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Best of Gay D.C. 2020

Celebrating our resilience in a year like no other

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The 19th annual Washington Blade Best Of awards arrive amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered so many of our perennial winners in this competition. Theater productions, cinemas, popular fundraising events remain shuttered; bars and restaurants operate at reduced capacity and struggle to remain afloat. COVID has upended our world in unprecedented ways. Just a year ago, the Blade was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a gala party. Now such events are just a distant memory in the age of social distancing.

But amid the loss and heartbreak, there emerge stories of hope, heroism, and resilience. First responders, doctors, nurses and even grocery store clerks have stepped up and become heroes in 2020. Business owners got creative, moving to virtual operations, creating new products (face masks, hand sanitizer), and taking their business outside (restaurants, bars). Drag queens performed on Zoom and fitness instructors did the same. We adapted. The LGBTQ community has been through a pandemic before.

So here we celebrate the best of our LGBTQ community in Washington. We reduced our usual 100 categories to 40 given all the COVID closures and restrictions on nightlife and arts & entertainment events. About 4,000 nominations and 25,000 votes were cast in 40 categories for the 19th 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, and Kevin Naff. There will be no Best Of party this year, of course, but we will celebrate all the winners and nominees virtually in an online presentation at our website. We look forward to a raucous in-person celebration in 2021.

LOCAL HERO: RYAN MADDOCK

RUNNER UP: RUBY CORADO

Ryan Maddock, gay news, Washington Blade
Ryan Maddock (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In his first clinical role at Children’s National Hospital, Ryan Maddock worked with kids with chronic kidney disease. In his current role in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, he’s discussed organ donation with parents whose children are at death’s door.

So when Maddock saw his friend Paul Johnson, whom he met in 2011 through Stonewall Kickball, struggling with kidney disease, he wanted to help.

Johnson, whom Maddock says often looked “awful and sick,” initially didn’t think Maddock was serious, but Maddock persisted.

He says giving the “gift of life” was not a hard decision.

“I understood the process,” Maddock, a 39-year-old gay Eckington resident, says. “I believe in it with all my being and heart.”

Johnson doesn’t have Maddock’s kidney but his willingness to donate enabled Johnson to find a donor whom doctors thought would be a better match. A positive cross match between Maddock and Johnson meant Johnson’s body was more likely to reject Maddock’s kidney, so a pairing program was entered at Medstar Georgetown and transplant coordinators worked to find the best donor/recipient for each pair. Maddock doesn’t know who ended up with his kidney but he hopes to someday.

Without Maddock’s willingness do donate, it could have been years before Johnson would have been able to find a match, Maddock says.

“At first he thought I was crazy and not serious. After we were both through the evaluation process we understood each other and have a trust and love for each other,” Maddock says. “He tells me all the time how thankful he is, but I am truly grateful to be able to give him this life off of dialysis.”

The surgeries happened July 14 at Medstar Georgetown. Maddock has five laparoscopic scars and one longer scar (two-and-a-half inches) on his abdomen. He says it was not traumatic and he has no after effects. His only limitation because of the donation is he cannot take certain types of anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofin.

Although they don’t hang out as before because of the pandemic, Maddock says he and Johnson talk regularly and are both doing well. Maddock is back to work.

“I don’t have anyone else in my family with kidney disease and I knew that Paul’s life on dialysis was awful and he deserved a second chance at life off of dialysis,” Maddock says. JD

Paul Johnson and Ryan Maddock

BEST DRAG QUEEN: DESIREE DIK

RUNNER UP: BOMBALICIOUS EKLAVER

Desiree Dik (Photo by Katherine Gaines/AmbientEye Photography)

Desire Dik says when the pandemic first hit she was “freaking out like every other drag performer” about the loss of performance and income opportunity.

“But after I shook it off, Red Bear still wanted to do virtual drag bingo and Extravaganza so we kept doing those — safely, of course,” Dik says.

With her “day job” in teaching on hold, Dik was inspired by seeing drag performers around the country take their art online so she did the same. For now, Desiree Dik’s Oddbalel and Slash Run are virtual. She got in touch with Oddball vets and have kept it going.

For her tenacity, Dik has been named this year’s Best of Gay D.C. Best Drag Queen, a title previously held by legends such as Ba’Naka, Bombalicious Eklaver and Destiny B. Childs.

She’s working now on a Halloween show. Extravaganza is on hiatus for now but in its place is “Drag-livery” where drag queens pack takeout food for delivery. They go to homes and put on mini-drag shows while patrons eat their takeout.

George Marius was born in Falls Church, Va., but sent to Peru at 6 months old to be raised by his sister. He lived there until age 10, went back to live with parents in Falls Church and was kicked out at age 16 for being gay.

