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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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Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington celebrates 40th anniversary with virtual concert, retrospective

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals

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Members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gather in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GMCW Turns 40
Streaming begins Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m.
Available through June 20
Tickets: $25
gmcw.org

Discussion of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington quickly becomes emotional for its members both veteran and newbie(-ish). They’re the kind of strong feelings that only exist when one has sacrificed and invested in something.

“It’s an experience that touches our soul in a way that not that many LGBTQ+ people get to experience,” says tenor Javon Morris-Byam, a gay 28-year-old music teacher who joined three years ago. “We have music tying us together and in the end, we make a product that we can share with the public and that’s a humbling experience.”

Steve Herman, 79, is a founding member, though he doesn’t sing. One of a group of “non-singing members,” he joined in June 1981 and has helped over the decades painting scenery, designing ads, serving on the board and more. His partner at the time had joined the chorus as a singer.

A Gay Men’s Chorus performance in 1983. (Washington Blade archive photo by Leigh Mosley)

Now retired after 47 years in the federal government, he says the Chorus “has been a major centerpiece of my life.”

“This may sound corny, but I couldn’t imagine my life without the chorus,” Herman says.

The chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a streaming concert simply dubbed “GMCW turns 40” that can be streamed starting Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed until June 20.

Selections will include “From Now On” (from “The Greatest Showman”), “Rise Up,” “Make Them Hear You” (from “Ragtime”), “Truly Brave” and a new song called “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” written for the occasion by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, composers of “Ragtime.” Video clips of past performances will also be included in a montage. Tickets are $25 at gmcw.org.

Thea Kano, the Chorus’s artistic director since 2014 (she was associate director for a decade prior), says “Make Them Hear You” has “kind of become our anthem over the last 10 years,” so contacting its composers for a commission made sense. They premiered it last summer virtually at the Chorus’s Summer Soiree, a COVID-induced postponement of its usual Spring Affair.

Thea Kano, center, joins members of the Chorus at the United States Supreme Court on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision in June of 2015.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kano, a straight ally, directs the Chorus with aid from Associate Conductor C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor Joshua Sommerville and accompanist Teddy Guerrant. Justin Fyala has been the Chorus’s executive director since 2016. Staff also includes Craig Cipollini (director of marketing), Kirk Sobell (director of patron services) and Alex Tang (accompanist).

Under the main Chorus umbrella are five ensembles: 17th Street Dance, a 14-member performance troupe started in 2016; Rock Creek Singers, a 32-voice chamber ensemble; GenOUT Youth Chorus, a teen choir of about 25; Potomac Fever, a 14-member harmony pop ensemble; and Seasons of Love, a 24-voice gospel choir.

GenOUT Youth Chorus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Musically, the Chorus’s repertoire is eclectic.

“(We sing) everything from spiritual to glam rock to punk to traditional classical, and everything in between,” Morris-Byam says. “I love when the chorus is all together and able to produce a big powerful sound.”

Kano says working with Fyala is “a dream” and says under his leadership the Chorus is “in a very healthy financial place, which is wonderful and a very humble thing to be able to say right now particularly given that we’re in a pandemic — that’s not the case with a lot of arts organizations.”

The D.C. Chorus is a quasi-unofficial spin off of its San Francisco counterpart. During an early ’80s national tour, the San Francisco group performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and had a profound effect on local audiences. Marsha Pearson, a straight woman who lived in Dupont Circle at the time and enjoyed hanging out with gay men, was one such person.

“I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one of these,” she told the Blade 10 years ago for a story on the Chorus’s 30th anniversary. “I thought, ‘We’re the nation’s capital, how come we don’t have this?’”

The Chorus performs at the popular gay nightclub Tracks in 1984. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

She hand wrote fliers — four to a sheet — had her sister photocopy them at her office, cut them up by hand and passed them out at Capital Pride in 1981. Accounts vary about how many showed up to the first practice at the long-defunct gay community center (no connection to the D.C. Center) on Church Street. Pearson remembers about 30. Others say it was more like 15-ish. It was June 28, 1981 and, by all accounts, an innocuous beginning.

