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TV’s queer explosion

Every new show it seems has at least one LGBTQ character as Gen Zs embrace fluidity, eschew labels

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queer television, gay news, Washington Blade

Although queer representation is down slightly on scripted TV shows this year with 70 (9.1 percent) of all 773 series regular characters out as some form of LGBTQ+, representation has been so vast in recent years, there’s still more queer TV content than any one person could possibly consume. Last year’s record was 10.2 percent according to January’s GLAAD annual report. 

Here’s what’s returning and upcoming. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a thorough start. 

Original dramedy “GENERA+ION” debuts this Friday on HBO Max with three episodes. Look for two more on March 25 and another on April 1. Eight more will drop later in the year. It’s being billed as a “dark yet playful half-hour series following a diverse group of high school students whose exploration of modern sexuality (devices and all) tests deeply entrenched beliefs about life, love, and the nature of family in their conservative community.” It explores sexuality and gender fluidity. Of its 15 writers, 11 are LGBTQ. 

Prisha (Shalini Bathina) came out last year on Apple TV+’s dramedy “Little Voice.”

The current fourth season of ABC’s “The Good Doctor” has introduced Dr. Asher Wolke (Noah Galvin), who’s gay. Not much storyline prominence thus far, though. Mondays at 10 p.m.

Search Party” on HBO Max is in its fourth season (a fifth has been announced) and features Elliott Goss (John Early), a gay narcissist. 

CBS’s “S.W.A.T.” is in its fourth season and features Chris Alonso (Lina Esco), who’s bi and has explored polyamory. It’s on Wednesday nights at 10. 

Josie Totah plays Lexi, a sharp-tongued trans cheerleader on the new “Saved by the Bell” reboot on Peacock. Premiering last November, it’s already been renewed for a second season. 

Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” a period drama, debuted in December and has already been renewed for a second season. Gay content has been minor thus far. Fans were expecting more when a brief gay sex scene was teased in a trailer but didn’t show up until the fifth episode and featured a minor character at that. 

The CW’s “Riverdale” (based on the Archie comics) was renewed last month for a sixth season. Season five is airing now. Despite many LGBTQ characters throughout its run, the show has been accused of queerbaiting by showing same-sex kisses in teasers that turned out to be larks or minor anomalies in the actual storylines. Fans have also balked at the limited attention same-sex couples on the show, such as Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) and Moose (Cody Kearsley) or Cheryl (Madelaine Peetsch) and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) (aka “Choni”) have received. 

Season two of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” on NBC is in the midst of its second season. It moves to Sunday nights at 9 when it returns March 28. Alex Newell (“Glee”) plays Mo, Zoey’s genderfluid neighbor, a DJ. 

The CW’s “Walker,” a reboot of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” debuted in January and has already been renewed for a second season. Keegan Allen plays Liam, the lead character’s gay brother. It airs Thursdays at 8 p.m.

The CW’s “Legacies,” a spin-off of “The Originals” that tells of the adventures of Hope Mikaelson (Danielle Rose Russell), airs Thursday nights at 9. It’s in the midst of its third season and has been renewed for a fourth. Character Josie Saltzman (Kaylee Bryant) is a bi witch. 

NBC’s neverending warhorse “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” continues on Thursday nights at 9 in its 22nd season (it’s been renewed for two more). It was revealed that Kat Azar Tamin (Jamie Gray Hyder) is bi in last season’s finale. It was a big deal for the franchise, which hadn’t featured a gay character in its regular cast (FBI psychiatrist George Huang) since season 12. 

Elite” continues on Netflix featuring the relationship of Omar (Omar Ayuso) and Ander (Aron Piper). This grisly Spanish teen drama has been renewed for fourth and fifth seasons. A Rolling Stone critic said the show “attempts to go places on the sexuality spectrum where few have dared to tread before.”

No date or title yet for season 10 of “American Horror Story” but look for it sometime this year on FX. Kathy Bates, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Sarah Paulson and more are back. Macaulay Culkin will also be in the cast. The show has been renewed through a 13th season. The gay-helmed series (Ryan Murphy) always features LGBTQ characters. Past seasons “Murder House,” “Asylum” and “Hotel” are fan favorites. 

Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as friends whose husbands leave them for each other, was slated to resume shooting its farewell seventh season, postponed by COVID, in June. It’s Netflix’s oldest still-running series. No premiere date has been announced.

