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Former Avalon singer on coming out, getting ousted and where he is today

Michael Passons was founding member of CCM supergroup known for ‘Testify to Love’

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Michael Passons, gay news, Washington Blade
Michael Passons today. (photo courtesy Passons)

Fans of the Christian pop group Avalon always wondered why founding member Michael Passons resigned abruptly in 2003 and then seemed to drop off the face of the earth.

There was talk of a solo album but none materialized. The official word was that he was “moving on to other things.”

The group had had a wildly successful run. Founded in the mid-’90s, Avalon released its self-titled debut album in 1996 on Sparrow and four more (“A Maze of Grace” in 1997, “In a Different Light” in 1999, “Joy: a Christmas Collection” in 2000 and “Oxygen” in 2001) as well as a hits collection with new material (“Testify to Love: the Very Best of Avalon”) in 2003 racking up 19 No. 1 singles on the Billboard gospel charts, two RIAA-certified gold albums, six Dove Awards, an American Music Award and three Grammy nominations. 

Initially there was a blond male and female singer and a brunette male and female singer to round out the foursome in ways that were both visually and sonically appealing. There was regular turnover in one of the “female” slots but Passons, Janna (nee Potter) Long and Jody McBrayer formed the group’s backbone all through its early and most successful years. 

After years of silence, in September, Passons came out as gay on Josh Skinner’s “Jonah and the Whale” podcast and said he was fired from the group for declining to continue with “reparative” therapy. The podcast generated significant media buzz and was aggregated in mainstream outlets like Billboard and People.

Though candid and forthcoming in the podcast, there was more to the story. Passons, a 54-year-old Yazoo City, Miss., native, was chatty and candid in a 45-minute phone interview from his Nashville home on working in the CCM (contemporary Christian music) bubble, hiding his sexuality for so many years, why he opted to come out now and about the Dove Award he nabbed from Whitney Houston at the 1998 ceremony. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

Avalon in 1997. From left are Nikki Hassman-Anders, Jody McBrayer, Janna Long and Michael Passons. (photo by Paul Elledge; vintage promo material via Sparrow/EMI)

WASHINGTON BLADE: It was great to hear the podcast. It felt like you’d just kinda vanished. 

MICHAEL PASSONS: I understand that people would see it that way because you’re just kind of out of the public eye when you’re not making music, not putting music out and doing interviews, and I had not done any of that pretty much in 17 years. And I didn’t really expect this podcast to get the attention that it did get. It was a bit of a surprise to me that there was so much of an interest in a 17-year-old story.

BLADE: Why did it feel like now was the right time? How did it come about?

PASSONS: It wasn’t some calculated move, I was approached by a friend who introduced me to Josh Skinner who has a podcast Jonah and the Whale and said would you like to be a guest? This particular podcast deals with an underwater moment in your life and I had previously had conversations with my family just a couple months earlier, just about my life and the truth of my life so I thought, “Well now is the perfect time,” so it really wasn’t planned out far in advance. An opportunity landed in my lap and I decided to tell the story. 

BLADE: Had you been approached before?

PASSONS: Well, I’ve been pretty under the radar. I’ve been traveling the last 15 years with another Christian group, but only in the band. I play keys for Point of Grace. I wanted to keep my foot in the water … but I didn’t want to be the front guy … so I really hadn’t been approached by journalists at all until now.

BLADE: You tell in the podcast about how they came to your house for a meeting in 2003 and this all came to a head. How had they known you were gay in the first place? What led up to that meeting?

PASSONS: Well at that point I was 38 years old, I wasn’t married, I wasn’t dating, (so) rumors begin to swirl when you have that type of scenario and we had discussions about it several years before. So that’s when … they said to me I needed to go to therapy. It really was in 2002 that they wanted me to go to reparative therapy or at least go see a counselor or some guy who said his credentials were counseling gay people. So I did that to appease them but I knew it was a fruitless effort, and as I say in the podcast, that didn’t last very long. I told them I wasn’t going back to that. It had been a conversation for about a year or so before 2003. 

BLADE: Did you have a pretty good relationship with them otherwise? 

PASSONS: Well over the course of the eight years we were traveling together, I saw those people more than anyone else. Our schedule was so demanding and we toured almost nonstop. … So we did at the time have this family-type relationship but … groups often have a shorter shelf life than solo artists because there are multiple people with multiple goals and aspirations and so unless all four of us aligned, there were always going to be these times where one wants to do a solo deal or they think we should do this or go in this direction and so we kind of started growing apart in our vision. Jody and Janna wanted to do solo records and I thought that was something that was going to fracture the group and our brand and that did cause some tensions because the other two members really wanted to focus our efforts on the Avalon brand because that’s what was familiar to everyone. So over the years we became not as close and then of course you add something like this which kind of draws a line and you have to choose what side of the line you’re going to be on.

BLADE: Bear with me a sec, but I’m going to read you Jody’s quote to CCM Magazine in April, 2004 when he said: “We had a meeting at Michael’s house one day and he told us he was going to move on to other things. We sat and cried and felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us. Things had felt great with the new group and Michael seemed to get along and blend vocally with (then-new member) Melissa (Greene) really well. But Michael had been with us from the beginning and just felt it was time for him to do something else. It’s weird but since his departure, it seems everyone is looking for some scandalous thing to have happened there. It makes me just want to say, ‘Look, I’m sorry to disappoint you that we don’t have some juicy gossip or ‘Dynasty’ episode happening here.” Based on what you shared in the podcast, that was a gross mischaracterization of how it went down. Did you read that at the time? How did it make you feel?

PASSONS: At the time the record label and management held really right reins on us because they created the group, it was their idea. They wanted to find a group that was already in existence that was two guys, two girls. They couldn’t do it so they said, “Let’s just put one together,” so we never felt like we had ownership of much. … So when management and label say, “This is what you are to say,” it became kind of like a bullshit fest at that point. You just gotta stick with the story and that’s what Jody was doing, he was sticking with the story he was told to say. … That was just the way they chose to handle it at the time. … Interestingly enough, Jody reached out to me after the podcast aired and we had not really talked in 17 years other than bumping into each other in a restaurant and saying a quick hello. We met for about an hour we met at a park here in Nashville and just walked around and he apologized profusely and said his heart was broken when he was listening to that podcast. He was very sincere and I  accepted what he had to say and I feel like our relationship has actually — there was some definite closure there as far as what I’d been feeling all of these years and so that was a good thing that came out of this and I’m glad he reached out to me. 

The Blade invited McBrayer to comment. In response to the question, “Did you feel muzzled by the label?” he sent this response: “Absolutely muzzled. However I would have never ever said anything to hurt Michael’s reputation. We were asked for years about what happened and myself and my family refused to say anything that would put Michael in a bad light. We were given a statement and told to go with it. We did everything we were told at the time. … Michael knows I love him and hate how all of it went down and how he was treated by the industry. I’m so thankful he’s happy and grown beyond it all now. I will continue to protect him. He will always be family.” 

BLADE: Was there any truth to what they were saying? Had you been considering a solo album?

PASSONS: No. I know my strengths and my strength was not as a solo artist. …  I enjoyed the team mentality of a group. … I think fans and people outside the industry took the press release at face value but people inside the industry heard pretty quickly what had really happened. Gossip and rumors spread really quickly around Nashville so I just thought, “OK, I’m gonna just start life No. 3 here.” (chuckles)

BLADE: A few other big CCM artists eventually came out like Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz. Did you follow that or ever compare notes with them?

PASSONS: I don’t know either of those artists personally. I’ve never really interacted with them. I think we did a show once with Jennifer years and years ago but it was just mainly, “Hello, nice to meet you.” I applaud them for living their best life and telling their truth but I just never felt like mine was necessarily a story that needed to be told. I wasn’t a solo artist. I would get recognized occasionally. People would say, “Oh, you’re that guy who was in that group,” but I would say 80 percent of fans just knew me as the blond guy. So I didn’t feel like I had tons of name recognition or that my story mattered. But in the last few years, I wanted to be more truthful with my family so that’s really where all this came out of.

BLADE: Did anybody else from your CCM days reach out besides Jody?

PASSONS: I’ve received tons of texts and Instagram messages from friends from home, friends from college, fans, strangers. As far as the industry, some people that I haven’t seen in a while. It was very interesting. Amy Grant texted me and told me she listened and thought my story was beautiful in the way I told it and graceful and I appreciated that. Susan Ashton reached out and I haven’t seen her in years. She was very encouraging. She said, “You are seen and heard and loved.” Everything has been overwhelmingly positive.

BLADE: Did you get to know the other artists very well or have much interaction on the multi-artist tours you did like “Emmanuel” or “My Utmost”?

PASSONS: Yeah, we had a lot of time to just hang out, especially on the bus. You’re traveling late at night and everyone’s wired so you’re staying up and visiting. But we were really new artists at that time and we were thrown into a mix of all of these people that were our mentors, our heroes. We were fans of theirs and now we’re all of a sudden peers, just because of how Avalon came together. Our very first tour before we even sang a note on a record was “Young Messiah” in ’95. We had just come together weeks before and just had enough time to record one Christmas song so that we could sing that song on that tour and there we were next to 4 HIM and Point of Grace and Steven Curtis Chapman and Larnelle Harris and that was mind-blowing to be with all these great artists. But yes, everyone was very welcoming had lots of encouragement for us and advice and I actually really enjoyed those tours.

BLADE: I saw you guys once with Twila Paris. What was she like?