Pearson never sang with the group — it was exclusively a men’s chorus. She asked if anybody had any conducting experience. The late Jim Richardson did and became the first director.

“I still remember the first chord,” Pearson told the Blade in 2011. “It was just a simple thing, you know, like do, mi, so, do, but I just got goosebumps. I was just elated that even one note came out, I was so excited. I got those same goosebumps at the anniversary concert last weekend. I put their CDs on and I get the same thing, especially on certain things they sing. You just can’t believe it sounds so great.”

Click here for more about the history of the group. A bio/history is also available at gmcw.org.

COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the operation. Thankfully, Kano says, no members have died from it, though a handful (she says fewer than 10 that she knows of), including Kano, have had it and recovered.

The Chorus continued its Sunday evening rehearsals via Zoom, which, because of the precision required for musical performance, was tougher to take online than, say, a business meeting. It never occurred to the Chorus leadership to take a hiatus.

“I look back now like, ‘Why didn’t we take some time off,’ but I think off the top of my head at the time it was like, “We sing and we’re a social justice organization and community is such a big part of who we are,’” Kano says. “And so for suddenly, with no notice, to have something that we love so much and are so passionate about …. to suddenly just turn the lights off, that wasn’t even an option.”

A GMCW rehearsal in 2007. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

With the Chorus and dancers and GenOUT, there are about 200 current volunteer performers. It’s been slightly higher at times. Some were deterred by the thought of rehearsing via Zoom although some former members no longer in the D.C. area — even a few overseas — rejoined when virtual participation became possible.

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and beyond was a galvanizing event. The Chorus responded with its “Let Freedom Sing” concert, which Kano says celebrated the intersection of Black and LGBTQ people.

Featured soloists perform in ‘Let Freedom Sing.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It was our way of saying we raise our voice in solidarity with those facing injustice,” Kano says.

But does that get messy at times? Surely not everyone in a choir of this size is on the same page politically, even in a progressive city like D.C., right?

As a nonprofit, the Chorus avoids anything ostensibly political. Kano says the issue did arise when they were invited to sing at a Virginia-based gun-reform event last year. They participated, but carefully.

“So anytime you mentioned guns, it becomes political,” Kano says. “It’s not about whether or not we support the Second Amendment. It’s us standing in solidarity with those who have been victims of gun violence.”

Kano says there’s “a very good chance had this been a non-pandemic year,” they would have been invited to sing at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which she says they “absolutely” would have agreed to.

“We did wonder, though, a few years ago what we would have said if 45 were to ask us,” she says. “We didn’t spend a lot of time on it because we knew that wasn’t gonna happen,” she says with a chuckle.

The holiday shows for the Chorus often involve elaborate costumes, as in this scene in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herman says performing at big, pro-LGBTQ “statement”-type events is woven into the Chorus’s history and is understood.

“Every Christmas Eve, we’d sing for the patients at NIH,” he says. “We still do, only then it was primarily AIDS patients. We sang special concerts when the (AIDS) Quilt was first displayed and when there was a March on Washington. We did a lot of community work and outreach at a time when it was really needed.”

Morris-Byam says even today, with so much progress having been made, the Chorus still is needed. He, by the way, calls Kano “one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met.”

“I believe the Chorus is a strong political statement in itself,” he says. “When we’re making a strong, joyful noise, it’s celebrating everything we are, what we can be, and everyone who has gotten us where we are.

The Chorus celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in a performance at Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There have been challenges over the years — finding new office space, patching together individual vocal parts for virtual performances — but no warring factions. Kano is, by most accounts, extremely well liked.

The future, Kano says, is bright. She hopes to resume in-person rehearsals in the fall. She spent a big chunk of early lockdown transcribing a Puccini “Gloria Mass” for tenor/bass chorus. She plans to program it with works by Cole Porter eventually.

Ultimately, Kano says, her goals for the Chorus are about making great art.