HBO’s “Euphoria” season two is in limbo. Cast and crew were ready to start shooting last spring when COVID hit. It’s slated to start shooting in Los Angeles on April 5. No premiere date has been announced. The show has been widely praised for its varied, nuanced portrayal of Gen Z queer life with eschewing of traditional LGBTQ identities and way more fluidity on the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrums. Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer, who’s trans) is a trans girl who becomes friends with lead character Rue Bennett (Zendaya). 

Look for the eighth season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” later this year. The police procedural comedy has drawn fans for its queer characters such as Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher).

Anissa (Nafessa Williams) made history on “Black Lightning” as the first queer superhero of color on TV. Look for its fourth and final season this year.

Dear White People” wraps this year featuring Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton), a black queer man struggling with his identity. It’s adapted from gay director Justin Simien’s film of the same name.

Filming began last month for season 11 of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” with 24 episodes slated to air into next year. A spin-off featuring Daryl and Carol is slated to air in 2023. The show drew fan ire when it axed off two queer characters (Tara and Jesus) in season nine in 2019. Character Felix Carlucci (Nico Tortorella), head of security at the Campus Colony, was kicked out of his house for coming out. 

Pose” returns May 2 with the first two episodes of its abbreviated third season. There will be just seven total. This will be the final season for the groundbreaking show that follows the ballroom scene/queer nightlife in the early 1980s. It’s another fan hit from the Ryan Murphy omniverse. The finale is June 6.

Star Trek: Discovery’s” fourth season is slated for release on Paramount+ sometime this year. Filming started last November and is set to end in June. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) became the first openly gay characters in a “Star Trek” franchise series in 2017. Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Gray (Ian Alexander, who is trans in “real life”) were introduced as the first trans and non-binary characters in the show’s third season. It’s set a decade before the action of the original series. 

Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” returns with its fourth season on April 28. It’s also been renewed for a fifth season. Lesbian actress (and D.C. native) Samira Wiley is in the cast again as is Alexis Bledel, who plays lesbian character Emily Malek, an Emmy winner for her work on the show. 

Season five of Showtime’s “Billions” was suspended mid-season last year with five episodes left to air (production — you guessed it — was halted by COVID). Although a sixth season has been ordered, no air dates for the rest of season five has been announced. Asia Kate Dillon, non-binary in “real life” and on the show, stars as Taylor Mason. 

Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor, who’s non-binary, on ‘Billions.’ (Photo courtesy Showtime)

The Conners” is airing its third season now on ABC Wednesday nights at 9. Darlene’s (out actress Sara Gilbert) 13-year-old son Mark (Ames McNamara) is non-binary and likes boys. It evolved out of the “Roseanne” reboot. 

Fox’s “Call Me Kat” debuted in January and features out actor Leslie Jordan as Phil, a newly single gay man and head baker at Kat’s cafe, and out singer/actor Cheyenne Jackson playing straight as Max, Kat’s friend and former college love interest. The season wraps March 18. No word yet on a second season. It airs Thursday nights at 9. Reviews and ratings have been mixed. 

The five-part Brit miniseries “It’s a Sin” finished its run in February on the U.K.’s Channel 4. Olly Alexander (Years & Years) stars as Ritchie Tozer, one of a group of gay men who move to London in 1981. The series follows them through a decade. Creator Russell T. Davies is the auteur behind the original British “Queer as Folk.” It’s streaming in the U.S. on HBO Max. Reviews have been stellar.

Olly Alexander in ‘It’s a Sin.’ (Photo courtesy WarnerMedia)

Sarah Paulson plays the titular role on Netflix’s “Ratched” and Cynthia Nixon co-stars as Gwendolyn, her love interest. It’s a prequel to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the classic 1975 film. No date yet on when season two will be released. 

Amir Bageria plays “Sid” Pakam, a closeted gay Indian-American and high school senior on last fall’s teen Netflix drama “Grand Army.” It hasn’t been officially cancelled but no word yet on a second season either.

Also from last fall is the HBO drama “We Are Who We Are,” co-created and directed by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”), a coming-of-age story set on a U.S. army base. Several of the teen characters are figuring out their sexuality and gender identity as the show unfolds. Chloe Sevigny and Alice Braga play same-sex moms to 14-year-old Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer). “Call Me” alums Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer make cameos. No word yet on a second season. 

No LGBT characters yet on “Emily in Paris,” the Netflix dramedy, but it’s from the “Sex and the City” creative team and has been renewed for a second season.