PASSONS: That was our first tour (the “Where I Stand Tour” in 1997). We did Young Messiah that Christmas and then we did our record, then we toured with Twila. We were definitely getting our feet wet just seeing how this industry was going to work … how we were gonna mesh as a group  because we were thrown on stage and we had to find our blend. Live, It’s one thing to be in the studio and be mixed and blended but to sing live, the Twila Paris tour was really just where we began to hone our craft as a group and so yeah, that was wonderful. I had many good experiences wth that tour. We did a spring tour and a fall tour with Twila and it was a long tour but we definitely leaned a lot. 

BLADE: Is there anybody in CCM who struck you as markedly different from their public persona?

PASSONS:  I feel like everyone would be a little different than what you perceive them to be because you only see a very structured view of them by the PR department of the record label. I really enjoyed getting to know Sandi Patty because when you listen to her music, you just don’t pick up on the edge that she has. She has this great sense of humor that’s a little edgy. I don’t know, my image of Sandi Patty was that she was always walking around in some state of meditation or sitting around in a prayer circle because when you’re growing up you just think of someone in such a reverent way because you respected their music so much and she was just she a cut up, she kidded around, she invited us to her home in Indiana at that point just to hang out with her family and I just I enjoyed seeing a whole different side of her. She’s a very strong personality, a strong woman and listening and singing along with her records, it was just good to see the other side of her. 

BLADE: What have you been living on all these years?

PASSONS: I play for Point of Grace and also a friend of mine in town, an attorney and I actually work with her in her law practice and of course being friends with the boss, you can leave anytime and so I’m free to travel whenever I need to and want to so that allows me to hang out with Point of Grace and go where they go. 2020 has been interesting. Since March, we’ve only had two shows and they were very small, so it’s been really interesting year for sure.

BLADE: What denomination did you grow up in?

PASSONS: Southern Baptist. A little country church in Mississippi.

BLADE: Are there still elements of Baptist or evangelical theology you struggle with? Queer or otherwise? 

PASSONS: I’m past struggling with it. Of course, it’s something I think about often but I don’t struggle with it any longer. … I’ve definitely got a different view of spiritualism. I don’t consider myself religious but I do believe in God and so I do have a spiritual life but it just doesn’t involve organized religion and that’s just where I’ve landed.

BLADE: But do you still believe the Christianity basics — Jesus died for our sins and rose on the third day and so on or is it a broader thing for you?

PASSONS: It’s a broader spiritual thing and like I said in my previous interview, I’m just in this place of my prayer to God is show me what is true. I’m not gonna close my mind to anything, I’m not going to say, “Oh this is what I was taught and I don’t believe that anymore,” I just want to step back and rebuild all those boxes, rebuild what my spirituality is, kind of like just implode it to ground level and let’s start again. I was taught by very well-intended people. All my Sunday School teachers in that little church, they didn’t have any malice, they were well-intended people teaching what they believed. We were spoon fed, so at some point in your life you have to just decide of all that information you took in, what do you really believe? I had to get to the point where I was OK disagreeing and not believing some of the things I was taught. it wasn’t disrespectful to those people, I just have to find my own way. 

BLADE: Do you think the conservative, white evangelical world will ever become openly accepting of LGBT people? Is it a lost cause or could it be a whole different story in another generation?

PASSONS: I think there is hope. I’ve seen so much progress in Christian circles just in my lifetime that I never thought I would see. It’s pockets, it’s not widespread, but … I think there is hope. A lot of things used to be justified with scripture that they eventually came around on. (Author) Peter Gomes calls it “the last prejudice of the church.” … After I left, Avalon recorded a song called “Orphans of God,” which I thought was interesting that they were singing it because I was definitely an outcast to them. But now my friend (out country singer) Ty Herndon and Kristen Chenoweth are going to cover it for a Christmas release as a duet and they asked Melissa Greene and I to sing backing vocals on it so now it will take on a whole new meaning. It was a really nice, full circle moment. 

BLADE: Did you keep up with what Avalon was doing much after you were kicked out?

PASSONS: No. It would have put me in a bad headspace. 

BLADE: Have you had many boyfriends? Are you in a relationship now?

PASSONS: I am. I’m with a wonderful guy now and it’s going well.

BLADE: Not married though?

PASSONS: No, not married (laughs). 

BLADE: How long was it before you were comfortable dating guys? 

PASSONS: It took me a while, because when all that went down, I internalized a lot of things and I thought, “Well this is my fault,” type of thing. It really took many years for me to just work through all the junk and work through that cloud in my head and so it wasn’t like some big unleashing. It wasn’t like I left Avalon and just started living my best life, it definitely took awhile to repair the hurt that happened from those several years when Avalon was ending and all the things I went through at that point.

BLADE: Do you know of other LGBT people in CCM who are not out?

PASSONS: Yeah, I do. I feel for them because I know that panicky feeling I used to have, that someone might catch on. … But I think a lot of conservative Christians might be naive as to how many people are gay or bi in their church. You learn from a very early age to be a good actor. 

BLADE: Who was your favorite Avalon producer to work with?

PASSONS: Brown Bannister produced most of the records when I was in the group. He’s, you know, such an icon in our industry and I have so much reverence for him and so much respect, so it was an honor to work with him. He actually brought out the best in me. There was something about just his people skills and he was just so kind and thoughtful in how he spoke with you and guided you through the recording process. He just took the time, even just to find the right microphone for me, because the mic in the studio can make a world of difference. I remember going through five or six mics before we found the right one. A lot of producers are just like, “OK let’s get this going, all right that’s great on to the next one.” He just took time to make it right and I appreciated that.

BLADE: How long did it take to make those albums on average?

PASSONS: When it came time to record, we would try to just block off weeks where we would just go in there and do vocals, vocals, vocals vocals and really mainly weekdays because we would go out on the weekends and do one-offs, you know, weekend dates here and there. So we wouldn’t obviously do a new record in the midst of a tour because we’d want to tour the new record but during our one-offs we would get in there and try to get in it done and probably over the course of a month and a half, two months, we would have everything done. 

BLADE: How involved were you all with the vocal arrangements? I always loved that outro and all those layers on “We Are the Reason,” for instance. How did you come up with all those intricate lines?

PASSONS: We had a great vocal vocal producer named Michael Mellett and he had been a studio singer in Nashville a long time and had toured with Billy Joel as a background singer. He would come in and help arrange our parts and he was amazing at it. And I remember he did work on our Christmas record and I remember that outro those alternate melodies that he helped us come up with, I loved that too. I felt like that really updated the song. It’s interesting because when we did it it was 20 years old and now it’s been 20 years since we did it, so it needs to be done again now. But it was my favorite song growing up. I used to sing it with an accompaniment tape at my little country church when I was a kid. 

BLADE: Yeah, I love it too. Did (songwriter) David Meece ever say anything after you guys cut it?

PASSONS: Indirectly. I think he might have said something to Brown but we heard that he liked it.

BLADE: Who’s a celebrity who would exemplify your type?

PASSONS: (laughs) My type, wow. I’m definitely attracted to someone who is confident but not cocky, someone who has sensitivity but is not overly sensitive, someone who’s just confident in themselves, that’s a big attraction to me. If I were to throw out a celebrity I see a lot of those qualities in, and maybe I’m wrong, but someone like Bradley Cooper. 

BLADE: Did you guys in Avalon have any say in choosing singles?

PASSONS: We were included in conversations but I feel like ultimately the label got what they wanted. There’s one little battle that we won and in retrospect not just one, but I just remember this instance, where the label disagreed with us about what we should call our second record and had we listened to the label, we probably would have sold a lot more. They wanted us to call it “Testify to Love” and we had no idea when we were naming the record and about to release it that that would be the one song that Avalon would be known for or that it be our biggest song ever. We thought “A Maze of Grace” was such a clever title. They disagreed but they let us do what we wanted. But who knew “Testify to Love” would become such a huge song for us? 

BLADE: Was (Sparrow president) Bill Hearn around much?

PASSONS: We would see him periodically and even his father Billy Ray, who started the company, they’re both deceased now, but they were very approachable. They weren’t always in our meetings because we were more with A&R and publicity and stylists but when they were around, they were very approachable, very hands on.

BLADE: When you win a Dove Award, did you each get one or just one for the group?

PASSONS: At the ceremony, just one is given but then they mail three more to you like a month later.

BLADE: Where do you keep yours?

PASSONS: I have a little study/office that I’m sitting in right now. I just have them on a shelf along with some pictures and mementos and things I like to keep out. The interesting story about one of our Dove Awards is our first Dove Award for new artist of the year and that was in 1998 I believe, and we got new artist of the year at the 29th Dove Awards and that was the year that Whitney Houston performed with Dottie Rambo … and we were backstage after we won doing a press junket so I missed her performance and I’m a huge Whitney Houston fan, like I would rival anyone else saying they’re a huge Whitney Houston fan. (laughs) She’s pretty much my all-time favorite artist. So after the show some press people wanted to take a photo of Whitney holding a Dove Award. She didn’t have one so Jody was standing close by with his and they said, “Can we have your Dove Award for a picture,” and so Whitney took our Dove Award and had her picture made with it and of course that was the only one we got that night and our manager said, “OK I’m gonna take that to the office and hold it ’til the others come in and you all can come by and pick them up,” and so before he could get to it, I got that particular one and took a Sharpie and made a mark on the bottom of it and the day that our manager said, “OK you can come by and pick up the Dove Awards they’re all in,” I was first one in there and I picked them all up and looked for the one I made the mark on because I wanted the one that Whitney had held. So I’m holding it right now, I’ve got that one in my hand and I always think of Whitney.