“Art comes first,” she says. “Because that’s how we deliver our mission. And if we put great art first, it’s going to attract great people. It’s going to both as members and as audience members and patrons, and therefore it’s going to attract great funding, and then all that goes right back into the arts we can further our expansion and our ability to get the mission out.”

Craig Cipollini leads the ‘Grease’ dance auditions in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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Billy Porter talks about his HIV diagnosis and keeping secrets

The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years in the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday

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Billy Porter appearing on Tamron Hall's show Wednesday (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Daytime talk show host Tamron Hall welcomed Broadway icon and star of the hit tv show “Pose,” Billy Porter on her show that aired Wednesday. The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years that was made public in a piece for the Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday.

Porter discusses his HIV diagnosis from over a decade ago which the actor said he felt a sense of shame that compelled him to hide his condition from his castmates, collaborators and even his mother, and the responsibility that now has him speaking out. “The truth is the healing,” Porter said.

“I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he wrote. “The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment,” the actor wrote.

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Final season of ‘Pose’ is must-see TV that matters

Groundbreaking FX drama has left its mark

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When the COVID pandemic hit in the early months of 2020, there were certainly more pressing and essential worries for us to grapple with than how it would impact the next season of a TV show. Yet it’s a testament to the power of “Pose” that many among its legion of fans were at least as concerned about the show’s disruption as they were about the possibility of running out of toilet paper.

The powerhouse FX drama — which spotlights the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture in the late 1980s — had already made history. Not only did it feature the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles, it boasted the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever included in a scripted series. In its first two seasons, the show racked up accolades and honors (including a Primetime Emmy for Billy Porter as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) while breaking new ground for the inclusion and representation of queer people — and especially transgender people of color — in television, both in front of the camera, and behind it. With the end of its second season in August 2019, fans were hungry for a third — but thanks to COVID, its future was suddenly in question.

So, when word came that the show’s third season would have its debut on May 2, it was the best news since finding out the vaccines were finally going to start rolling out. But it was bittersweet: Along with confirmation of the series’ imminent return came the sad revelation that the new season would also be the last. “Pose” would be coming to an end with a final, seven-episode arc.

As any viewer of show can attest, there were a lot of threads left hanging when last we saw its characters. That means there’s a lot of ground to cover in these last chapters in order to give everyone — characters and audience alike — the closure they deserve.

The show’s official synopsis goes like this: It’s now 1994 and ballroom feels like a distant memory for Blanca, who struggles to balance being a mother with being a present partner to her new love, as well as her latest role as a nurse’s aide. Meanwhile, as AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44, Pray Tell contends with unexpected health burdens. Meanwhile, a vicious new upstart house is emerging in the ballroom world, and the members of the House of Evangelista are forced to contend their legacy.

Obviously, there are a lot of details left hidden in that broad overview, and fans are undoubtedly full of questions about what they can expect to see.

Fortunately, the bulk of the show’s main cast convened on Zoom last week (along with show co-creator and Executive Producer Steven Canals and Executive Producer Janet Mock) for a press conference to discuss their “Pose” experience, and while they didn’t exactly give away any spoilers, they definitely dropped some tantalizing hints about what’s in store for audiences in the farewell season.

In truth, most of the discussion was dominated by reminiscences and expressions of mutual appreciation, sure signs that the feeling of family we see onscreen is something that has taken hold off screen, as well. But in between the affectionate banter, the cast and creatives addressed several questions that might be most on viewers’ minds.

Perhaps the most pressing of these — why, after only three seasons, is the critic-and-audience-acclaimed show calling it quits? — was taken on by Canals, who explained:

“I always knew what the beginning and what the end of the narrative would be. And when Ryan Murphy and I first met in September of 2016, we felt really strongly that that particular narrative made sense. And so, while we certainly could have continued to create narrative around these characters and in this world, and we certainly had a conversation in the writers’ room about it … I think we all agreed that it just made sense for us to ‘land the plane,’ if you will, comfortably — as opposed to continuing to give an audience story that just simply didn’t have any real core intention or a real thrust towards specificity.”

