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GLAAD Media Awards celebrate progress

Niecy Nash hosts livestream featuring ‘Glee’ reunion

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GLAAD Media Awards, gay news, Washington Blade
Host Niecy Nash with wife and musical performer Jessica Betts on the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards broadcast. (Photo courtesy Getty Images for GLAAD)

For obvious reasons, Hollywood’s 2021 “Awards Season” has been a little different. Constrained by COVID and foregoing the usual swanky galas and glamorous stage extravaganzas, the entertainment industry has been limited to making the public presentations of its annual honors via virtual livestreams that look pretty much the same as the Zoom meetings and Facetime chats of which we’ve all become so weary.

These shows, though they try hard to generate excitement, can’t help but feel a bit perfunctory. We can easily forgive all this, of course. Everyone, including us, has to make the best of a not-so-great situation, and making sure that “the show goes on” is a big part of maintaining a positive, forward-looking attitude as we all push through the current crisis; and besides, there’s a satisfaction that comes with watching our favorite celebrities fumble through the same awkward gaffes and technical glitches we’ve all become so used to – it turns an event that is normally synonymous with the words “Hollywood elite” into an egalitarian reminder that even movie stars like to sit on the couch in their sweats. Still, that same equalizing effect also serves to highlight the relative absurdity of building up so much importance, so much pomp and hyperbole, over awards shows in the first place. It’s enough to make watching even a show like the Oscars an empty experience.

The GLAAD Media Awards, however, are not the Oscars. While most big entertainment awards are focused (in theory, anyway) on artistic excellence, the GMAs are interested in something with a little more real-world impact – the fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of LGBTQ people and issues in the media – and that difference helped to make the livestream of its 32nd annual presentation, which took place April 8, a surprisingly engaging 90 minutes of screen time.

Of course, it helped that the production was slick, polished, and tightly orchestrated, and that numerous winners had already been announced so that the show could be streamlined into an hour-and-a-half. It was a show that had the self-assuredness that comes from being pre-recorded (or at least, well-rehearsed); and while this may have eliminated the spontaneity that often makes for some of the best highlights in awards shows like this, it also allowed show producers to put together something that felt like a cohesive presentation instead of an awkward work-from-home staff meeting where everyone involved would rather be doing something else.

Unsurprisingly, GLAAD – the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, which has been holding the media accountable for its treatment of queer people and issues for nearly four decades – turned the situation into an opportunity to highlight the incredible progress that continues to be made in an uphill fight that is still far from over. Tastefully but assertively, the show threaded key talking points into the festivities; threads highlighting diversity, intersectionality, and the uptick in percentages of youth identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum were picked up and echoed throughout in speeches from hosts, presenters and winners alike.

A few highlights:

Host Niecy Nash took immediate command of the proceedings, setting a jovial tone and leaning into her status as a “new member” of the community. Nash came out (“came into myself,” as she prefers to say) as LGBTQ and married her wife, musician Jessica Betts, in 2020, and joked about the ongoing process of figuring out her own place on the spectrum by admitting she didn’t know how things would have turned out if “that guy from ‘Bridgerton’” had come along first. Later in the livestream, Betts appeared to sing her song, “Catch Me,” giving Nash the opportunity to introduce her wife’s performance – an undeniably magical moment.

JoJo Siwa, who also came out in 2020, presented the award for Outstanding Children’s Programming to “The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo.” After her exuberant introduction, in which she acknowledged “the best, most amazing, wonderful girlfriend in the entire world” and proclaimed “Love is awesome…. you can be in love with whoever you want to be in love with and it should be celebrated,” the award was accepted by Elmo himself – another tear-inducing moment in which the progress made in queer acceptance was thrown into stark relief.

Presenting the award for Outstanding Film – Wide Release, USWNT and Orlando Pride Stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger spoke out in support of trans athletes, saying “Trans students want the opportunity to play sports for the same reason other kids do: to be a part of a team where they feel like they belong.” The award went to “Happiest Season,” the Hulu-produced Christmas romance centered on a lesbian couple played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis – again, underscoring the leaps made in LGBTQ inclusion in mainstream entertainment.

Accepting the award for Outstanding Variety or Talk Show Episode for “A Little Late With Lilly Singh: Lilly Responds to Comments About Her Sexuality,” Lilly Singh highlighted the importance of representation by saying, “you know, in other cultures like South Asian culture…there is still a stigma attached to being your true authentic self. I always think that if I was younger and I saw someone on TV who looked like me, that was out and proud about it, maybe I would’ve gotten here faster…I just want to say to everyone at home that looks like me: I am out. I am loud. I am proud. I love myself. And the journey to get here was tough, but it was so worth it. So I want to say that I see you. I recognize you. You are valid. You are beautiful. Nothing about you needs to change.”

The “Gay Geek” contingent received some validation when the award for Outstanding Television Series – Drama went to “Star Trek: Discovery.” Accepted by series stars Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp, Ian Alexander, and Blu del Barrio, the win was a much-deserved acknowledgement that the Gene Roddenberry-created franchise has always pushed the boundaries of social acceptance in its content, as well as an uplifting reminder of the power of popular fiction to help us imagine – and aspire to – the better world we want to build.

There were some drawbacks and disappointments, of course – most notably, perhaps, the much-touted “Glee” reunion, in which the stars of the breakthrough Ryan Murphy series came together via virtual conference to pay tribute to departed castmate Naya Rivera and the legacy of her character, Santana Lopez. Die-hard fans may have found satisfaction in seeing this beloved ensemble “together” again, and the spirit in which it happened was unquestionably sincere; even so, the obvious “edited highlights” quality of the segment fell far short of the excitement that might have been made possible by having them unite for a musical number for old time’s sake. Let’s hope for a “do-over” in 2022.

Also unfortunate was the “by the way” status relegated to many of the winners that had been previously announced, especially the electrifying Michaela Cole-created “I May Destroy You,” the HBO show exploring the grey areas of consent in an era hyperaware of “rape culture,” which won for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series. And while the focus may not have been on glamour, it might still have been fun to see (for example) the fabulous outfit singer Sam Smith might have worn in lieu of baggy sweats had he been able to accept his award for Outstanding Music Artist in person instead of from his living room.

As for who all the winners were, a complete list can easily be found on the GLAAD website, or you can even watch the full presentation on YouTube. Their names deserve to be known, and their accomplishments celebrated.

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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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