BLADE: Who were your favorite CCM acts growing up? Or did you listen to more pop?

PASSONS: I listened to a lot of pop and and country. My family is from a rural Mississippi town so country music was really most of what was on the radio and I love that old ’70s country. I still listen to it just because it has a lot of good memories. But I didn’t really know there was such a thing as CCM other than, you know, like Bill and Gloria Gaither-type stuff until I was in high school and someone handed me a tape of “Age to Age” by Amy Grant and that just lit a fire in me like I had no idea this type of thing existed, this is what I want to do. And of course I’ve just been — I was a fan of Amy Grant from that day on and she was definitely a huge influence in the way I would sing music, the way I would write music, I would listen to interviews of her and I would just — she was a great teacher in that respect of just knowing how to respond to questions, how to react to people, just her demeanor, how she handled herself, she was definitely a role model.

BLADE: So that must have been mind-blowing to work with her producer (Brown Bannister) all those years later.

PASSONS: Yeah, definitely. And then her text last week, yeah, that was a nice moment.

BLADE: Why didn’t the more progressive Christian denominations ever have their own version of CCM? There are a few fledgling queer gospel singers out there but nothing like the machine that CCM was. Maybe they didn’t care as much if their kids listened to Metallica or whatever? 

PASSONS: I think your theory might hold some weight, just that the conservative Christians were looking for an alternative for them and their families to listen to. One thing I think there probably wouldn’t have been a market in the liberal circles to sustain the industry, they wouldn’t have purchased the CDs and the music. It was the conservatives who made this a business and the Christian music business is a business. You have to be making money to be in CCM, that’s the dichotomy that I’ve always wrestled with. CCM depended on Becky, and I’ll tell you who Becky is. Becky is the pseudonym for their target audience. So any meeting we were in, it was always asked, “What would Becky buy, would Becky like  this song?” And Becky is a 20-, 30- or 40-something conservative Christian female and she was the target audience because she was the one buying the CDs and the tapes and downloading the music and so I think that’s maybe why the conservative church has kind of a market on CCM music.

BLADE: Is she related to Karen?

PASSONS: (laughs) That’s funny. If they’re not related, they’re probably best friends.

BLADE: When your bandmates came to your house that day, did it feel like it was coming from a place of love and concern or did it feel like a power play? Like they were trying to oust you?

PASSONS: It did feel like a power play. There were some very complicated personalities in the group and so it definitely — I did not feel much love that day. 

BLADE: To me, it was like when Florence got kicked out of the Supremes. They could go on and do whatever they want, but without Florence, it wasn’t the Supremes. Without you, it wasn’t Avalon. The one female singer didn’t matter so much because she always changed. That was like the new season of “Charlie’s Angels,” you always knew she would change. But when you left, it was never the same.

PASSONS: I appreciate that, I’ve heard several say that and it’s always good to know that my contribution is something that was missed. 

Michael Passons (left) with his Avalon bandmates in a photo from their 1997 ‘A Maze of Grace’ album. With him from left are Jody McBrayer, Nikki Hassman-Anders and Janna Long. (photo by Paul Elledge; vintage promo material via Sparrow/EMI)
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Something for everyone, from charcuterie to an e-moped

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Add a little Latin flavor to your living room Christmas film fest with a screening of Alfredo De Villa’s “Nothing Like the Holidays” and a traditional coquito with a Don Q kick in hand. The limited-edition collaboration kit between the rum maker and Latina-owned Coquito NYC comes with everything you need to mix it up, including coconut milk, spices, and a bottle of Reserva 7. DonQ.com, $75


Nuzzie Weighted Blanket

Dasher and Dancer will have to pull double duty delivering hefty, chunky Nuzzies, one-of-a-kind breathable, thermo regulating and sustainable weighted blankets (in holiday hues like rich rose and emerald green) for all your snowy-season snuggles. ShopNuzzie.com, $169-$329


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

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Best of LGBTQ DC 2022

Our 21st annual celebration of city life

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It was a big year for local businesses as we finally put COVID restrictions behind us and returned to a new normal that included a fully restored Pride celebration. With events like theater and popular fundraisers back to in-person operations, it’s an exciting year to assemble Best Of. 

More than 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in more than 60 categories for the 21st annual Best Of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. Michael Key served as photo editor for the project and shot the cover. This year’s contributing writers are Patrick Folliard, Tinashe Chingarande, Parker Purifoy, Lou Chibbaro Jr., Evan Caplan, Michael K. Lavers, and Kevin Naff. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, Eaton DC, and The Washington Regional Transplant Community.


Local Hero: Kimberley Bush  

Kimberley Bush (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In her eight years in leadership positions at the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, including her appointment in February of this year as its executive director, Kimberley Bush has witnessed first-hand the full diversity of D.C.’s LGBTQ community.

Before being named Interim Executive Director of the D.C. Center in October 2019, Bush served as the Center’s Director of Arts & Cultural Programs. The Center programs she headed in that position, which she continues to oversee in her executive director’s post, provide a vivid account of her involvement and interaction with the many LGBTQ people who got to know and admire her.

Among other duties, she has played a lead role in these D.C. Center programs: Reel Affirmation: DC’s International LGBTQ Film Festival and Monthly Film Series; the Center Arts Gallery; Arty Queers: DC’s LGBTQ Indoor Art Market; Outwrite: DC’s LGBTQ Literary Festival; and DC Queer Theater Theatre Festival.

“In her role as Director of Arts & Cultural Programs, Kimberley has demonstrated a sense of innovation and ambition in the projects she has taken on,” the D.C. Center’s Board of Directors said in a statement at the time it named Bush as Interim Executive Director.

“The Reel Affirmations program, which Kimberley had been involved with for more than 15 years, has been ranked in the top three LGBTQ film festivals in the country,” the statement says. “Though a New York native, Kimberley has lived in the D.C. area for thirty years and has become an accomplished leader in the community.”

Before switching careers to her leadership roles with Reel Affirmations and the D.C. Center, Bush says she worked for more than 12 years as a property management executive and Realtor as well as a ceramic artist. 

In addition to the D.C. Center’s Arts & Culture Programs, Bush currently oversees programs related to health and wellness, social and peer support, and advocacy and community building. She also oversees the Center’s accommodation of numerous local LGBTQ groups ranging from political to social, LGBTQ seniors, families, and people with disabilities, which have used the D.C. Center’s offices at 2000 14th St., N.W. as their meeting place.

When the full force of the COVID pandemic hit the city in 2020 Bush played a lead role, along with the D.C. Center’s staff and board, in arranging for the programs and the community meetings it hosted to switch from in-person events to virtual events.

“I am extremely proud to be able to continue to guide our small yet mighty team at the DC Center for the LGBT Community through these extraordinarily challenging times into brighter chapters of our lives, as we provide safe and peaceful space as well as the much-needed support, kindness, outreach, care, celebration and affirmation to our LGBTQIA2S+ community,” Bush told the Blade.

Bush’s next challenge will involve overseeing the D.C. Center’s move to a new location. The city’s Reeves Center municipal building, where the Center rents its office space, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new city sponsored development project, requiring all its occupants to vacate the building at a yet undisclosed time.

“I, our team and board of directors firmly believe our new home is in a location that is accessible to our community,” she said. “I cannot state just yet where the new location will be nor when the move will occur but as soon as we can share that exciting news with the community, believe me, we will!” 

EATING & DRINKING

Best LGBTQ Bar: Number Nine

Number Nine (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1435 P St., N.W.

numberninedc.com 

Runner-up: As You Are Bar

Nested in the heart of Logan Circle in Northwest D.C., this bar is a bi-level queer space that offers inventive cocktails. The second level also has a video bar outfitted with multiple TVs so guests can watch their favorite shows, teams, movies, special events, and music videos. 


Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade

Dusty Martinez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s Choice: Jo McDaniel, As You Are Bar

Dusty Martinez has proven that he’s a fan favorite in the city (winning this category for the second year in a row) when it comes to making mouth-watering drinks that keep guests coming back for more. In fact, he’s so good at what he does that he was nominated for this award four previous times and won in 2014 and 2017. As he’s said in the past, he always tries to have fun with Best of LGBTQ D.C.

“Anytime the bar is nominated for something, I try to make some funny videos and images to add to my feed,” he said when he won last year. “I really try to make light of it. It’s both an honor and delight to even be nominated.”


Best Neighborhood Bar: Red Bear Brewing

Red Bear Brewing Co. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer 

Editor’s Choice: Dirty Goose

Red Bear Brewing is no stranger to this list, returning as the winner of this category for the second year in a row. This gay-owned venue in the District hosts several types of events including drag shows, trivia, and stand-up performances. But at the heart of what it does is brewing in-house beers and serving classic bar food in the heart of NoMa. While guests chow down on a satisfyingly greasy burger, they can sip on one of the bar’s creatively named drinks— “Hefe Don’t Preach,” “OktoBEARfest,” or “Tall, Dark and Nutty,” to name a few. 


Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: KNEAD Hospitality + Design

KNEAD founders (Photo by Connor Studios)

Editor’s Choice: Urban Adventures (Vida Fitness, Bang Salon, Penthouse Pool Club)

D.C.-based KNEAD Hospitality + Design founders and co-owners (and partners for more than 20 years) Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin envisioned big plans for their rapidly expanding business. KNEAD owns, operates, and designed its own restaurants over a varying range of concepts and cuisines.

Berry and Reginbogin have pulled off more than 10 restaurant openings, from fine-dining to fast-casual, Mexican to French.