Also of interest was the obvious subject of how the parallels between the current pandemic and the AIDS crisis that looms over the show’s narrative might be reflected in the new episodes. While he didn’t hint at any direct connections in “Pose,” Porter used the subject to underscore a theme that has always been one of the show’s most important elements:

“I think the parallels are quite profound. I know that as a Black gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis, I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this COVID time. It’s very reminiscent of what it was like then. The best news about that is that I survived. We got through it, and there is another side to it. We can get to the other side.

“I feel like that’s what ‘Pose’ really accomplishes this season, reminding the public that it’s when we come together and when we lead with love [that] we get to the other side.”

Mock elaborated on the theme of resilience by discussing the importance of showing the strength of House mothers like Blanca and Electra (Dominique Jackson), who hold together — and lift up — their entire community:

“It’s that matriarchal power and lineage that I think the ballroom is, and what trans women are to one another, that then feeds everyone else and enables them to shine and have all the things that they want in the world. For me, it is [about] that celebration […] of Black trans women — that they’ve created this space, that they brought everyone else in with them, and that, at the end of the day, they are often the ones most often forgotten.

“I think with this season, I want everyone across the industry, the audience, to realize that. I think it’s essential, and it’s important.”

Mock also talked about the way “Pose” focuses on the small, day-to-day lives of its characters as much as it does the larger-than-life splendor of the ballroom culture in which they participate:

“We wanted to ensure that we show the everyday, mundane moments, as well as the great, grand celebrations. The ballroom is are presentation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other, and our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, while we were plotting these big, grand moments […] we wanted to bring in traditions — weddings, matrimony, all this stuff — that our characters get to engage in. We wanted to be a part of the tradition of that, and all the moments that a family shares together. We wanted to make sure that all of those things were celebrated in this.”

When discussion turned to the unprecedented level of support and collaborative inclusion with which the show’s queer cast were bestowed by Ryan Murphy and the rest of the creative staff — from the presence of trans women like Mock and Co-producer Our Lady J in the writers’ room to the extensive reliance on the insights and talents of real-life members of the ballroom community — Jackson was quick to add that besides giving the show its ferocious authenticity, it gave her an increased recognition of her own worth:

“I will never, ever, ever walk into a space thinking that I need to impress them […] I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything. Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I’m an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value. So, when I walk into spaces now,they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you’re not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of ‘Pose,’ because of Ryan, because of Steven, because of Janet and Brad [co-creator/executive producer Falchuk), because of Our Lady J, because of my cast members.

“I will never walk into spaces or live a life or an existence thinking that I need to impress anyone.”

Porter concurred, adding:

“There was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what‘Pose’ is, what Pray Tell is. I spent the first 25-plusyears of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat.‘Pose,’ and Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible […] the idea that the little, Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before. You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out.”

If the cast members themselves have found themselves feeling more empowered thanks to “Pose,” so too have the millions of LGBTQ people — and allies — who have tuned into it since its premiere in 2018. The show is one of those rare entries into the cultural lexicon that simply allows its queer and trans people to live authentic lives, giving long-withheld representation to countless viewers who were able to see themselves reflected back from the screen for perhaps the very first time. It’s that powerful sense of validation provided by “Pose” that keeps it standing tall in an entertainment market now providing so much LGBTQ inclusion that it’s becoming dangerously easy to take it for granted.

Whatever moments of heartbreak, joy, and celebration “Pose” brings us as it plays out its final act — and there are sure to be many — we can all be sure it will leave us with a message expressed through an oft-heard line of dialogue that Mock says she found herself writing “over and over again” during the series’ run:

“You are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.” It’s that nurturing sentiment the “Pose” has been instilling in us from the beginning, like a mother to us all.

And that’s why so many of us can’t wait until the first two episodes of its final season air at 10 p.m. (both Eastern and Pacific), Sunday, May 2, on FX.

The final season of “Pose” will begin to air on FX on Sunday, May 2, at 10 p.m. ET. (Photos courtesy of FX)

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