He got into drag on his 17th birthday at Freddie’s Beach Bar and said it just “made sense because I was a gay theater kid.” He tried it again a year later at a Town competition and was hooked.

“It’s been very crazy but at the end of the day, drag is what I love to do and see in others,” Dik says. “It just brings me joy.” JD

BEST DRAG KING: MAJIC DYKE

RUNNER UP: JACKSON B NITE

Majic Dyke (Photo via Facebook)

Majic Dyke, a Nairobi native who came to the U.S. with their family at age 10, says a lifetime of confusion about their gender identity clicked into focus in 2017 when they started performing as a drag king and got “fully integrated” with the LGBT scene in Washington.

“This is when things truly fell into place in my life,” Majic wrote in a blog post on uniteuk1.com. “I finally had the vocabulary that affirmed what I had always felt, and I finally had people around me that loved and accepted me in all my forms.”

Majic identifies as non-binary and pansexual and says all pronouns are OK.
Other monikers they favor are “genderqueer,” “drag king,” “go-go dancer,” “your friendly neighborhood gay boi” and “#beardsandtitties.”

In a Facebook post during the nomination process, Majic campaigned openly for the award and said they were “happy as fuck to be nominated alongside my sibs.”

Look for Majic on social media to find out more about performances. JD

BEST TRANSGENDER PERFORMER: INDIA LARELLE HOUSTON

RUNNER UP: DYLAN DICKHERSON

India Larelle Houston (Photo courtesy of Houston)

India Larelle Houston has been performing since 2005, which is her full-time work.

“I got into the art form because I had a love for the performing arts and I found a way to express myself through drag,” Houston says.

She’s a cast member at Chanellie’s Drag Brunch on Saturdays and a cast member at Perry’s on Sundays. She also performs at Red Bear Brewing Company and other venues in Washington and beyond.

Like everyone, she’s been “greatly affected” by COVID-19 as both her drag brunches are on hiatus until Washington moves into phase three reopening. Several other venues have either closed or are not offering live entertainment. By now, her Sunday brunch is happening virtually. She had savings, which has helped stay afloat.

Houston did not campaign for this award but says, “It feels absolutely wonderful to be loved and appreciated for what I do.”

“It is a great honor to be chosen Best of Gay D.C.,” she says. “The gods must have had a plan for me.” JD

BEST VIRTUAL A&E EVENT: PRIDE IN THE CITY, CAPITAL PRIDE

EDITOR’S CHOICE: TIE: Shaw’s Tavern Virtual Drag Bingo! & Desiree Dik’s: Oddball Virus

A scene from ‘Pride in the City.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

Pride in the City is a new web series that will introduce online viewers to some of Capital Pride staff’s “favorite people and places” in Washington.

“From bars and restaurants to cultural treasures and small businesses to local heroes who make our community proud,” Ryan Bos, Capital Pride executive director, said in an e-mail. “Along the way we’ll offer insider perspectives and the opportunity for viewers to participate in a variety of ways.”

Two have been held so far: #stillweentertain on June 28 and #stillwelaugh on Aug. 9 and are available for viewing on YouTube. A third installment will be announced after the Out Brigade (a Pride motorcade through the District) on Oct. 10. One is planned before year’s end.

Find out more at capitalpride.org/pride-in-the-city. JD

BEST OUTDOOR DRINKING: TRADE

EDITORS’ CHOICE: DACHA BEER GARDEN

Trade (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Trade (1410 14th St., N.W.) opened in 2015 and quickly established itself as one of the city’s most popular newer gay bars.

Like everyone else, the Trade team has had a long, slow haul back to some semblance of normalcy after moving to takeout only on March 15 (digital content was created by local performance artists), opening for limited outdoor service on May 29 and limited indoor service on June 22. Although some job descriptions “evolved” due to COVID, no staff was laid off, says Aaron Riggins, marketing and programming manager (he also bartends and manages shifts).

Because of capacity restrictions, business is not what it was pre-pandemic but its outdoor space has been in high demand. Reservations are recommended but walk-up tables are sometimes available.

Tito’s and Soda is the most popular drink. On tap, Bud Light and Stella are the most popular. Town is owned by John Guggenmos, Ed Bailey and Chachi Boyle, the team behind the now-closed Town Danceboutique.

In 2018, Trade won Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour and Best Neighborhood Bar in 2017.

Trade is popular, Riggins says, because it’s “all about family.”

“It’s humbling how supportive and loyal our patrons, staff and performance artists have been,” he says. “The health and well-being of our family is very important to us and we are taking the social distancing measures very seriously. We are also incredibly lucky to have an immensely talented creative family that has been helping us produce digital content while we can’t have onsite entertainment. Look out for more of the efforts as we get closer to Halloween.” JD

Trade

1410 14th St. N.W.

tradebardc.com

BEST CARRYOUT: DUPLEX DINER

EDITORS’ CHOICE: LE DIPLOMATE

Duplex Diner (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Early on in the pandemic when dining inside was unheard of, Duplex Diner (2004 18th St., N.W.) got creative with takeout and curbside service.