“It is such an honor to win,” Berry and Reginbogin said. “We are a born and bred Washington, D.C. company and have been working diligently to share excellent dining experiences throughout the area. This award recognizes the dedication we have to D.C.”

Some of their celebrated restaurants include Mi Vida, Succotash, and Gatsby.

“As an LGBTQ+ owned-and-operated restaurant group, it’s important that we actively raise awareness toward diversity and inclusion. We proudly support the LGBTQ+ community through sponsorships, donations and participating in events during Pride month each year that continue to create awareness. It is opportunities like this we’re we can use our platform to create awareness and make a difference in our own communities.” 


Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: EatWell DC

Editor’s Choice: Whitman-Walker Health

EatWell, a locally owned and operated restaurant group, has planted its flag firmly in the Logan Circle area for more than two decades. EatWell DC operates five restaurants: Grillfish in the West End; Logan Tavern, Commissary, and The Pig in Logan Circle, and The Charles in La Plata, Md.

According to its website, “We care about people, our staff, our guests, and our planet and truly believe business can coexist comfortably, safely and proactively.”

EatWell owns its own farm in La Plata, to bring local produce into its restaurants.

Logan Tavern won Best Restaurant in 2020 and 2021. Logan Tavern also won Best Bloody Mary in 2018 and Best Date Restaurant in 2012.


Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee

Compass Coffee (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Multiple locations

Compasscoffee.com

Editor’s Choice: Tatte Bakery & Café

Founded in 2014 by two Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Compass Coffee has 15 brick and mortar cafés in the Washington area, plus one roasting facility in Ivy City. Compass Coffee can be found in many local restaurants and grocery stores across the mid-Atlantic. The company aims to source its coffee as ethically as possible.

“While the roaster is no stranger to this award—Compass had five consecutive wins in this category through 2022—the Compass Team is incredibly honored to win this year,” says Compass VP Max Deem.


Best Restaurant: Crazy Aunt Helen’s

Crazy Aunt Helen’s (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

713 8th St., S.E.

crazyaunthelens.com

Editor’s Choice: Mi Vida

Owner Shane Mayson’s vibrant restaurant Crazy Aunt Helen’s debuted last July on Barracks Row, just a few days after Pride concluded.

“We are thrilled to have been nominated in the 3 categories! We’ve only been open for a little more than a year, and to be receiving this attention makes us feel like we are on the right path,” says Mayson.

“We have begun making donations to LGBTQIA organizations and have hosted happy hours for our community organizations. We hope as we grow, we are able to do even more.”

The food is solidly American, with Mayson’s creative twists. Appetizers include items like fried green tomatoes, and entrees include chicken fried steak smothered in chicken sausage gravy. Yet many of the dishes are also vegan and vegetarian, too.

“We serve American comfort food that we hope will make everyone feel like they’ve been given a big hug,” says Mayson. We have put together a vibrant showcase of mostly local entertainment with monthly “headliners” just to whet your whistle.” Events include shows, book readings, a ladies’ tea dance, play readings, bingo, and more.


Best Brunch: Duplex Diner

Duplex Diner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

2004 18th St., N.W.

duplexdiner.com

Editor’s Choice: Perry’s Drag Brunch

Duplex Diner opened its doors in 1998, as a safe and fun space for the LGBTQ community, perhaps best known for its lemon squeezes.

The longstanding, much-loved neighborhood spot snatched up the highly competitive Best Brunch spot this year. Drag queens, fundraisers, and team events all help to bring a fun energy to Duplex brunch, which it serves on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Duplex Diner is so honored to be nominated in this category, especially as brunches are the staff’s favorite shifts,” says General Manager Kelly Laczko. “We have worked hard to develop brunch and feel it has a great vibe.”

Duplex serves brunch faves from chicken and waffles to Benedicts and omelets. Mimosas go for a mere $5, and espresso martinis have found their way onto the menu, too.

Laczko is one of the co-chairs of the SMYAL Brunch, and ensures that Duplex has a close relationship with SMYAL as well as other local LGBTQ organizations.

“The ‘Queer Cheers’ is a place to come by yourself or with a group of friends to grab a bite for brunch or dinner. We would be nowhere without the love and support of our regulars and are so happy to serve as a neighborhood space that is inclusive of all,” says Laczko.


Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse

Outdoor seating at Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1609 17th St., N.W.

anniesparamountdc.com

Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern

Taking the prize for the third year in a row, a Washington pillar Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse offers a variety of hearty American dishes including burgers and salads for lunch, savory omelets and benedicts for brunch and classic steaks for dinner. 

According to owner Paul Katinas in an earlier interview with the Blade, “Annie’s became home, and was there when there weren’t too many other opportunities or places to go. During a time when the LGBTQ community was struggling to find places where they were accepted, the restaurant was always a welcoming and loving environment.”

Katinas’s daughter Georgia added that, “Annie’s is honored to be nominated by the Blade and supported by the community. We absolutely love hearing that our space brings joy to people.”

As for the Streatery that they constructed during the pandemic, “Our Streatery has been wonderful for business, a great way to keep more people employed and we believe has brought tremendous value to 17th Street. We do our best to keep our space beautiful and exciting and truly believe in the Streatery program”

Annie’s will turn 75 in 2023, with a host of special events and offerings throughout the coming year.


Best Outdoor Drinking: Uproar

Uproar Lounge (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

639 Florida Ave., N.W.

uproarlounge.com

Editor’s Choice: Pitchers

Nominated as Best Neighborhood Bar in 2021, Uproar won best outdoor drinking spot for its high-energy, third-floor rooftop. Perhaps best known for its Beer Bust every Sunday afternoon, it also hosts drag shows, karaoke, gaymers events, international nights, and much more.

Unlike many other D.C. LGBTQ bars, Uproar also serves an extensive menu of bar food, from mozzarella sticks to sliders to wings – and offers many of those snacks on the rooftop on Sundays. 


Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden

Dacha Beer Garden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

79 Potomac Ave., S.E. (Navy Yard) and 1600 7th St., N.W. (Shaw)

dachadc.com

Editor’s Choice: Wundergarten

Fresh off its win from last year, gay-owned Dacha has won this award yet again. Dacha has two locations (Shaw and Navy Yard) offering a variety of German, Belgian, and American craft beers, among its many offerings. Dacha previously won Best Outdoor Drinking in 2018 and 2019 and Best Straight Bar for five consecutive years until 2019. The outdoor beer garden is a favorite for its all-weather atmosphere, pet friendliness, and ginormous pretzels.

On Sept. 4, 2013, Dacha Beer Garden opened as a small beer truck with a makeshift bar, a few picnic tables, and port-a-potties in a small vacant lot on 7th Street N.W. The owners opened a café and loft in the adjacent building, on which they commissioned a now-Instagram-worthy three-story painting of Liz Taylor. The bar has expanded from a short list of German beers to include cocktails, alcohol-free drinks, sangria, and cider.


Best Burger: Slash Run

Slash Run (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

201 Upshur St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: Duke’s Grocery

The divey Slash Run, located in Petworth, promotes three things: beer, burgers, and rock ‘n’ roll. Taking home the award for Best Burger, the bar opened in 2015. It already has some burger accolades, voted 2nd Best Burger in the city by Washington City Paper 2019. The bar allows diners to choose one of five protein options and nine styles, from the Otto’s Shrunken Head (Korean BBQ, pork rinds, avocado, pineapple relish) to the I’ll Have What She’s Having (sunny side up egg, shaved-fried Brussels sprouts finished with Siracha aioli and served on pretzel bun). The bar also has 15 draft beers, 100 whiskeys, and an impressive list of live shows, parties, and neighborhood events.


Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1925 14th St., N.W.

jenis.com

Editor’s Choice: Ice Cream Jubilee

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together, according to its website. Packaged in Instagram-worthy colorful cups, Jeni’s ice creams have a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” that allow one to savor the sweetness of flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble.


Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza

Andy’s Pizza (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

2016 9th St., N.W.

eatandyspizza.com

Editor’s Choice: Timber Pizza

Andy’s Pizza serves up pizza straight from the long and storied New York tradition. Featuring stone deck ovens, long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, California tomatoes, and a skilled pizzaiolo, this neighborhood pizzeria brings New York to D.C. while serving classic combinations. Andy’s now boasts six spots across the area, including one spot in Shaw across from 9:30 club and mere feet from popular bars Dirty Goose and Kiki.

The pizzeria serves pizza by the slice in favorite options like pepperoni and white sauce, but the whole pies come in a range of flavors with both classic and modern options, including a vegan pie with plant-based cheese.

“I am a local, born and bred in the DMV,” says Andy Brown, owner and head pizzaiolo. “The D.C. community is a melting pot of the global stage, and winning an award as a local always feels like a victory for our local community. We were thrilled to even be considered, and over the moon to win!”

As to why Andy’s Pizza makes a great winner, he concluded that, “There aren’t a lot of restaurants you would visit at 3am and for lunch!”


Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard

(Photo courtesy of Montifalco Vinyards)

1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.

montifalcovineyard.com 

Editor’s Choice: City Winery

It’s official. DMV oenophiles love Montifalco Vineyard. The delightful family farm winery in Ruckersville, Va., a small town not far from Charlottesville in the beautiful Monticello American Viticultural Area of Virginia, has again come out on top as fan favorite among Blade readers. 

