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Husband’s tragic death leaves D.C. man to raise 4 young children alone

Pair became first gay couple in U.S. to father two sets of twins via surrogacy

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John O'Mahony, gay news, Washington Blade
John O’Mahony is raising two sets of young twins alone after the passing of his husband Yaroslav Koporulin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. resident John O’Mahony says he and his husband and life partner of 25 years Yaroslav Koporulin remained hopeful in January of 2019 when Koporulin was diagnosed with lung cancer on the same day their twin sons were born, making them the first known gay couple in the U.S. to have two sets of twins through surrogacy.

The couple’s two daughters, Violet and Claire, were born in May 2016, a little less than three years before the birth of their twin sons, Evan and Damian.

John says he’s thankful that Yaroslav, a native of Russia and an acclaimed artist and graphic designer who became a U.S. citizen in 2016, had a chance to help raise the four kids and place his loving personality on them up until just four weeks ago, when Yaroslav died on Oct. 24 of complications associated with lung cancer at the age of 48.

Yaroslav’s sudden passing has created both an emotional and financial struggle for John, according to a close friend of the couple who posted a GoFundMe page inviting friends and supporters in the community to provide some help.

“Your kindness and generosity will help John to deal with the funeral and a lot of other expenses coming his way during this unbearable time of loss and grieving for his beloved husband of almost 25 years,” said Olga Deviatkova, the friend who posted the GoFundMe page. “Please donate to John, Violet, Claire, Evan and Damian.”

On Friday, Oct. 23, John, who’s 52, says his mother took Yaroslav to Georgetown University Hospital’s emergency room with a fever and difficulty breathing. John says he arrived at the hospital about an hour later, and doctors soon informed him and his mother that Yaroslav appeared to have pneumonia.

He had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for small cell lung cancer, which is a form of lung cancer known to spread to other parts of the body, for over a year, according to John. The harsh chemo treatment had weakened his immune system, making him susceptible to infection.

Later that night, after John returned home thinking the pneumonia would be successfully treated and Yaroslav would come home in a few days, John says he received a call from one of the doctors at the hospital saying Yaroslav had developed a sepsis blood infection in addition to the pneumonia.

“So they called me saying they think he might pass,” John recalls being told. “I’m like, what?”

To make matters worse, John says he was informed that he could not come back that night to visit Yaroslav at the hospital’s intensive care unit where his husband was being treated due to strict COVID-19 restrictions even though Yaroslav had tested negative for COVID through two separate tests. He said he was told he would have to wait until later the next day to be able to come in for a visit.

“I had to wait until 3 p.m. the next day to see him,” John says. “He went in on Friday, Oct. 23 at about 7 p.m. They called me at 7 a.m. on Saturday to say he had passed,” John says. “So that was the hardest part. There was kind of no closure with somebody that I’ve been with for 25 years or more.”

Yaroslav Koporulin and John O’Mahony had two sets of twins — daughters Violet and Claire, and sons Evan and Damian. (Photo courtesy of O’Mahony)

John told the Blade in an interview on Nov. 9 that talking about his life with Yaroslav and the many things they did together as well as being with his kids helps to ease his struggle in coping with the loss of his husband.

“Just say that I loved him very much and I’m going to miss him more than anything,” he says. “I wish he would have been around longer. But the only way my life is bearable is because I have the kids with me and part of them are him,” John says. “So I feel as though he is kind of here too.”

John explains that he and Yaroslav retained the services of two fertility agencies to arrange for them to become the biological fathers of two sets of twins through in vitro fertilization. The process involved obtaining separate eggs from a female donor and fertilizing one of them from John’s sperm and the other from Yaroslav’s sperm through a laboratory in vitro fertilization process.

The fertilized eggs, which became separate embryos, were then implanted into a female surrogate who was compensated for becoming pregnant and delivering the babies. According to John, although the implantation of an embryo into a surrogate often does not “take,” it did take in both cases for them resulting in the birth of their two sets of twins.

Columbia Fertility Associates was especially helpful and supportive of their effort to bear their kids through surrogacy, John told the Blade. “They’ve been so good to us and so good to the gay community,” he said.

A couple that ‘clicked’ together

John O’Mahony and Yaroslav Koporulin

John says he and Yaroslav met in 1995 in D.C. at the Dupont Circle gay bar The Fireplace, where John was working as a bartender. Yaroslav, a resident of Moscow, was visiting the U.S. in an artists’ exchange program for just a few weeks and was in D.C. and set to visit Philadelphia and New York before returning to Moscow.

John, who has a bachelor’s degree in international relations, says he was wearing a Russian sailor’s hat while serving drinks at The Fireplace when Yaroslav approached him and asked why he was wearing that hat.