Resident drag queen Goldie Grigio worked the window and customers paid online in advance.

The diner is known for its no-nonsense menu that features everything from broccolIni salad, meatloaf, reuben and chicken tenders to tasty cocktails like the Famous Lemon Squeeze.

Owners Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken had been regulars there since the late ‘90s and took over the Adams Morgan favorite in 2015.

Manager Kelly Laczko, who’s been at the diner for eight years, keeps things running smoothly.

“Things have been surprisingly good,” Laczko said in a Blade interview earlier this year. “We’ve had so much love from the community and people have been amazing. We’ve gotten a lot of support so far. We are very lucky.” JD

Duplex Diner

2004 18th St., N.W.

duplexdiner.com

BEST COFFEESHOP: THREEFIFTY BAKERY AND COFFEE BAR

EDITORS’ CHOICE: COFFY CAFE

(Photo via Facebook)

Business is almost back to pre-COVID levels at gay-owned ThreeFifty Bakery but owner Jimmy Hopper and his partner Michael Graham are concerned about the coming winter months.

“Things have been challenging during COVID,” Graham says. “However, we worked early to develop the safest possible customer experience by utilizing the patio space for single customer ordering. We have also been extremely fortunate to have the full support of the neighborhood. … We are concerned about the fall and winter months with indoor spacing limitations.”

Three Fifty, which opened in 2014, has 14 employees and says its customer base is about 30 percent LGBTQ. The most popular drink is a caramel latte and the most popular pastry is a tie between the quiche and apple zucchini bread.

“It feels really great to win this honor and we are so proud to be an LGBT-owned business and to have the continued support from the neighborhood, LGBT community and the District,” Graham says.

Three Fifty also won Best LGBT-owned Business in the Blade poll in 2017. This win is monumental — Three Fifty dethrones Compass Coffee, which had four consecutive wins in this category through 2019.

ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar

1926 17th St. N.W.

BEST COVID QUARANTINE PROMOTION OR EVENT: GAY MEN’S CHORUS OF WASHINGTON, DC “SUMMER SOIREE” WITH LESLIE JORDAN

EDITOR’S CHOICE: TAGG’S QUEERANTINECON

Leslie Jordan, gay news, Washington Blade
Leslie Jordan (Photo courtesy Jordan)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington wasn’t able to have its annual Spring Affair this year because of COVID, so instead, organizers held a Summer Soiree Aug. 15, which went off without any glitches or technical issues, had 679 registered attendees and raised about $125,000 for the organization and now wins this Blade readers’ poll award. Not bad!

The Chorus performed virtually and performed bits; Leslie Jordan was the celebrity guest.

The Chorus’s next event is “Losing My Mind: a Celebration of Sondheim,” a virtual cabaret on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. This year’s holiday show is also online.

The Chorus and its ensembles are rehearsing entirely via Zoom. JD

BEST RESTAURANT: LOGAN TAVERN

EDITORS’ CHOICE: INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON

Logan Tavern (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Perhaps in these uncertain times, we don’t want something fancy and boundary pushing. Logan Tavern’s win here and its unpretentious charm — upscale but never snooty — seems to suit our 2020 sensibilities.

Logan Tavern is owned and operated by EatWell DC and combines friendly prices with a hip, laid-back atmosphere. Logan is a great go-to place for delicious, un-fussy food. It’s a place where you recognize the ingredients, the flavors and the dishes you are being served. The drinks are affordable and the service is excellent with friendly and accommodating staff. 

It’s mostly hearty American fare. Dinner entrees like boneless southern fried chicken, crispy skin-on rockfish, crab-stuffed chile relleno and lemon ricotta gnocchi are popular staples.

Logan won Best Bloody Mary in these awards in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012. (JD)

Logan Tavern

1423 P St., N.W.

logantavern.com

BEST LOCAL WEBSITE/BLOG: BRIGHTEST YOUNG THINGS

EDITORS’ CHOICE: FEED THE MALIK

(Photo by Ike Hayman; courtesy Brightest Young Things)

Brightest Young Things was hit “incredibly hard” by COVID-19, says co-founder Svetlana Legetic, a straight ally. It required “a complete re-do of how we do things and earn our living,” she says.

“There was absolutely no plan B such as relying on investors or fairy godparents,” she says.