Still owned and operated by sommelier and winemaker Justin Falco, Montifalco Vineyard derives inspiration from traditional family farm wineries of the French countryside. With its friendly, unpretentious atmosphere, Falco’s vineyard remains committed to high standards; Montifalco adheres to the fusion of Old World tradition and New World taste and flavor, creating small batch boutique wines with distinct personality. And yes, well-behaved, leashed pooches continue to be welcome.   


Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour: Kiki

Kiki (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

915 U St., N.W.

dcwannahaveakiki.com 

Editor’s Choice: Larry’s Lounge

Kiki, an LGBTQ bar located in Shaw, is fast approaching its one-year anniversary. This spot offers a safe space for LGBTQ individuals by hosting drag shows and availing its dance floor to anyone who wants to shimmy, do the splits, and completely lose themselves to music. Kiki offers four different bar areas — a beer garden, a sports-themed bar, lounge areas, and a dance floor. 


Best Local Brewery: Red Bear Brewing Company

Red Bear Brewing Co. (Washington Blade photo by Zach Brien)

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer 

Editor’s Choice: DC Brau

One win isn’t enough for Red Bear, it had to return for more accolades. This fan favorite and LGBTQ-friendly bar also cares about the environment. Red Bear is currently working toward a “Pending B Corporation Status,” which will become fully “Certified” after one year of operations, according to its website. This certificate is awarded to a business that has met the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and legal accountability. Additionally, the bar creates its own furniture from reclaimed wood. 


Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery

Republic Restoratives (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1369 New York Ave., N.E.

republicrestoratives.com 

Editor’s Choice: Cotton & Reed

This women-owned, community-led and District-made distillery offers top notch spirits. The company “[celebrates] an outspoken and disruptive attitude towards the production of quality American spirits,” according to its website. Some of the spirits it offers include the Borough Bourbon, a five-year-old high-rye bourbon boldly finished in 50-year-old Armagnac casks. This year-round whiskey has hints of dried fruits, worn leather, and rich candied nuts. 


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Best Drag Queen: Cake Pop!

Cake Pop! (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Vagenesis

This year’s most glittery award goes to this queen whose Instagram bio reads, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” Like other legendary drag queens whose performances have riveted audiences and inspired young children to be confident in their identity, Cake Pop! exists to celebrate Black queer bodies. Whether she’s wearing her hair in towering afro puffs or ginger-colored tightly-coiled curls, the Regent University, a Christian college, graduate proves to the world that “[the] conversion therapy didn’t work,” according to her Instagram.


Best Drag King: Molasses

Molasses (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Rico Pico

King Molasses is an avid impersonator of Canadian superstar Alannah Myles, who dominated the charts in the early 1990s. They are also a co-producer for “HalfnHalf,” D.C.’s newest bi-weekly drag king show, and chief hooligan at BANSHEES, an event series that attracts the city’s rock ‘n’ roll fans. For Molasses, drag is about having fun with masculine identities while providing astute political commentary about them. “[Drag performance] is that swag you get in the shower that nobody sees,” they said in a Vox interview in June. 


Best Transgender Performer: Sophia Carrero

Sophia Carrero (Photo courtesy of Carrero)

Runner-up: Whitney Gucci Goo

A 2016 picture of this Latin American bombshell shows her clad in a figure-hugging, beaded red cut-out dress, with a flower pinned to her blonde curly hair that cascades down her back. In essence, she’s all about gilded glamour and jaw-dropping beauty. Carrero captured the hearts of many when she won Miss Gay Maryland America in 1999, the preliminary competition to Miss Gay America. She was also crowned Miss Hippo in 1998.


Best Drag Show (tie): Desiree Dik’s: Oddball AND Freddie’s Follies

Desiree Dik’s ‘Oddball.’ (Photo by @gratuity_included)

While some drag queens prance around the stage in sky-high stilettos while lip-syncing to popular ‘80s tunes by Diana Ross and Whitney Houston, Desiree Dik’s Oddball treated guests to blood, comedy, grossness, queer art, and in their own words “just plain odd fun!” This summer event, hosted by restaurant Slash Run, featured D.C.’s finest performers including Bratworst, Mix N Match and Dvita FauxFemme. 

Freddie’s Follies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Freddie’s Follies also provided guests with weekly drag entertainment from D.C.’s top drag queens. After riveting shows of back-breaking dancing and comedy, guests are then welcomed to the center stage to showcase their karaoke-singing skills. For the ultimate drag fan, Freddie’s Follies is where one should be on a Saturday.


Best Museum: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum. (Photo courtesy SAAM)

8th and G Streets, N.W.

Americanart.si.edu

Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art

Housed in the old Patent Office Building since 1968, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) boasts a sprawling permanent collection of American works from the colonial period to today including photography, modern folk and self-taught art, African-American art, Latino art, and video games as well as a changing roster of featured exhibitions. 

What’s more, SAAM shares the historic building with the equally wonderful National Portrait Gallery. Both museums have access to the Kogod Courtyard, a soaring, covered space where museumgoers can grab lunch from the Courtyard Café or simply work on their laptops. The quiet is occasionally interrupted by welcomed scheduled events and live entertainment.  


Best Theater: GALA Hispanic Theatre

Migguel Anggelo performs at GALA Theatre. (Photo by Ryan Muir)

3333 14th St., N.W.

Galatheatre.org

Editor’s Choice: Studio Theatre

Helmed by its dynamic co-founders, husband and wife team Hugo Medrano and Rebecca Reed Medrano, GALA Hispanic Theatre has been promoting and sharing Latino arts and cultures with a diverse audience since 1976. Located in the former balcony space of the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, GALA creates work that speaks to communities today drawing from both exciting new works and the classic Spanish canon. 

The company also strives to serve the community by providing free education programs for multicultural youth, bringing bilingual theater to children, and making theater in Spanish accessible to thousands of youths from low-income families yearly.


Best Theater Production: “There’s Always the Hudson” 

Paola Lázaro and Justin Weaks in ‘There’s Always the Hudson.’ (Photo by Teresa Castracane; courtesy Woolly Mammoth)

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

641 D St., N.W.

Woollymammoth.net

Editor’s Choice: “Six,” National Theatre

In May and June, Woolly Mammoth Theatre presented a compelling production of “There’s Always the Hudson,” playwright/actor Paola Lázaro’s audacious and unapologetically healing new work in which actors didn’t cower and audiences were compelled to experience a little discomfort along with the entertainment.

Lázaro and out actor Justin Weaks played best friends Lola and T (short for Toussaint) who met in a sexual abuse survivors support group three years previously. At some point, the pair made a pact that if things failed to improve, they’d kill themselves. When Lola says today’s the day to die, they agree to first settle scores with some of those who’ve hurt them. The night is about them taking New York City by storm and confronting their wounds head-on.

In an interview with the Blade, Weaks wisely commented, “Healing can be messy.” 


Best Live Music in DC: 9:30 Club

9:30 Club (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

815 V St., N.W. 

930.com

Runner-Up: The Anthem

Yes, D.C.’s legendary 9:30 club has been selected Best Live Music in D.C. once again. 

No surprise there. In recent years it’s been named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow.

Everyone in the area who sees live music has multiple memories of the place. Some of us remember seeing the Waitresses sing in the club’s old F Street, N.W. location. (That night what seemed a small invasion of rats scared audience members witless.)

Since opening in 1980, the club has hosted everyone from the Psychedelic Furs to the B52s to Tony Bennett. Originally billed as the “first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years,” a concept that’s worked at the club’s original location in a then-blighted part of town, and since 1996 at its bigger, arguably better and vermin-free space on V Street.


Best Live Music Outside-the-District: Wolf Trap

Boy George and the Culture Club perform at Wolf Trap. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1645 Trap Road 

Vienna, Va.

wolftrap.org 

Editor’s Choice: The Fillmore Silver Spring

Set on 117 verdant acres of national park land near Vienna, Va., Wolf Trap’s three performance venues offer something for everyone: the cavernous Filene Center hosts the summer music festival; the Barns at Wolf Trap, provide a more intimate year-round experience; and the Children’s Theatre in the Woods is ideal for kids in nicer weather. 

Wolf Trap’s mission is to present and create excellent and innovative performing arts programs for the enrichment, education, and enjoyment of diverse audiences and participants. Wolf Trap reliably provides top-notch musical talent in a gracious setting. 


Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington perform ‘Unbreakable’ at Lincoln Theatre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

gmcw.org 

Editor’s Choice: Impulse Group DC

A veritable D.C. institution, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) is beloved by its members and audiences alike. The chorus gives members an opportunity to gloriously express a love of music while honing their talents, as well as do good works for the LGBTQ community. It’s also a place where longtime friendships and romances are forged.

On Oct. 22, GMCW presents the much-anticipated “Judy,” a cabaret celebrating the music of – who else? –  Judy Garland. Fourteen select soloists from the Chorus will share stories as they sing their favorite Judy tunes. Songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “Happy Days are Here Again.”  


Best LGBTQ Event: Pride Run 5K

Pride Run 5K (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

dcfrontrunners.org

Editor’s Choice: Nationals Night Out

Looking for a healthful, fat-free way to kick off the Pride season? Why not try the DC Front Runners Pride Run 5K? Listed as an official event of Pride, the race takes place on Friday of Pride weekend, starting and ending at historic Congressional Cemetery not far from the grave of Air Force tech Sgt. Leonard Matlovich. He’s the LGBTQ hero who came out to his commanding officer in the 1970s, and when he was discharged, famously sued for reinstatement. Proceeds from the race help to raise money for worthy LGBTQ causes like SMYAL and the Blade Foundation. 

The run is followed by a Finish Line Party, featuring beer for race participants, a live DJ, entertainment, and awards for the race’s top performers.


