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LGBTQ agencies support vulnerable youth this holiday season

Fighting disproportionate unemployment, housing instability

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LGBTQ youth, gay news, Washington Blade
Korean Davis, 18, lives in transitional housing because living at home with her mother ‘is not an option.’ (Photo courtesy Davis)

At-risk LGBTQ youth continue to face challenges, including homelessness, but colleges and local agencies work to make services available during a season exacerbated by the pandemic.

“During this holiday season, I’m thinking about how I’m going to have a roof over my head and how I’m going to pay my rent,” Devine Bey, an 18-year-old Black and Samoan transgender woman told the Washington Blade while turning in her name change paperwork to a Baltimore office.

Both Bey and her husband were laid off during the COVID-19 crisis and she said all they have is each other since her family isn’t close and her father wants nothing to do with her as a trans woman.

An October poll commissioned by the Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth, found one-third of all LGBTQ youth said they were unable to be themselves at home, and nearly one-third of transgender and nonbinary youth felt unsafe in their living situation since the start of of the pandemic.

“We know that LGBTQ youth may be particularly vulnerable because even prior to the pandemic they were at higher risk for homelessness,” said Rob Todaro, press secretary for the Trevor Project. “We know they face disproportionate unemployment and housing instability now exacerbated by the pandemic.”

D.C.-based agencies that support LGBTQ youth such as SMYAL and the Wanda Alston Foundation saw an increase in service requests as part of the pandemic’s economic fallout, as did agencies throughout the region.

“There definitely has been an increase in the demand for our services because of more young people staying at home in situations that are not affirming to their truth and identity,” Adalphie Johnson, the SMYAL programs director, said.

Wanda Alston Foundation Executive Director June Crenshaw said their mission is to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, and noted reduced public transportation routes due to the pandemic disproportionately impact minority youth trying to get to work.

Korean Davis, an 18-year-old Black trans woman living in transitional housing because living at home with her mother “is not an option,” struggles to maintain work at a make-up stand where “ignorant people,” including her supervisor, misgender her.

Her dream is to go to beauty school and work for herself.

“My holiday is a complete disaster,” she said. “No one has called to check on me. I feel like I don’t have anyone but the people at Baltimore Safe Haven, and they can only do so much. I feel like I am falling apart.”

Unfortunately, Davis is not alone and her experiences are felt by other LGBTQ youth.

According to the Trevor Project, one in three Black LGBTQ youth said the pandemic made their living situation more stressful than before, and agencies in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere have worked to meet the demand with limited funds.

“About halfway through the pandemic we had the COVID relief grant where we distributed over $45,000 for young people who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Johnson said, speaking of social services funding SMYAL received through the CARES Act. “With those funds we assisted with phone bills, technology needs, rent, food, or utility bills, all which were needed directly as a result of the pandemic.”

Ted Lewis, the executive director of Side by Side, a Virginia-based LGBTQ youth assistance organization, said its number of homelessness assistance calls more than doubled around April and May, particularly from African-American, transgender and nonbinary youth.

“When a young person comes in, they work with a case manager to see what stability looks like for them,” Lewis explained, saying that some homeless 18-25 year olds may need financial assistance while others may need help with identity documents or access to affirming medical care.

Lewis said housing stability is a concern for those who are couch-surfing, living in transitional housing or back with family due to college dorm closures during the winter break. Each situation can add to holiday stress.

“When residence halls close for the winter break, some LGBTQ+ students face the prospect of returning home to families who may be either unsupportive of their LGBTQ+ identity, or actually hostile and unwelcoming,” said Brad Grimes, a program specialist with the West Virginia University LGBTQ+ Center and Women’s Resource Center.

In the late ‘80s Grimes was a closeted gay student struggling with his own identity over multiple winter breaks at Georgetown University, so to some extent he understands the pressures his LGBTQ students face today and seeks to address them.

“The WVU LGBTQ+ Center worked with the Director of Residence Life early in the semester to confirm that alternate housing would be made available to LGBTQ+ students who had no safe or supportive housing options with their families, in the event of an emergency COVID-related closure of the residence halls,” he said.

Their campus resources also continue to be accessible via email over the winter break.

Luke Jensen is the director of the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland in College Park, which he helped found more than 20 years ago. The center has extensive programming for LGBTQ students, much of which went online during the pandemic.

Virtual meetings included yoga and wellness sessions before the holidays and after a brief break staff will return in the spring with a Black transgender discussion panel and preparation for their Lavender leadership graduation ceremony in May.

Jensen was also a closeted gay student at Brigham Young University in the late ‘70s, where he remembered listening to a Mormon church leader talk about the “sin of homosexuality” during a monthly school meeting.

He ended up going to New York University for graduate school where he met his first partner who later died of AIDS.

While attending NYU, Jensen came out to his mother while at home for winter break, so he also understands the uncomfortable situation many of his LGBTQ students are in, especially those who are transgender “because you’re dealing with something as fundamental as identity.”

One piece of advice Jensen and others had for youth struggling with both the pandemic and holiday challenges was to find happiness where they could and treat it as the most important resource of all.

“Focus on things that bring you joy,” Todaro advised while Johnson encouraged youth to be gentle with themselves and “always find moments to celebrate who you are.”

“Even if that means looking into the mirror and telling yourself, ‘I look good,’” Johnson said. “Find a good song you like, close your door if you can, and dance the night away. And know SMYAL is always here to support you.”

Luke Jensen, director of the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland, urges youth to find happiness where they can and treat it as the most important resource of all. (Photo courtesy Jensen)
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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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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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