BYT bills itself as an editorial and event platform for Washington, New York and Chicago. As the world has shifted to virtual events, at least for large gatherings, BYT has pivoted offering content such as “Tips for Sober October,” “Let Our Very Own Prya Konings Be Your World Vegetarian Day Sage,” “It’s OK You Are Not OK” and more at brightestyoungthings.com.

“Obviously there are no physical events or festivals, but we have seen our online engagement rise exponentially and the virtual projects we have worked on whether independently or with partners like Smithsonian … confirmed to us that the community needs that positive, quality content because it makes them feel connected to each other, even when apart, and we can’t underestimate the value of that,” Legetic says.

Pre-COVID there were 12 full-time staffers; there are now four and a team of freelance contributors. While not exclusively queer, BYT was conceived as being LGBT-inclusive from its inception. JD

brightestyoungthings.com

BEST SALON/SPA: LOGAN 14

EDITORS’ CHOICE: VSL HAIR DESIGN

Logan 14th (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Temperatures are taken for anyone who comes in the building, payments are totally cashless, work stations have been spread out and sanitation continues at a high level. These are just some of the changes that have allowed Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa to stay open amid the pandemic.

“What hasn’t changed is what we do,” says Katie Rose, general manager, who has been at the salon, which has 41 staffers, for five years. “We service our guests and make people look and feel better about themselves.”

The salon was closed from March 16-June 10 and upon reopening offered free services to health care workers nominated by customers and staff.

Rose says business is not up to pre-pandemic levels and a few staff members were laid off but she says slowly things are getting busier. She says their customers, about 75 percent of whom are LGBT she guesses, have “been amazing.”

“It’s been heartwarming to see the outpouring of love from our guests and how glad they are to come back in,” Rose says.

This is Logan 14’s fifth consecutive win in this category, which Rose says “means the world to us.” JD

Logan 14 Aveda Salon & Spa

1314 14th St., N.W.

logan14salonspa.com

BEST LOCAL TV/RADIO PERSONALITY: CHUCK BELL & WENDY RIEGER, NBC 4 (TIE)

RUNNER-UP: LARRY MILLER, WUSA9

Chuck Bell and Wendy Rieger (Washington Blade photo of Bell by Jonathan Ellis; Blade photo of Rieger by Michael Key)

Good ole’ Chuck Bell, meteorologist at NBC4 since October 2004. He was runner-up last year (and also in 2015, 2016 and 2018). He also won this award in 2014 and 2012.

“It’s very flattering,” he said of a previous win. “I’m pleasantly surprised that people are taking note.”

He’s joined this year by his NBC4 colleague Wendy Rieger, the 2015 winner.

Rieger stumbled upon broadcast journalism when she was a college drop-out looking to make money as an actress. She found a job reading the news on camera in Norfolk, Va., and fell in love with the business.

Bell is gay; Rieger is an ally. JD

BEST ABSOLUT TO-GO COCKTAILS: NELLIE’S SPORTS BAR

EDITORS’ CHOICE: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse

Nellie’s Sports Bar (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Nellie’s huge outdoor rooftop space has poised it well to survive COVID and this D.C. institution soldiers on.

“Things are good,” says owner Doug Schantz. “We’re missing the old normal like everybody else but things are better than expected.”

Nellie’s is following all the D.C. restrictions under phase 2 reopening and is following all the usual guidelines but has moved its “streetery” seating to its rooftop. A bus stop on U Street and limited space on 9th meant the rooftop was its best option. The two open areas and eight huge windows that allow ample air circulation have allowed the popular gay sports bar to stay busy and follow guidelines.

But it’s still a struggle. Schantz says 50 percent capacity figures were estimated by standing patrons so with seating, it’s more like 20 percent to remain compliant, but that, of course, is the new normal. There are currently 15 on staff, down from 40 pre-COVID.

To-go cocktails — illegal pre-COVID — have proven enormously popular. Pouches are decorated with two labels — one says, “Drink your juice, Shelby” and features flavors; the other is a parody of the Campbell’s soup can but says Nellie’s Soup instead. Other cocktails, wine or beer can be purchased in 14 oz. recyclable cups with lids. One food item (a cookie, tater tots, whatever) must be purchased with each to go alcoholic beverage. All the cups, lids and straws are recyclable.

Schantz says his clientele has stayed faithful and many come weekly. Weekend drag brunches are on hiatus. The huge site, which opened in 2007, has 37 TVs so it’s a great place to watch the debates, Schantz says.

Nellie’s is a perennial favorite in the Best of Gay D.C. Awards. It usually wins something every year. Last year it won Best Drag Show for its brunch, in 2018 it won Best Margarita and in 2016 it won Hottest Bar Staff. JD

Nellie’s Sports Bar

900 U St., N.W.

nelliessportsbar.com

BEST OUTDOOR DINING: ANNIE’S PARAMOUNT STEAKHOUSE

EDITORS’ CHOICE: RED BEAR BREWING CO.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse, a Washington institution since 1948, is now open for both dine-in and carry out and thanks to its outdoor patio, it has won Best Outdoor Dining, a new category for this year’s Best of Gay D.C. Awards.

In early 2019, Annie’s received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award, 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.

In the early years of these awards, Anne’s was a perennial favorite 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.

The menu is hearty American food with an array of burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads available for lunch. House specials like “Bull in the Pan” (sirloin tips), basil-pine nut pesto pasta and pot roast are staples of the dinner menu. JD

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse

1609 17th St., N.W.

anniesparamountdc.com

BEST STRAIGHT ALLY: PAMALA STANLEY

RUNNER-UP: REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ

It was a busy year for singer Pamala Stanley, the ‘80s disco star who has enjoyed a long and wildly popular residency in Rehoboth Beach, Del. In January, she announced plans to move her show from the Blue Moon to The Pines. Then the pandemic hit. Immediately, Stanley pivoted, staging virtual shows from home. Then she took the show to The Pines stage with a virtual audience of hundreds watching from the safety of home while Stanley danced and sang her heart out, taking requests online. She used the shows as fundraisers for Beebe Medical Foundation. Owners of The Pines announced Stanley’s first concert on April 26 was so successful that she would perform a virtual tea dance to benefit Beebe every Saturday until The Pines was allowed to reopen.

At that first benefit, Stanley dedicated one of her biggest hits, “Coming Out of Hiding,” to all her fans who were getting restless after weeks in quarantine: “This is for everybody,” she said, “because we have been in hiding for way too long, don’t you agree?”

The four-week virtual fundraisers with Stanley, Mona Lotts, and Michael Solonski brought in $19,000 for Beebe Medical Foundation to help cover expenses incurred because of the pandemic.

Stanley has since resumed regular shows at The Pines, Thursday-Sunday nights while observing social distancing protocols in the large Pines venue. JD

Pamala Stanley (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BEST PRO ATHLETE: NATASHA CLOUD, WASHINGTON MYSTICS

RUNNER-UP: SEAN DOOLITTLE, WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Natasha Cloud (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE; courtesy Washington Mystics)

Last year, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud helped her team win its first WNBA championship. She’s also a vocal and public supporter for causes she believes in like ending gun violence and supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“Juneteenth is a day of celebration,” Cloud said during a Wizards and Mystics peaceful protest against racial injustice and police brutality. “It’s a day of liberation. It’s a day that we were finally freed from our bondage. We couldn’t think of a better day than today to come out here and come together, collectively and unified in solidarity with one another for a greater cause.”

Though Cloud announced in June that she would sit out the 2020 season due to her concerns about systemic racism and the ongoing pandemic, voters recognized her excellence both on and off the court with a “Best Pro Athlete” award. PVS

In 2014, Bishop Allyson Abrams resigned as pastor of a small Detroit church after announcing that she had married her wife in Iowa. One year later, a Supreme Court ruling would legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S., but at the time she may have felt like she was risking everything to be with the woman she loved. She set up her ministry in the D.C. area and has remained a symbol of strength and courage ever since.

“People say it’s amazing to hear a pastor say that God loves us the way we are,” Abrams told the Blade back in 2014. “I’m always going to make sure God knows them.”

This year Allyson’s community supported her with a “Best Clergy” award. PVS

BEST D.C. PUBLIC OFFICIAL: MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER

RUNNER-UP: U.S. REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-D.C.)

budget cuts, gay news, Washington Blade
Mayor Muriel Bowser (Photo by Lorie Shaull via Flickr)

In 2017, Mayor Bowser wore a bright yellow dress and a big smile while accepting her award for “Best D.C. Public Official” at the Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. awards. Times have changed, particularly this year, marking her fifth in office.

Bowser assumed office as mayor in 2015 after previously representing Ward 4 on the D.C. City Council since 2007. A native of the region, she is the District’s second female mayor.

This year, Bowser helmed the District through a deadly pandemic, its devastating economic fall out and desperate calls for racial justice. A long-time supporter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community, Bowser tweeted on June 15 in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling protecting LGBTQ employees against workplace discrimination, “There’s more work to be done, but today we celebrate equality. Happy pride & keep fighting.”

Today her smile represents the District’s resilience and her bright yellow paint sent a message of solidarity seen around the world. PVS

BEST NON-PROFIT: SMYAL

EDITORS’ CHOICE: CENTER FOR BLACK EQUITY

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL has been working with LGBTQ youth for more than 35 years and its empowered leaders have been staffing tables and community organizing at events across the city.

This non-profit, now known for its after-school programs, youth counseling services, and educational and training programs for youth service providers working in schools, shelters, government agencies and hospitals, began in 1984 by local professionals and activists.