Best Regional Pride: Annapolis Pride

Annapolis Pride (Photo by Jaime Thompson/Fleur de Lis Photography)

Annapolispride.org

Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Pride

Save the date – the third Annapolis Pride Parade and Festival is slated for June 3, 2023. 

With long established Pride events in Baltimore and D.C., you might not think Annapolis needed one of its own. But a small group of LGBTQ folks thought otherwise. They asked, why not bring Pride to Maryland’s historic capital so charmingly situated on the Chesapeake?

So, the group of spirited locals moved ahead and Annapolis Pride was founded in the spring of 2018. Initially unsure how their endeavor would be received, the all-volunteer group was thrilled to see the enthusiastic support from the LGBTQ and ally communities, resulting in a well-attended parade down West Street feeding into the People’s Park where attendees found camaraderie, vendors, entertainment, fun. And now it’s already become a tradition. 


COMMUNITY

Most Committed Activist: Rayceen Pendarvis

Rayceen Pendarvis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Preston Mitchum

As a longtime event moderator, emcee, entertainer, and LGBTQ rights advocate, Rayceen Pendarvis became a well-known and admired figure in D.C.’s LGBTQ community as host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a live monthly variety program that had a 10-year run from 2012 through 2121.

In addition to live music and other performances, segments of the show included panel discussions, interviews on LGBTQ related topics, comedy, and games.

Pendarvis has also served as an elected D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and hosted multiple fundraisers, Pride celebrations, arts festivals, talent showcases, fashion shows, and other events, including the Reel Affirmations International LGBTQ Film Festival in D.C.

In June of 2021, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution recognizing Pendarvis’ accomplishments as a community leader and advocate for causes that have made D.C. a better city. That same year, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an official mayoral proclamation declaring Sept. 1 as a day to recognize the contributions of Pendarvis and the long-running “The Ask Rayceen Show.”


Best D.C. Public Official: Mayor Muriel Bowser

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: D.C. Council member Robert White

Since serving as a member of the D.C. Council and since the time she won election as mayor in 2014, Muriel Bowser has emerged as one of the strongest supporters of the LGBTQ community among all the city’s previous mayors, according to many of her LGBTQ supporters.

With the city having adopted legislation safeguarding LGBTQ people from discrimination before she became mayor, activists have praised Bowser for making sure her administration enforces the anti-discrimination laws and policies to protect LGBTQ people and other minorities.

LGBTQ people have joined others in the city in praising Bowser for her role in leading the city through the COVID pandemic

During more pleasant times, Bowser has appeared at many LGBTQ events during her tenure as mayor, including Pride events. In a development that may have been a first for a D.C. mayor, Bowser arranged for her Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become the lead organizer of one of the city’s largest LGBTQ events, the 17th Street drag queen High Heel Race that takes place each year in October at Halloween time. The mayor has appeared in person on a stage to give the official signal to start the race, for which several thousand people turn out each year to watch.


Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health

Whitman-Walker Health (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1545 14th St., N.W.

Runner-up: Robert McKernan, Big Gay Smiles

Since its founding as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic in 1973, Whitman-Walker Health has been providing comprehensive healthcare services for the LGBTQ community in the D.C. area through numerous public health crises, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the current COVID-19 and monkeypox pandemics.

A statement on its website explains why members of the LGBTQ community consider Whitman-Walker a highly regarded institution in the community.

“Through multiple locations throughout D.C., we provide stigma-free care to anyone who walks through our doors,” the statement says. “We are proud and honored to be a place where the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, as well as those living with or affected by HIV feel supported, welcomed and respected.”

In addition to medical services, Whitman-Walker provides dental and behavioral care as well as legal services at its three locations and at a soon to opened new facility at the redeveloping St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Campus in Southeast D.C.


Best House of Worship: Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

474 Ridge St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church

The Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., known as MCC-DC, was founded in 1970 and officially chartered the following year by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a national federation of LGBTQ supportive Christian churches founded by the Rev. Troy Perry of Los Angeles.

MCC-DC grew steadily in its first decade and continued to grow in the 1980s as it responded to the AIDS epidemic. It partnered with the then Whitman-Walker Clinic, the National Institutes of Health, MCC Baltimore, and Georgetown University Hospital to host one of the first AIDS forums in the nation in 1982.

The forum was held at the First Congregational Church in downtown D.C., where MCC-DC held its worship services for nine years before it purchased its first ministry center at 415 M St., N.W. and a short time later built its current church and ministry center at 474 Ridge St., N.W., which opened its doors in December 1992.

In addition to its many diverse ministries, Bible study classes, and its highly regarded church choir, MCC-DC has opened its new church to LGBTQ supportive events, including forums where candidates running for local public office have appeared before packed audiences.


Best Local Day Trip: Easton

Easton, Md. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s Choice: Annapolis

If you’ve driven past Easton 1,000 times on your way to Rehoboth or other spots on Delmarva and never stopped, then you’re missing out. Next time you need a convenient getaway close to D.C., plan a trip to Easton, Md., with its quaint B&Bs, shops, galleries, and a plethora of high-end restaurants. Stay at the gay-owned Hummingbird Inn (14 N. Aurora St.) with its sumptuous breakfast feast. Shop for unique, hard-to-find books at Vintage Books & Fine Art (4 N. Washington St., vintagebooksmd.com); artwork at Studio B Art Gallery (studiobartgallery.com); or clothing at Marc Randall boutique (3 E. Dover St., marc-randall.com). Dining options are plentiful; among the best are Scossa (8 N. Washington St.), owned by Chef Giancarlo Tondin who was born in Italy and began his career at Harry’s Bar in Venice; Out of the Fire (22 Goldsborough St.), a farm-to-table bistro; and The Wardroom (108 N. Washington St., thewardroom.com). 


Best Hotel: Eaton DC

Wild Days at Eaton DC (Photo courtesy of Eaton)

1201 K St., N.W. 

Eatonworkshop.com 

Editor’s Choice: The Line D.C.

Eaton DC is more than a place to sleep on K Street. The boutique hotel that fancies itself a cultural hub has proven to be just that. 

Eaton DC, Eaton Workshop’s flagship hotel in downtown D.C., offers onsite wellness treatments like yoga and meditation gatherings, as well as a multi-instrumental sound bath experience every Thursday night. The hotel is also currently hosting “The Gender Within,” an exploration of gender identity and orientation featuring works by 20+ local LGBTQ+ artists and co-curated by the Blade and Dupont Underground. 

With its black brick edifice with a mid-century inspired interior, Eaton DC offers a cool look to accompany its innovative concept, which it describes as providing a place “for kindred spirits, locals, and travelers alike, to convene, collaborate, and create. Hospitality is a means for community, creativity, and culture.”


Best Local Businessperson: Bryan Van Den Oever 

Bryan Van Den Oever (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Red Bear Brewing Co.

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer

Runner-up: Ed Bailey, Trade & Number Nine

In February, Bryan Van Den Oever told the Blade that the pandemic hit the service industry hard but that “the brewery is my dream.” A Seattle native, Van Den Oever opened Red Bear in 2019 with two friends, Simon Bee and Cameron Raspet. The trio told the Blade at the time that they wanted to turn D.C.’s LGBTQ community onto beer, offering creative flavors and a playful environment.

“The gays are not exclusively about spirits,” Van Den Oever says. “In fact, I think they aren’t exclusive to anything.”

Red Bear and its owners are host to dozens of events each month, including trivia, comedy, and drag events. The show offerings include the wildly popular “Slay Them Drag Competition” hosted once a month from August to January with a grand prize of $500. 

Throughout the pandemic, Van Den Oever said the brewery continued to host virtual events to support the city’s queer performers. 

“We’re so grateful for the love and solidarity,” he said of the community support during the pandemic. 


Best Clergy (tie): Fr. Thomas Wieczorek and Rev. Ashley Goff

From left, Fr. Thomas Wieczorek and Rev. Ashley Goff (Photos courtesy of the subjects)

stmarysnccna.com/our-clergy

ashley-goff.com/

Father Thomas Wieczorek moved to D.C. from Ionia, Mich., in 2005 and has since held positions including newspaper reporter, police officer, fire chief, director of public safety, and city manager. He is now an owner and partner of a consulting firm that assists cities and counties with public safety issues. In addition to serving as a clergymember at St. Mary’s National Catholic Church, Wieczorek has also been a vice chairperson of Capital Pride and established the Barry Smythers Fund in memory of his partner who died in 2016. The fund targets suicide prevention and mental health issues.

Reverend Ashley Goff is the pastor at the Arlington Presbyterian Church. According to her website, she graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City where she developed her passion for liturgy. Goff is also a liturgy writer, penning multiple pieces to direct religious services.

“I write to hear myself. I write to build my own resiliency and witness to the Ways of God. I write to keep my voice from being reluctant to social change,” Goff wrote on her website.


Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics

Washington Mystics (Photo courtesy of the Mystics)

1100 Oak Drive, S.E.

mystics.wnba.com/ 

Editor’s Choice: Washington Nationals

The Washington Mystics is D.C.’s women’s basketball team and it competes in the Women’s National Basketball Association as a member club of the league’s eastern conference. Led by general manager and head coach Mike Thibault, assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti and associate coach Eric Thibault, this team shows that D.C.’s women’s basketball teams are strong national contenders within the sport. The team is currently third in the conference with 22 wins and 14 losses.

The team recently announced a string of LGBTQ history month events and partnerships with The Rainbow History Project and As You Are Bar.


