at 68

Activist worked at Justice Department, White House as attorney

Published

on

Bernie Delia speaks at the Pride Honors event on May 31, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bernie Delia, a founding member of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. LGBTQ Pride events, and who served most recently as co-chair of World Pride 2025, which D.C. will be hosting next June, died unexpectedly on Friday, according to a statement released by Capital Pride Alliance. He was 68.

“It is with great sadness that the Capital Pride Alliance mourns the passing of Bernie Delia,” the statement says. “We will always reflect on his life and legacy as a champion, activist, survivor, mentor, friend, leader, and a true inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement says that in addition to serving six years as the Capital Pride Alliance board president, Delia served for several years as president of Dignity Washington, the local LGBTQ Catholic organization, where he helped create “an environment for spiritual enrichment during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

“He also had a distinguished legal career, serving as one of the first openly gay appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice and later as an appellate attorney,” the statement reads.

Delia’s LinkedIn page shows that he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 26 years, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2019. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as associate deputy attorney general and from 1994 to 1997 served as senior counsel to the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which provides executive and administrative support for 93 U.S. attorneys located throughout the country.

His LinkedIn page shows he served from January-June 1993 as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which he was part of the White House staff. And it shows he began his career as legal editor of the Bureau of National Affairs, which published news reports on legal issues, from 1983-1993.

The Capital Pride Alliance statement describes Delia as an avid runner who served as the coordinator of the D.C. Front Runners and Stonewall Kickball LGBTQ sports groups.

“He understood the value, purpose, and the urgency of the LGBTQ+ community to work together and support one another,” the statement says. “He poured his soul into our journey toward World Pride, which was a goal of his from the start of his involvement with Capital Pride.”

The statement adds, “Bernie will continue to guide us forward to ensure we meet this important milestone as we gather with the world to be visible, heard, and authentic. We love you, Bernie!”

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

D.C. Council budget bill includes $8.5 million in LGBTQ provisions

Measure also changes Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs

Published

on

The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal calling for $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for a $21 billion fiscal year 2025 budget for the District of Columbia that includes more than $8.5 million in funding for LGBTQ-related programs, including $5.25 million in support of the June 2025 World Pride celebration that D.C. will be hosting.

Also included in the budget is $1.7 million in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which includes an increase of $132,000 over the office’s funding for the current fiscal year, and a one-time funding of $1 million for the completion of the renovation of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s new building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

The D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition earlier this year asked both the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to approve $1.5 million for the D.C. Center’s building renovation and an additional $300,000 in “recurring” funding for the LGBTQ Center in subsequent years “to support ongoing operational costs and programmatic initiatives.” In its final budget measure, the Council approved $1 million for the renovation work and did not approve the proposed $600,000 in annual operational funding for the center.

The mayor’s budget proposal, which called for the $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025, did not include funding for the D.C. LGBTQ Center or for several other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

At the request of D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member, the Council approved at least two other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition in addition to the funding for the LGBTQ Center. One is $595,000 for 20 additional dedicated housing vouchers for LGBTQ residents who face housing insecurity or homelessness. The LGBTQ housing vouchers are administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

The other funding allocation pushed by Parker is $250,000 in funds to support a Black LGBTQ+ History Commission and Black LGBTQIA+ history program that Parker proposed that will also be administered by the LGBTQ Affairs office.

Also at Parker’s request, the Council included in its budget bill a proposal by Parker to change the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become a “stand-alone entity” outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Parker told the Washington Blade this change would “allow for greater transparency and accountability that reflects its evolution over the years.”

He said the change would also give the person serving as the office’s director, who is currently LGBTQ rights advocate Japer Bowles, “greater flexibility to advocate for the interest of LGBTQ residents” and give the Council greater oversight of the office. Parker noted that other community constituent offices under the mayor’s office, including the Office of Latino Affairs and the Office of Veterans Affairs, are stand-alone offices.

The budget bill includes another LGBTQ funding provision introduced by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that allocates $100,000 in grants to support LGBTQ supportive businesses in Ward 6 that would be awarded and administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Allen spokesperson Eric Salmi said Allen had in mind two potential businesses on 8th Street, S.E. in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill as potential applicants for the grants.

One is the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are, which had to close temporarily earlier this year due to structural problems in the building it rents. The other potential applicant, Salmi said, is Little District Books, D.C.’s only LGBTQ bookstore that’s located on 8th Street across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

“It’s kind of recognizing Barrack’s Row has a long history of creating spaces that are intended for and safe for the LGBTQ community and wanting to continue that history,” Salmi said  “So, that was his kind of intent behind the language in that funding.”

The mayor’s budget proposal also called for continuing an annual funding of $600,000 to provide workforce development services for transgender and gender non-conforming city residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

Continue Reading

Virginia

Suhas Subramanyam wins Democratic primary in Va. 10th Congressional District

Former Obama advisor vows to champion LGBTQ rights in Congress

Published

on

Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Fairfax County) (Photo courtesy of Subramanyam's campaign)

Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun County) on Tuesday won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) in Congress.

Subramanyam won the Democratic primary in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District with 30.4 percent of the votes. The Loudoun County Democrat who was an advisor to former President Barack Obama will face Republican Mike Clancy in November’s general election.

“I’m thrilled to be the Democratic nominee in Virginia’s 10th, and to have won this election during Pride Month,” Subramanyam told the Washington Blade on Wednesday in an emailed statement. “As I have done in the state legislature and as an Obama White House policy advisor, I will always stand as an ally with the LGBTQ+ community.”

Wexton, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights champion, last September announced she will not seek re-election after doctors diagnosed her with progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder she has described as “Parkinson’s on steroids.” Wexton is a vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and a previous co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular