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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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Girls Rock! DC empowers young people through music, social justice education

Organization founded in October 2007

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Youth leaders of Girls Rock DC! (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC, an organization operating at the intersection of art and activism, is dedicated to empowering young people through music and social justice education. 

Since its founding in October 2007; Girls Rock! DC has been creating a supportive, inclusive and equitable space that centers around girls and nonbinary youth, with a special emphasis on uplifting Black and Brown youth. At the core of Girls Rock! DC’s mission is a unique approach to music education, viewing it through a social justice and equity lens. 

“It’s a place where people can come explore their interest in music in a safe environment, figure out their own voice, and have a platform to say it,” Board Vice Chair Nicole Savage said.

This approach allows D.C.’s young people to build a sense of community and explore their passion for social change through after-school programs, workshops and camps.

The organization’s roots trace back to the first rock camp for girls in August 2001 in Portland, Ore. Similar camps have emerged worldwide since then, forming the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Girls Rock! DC is a member of this alliance, contributing to the larger community’s growth and advocacy for inclusivity in the music industry.

Girls Rock! DC’s annual programs now serve more than 100 young people and 20 adults, offering after-school programs and camps. Participants receive instruction on the electric guitar, the electric bass, keyboards, drum kits and other instruments or on a microphone and form bands to write and perform their own original songs. Beyond music, the program includes workshops on underrepresented histories in the music industry, community injustice issues and empowerment topics that include running for office and body positivity.

“I’ve been playing shows in the D.C. music scene for about six years, and I feel like Girls Rock! DC is the perfect amalgamation of everything that I stand for,” said Outreach Associate Lily Mónico. “So many music spaces are male dominated and I think there is a need for queer femme youth in music.”

Lily Mónico (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident not only in its leadership but also in the way it creates a safe space for queer and nonbinary individuals. Language is a crucial component, and Girls Rock! DC ensures that both campers and volunteers embrace inclusivity. 

“It is a very open and creative space, where there’s no judgment,” Zadyn Higgins, one of the youth leaders, emphasized. “It is the first time for a lot of us, to be in a space where we’re truly able to be ourselves.”

In creating a safe environment, Girls Rock! DC implements practices that include name tags with preferred names and pronouns, along with pronoun banners that help kids understand and respect diverse identities. 

“It’s really cool to watch these kids understand and just immediately get it,” said Higgins. 

Zadyn Higgins (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC is also more than a music education organization; it’s a community where individuals can embark on a transformative journey that extends beyond their initial participation as campers. Many start their Girls Rock! DC experience as enthusiastic campers, learning to play instruments, forming bands and expressing their creativity in a supportive environment. The organization’s impact, however, doesn’t stop there. This inspiration leads them to volunteer and intern within the organization. 

The unique progression from camper to volunteer or intern, and eventually to a full-fledged role within the organization, exemplifies Girls Rock! DC as a place where growth is not confined to a single week of camp but extends into an ongoing, impactful journey. It’s a testament to the organization’s commitment to nurturing talent, empowering individuals and fostering a lifelong connection with the values for which Girls Rock! DC stands.

One of the highlights of Girls Rock! DC is its summer camp, where kids between 8-18 learn to play instruments, form bands, write songs and perform in just one week. Higgins shared a poignant moment from a showcase,

“To see them go from, like, crying a little bit about how scared they were to going out on the stage and performing their little hearts out was so sweet,” said Higgins.

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! D.C.)

Nzali Mwanza-Shannon, another youth leader, agreed that the camp is the highlight of the program. 

“The summer camp, I’ve met so many friends, and it’s always kind of scary coming up to the end, but after we get to perform and everything, I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform and meet new people and be so creative and do it all in a week,” said Mwanza-Shannon.

Forty-three young people who showcased their original songs and DJ sets at D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club attended the first Girls Rock! DC camp in 2007. They performed to a crowd of 700 enthusiastic fans. The organization since then has grown exponentially, with each passing year bringing more energy, vibrancy and fun to the camp experience.

Since the pandemic, however, the organization has struggled financially, experiencing a funding shortage as well as reduced growth in attracting new members. 

Augusta Smith, who is a youth leader and a member of the band Petrichor, expressed concern about the potential impact on the unique and friendly environment that Girls Rock! DC provides. 

“We’ve kind of been really slow and barely making enough money. And this year, we’re having a funding shortage,” said Smith. 

The impact of Girls Rock! DC extends beyond musical skills, fostering leadership, self-expression and a passion for social change through creative collaboration and community power-building. Mwanza-Shannon hopes to be a part of Girls Rock! DC for a long time, 

“I want to keep on meeting new people,” said Mwanza-Shannon. “I want to keep on being able to perform at these different places and have different experiences.”

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! DC)
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‘Blindspot’ reveals stories of NYC AIDS patients that haven’t been told

Former Blade reporter’s podcast focuses on POC, women, trans people

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Kai Wright, a former Blade reporter, hosts the podcast ‘Blindspot.’ (Photo by Amy Pearl)

“We said that people had The Monster, because they had that look,” activist Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, said, remembering how people in her New York neighborhood reacted when people first got AIDS.

They didn’t know what to call it.

“They had the sucked in checks,” Reyes-Jimenez, added, “They were really thin…a lot of folks were saying, oh, you know, they had…cancer.”

“We actually had set up a bereavement clinic where the kids would tell us what they wanted to have when they die,” Maxine Frere, a retired nurse who worked at Harlem Hospital for 40 years and was the head nurse of its pediatric AIDS unit said, “How did they wanna die?”

“Nobody wanted to come on,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson, who in 1987 was Harlem’s state senator.

At that time, Manhattan Cable Television gave legislators the chance to do one show a year. “So I decided to do my show on the AIDS crisis and how there didn’t seem to be any response from the leadership in the Black community,” Paterson added.

These unforgettable voices with their searing recollections are among the many provocative, transformative stories told on Season 3 of “Blindspot,” the critically acclaimed podcast. 

“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” is co-produced by the History Channel and WNYC Studios. The six-episode podcast series, which launched on Jan. 18 and airs weekly through Feb. 22, is hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner.

The show is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija. LaBeija is a New York City-based artist who was born HIV positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit, which features portraits of people whose stories are heard on “Blindspot,” runs at the Greene Space at WNYC through March 11.

If you think of AIDS, you’re likely to think of white cisgender gay men. (That’s been true for me, a cisgender lesbian, who lost loved ones to AIDS.)

From the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, most media and cultural attention has been focused on white gay men – from playwright and activist Larry Kramer to the movie “Philadelphia.”   

“Blindspot” revisits New York City, an epicenter of the early years of the HIV epidemic.

The podcast reveals stories of vulnerable people that haven’t been told. Of people of color, women, transgender people, children, drug-users, women in prison and the doctors, nurses and others who cared and advocated with and on their behalf.

“Blindspot,” through extensive reporting and immersive storytelling, makes people visible who were invisible during the AIDS epidemic. It makes us see people who have, largely, been left out of the history of AIDS.

Wright, 50, who is Black and gay, cares deeply about history. He is host and managing editor of “Notes from America with Kai Wright,” a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.

Recently, Wright, who worked as a reporter at the Washington Blade from 1996 to 2001, talked with me in a Zoom interview. The conversation ranged over a number of topics from why Wright got into journalism, to how stigma and health care disparities still exist today for people of color, transgender people and poor people with AIDS to the impact he hopes “Blindspot” will have.

“I came to work at the Blade in 1996,” Wright said, “the year after I got out of college.”

He’d done two six-month stints at PBS and “Foreign Policy.” But Wright thinks of the Blade as his first proper journalism job.

From his youth, Wright has been committed to social justice and to understanding his community. Reporting, from early on, has been his connection with social justice. “I often say, journalism has been my contribution to social justice movements,” Wright said.

His first journalistic connection to the Black community came when he was 15. Then, Wright became an intern with the Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

“That’s how I got the [journalism] bug,” Wright said.

Since then, Wright said, he’s worked almost exclusively with media that have a connection with the community.

Wright grew up in Indianapolis and went to college at Emory University in Atlanta. He didn’t intend to be a journalist, he wrote in an email to the Blade. At Emory, he studied international politics.

Wright’s life and work changed direction when he began working at the Blade. “I was a kid,” Wright said, “I’d just come out. I used journalism to find out what it meant to come out.”

Wright, when he came to Washington, D.C., was, as he recalled, just a kid. He didn’t know anyone in D.C. and there was a Black, queer community. This helped Wright to come out. “I couldn’t have told you that at the time,” he said, “but in retrospect I can see that I moved to  D.C. to come out.”

Journalism was Wright’s way of finding his way through coming out.

“I didn’t know if the Blade was hiring,” Wright said, “I just walked in.”

He didn’t have a deep resume but he had a lot to say. The Blade hired him and immediately put him to work reporting on AIDS.

“It was a pivotal cultural and political moment – a pivotal moment for the community,” Wright said.

That year, when Wright began working with the Blade, life-saving treatments (early drug cocktails) were emerging for AIDS.

“There was no way that HIV and AIDS wouldn’t become a central part of my journalism,” Wright said, “I really wanted to report on it.”

With the emergence of treatments, white gay men with health insurance began to feel that they were turning the page and that AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

“But, as a reporter, I was meeting Black gay men who were going into emergency mode about the AIDS epidemic,” Wright said.

Black people, poor people, drug users and others without health insurance and access to treatment were still dying and transmitting AIDS. “‘This is getting more and more dire,’ the activists said,” Wright recalls.

They told Wright, “The rest of the community is starting to turn the page. We can’t turn the page.”

In D.C., Wright could see, through his reporting, the racial discrimination in the community at large in the AIDS epidemic, and in the queer community.

Two things are true simultaneously, Wright said, when asked if there is still stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS today.

“Science has made so much progress,” Wright said, “It’s no longer necessary for any of us to die from HIV.”

“I take a pill once a day to prevent me from catching HIV,” he added, “I can do that. I am a person with insurance…with a great deal of social and economic privilege.”

But many people in the United States don’t have health insurance, and exist outside of the health care system. The divergence in treatment and stigma that he saw as a young reporter in 1996 are still there today, Wright said.

“The divergence in class and race has grown even more profound,” he said, “among people of color, young people – transgender people.”

Wright hopes  “Blindspot” will make people who lived through the epidemic and whose stories weren’t told, feel seen. And that “they will hear themselves and be reminded of the contributions they have made,” Wright said.

The queer press plays an important role in the LGBTQ community, Wright said. “We need a place to hash out our differences, share stories and ask questions that put our experience at the center of the conversation,” he emailed the Blade.

“There’s more space for us in media than when I started my career at the Blade,” Wright said, “but none of it is a replacement for journalism done by and for ourselves.”

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Valentine’s Day gifts for the queers you love

From pasta and chocolate to an Aspen getaway

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Share the love on Feb. 14 with our thoughtful Valentine’s gift picks for everyone you like and lust.

Centrolina V-Day Pasta Kit

Washington, D.C.-based Centrolina’s seasonally inspired restaurant menu gets the delivered-to-your-door treatment with Chef Amy Brandwein’s holiday gift baskets featuring four handmade pastas and from-scratch sauces, including heart-shaped beet ravioli with ricotta and lemon butter, a mushroom and black truffle ragu, sunchoke tagliolini and oyster cacio pepe, and chestnut pappardelle, among other elevated-Italian recipes that you and your lil’ meatball can whip up on date night. $175, CentrolinaDC.com

La Maison du Chocolat

Heart-shaped candy clichés are much more palatable when the contents within are made in Paris instead of Hershey, Pa., and your intended will be sufficiently satisfied with La Maison du Chocolat’s selection of premium confections – including melt-in-your-mouth ganaches, pralinés and bouchées, oh my – available in festive and indulgent 14- and 44-piece boxes. $60-$140, LaMaisonDuChocolat.com

‘Spread the Love’ Plantable Pencils

SproutWorld’s set-of-eight Love Edition pencils set themselves up for seed-spreading jokes given Cupid’s context, but the real sentiment is sweeter: Plant the lead-free, graphite writing utensils (engraved with romantic quotes on certified wood) in potted soil and enjoy striking flowers and fragrant herbs in one to four weeks. $15, Amazon.com

W Aspen Getaway

Missed Aspen Gay Ski Week? No sweat. You’ll fight fewer crowds as the season winds down – without compromising your commitment to luxury – during a late-winter getaway to the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains at the W Aspen. Book unforgettable outdoor adventures, like heliskiing and dog sledding, with the property’s always-available concierge; spend après hour on the rooftop WET deck before diving into delicious dishes at onsite restaurant 39 Degrees; see and be seen at Ponyboy, the property’s cocktail-focused modern speakeasy rooted in New York City nightlife; and pour yourself a nightcap from your in-room mini bar before relaxing in the suite’s deep soaking tub – because, ya know, all in a day’s work. Marriot.com

Nexgrill Ora Pizza Oven

Not a fan of fancy dining out? Slip into those grey sweats he won’t let you wear in public, top off the Veuve, and fire up Nexgrill’s Ora 12 portable propane pizza oven wherein a to-temp cordierite baking stone will cook your personalized pies to perfection at up to 900 degrees. That’s burnin’ love, baby. $299, HomeDepot.com

‘Just Happy to Be Here’ YA Novel

Have a they/them in your life excited to expand their winter reading list? Gift a copy of Naomi Kanakia’s newly published YA coming-of-age novel, “Just Happy to Be Here,” about Tara, an Indian-American transgender teenager seeking quiet support and acceptance within her school’s prestigious academic group but instead becomes the center of attention when she draws the ire of administrators and alumni. $16, Amazon.com

Perfect Pairings 

Set it off this Valentine’s Day with a curated selection of wine and spirits, including the Pale Rosé, created by Sacha Lichine, of Whispering Angel fame; Flat Creek Estate’s red-blend trio, featuring the 2017 Super Texan, 2018 Four Horsemen, and Buttero; Ron Barceló’s Imperial Premium Blend 40th Aniversario rum; and the Bourbon Rosemary cocktail-in-a-can from Spirited Hive. $17-$199

Moon Bath Bomb

Stars aligned for that little meet-cute you told everybody about on TikTok, and you can trust the universe to provide ample relaxation when you plop Zodica Perfumery’s Moon Bath Bomb in the tub – there’s a specific formulation for every sign, which promises vibe-setting aromatherapy, activated charcoal for deep cleansing, and skin-soothing olive oil for the self-love glow-up you’ve been waiting for. $18, ZodicaPerfumery.com

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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