Best Amateur Sports League: DC Gay Flag Football

D.C. Gay Flag Football League (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

dcgffl.org

Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Kickball

The DC Gay Flag Football League began in the mid-90s and then grew over the years to its current lineup of 20 teams with approximately 270 players from around the region. The league hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach and also funds five travel teams to compete in tournaments around the country. Earlier this year, the league sent teams to the national Pride Bowl in Chicago where one team—the DC Commanders—went on to win their championship game against the Austin Capitals.

Nikki Kasparek founded the league’s first women’s travel team, the DC Senators, in 2014 and told the Blade she is very excited about the growth of the league. 

“I am incredibly competitive and the DCGFFL leagues and travel tournaments allow me to scratch that itch,” Kasparek says. “I am going to enjoy all of it – the friendships, the seasons, the tournaments, the moments – until I can’t flex that muscle anymore.”


Best Real Estate Agent: Justin Noble 

Justin Noble (Photo by Meg Shupe)

TTR Sotheby’s

1515 14th St., N.W.

ttrsir.com/eng 

Runner-up: Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty

Justin Noble is a real estate agent with TTR Sotheby’s and has nearly a decade of experience in the field. According to the company’s website, Noble was born into a real estate centric family and spent much of his childhood reading architecture and design magazines. Noble has also been a contributor to the Blade for the past year, writing real estate columns such as “Alternative ways to deal with high interest rates” and “Tips for preparing your home for fall.”

“If you have read my previous columns (I hope you have) then you will know I am a huge fan of sass and more importantly, controlling your controllables!” Noble wrote in one column. 


Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass

Jenn Smira Team (Photo courtesy Smira Team)

1313 14th St., N.W.

jennsmira.com

Runner-up: Asgari Moore Group, Compass

The Jenn Smira team is a Compass real estate team offering a full suite of services, including marketing, staging, negotiations, and listings management. The team is composed of 17 Realtors and three supporting staff members. Jenn Smira—founder of the team—was previously on the board of DC Women In Solidarity for Empowerment, a nonprofit that raises money for local organizations serving women and children. 

The group also gives back to the D.C. community through direct contributions to local elementary schools and nonprofit organizations focused on assisting homeless individuals. In 2021, one of the group’s Realtors Elvin Merlo raised more than $70,000 for cancer research through Haymakers for Hope. 


Best Lawyer: Lawrence Jacobs

Lawrence Jacobs (Photo courtesy of Jacobs)

mcmillanmetro.com

Runner-Up: Amy Nelson

Lawrence Jacobs is with McMillan Metro, P.C. and practices in multiple areas, including estate planning for same-sex couples. 

“I’ve been the trusted adviser to more than 800 same-sex couples looking to protect their partners or spouses and their families with documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, partnership agreements and pre-nuptial agreements,” he says in a statement on his site.


Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness

VIDA Fitness (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1517 15th St., N.W.

vidafitness.com

Editor’s Choice: Barry’s Bootcamp

This is VIDA’s fourth consecutive win in this category and 11th win in the category overall. The company has six locations U Street (1612 U St., N.W.), Logan Circle (1517 15th St., N.W.), The Yards (1212 4th St. S.E. #170), Ballston (4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), Gallery Place (601 F St., N.W.) and City Vista (445 K St., N.W.). The chain is gay-owned by David Von Storch and the locations frequently hold LGBTQ-centered events, such as the Pride Pool Party. 

Membership packages run between $119-179 per month and include access to all locations, virtual classes, indoor and outdoor classes, discounts at Aura Spa and Bang Salon and more. 


Best Alternative Transportation: Alto

Alto (Photo courtesy of Alto)

ridealto.com

Runner-Up: Capital Bikeshare

Billed as the world’s first employee driver rideshare, Alto offers an elevated experience with luxury vehicles, professional drivers, and music controlled by the passenger. 


Best Pet Business or Veterinarian: District Dogs

District Dogs (Photo courtesy District Dogs)

2323 Sherman Ave., N.W.

districtdogs.com

Editor’s Choice: City Dogs

District Dogs started as a dog walking business in 2014 by owner Jacob Hensley and has since grown into one of the best pet care businesses in the district with four full-care facilities and one training facility. Another facility at National Landing in Virginia will open in 2023 in Amazon’s HQ2 development. District Dogs offers daycare, overnight boarding, grooming, and training classes. 

The company also hosts a number of community events such as bootcamps, pride parties and happy hours. 


Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14

Logan 14 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1314 14th St., N.W.

Logan14salonspa.com 

Editor’s Choice: The Burrow

This is Aveda’s seventh consecutive win in this category and according to the company, about 75 percent of their clientele are LGBTQ. 

The salon offers cuts, coloring, extensions, hair styling, and an array of spa options including massages, botox, and laser hair removal. 

General Manager Katie Rose told the Blade last year that the salon has almost fully bounced back from the pandemic but that COVID-19 has forever changed the business. 

“We service our guests and make people look and feel better about themselves,” she said. 


Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit

1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (second floor)

Runner-Up: Lotus Blooms


Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax

BMW of Fairfax (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

8427 Lee Highway

Fairfax, Va.

bmwoffairfax.com

Runner-Up: DARCARS


Best Local Website/Blog: District Fray Magazine

districtfray.com.

Editor’s Choice: DCist

District Fray is a monthly print and digital magazine that describes itself as “a vibrant source of lifestyle and entertainment news to Washingtonians.” 

“The magazine has translated media, social sports, and events to make DC Fray’s ‘Make Fun Possible’ mantra into a tangible ethos that locals can rely on to stay in the know about what to do in and around the city through the lens of inclusive, eclectic and objective content,” District Fray says on its website. ‘District Fray Magazine’s’ elevated editorial allows readers to experience the city through the voices of its talented writers and local interviewees.”

“Our goal is to highlight the voices in the District who are keeping their fingers on the pulse and champion the diverse communities who make our city vibrant and unique,” said District Fray Editor-in-Chief Monica Alford. “We are proud to support D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community through the lens of inclusive, eclectic and objective content.”

District Media is on social media at @districtfray. 


Best Local TV/Radio Personality: Evan Koslof, WUSA9

Evan Koslof (Photo by Laura Metzler)

Runner-up: Chuck Bell, NBC4

Evan Koslof has been a reporter with WUSA 9 since 2016.

His bio notes an interview with a 10-year-old nonbinary child from Bowie, Md., and the Nationals 2019 World Series victory are among the many stories he has covered. Koslof, who has won six Emmy Awards, also notes he met his husband, Realtor Justin Noble, at the beach in Delaware in 2015. 

“Being a reporter in the nation’s capital is a dream come true,” Koslof said. “As a reporter, I’ve covered elections, inaugurations and even insurrections. I’ve gone live from dozens of protests and rallies. I’ve traveled to hurricanes and mass shootings, and I’ve met people at their lowest and their highest.” 

“And the older I get, the more I’ve come to learn that the ‘best’ reporters are those who share their authentic selves,” added Koslof. “I’m a proud gay man, who’s been married to my best friend since 2019 (Justin Noble — Best Realtor.) I hope that my openness can inspire future generations to be their true selves as well.”


Best Tattoo Parlor: Dapper Dog Tattoo

Dapper Dog Tattoo (Photo courtesy Dapper Dog Tattoo)

75 Maryland Ave.

Annapolis, Md. 

Editor’s Choice: Tattoo Paradise


Best Non-Profit powered by PEPCO: Capital Pride

The Capital Pride Alliance marches in the Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s Choice: SMYAL

The Capital Pride Alliance offers a variety of programs and events that celebrate the LGBTQ community in the DMV throughout the year. The ‘reUNITED’ Capital Pride Parade brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of D.C. for the first time in two years.

“We thank the community for its long-term support, especially over the last few years as we had to navigate the constraints imposed by the pandemic,” said the Capital Pride Alliance. “Being unable to hold large gatherings for two years was a challenge that required us to create new and unique ways to provide platforms to highlight the community’s visibility until we were able to bring back a full-scale Pride celebration this past June. We appreciate everyone’s willingness to reUnite to show that we still have Pride.” 


Best Home Furnishings: Miss Pixie’s

Miss Pixie’s (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1626 14th St., N.W.

misspixies.com

Editor’s Choice: Hamilton’s Sofa Gallery

This 14th Street institution once again makes this year’s list. 


Best Private School: Barrie School

(Photo courtesy of Barrie School)

13500 Layhill Rd.

Silver Spring, Md.

barrie.org

Editor’s Choice: Maret School


REHOBOTH BEACH

Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Magnolia Applebottom

Magnolia Applebottom (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Runner-Up: Kristina Kelly

Magnolia Applebottom is a repeat winner in this category and it’s easy to understand why: She’s simply everywhere, from Rehoboth to Milton to Salisbury performing for packed crowds at happy hours, Pride events, and charity functions. In addition to her towering stature, entertaining standup, and fabulous fashion sense, Magnolia sings live. No visit to Rehoboth is complete without a stop at her show at Diego’s. 


Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot

Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

ppgrill.com

Editor’s Choice: Aqua

Rehoboth suffers from a relative dearth of outdoor dining spots, something the locals have complained about for years. One bright spot remains the Purple Parrot Biergarten on Wilmington Avenue (you can also access it from the main entrance to the Parrot on Rehoboth Avenue). The food is consistently good with regular specials like prime rib nights and German-themed dinners. But the best part of eating here is arguably the festive atmosphere complete with upbeat music, the friendliest bartenders in town, and a lush, green roof over the bar. Say hi to Chandler, who has been voted Best Rehoboth Bartender multiple times, and to the current titleholder, first-time winner Georgiy Yanchenko.