“And I said it’s kind of a cool hat. It’s a Russian navy hat. And he said well I’m from Russia,” John recalls. “And we just started talking. I was just getting off work and we just clicked and kept in contact for the next year,” John says.

During that year John says he traveled to Moscow to visit Yaroslav a few times and Yaroslav came back to D.C. to see John a couple of times. About a year after the two met and had become a couple separated by an ocean and a continent John says he decided to “drop everything” in D.C. and move to Russia to live with Yaroslav in Yaroslav’s Moscow apartment in late 1996.

A short time after his move to Moscow John says he applied for and quickly got a job at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. John says that under the tenure of then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the atmosphere for gay people at least in Moscow was generally open and supportive. He says he and Yaroslav walked holding hands through the streets of Moscow without a problem.

On one of his visits to Moscow he thinks was in 1995 prior to moving there he and Yaroslav exchanged vows that the two considered to be equivalent to a marriage in Pushkinskaya Square, a park-like plaza in downtown Moscow, John told the Blade.

“We used strands of grass to make two rings and put them on each other’s fingers,” he said. “We kept them in a drawer for a long time. It was cool. They looked like rings.”

After living together in Moscow for four years the couple decided to come back to D.C., where they moved into the Logan Circle area house owned by John, which he leased to tenants during his time in Moscow. A short time later, the two bought a five-bedroom house near 17th and U streets, N.W. that they turned into the U Street Bed and Breakfast.

“We lived in the basement apartment and used the upper floors for the bed and breakfast,” John says, which the couple operated for the next 14 years. They sold the business at the time they decided they wanted to start their family and have kids, noting that the long hours it took to operate the B&B would not be conducive to raising children.

John says it was not until 2013 that he and Yaroslav got legally married in D.C. Although D.C. legalized gay marriage in 2010, five years before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, John says lawyers representing Yaroslav’s ongoing effort to obtain a green card and permanent U.S. residency advised him not to enter into a same-sex marriage.

The anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress in the 1990s and signed by President Bill Clinton prohibited the federal government from extending any benefits or policies in support of same-sex marriages. That prohibition prevented Yaroslav from obtaining U.S. residency through a same-sex marriage in the same way a heterosexual marriage automatically resulted in residency status for foreigners that marry a U.S. citizen.

The lawyers said getting married might also jeopardize his efforts to obtain a green card and prevent him from staying in the U.S. without a renewed visa, John said.

All that changed in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which upheld a lower court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

Yaroslav Koporulin and John O’Mahony. (Photo courtesy of O’Mahony)

John says that opened the way for him and Yaroslav to get married in D.C. under the same-sex marriage law that had been approved by the D.C. Council and signed by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2009 and which took effect in March 2010.

The 2013 Windsor Supreme Court ruling also cleared the way for Yaroslav to obtain his long-awaited green card and a short time later his full U.S. citizenship.

John says that after the two gave up their bed and breakfast business, Yaroslav stepped up his longstanding line of work as an artist, with showings of his artwork in galleries across the city. He also began work as an adjunct professor teaching art at American University, which he continued until illness related to his lung cancer forced him to step back.

His citizenship status came too late for Yaroslav to vote in the 2016 presidential election but he was able to do so this year, John says.

two sets twins, gay news, Washington Blade
Yaroslav Koporulin, on left, and John O’Mahony with their twin daughters Claire and Violet in 2018. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“He was so happy he got to vote in his first presidential election and he voted for Biden,” according to John. “He didn’t like Trump too much.”

Added John, “He voted on Wednesday, three days before he died. And we mailed in his ballot.”

With Yaroslav’s passing, a child care center called CentroNia in Columbia Heights where John and Yaroslav had enrolled their four kids has become immensely helpful in the kids’ support and educational development, John says. The center’s policy of providing a financial subsidy for parents who cannot afford the full tuition for enrolling their children has also been helpful.

When asked how the kids are dealing with the loss of one of their fathers, who they called Papa — they call John Dad — John says the loss has been mostly something they don’t fully understand or grasp due to their young age.

“Thank God they’re not 7 or 8 or 9 when maybe it sticks in you more,” he says. “But they’re only 4 and a half and almost 2. So the twin boys, the young ones, they don’t even know,” John says. “They just started to say papa. But the girls, they said papa probably 200,000 times. They just say papa died. So they get it but not really,” he says.

“But I just tell it like it is,” John says. “And I say papa has died and you know that he had lung cancer and he had a booboo in his lungs. And papa is not with us anymore but he’s thinking about you and he’ll always love you.”

The GoFundMe site in support of John O’Mahony and his family can be accessed here.

A site displaying Yaroslav Koporulin’s artwork, some of which may be for sale with the proceeds used to support his family, can be accessed here.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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