According to its website, SMYAL started with a conference organized to address urgent youth issues after an LGBTQ-identifying youth was hospitalized. Today SMYAL is a leader in providing support services and advocacy to youth in need of affirming care.

During an especially hard year for LGBTQ youth who often look to Pride as a means to connect with others and themselves, the community recognized SMYAL as the year’s “Best Non-profit” for its efforts to maintain a sense of connection for our youth. PVS

MOST COMMITTED ACTIVIST: SULTAN SHAKIR

RUNNER-UP: RAYCEEN PENDARVIS

fall LGBT virtual events, Washington Blade
Sultan Shakir (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Since taking the helm of SMYAL in 2014, Executive Director Sultan Shakir has been a tireless staple on social and traditional media outlets advocating for LGBTQ youth. However, during this summer of social unrest, Shakir used his platform to call for systemic change.

“SMYAL condemns the excessive use of force employed by the police towards peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. and across the country, and we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement,” he wrote in a statement tweeted June 9 by SMYAL. “Our hope is that by doubling down on our mission to empower young people, we will help create a society where Black people don’t have to ask for solidarity just to stay alive, a society in which our lives matter.”

Shakir’s dedication was celebrated by the community this year with Gay D.C.’s “Most Committed Activist” recognition for 2020. PVS

BEST CLERGY: BISHOP ALLYSON ABRAMS

RUNNER-UP: REV. DWAYNE JOHNSON

Bishop Allyson Abrams (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BEST LGBTQ SOCIAL GROUP: IMPERIAL COURT OF WASHINGTON, D.C.

EDITORS’ CHOICE: IMPULSE DC

Imperial Court of Washington (Washington Blade photo by Vladyslav Rekhovskyy)

In June, “Queen of the Capital,” an independent documentary film about D.C. drag artist Daniel Hays’ quest as Muffy Blake Stephyns to be voted Empress of the Imperial Court of Washington in 2014, premiered at the Newseum and began the festival circuit.

Today the Imperial Court of Washington D.C., is one of many LGBTQ-affirming social groups across the country and in 2011 it joined the International Imperial Court System, which began in San Francisco in 1965.

This year, the community honored the Imperial Court of Washington D.C. with a “Best LGBTQ Social Group” award. PVS

Imperial Court of Washington D.C.

P.O. Box 2616

Washington, DC 20013

imperialcourtdc.org

BEST LOCAL TV/RADIO STATION: HOT 99.5

EDITORS’ CHOICE: WTOP 103.5

HOT 99.5 at the Capital Pride Festival (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

This top D.C. radio station not only keeps the District current on the latest hits, its Facebook page covers the gamut from celebrity break ups, weddings and pregnancies to strangely interesting stories of Instagram influencers caught using fake private jets as sets for photo shoots.

During a time when everyone needed to just shut out the world and go 2015 again, Hot 99.5 earned another top spot from voters as the “Best Local TV/Radio Station.” PVS

BEST BUSINESSPERSON: BRYAN VAN DEN OEVER, RED BEAR BREWING

RUNNER-UP: EBONE BELL, TAGG MAGAZINE

Holiday Bear Bust, gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo courtesy RBB)

Back in April, when pandemic lockdowns and unemployment levels were at their worst, Red Bear Brewing’s Bryan Van Den Oever told the Blade, “We’ll see what happens when the dust settles. We’ll fight like hell until then.”

Throughout the crisis, Red Bear and other popular local LGBTQ businesses like Pitchers, A League of Her Own, JR.’s, Green Lantern and others continued to fight to be a vital connection to their staff and the community, both virtually and now on a limited in-person basis.

This year the community showed its appreciation for a continued dedication to beer, music and drag with a “Best Businessperson” award to Van Den Oever and the rest of Red Bear’s feisty, tenacious team for not just surviving the pandemic, but innovating and thriving, inspiring the rest of the small business community in the process. PVS

Red Bear Brewing Company

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer

BEST LGBTQ-OWNED BUSINESS: TRADE & NUMBER NINE

EDITORS’ CHOICE: BITE THE FRUIT

Number Nine (Photo by Daniel Truitt)

D.C.’s popular LGBTQ-friendly night spots are an important part of the community, so TRADE tweeted on Sept. 24, “Winter is coming…and we’ll be ready” followed by a promise to provide heaters and socially distanced comfort amid an ongoing pandemic crisis.

TRADE opened for business in 2015 and at the time co-owner John Guggenmos, also co-owner of Number Nine, planned for a new bar that included a dance floor and live DJs. Five years later TRADE, like other small businesses devastated by the pandemic, relies heavily on the community to keep its doors open.

Similarly, Number Nine updated its website to thank the community for its support during the pandemic. “We wouldn’t be able to get through this without the support of our amazing patrons and staff. So, thank you.” PVS

TRADE

1410 14th St., N.W.

Tradebardc.com

NUMBER NINE

1435 P. St., N.W.

numberninedc.com

BEST VIRTUAL FITNESS CLASSES: VIDA

EDITORS’ CHOICE: JASON LONG FITNESS

VIDA Virtual (Photo courtesy of VIDA)

Vida is no stranger to winning this category, and staying afloat while innovating during the pandemic brought unforeseen challenges to this popular, perennial winner. They rose to that challenge, taking their award-winning fitness classes online and continuing to deliver results for clients. JD

Multiple D.C. locations

vidafitness.com

BEST MEDICAL PROVIDER: DR. ROBYN ZEIGER

EDITORS’ CHOICE: WHITMAN-WALKER HEALTH

Dr. Robyn Zeiger (Photo by Red Leash Photography)

Dr. Robyn Zeiger has won this award several times for her work as a licensed clinical professional counselor.

“You walk into a therapist’s office and you know they are also LGBT so you don’t have to explain anything,” she told the Blade upon winning this award in 2017. You don’t have to teach them. You can just be yourself and you don’t have to justify anything.”

In addition to counseling, Zeiger has worked as an adjunct senior lecturer at University of Maryland. JD

Dr. Robyn Zeiger

drrobynzeiger.com

BEST VETERINARIAN: FRIENDSHIP HOSPITAL FOR ANIMALS

EDITORS’ CHOICE: DISTRICT VETERINARY HOSPITAL

Friendship Animal Hospital

4105 Brandywine St., N.W.

BEST REAL ESTATE AGENT: MICHAEL MOORE, COMPASS

RUNNER-UP: STACEY WILLIAMS-ZEIGER, ZEIGER REALTY

Michael Moore (Photo courtesy Moore)

Michael Moore won this category last year. Moore credits his success to consistent customer service, telling the Blade last year: “My career began with first-time homebuyers. In time, first-time buyers become sellers and they buy another house and they tell their friends. Now my business is almost entirely referrals and repeats.

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

Michael Moore

Compass

1313 14th St., N.W.

compass.com

BEST REAL ESTATE GROUP: JENN SMIRA TEAM, COMPASS

RUNNER-UP: MARIN HAGEN & SYLVIA BERGSTROM, COLDWELL BANKER

Jenn Smira (Photo courtesy of Compass)

As one of the top five agent groups in all of D.C., The Jenn Smira Team brings more than 50 years of combined real estate experience to each transaction. Smira and her team have cultivated a loyal network of previous clients and referrals as they empower buyers and sellers to achieve their goals. A one-stop shop for all your real estate needs, Smira’s team offers an impressive range of in-house expertise — from marketing and PR, to staging and listing guidance. Smira is a previous board member of the District of Columbia Association of Realtors (DCAR), DCAR Public Policy Committee, and currently on the board of DC WISE. JD

Jenn Smira Team

Compass

1313 14th St., N.W.

compass.com

BEST LAWYER: AVA BENACH

RUNNER-UP: AMY NELSON

Ava Benach (Photo courtesy of Benach)

Ava Benach works as an immigration lawyer and is the founder and coach of DC Girls Baseball. She has written op-eds for the Blade, including a piece on the need to overcome baseball’s sexist and homophobic traditions. She’s not just a skilled professional, but an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality. JD

Benach Collopy LLP

4530 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.

Rehoboth Beach

BEST REHOBOTH DRAG QUEEN: ROXY OVERBROOKE

RUNNER-UP: MONA LOTTS

Charles Bounds, gay news, Washington Blade
Charles Bounds as Roxy Overbrooke. (Photo courtesy of Bounds)

It has been a triumphant year for Roxy Overbrooke (aka Charles Bounds). Bounds had a particularly nasty time with COVID-19, contracting the disease in March. He was sick for about a month and was hospitalized in the Rehoboth area for 15 days, an experience he calls “intense, scary and life changing.”

“With that said, though, everyone at Beebe Healthcare was amazing,” he told the Blade earlier this year. “I’m feeling much better now.” Bounds grew up going to Rehoboth with family and loved it for its beaches and moved there full time about 10 years ago.

Bounds entered a competition 12 years ago and “caught the bug,” for drag. Now it’s his full-time work. Bounds performs as Roxy Overbrooke at the Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.), hosting bingo, karaoke, a drag show and celebrity impersonation shows. (Check bluemoonrehoboth.com for updated event schedules.) Fully recovered from COVID, Bounds continued to wow socially distanced crowds all summer with his booming voice and, of course, glittering gowns. A beautiful person inside and out, Bounds is a fighter and Roxy is a star performer.