Best Rehoboth Bartender: Georgiy Yanchenko, Purple Parrot

Georgiy Yanchenko (Photo courtesy of Yanchenko)

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

ppgrill.com

Runner-Up: Evelyn Orta “Fluffy,” Freddie’s

Everyone in town knows Georgiy, the friendly, outgoing face behind the bar at the Purple Parrot Biergarten. He’s a first-time nominee and winner in this category. No matter how crazy busy the bar gets on a summer holiday weekend, Georgiy handles it all with a smile and skilled service. This is one of the most competitive categories, so hats off to Georgiy as this is not an easy award to win.


Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Drag Brunch at the Pines

(Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

56 Baltimore Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

thepinesrb.com

Editor’s Choice: Magnolia Applebottom at Diego’s

Local legends Mona Lotts and Kristina Kelly headline the uproarious drag brunch at the Pines on Sundays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. As the website warns: “Mature comedy not for the faint at heart.” Bear that in mind as things get rather racy early in the day. Tickets are $15 and there’s a delicious brunch buffet offered at $25.  


Best Rehoboth Coffeeshop: The Coffee Mill

The Coffee Mill (Photo courtesy of the Coffee Mill)

127 Rehoboth Ave B

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

coffeemillrehoboth.com

Editor’s Choice: Rise Up

The gay-owned Coffee Mill is a go-to spot for many Rehoboth locals, offering a staggering array of freshly ground coffees along with pastries and other breakfast treats. The outdoor patio becomes quite the scene in summer and don’t forget to check out owner Mel’s photography on display inside. 


Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Blue Moon

Blue Moon (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

35 Baltimore Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del. 

bluemoonrehoboth.com

Editor’s Choice: The Pines

The venerable Blue Moon may not be the crowded bar of old, but it lives on with a top-notch fine dining restaurant on one side of the building and a cabaret/event space on the other that features rotating performers. The restaurant has won this award so many times that we’ve lost count. It’s a cozy spot, perfect for a romantic dinner, fun night out with friends, or Sunday brunch. The beloved Tasting Tuesday offers a prix fixe menu featuring three courses each with wine for just $45. 


Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson

Lee Ann Wilkinson (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

16698 Kings Hwy A.

Lewes, Del.

leeanngroup.com

Runner-Up: Chris Beagle

This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fifth 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. She even finds time to contribute insights on the local market to the Blade. 


Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub

Joe and Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber at Diego’s. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

37298 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Diegosbarnightclub.com

Editor’s Choice: Freddie’s Beach Bar

Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber continue to draw crowds for their exuberant happy hour specials, drag entertainment, and late night dance parties. The venue has a long history of hosting Rehoboth’s only real dance parties and it’s gratifying to see the tradition continue post-pandemic. This is Diego’s second consecutive win in this category.

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Netflix resurrects Dahmer, triggering criticism

Milwaukee gay activist says series re-traumatizes victims’ families

Published

on

Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994.

A 10-episode series on gay serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer released by Netflix on Sept. 21 captures in chilling detail Dahmer’s 13-year murder spree that took place mostly in Milwaukee between 1978 and 1991 in which 17 young mostly gay men, 11 of whom were Black, lost their lives.

The dramatized series, with actor Evan Peters playing the lead role of Dahmer, shows how Dahmer met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars, lured them to his apartment by promising to pay them to pose for nude photographs, and drugged and strangled them to death before mutilating and sometimes cannibalizing their bodies.

The series, called “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has set a record for being the most watched first week release of any Netflix streaming series, according to media reports.

But one viewer who said he stopped watching the series after the first two episodes is longtime Milwaukee gay activist Scott Gunkel, who worked as a bartender at one of the gay bars where Dahmer met at least two of the young men he murdered.

Gunkel, 62, told the Blade he and others of his generation who lived through the trauma of the Dahmer murder spree view the Netflix series as yet another movie rehashing a troubling and painful occurrence.

“It really won’t, I don’t think, aid anybody,” he said. “I don’t think the victims’ families and friends will want to watch and hear this. So, this is just re-victimizing the people that went through this personally.”

Added Gunkel, “I knew a couple of the people he killed – patrons of the bar. They weren’t close friends. I just happened to know that they came to my bar, and I served them drinks.”

“There has been a big effort to have people boycott Netflix over this,” Gunkel said. “And I’m like, OK, it is a macabre story. I don’t know if you need to go quite that far with a boycott. Just don’t watch it,” he said.

Netflix has said the series is respectful to the victims and their families and its aim is to tell the story of how and why Dahmer became one of America’s most notorious serial murderers “as authentically as we could,” according to a statement by Peters in a promotional video posted on Twitter.

Gunkel and others familiar with the Dahmer case point out that few if anyone in Milwaukee or elsewhere knew a serial killer was on the loose in their community until the time of Dahmer’s arrest on July 22, 1991, after his 18th potential victim escaped and contacted police.

Police and prosecutors at that time revealed the discovery of body parts and other evidence found in Dahmer’s apartment, including multiple photos that Dahmer had taken of the corpses and body parts of his victims. Dahmer a short time later confessed to having committed 17 murders, the first in Ohio and the others in Wisconsin, with most taking place in Milwaukee where he lived. He provided prosecutors with the full gruesome details of how he carried out those murders.

Media reports show Dahmer pleaded guilty to 15 of the 17 murders on grounds of insanity, which resulted in a two-week trial to determine whether he was legally sane when he committed the murders. In February 1992, the jury found him sane in each of the murders. A judge then sentenced him to 15 consecutive sentences to life in prison.

Two years later, at the age of 34, Dahmer was beaten to death at Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institution by an inmate who told authorities that God told him to kill Dahmer. 

Gunkel said some in the Milwaukee gay community and the African-American community reached out to each other when the list of Dahmer’s victims released by police shortly after his arrest showed most were Black gay men.

Gunkel said he remembers the news reports of several Black women who lived near the apartment building in the mostly Black neighborhood saying they tried to alert police to what they suspected was criminal activity by Dahmer.

One of the reports that triggered widespread criticism of how the police allegedly mishandled the Dahmer case involved a Black woman who called police when she saw someone she described as an Asian boy standing outside the apartment building where Dahmer lived naked and bleeding with just a towel wrapped around him.  

It later became known that the person the woman saw was Konerak Sinthasomphone, a 14-year-old Laotian immigrant, who Dahmer met on the street, lured to his apartment, and drugged. Reports show the youth escaped from the apartment after Dahmer left to go to a store to replenish his own supply of liquor.

When Dahmer returned, he saw police talking to Konerak and the woman outside the apartment building and quickly told one of the officers that the youth was 19 years old and was in a gay relationship with him and the two had a lover’s quarrel.

To the amazement of members of the LGBTQ and African-American communities, who later learned of this development, the police allowed Dahmer to take the youth back to his apartment. One of the officers reportedly made a homophobic remark about his interaction with Dahmer and the youth in a recorded comment to a police dispatcher. Dahmer later killed Konerak, police reports show.

Community activists, including Gunkel, who at the time was president of the Milwaukee gay rights group Lambda Rights Network, said the police disregard for the concern raised by the Black woman, who believed Konerak was in danger, was an example of how racial bias on the part of at least some in the Milwaukee police department may have enabled Dahmer to continue his killing spree.

In the weeks following sometimes sensational media reports and statements by police about Dahmer’s role as a confessed gay mass murderer, LGBTQ activists in Milwaukee reported a sharp rise in anti-gay harassment and threats, including harassment targeting gay bar patrons.

“Although gay people were among Dahmer’s victims, biased statements on the part of the police and some media have linked his murderous behavior to all gay and lesbian people,” the then National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement.

An August 1991 story in the Washington Blade reports that Gunkel expressed strong concern that a police investigator used the term “homosexual overkill” to describe Dahmer’s action. Gunkel and other activists also pointed to police statements that Dahmer confessed to having engaged in sex with some of his victims and most of the victims were Black. But the police and media reports at the time did not also report that nearly all the victims were also gay.

Rather than being seen as victims, Gunkel said, gays were being portrayed as predators through a “prism” of longtime stereotypes. “We look at this as a hate crime,” said Gunkel in his 1991 comment reported in the Blade. “His patronizing of gay bars shows he was stalking gays. The bars were his feeding grounds.”

Gunkel told the Blade in a phone interview last week, 31 years after Dahmer’s arrest and the revelations of the scope of his murder spree, gay bar patrons at the time the killings were taking place did not equate the disappearance of bar patrons with anything particularly unusual.

He noted that at the time, the AIDS epidemic was still going strong and he and others at the bars sometimes thought a regular customer who suddenly stopped coming to the bar may have gotten sick.

“So, a lot of people stopped going out when they started getting sick,” he said, “And other people would get into relationships and stop going out,” Gunkel told the Blade. “And when they didn’t show up people just kind of blew it off as somebody who’s not around anymore.”

According to Gunkel, the sensational revelations of Dahmer’s killing spree and the fact that he met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars prompted many in the LGBTQ community to stop going to bars and gay meeting places. But he said that didn’t last very long.

Gunkel said that like others who lived through what he calls the macabre time that Dahmer’s actions became known, the Netflix series brought back his own memories of interacting with Dahmer at Club 219, the Milwaukee gay bar where he worked as a bartender.

“The few times that I saw him at the bar I refused to serve him because he was drunk,” Gunkel said. “And I thought, you know, I’m not going to serve this person. He’s already pretty smashed.”

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