The Real Housewives of Orange County” finished its 15th season in January. Braunwyn Windham-Burke, who joined in the 14th season in 2019, came out as a lesbian in December. Look for season 16 this fall.

Punky’s (Soleil Moon Frye) BFF Cherie (Cherie Johnson) is a lesbian on Peacock’s “Punky Brewster” revival. Its 10-episode debut season is available now. 

The fourth and final season of Netflix’s “Atypical” will premiere sometime this year. It features lesbian duo Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Izzie (Fivel Stewart). 

Fivel Stewart (left) and Brigette Lundy Paine in ‘Atypical.’ (Photo by Beth Dubber, courtesy Netflix)

Peter (Brendan Scannell) is the gay best friend to Tiff (Zoe Levin), a dominatrix, on Netflix’s “Bonding.” Its second season dropped in January. 

Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” wraps this year and has featured a pan warlock romance and a trans character. Its fourth season dropped Dec. 31. 

David Berry plays Lord John Grey who’s secretly gay and has been called “one of the most complex and interesting” characters in the historical Starz “Outlander” books and show. A sixth season is expected. 

Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor” introduces Dani (Victoria Pedretti) and her girlfriend Jamie (Amelia Eve) against a gothic/thriller backdrop. No word yet on another season. 

Queer Eye” only had one season six episode in the can last year when COVID hit. Production has not resumed but the show will eventually return. 

On Netflix’s “The Politician,” Ben Platt stars as Payton Hobart, a presidential hopeful who finishes high school (season one) and is now a student at NYU (season two). Rahne Jones plays Skye Leighton, his black, gender-nonconforming former running mate now helping with his campaign. Jessica Lange, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judith Light and even Bette Midler are in the cast. Another Ryan Murphy production. No word yet on a third season. 

RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 13 airs its 10th episode (of a likely 14) March 12 at 8 p.m. on VH1. That means the finale is about a month away. “All Stars” season six is expected this summer at its new home on Paramount+. A second season of the U.K. edition is airing now on BBC iPlayer. 

Netflix British dramedy “Sex Education” will be back for a third season sometime this year. No date yet. Teen Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) lives with his sex therapist mom (Gillian Anderson) and gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). Anwar (Chaneil Kular) is another out student in the cast. Netflix has said it’s one of its most popular shows. 

Netflix’s “Special” is also in limbo it appears. In December, 2019 it was renewed for a second season but no updates since. It follows a gay man named Ryan Hayes (Ryan O’Connell; the series creator and star who based it on his memoir) with mild cerebral palsy who decides to go after the kind of life he wants. It has strong reviews and ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Tiny Pretty Things” debuted in December on Netflix and features two primary gay characters. Brennan Clost plays Shane, an openly gay ballet dancer having sex with his roommate, Oren (Barton). A second season is likely but hasn’t been confirmed. 

Several characters on the Netflix hit “The Umbrella Academy” are queer and it’s treated as mostly tangential. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), an addict who can commune with the dead, is pan, for one. The fantasy show is a comic book adaptation about a dysfunctional family who each possess superpowers. A third season is underway. 

Canadian sitcom “Letterkenny” just released its ninth season in December and 10th and 11th seasons are planned. It streams on Hulu and tells of residents of a small farming town. Several are LGBT but it’s never treated as a big deal. 

A second season of Hulu’s “Love, Victor” will premiere in June. Michael Cimino plays the title role, a hispanic gay teen. It’s a TV adaptation/spinoff of the hit 2018 gay teen dramedy “Love, Simon.” 

The 2017 “Dynasty” reboot is proving surprisingly resilient. It was renewed for a fifth season last month on The CW. Production on the fourth season resumed last October and will start airing May 7. Steven, the gay son played by James Mackay, will be back. He was written out of the third season. 

Hulu’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” from Aussie comedian Josh Thomas, features Matilda, a teen with high-functioning autism, exploring her fluid sexuality and her gay brother’s relationship failures. Its second season drops April 8. 

The CW’s “Legends of Tomorrow” returns for its sixth season on May 2. White Canary (Caity Lotz) is bi. She’s one of the heroines in the Arrow-verse based on characters from DC Comics. 

The CW’s “Batwoman” season two is airing now (regrouping with the absence of Ruby Rose in the title role) and a third season has been ordered. Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie)/Batwoman is now the central protagonist with Kate Kane/Batwoman presumed dead. The new Batwoman is also a lesbian.

Wynonna Earp” returned to finish its fourth and final season this month on Syfy/Netflix. Lesbian side couple WayHaught have become fan favorites. 

Good Trouble,” with multiple queer characters, is in the midst of its third season. It’s on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Freeform and is a spin-off of “The Fosters.” 

A “Gossip Girl” reboot on HBO Max promises “lots of queer content.” No date yet. 

This is Us” is in the middle of its fifth season. It airs Tuesday nights at 9 on NBC and features Tess Pearson (Eris Baker), who came out in season three. 

Good Girls” returned for its fourth season this month. It airs on NBC Mondays nights at 10 and features Isaiah Stannard as Ben Marks, a trans son of one of the main characters. 

NBC’s “New Amsterdam” is airing its third season now and two more have been ordered. Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) is gay. It’s on Tuesday nights at 9. 

Martin Scorsese interviews lesbian Fran Lebowitz on the seven-part Netflix documentary “Pretend It’s a City.” 

Max Baker (Sara Waisglass) is a lesbian teen on Netflix’s dramedy “Ginny & Georgia,” which has been generating buzz since its maiden season released on Feb. 24. 

Jesse James Keitel plays Jerrie Kennedy, a transfeminine/nonbinary sex worker on ABC’s crime/thriller “Big Sky.” It’s on hiatus but will return. 

Brian Michael Smith made history as the first out black trans man in a regular series role on network TV as Paul Strickland on Fox’s Ryan Murphy-created procedural drama “9-1-1- Lone Star,” a spin-off of “9-1-1.” Its second season is airing now on Monday nights at 9. There are also gay characters on both shows. 

Safiya Masry (Indira Varma), a warden on ABC’s legal drama “For Life” is a lesbian. It’s in its second season now airing Wednesday nights at 10. 

ABC’s new sitcom “Call Your Mother,” which debuted in January, features Lane (Austin Crute), Jackie’s (Racel Sennott) gay best friend and roommate. It’s on Wednesday nights at 9:30.

Son Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and daughter Debbie (Emma Kenney) are gay on Showtime’s longrunning dramedy “Shameless.” Its 11th season continues through April 11. 

Superstore” ends its sixth and final season on March 25. Mateo (Nico Santos) is gay on the NBC sitcom. It’s on Thursday nights at 8. 

Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.) is a gay officer on ABC’s “The Rookie,” currently in its third season. It’s on Sunday nights at 10. 

Longrunning Brit soap “Hollyoaks” is teeming with LGBT characters presented multi-dimensionally. Gay character John Paul McQueen (James Sutton) has been on and off the front burner for a decade. Also worth checking out are “Emmerdale” and “EastEnders,” whose current Ben/Callum love story is a fan favorite. 

Also of note:

Tina,” a documentary on the life of rock icon Tina Turner, debuts on Sunday, March 28 at 8 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max. It promises “a wealth of never-before-seen footage, audio tapes … photos and new interviews.”

Aretha Franklin is the focus of the third season of National Geographic’s docudrama series “Genius.” Cynthia Erivo stars as the late soul legend. Its eight-episode arc debuts March 21. 

Other shows with LGBT characters whose networks have said are returning but for which no date has been announced: “Betty” (HBO); “Feel Good” (Netflix); “Gentleman Jack” (BBC One/HBO); “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” renewed in December for four more seasons, a sitcom record (FX); “Killing Eve” (BBC America); “The L Word: Generation Q” (Showtime); “Sex Education” (Netflix); “Twenties” (BET); “Supergirl” (The CW); “Never Have I Ever” (Netflix); “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX); “Motherland: Fort Salem” (Freeform); “Hightown” (Starz); “The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max); “Dead to Me,” whose upcoming third season will be its last (Netflix); and “Insecure” (HBO, for a fifth and final season).

Recently ended shows with LGBT characters include: “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix), “How to Get Away With Murder” (ABC), “One Day at a Time” (POP), “The Magicians” (Syfy), “Schitt’s Creek” (CBC/POP TV), “Vida” (Starz), “Work in Progress” (Showtime/Hulu), “Council of Dads” (NBC), “Someone Has to Die” (Netflix), “Trinkets” (Netflix), “Teenage Bounty Hunters” (Netflix), “Tales of the City” (Netflix), “Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts” (animated, Netflix) and “What/If” (Netflix). 

Want a succinct overview of the history of LGBT people on TV? Check out “Visible: Out on Television,” last year’s five-episode survey on Apple TV+ from Ryan White. 

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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

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Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant

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‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

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National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

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