BEST REHOBOTH OUTDOOR DINING: PURPLE PARROT

EDITORS’ CHOICE: AQUA

Delaware, Rehoboth Beach coronavirus, gay news, Washington Blade
Purple Parrot (Photo by John Bator)

The gay-owned Purple Parrot is a Rehoboth institution and when the pandemic hit, the bar/restaurant was well positioned for outdoor service with its popular Biergarten out back and sidewalk seating in front. It hasn’t been easy, but the indefatigable staff — especially Chandler and Jamie — maintained socially distant protocols all summer, keeping locals and tourists alike safe, fed, and happy.

Purple Parrot

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971

BEST REHOBOTH BARTENDER: HOLLY LANE

RUNNER-UP: JAMIE ROMANO

Holly Lane (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is Holly Lane’s third win as Best Rehoboth Bartender, taking the prize in 2014 and 2017. Normally behind the bar at Cafe Azafran with her trademark headset belting out tunes while making drinks, Lane went on hiatus for much of the year due to COVID closures. But Azafran — and Lane — are back, though not to full capacity, of course. Things are different, but Lane’s infectious kindness and bartending and singing skills keep her loyal customers coming back, no matter what.

BEST REHOBOTH LIVE SHOW: CLIMAX WITH MAGNOLIA APPLEBOTTOM AT BLUE MOON

EDITORS’ CHOICE: PAMALA STANLEY AT THE PINES

Magnolia Applebottom (Washington Blade file photo)

The multi-talented Magnolia Applebottom brings her sharp wit and singing skills to the Blue Moon stage for the popular Climax show. Last year’s Best Rehoboth Drag Queen winner, Magnolia wins this new category this year amid a town full of live entertainment competition.

BEST REHOBOTH COFFEESHOP: RISE UP

EDITORS’ CHOICE: COFFEE MILL

Rise Up in Rehoboth is the 10th location in this regional chain, which operates in Annapolis, Cambridge, and Edgewater, among others. The cafe is located at the roundabout just as you enter town. You can’t miss the black-and-white building. Rise Up offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s even a full bar, a gorgeous live edge wood bar 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

EDITORS’ CHOICE: AZZURRO ITALIAN OVEN & BAR

Blue Moon (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Blue Moon has won this award so many times that it’s hard to count. The iconic Moon persevered through COVID, offering its flawless, high-end menu for takeout during the spring and reopening this summer with socially distanced tables inside. A COVID silver lining this summer: You could order the full menu on the bar side while being entertained by talented NYC pianist Nate Buccieri.

BEST REHOBOTH REAL ESTATE AGENT: LEE ANN WILKINSON

RUNNER-UP: JASON ABELA

Lee Ann Wilkinson (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s third 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. In addition, she is a regular contributor to the Blade. Our readers know her through her informed articles on real estate trends at the Delaware beaches.

16698 Kings Hwy A.

Lewes, Del.

leeanngroup.com

BEST REHOBOTH BUSINESS: DIEGO’S

EDITORS’ CHOICE: BLUE MOON

Joe Ciarlante-Zuber, gay news, Washington Blade
Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber and Joe Ciarlante-Zuber (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

It was a rough year for Joe Ciarlante-Zuber (right) and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber. Darryl contracted COVID-19 and spent 54 days in the hospital, 34 of those in the ICU. The two own the popular Diego’s, which has a large outdoor patio space. They converted it into a beach-themed bar, complete with truckloads of sand. Joe worked hard all season, ensuring customers stayed six feet apart and taking everyone’s temperature at the door. The dedication paid off, as Diego’s resumed as a busy fixture on the summer scene. Darryl’s recovery and Joe’s perseverance proved an inspiration to the entire community.

BEST REHOBOTH FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: ELI LYNN

RUNNER UP: TANNER HOLT

Eli Lynn (Photo courtesy of Lynn)

Eli Lynn is owner and head trainer at Elite Lifestyle Initiatives and trains clients in the comfort of their homes. Lynn, who’s straight, specializes in functioning training, strength and conditioning training and balance training.

As for his approach to new clients, he says, “First, I ask them what their goals are and if they have any previous injuries or surgeries. After one session you can tell what they need to work on and what needs to improve.”

Lynn says COVID has forced him to train some clients through FaceTime, but the pandemic has also helped his business grow, “because no one wants to work out at a gym so me coming to their house and training them in their own home, everyone feels safer to work out that way.”

As for his advice for those who have gained weight during COVID: “I tell them that everyone is in the same spot as them and what matters the most is you’re here and starting to work out. Everyone has different ways of dealing with COVID and you already took a huge step forward by hiring me and helping you get back in shape.”

Eli Lynn

elitrained.com

@elitelifestyleinitiatives

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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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