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Baltimore’s ‘Visionary’ curator prepares to step down

For 26 years, Hoffberger has created a loving haven and championed LGBTQ artists

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Rebecca Hoffberger is retiring from the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. (Photo courtesy AVAM)

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore has highlighted hundreds of artists since it opened in 1995, and works by LGBTQ artists have featured prominently in both its permanent collection and changing exhibits.

From Andrew Logan’s Cosmic Galaxy Egg sculpture to Robert Benson’s blinged-out Universal Tree of Life to Judy Tallwing’s Prayer for Peace painting, LGBTQ artists have been responsible for some of most memorable creations that visitors will see, whether they know it or not.

This pattern of inclusion is part of the legacy of museum founder, director and primary curator Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community. After 26 years running the museum, Hoffberger announced in July that she plans to retire in March of 2022, and AVAM’s board has launched a search for her replacement.

But unlike some museum directors who have called attention to their recent efforts to promote greater diversity in the range of artists they show, Hoffberger said she has never set out specifically to include a certain percentage of LGBTQ artists, just as she has never set a goal for featuring a certain number of minority or female artists.

She said she simply tries to find the best artists for each show, based on the perspectives they bring and the work they produce. In many cases, she said, she doesn’t necessarily know an artist’s sexual orientation, unless their work is homoerotic or intentionally refers in other ways to their identity.

Hoffberger said her resistance to quotas is not because she’s color-blind or gender-blind.

“I would say I’m color- and race-celebratory,” she said. “There’s a quote by [Canadian writer] Dorothy Maclean: ‘Humankind trend should be to unity, not uniformity.’ That pretty much sums it up. That’s how I feel. Labels like gay or straight or bi, what do they tell you about a person? Not very much. I’m not so interested in people’s sexuality. I’m interested in the person.”

Hoffberger likens curating a museum exhibit to planning a banquet: “If you’re looking to offer…as delicious a feast as possible, it comes naturally that you would have participation by extraordinary people of every stripe.” 

Located at 800 Key Highway near the city’s Inner Harbor waterfront, the museum has been designated by Congress as a “national repository and educational center for visionary art,” which is defined as works “produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training,” which arise from “an innate personal vision that revels in the creative act itself.” 

These creators, sometimes called outsider artists, often try to make sense of the world by making art with whatever materials they have at hand, whether it’s egg shells or toothpicks or more conventional artist supplies. 

Hoffberger said she prefers the term visionary artists, or intuitive or self-taught, to ‘outsider.’ But she notes that it makes sense that many LGBTQ individuals turn out to be visionary artists because of the experiences they’ve had in life. She said many members of the LGBTQ community have lived outside the mainstream in one way or another, and that has both fueled their drive to make art and informed the art they make.

‘Divine’ by Andrew Logan is a larger-than-life tribute to the drag star and actor. (Photo by Dan Meyers)

“How about you’re born into a family where all the girls are gorgeous and you’re the fat one? Or you have a deformity? There’s a myriad of ways that people feel out of step,” she said. “When the life experience is too big for words, it often will come out from non-artists as a creative expression for the first time because there are just no words for it.”

This doesn’t mean LGBTQ artists are inherently better than non-LGBTQ artists, she said.

“Better? No. But anyone who feels for any reason like an outsider, who has experience feeling like a stranger, always has a more in-depth take at reality because they are on some level on the outside…The point is that people who have that little bit of knowing what it is like to be outside the circle actually often will have a perspective that helps evolve and draw a circle.”

Something happens to people when they aren’t from the “established pack,” she said, that makes them look at the world differently and react differently and perhaps get more creative.

“When you’re not from the pack…when you’re forced out of conventional thinking because people are giving you pretty clear signals that you’re not like them in ways that they may even be hostile to, then you start to think more deeply because you can’t coast on being accepted in the same way. It’s not as easy.”

Hoffberger points to the work of gay filmmaker John Waters and his ability to capture what it’s like to live outside the mainstream.

“That’s what I think John Waters has done so unbelievably well,” she said. “He didn’t shock just to shock. He always had this softness for seeing value in people that other people would never have focused on. And in doing that, you sense that you are with someone who’s going to give you a break. That’s why he has yet another generation of fierce fans. This is a person who draws a big circle around the human family, and we’re living in a time when people are getting more and more narrow…So you want to be in the camp of championing more people, the beauty of more people, and the more diverse the better.” 

As director and curator, Hoffberger said, she seeks out the best work she can find by visionary artists to incorporate in the museum’s exhibits. But rather than presenting works of visionary art as objects unto themselves, she curates exhibits that combine art, science, philosophy and humor, with an organizing theme for each show and an underlying focus on social justice and betterment.

In some cases, AVAM has explored themes that touch on gender, gender rights and human sexuality, including a 2005-2006 show entitled “Race, Class and Gender: 3 Things that Contribute ‘0’ to CHARACTER (Because being a Schmuck is an equal opportunity for everyone!) For exhibits such as that, Hoffberger said, works by LGBTQ artists can be particularly appropriate due to the artist’s point of view.

In other exhibits, she has focused on issues ranging from climate change to hunger to public health. AVAM’s next major exhibit, scheduled to open Oct. 9 and run until Sept. 4, 2022, is entitled “Healing & The Art of Compassion (and the Lack Thereof.) 

Hoffberger said she doesn’t think sex or race are good ways to assess people.

“I don’t think your sexual orientation, I don’t think your color, I don’t think your religion, conveys any quality of character whatsoever,” she said. “That’s why I did that show, Race, Class and Gender. Three things that contribute zero to character but everybody is talking about all the time. I would think it would be more fair, since they’re approximately 50 percent of the population, if there were more women leaders. But do I think that because you are a woman leader you are going to be more spectacular just because of having a vagina? No, absolutely not. None of those things mean much to me, frankly.”

That goes for artists as well as elected leaders, Hoffberger said.

“I don’t even like it when I can look at a work of art and go, I know a woman did this. I really don’t like that,” she said. “I’d rather it just be kind of a soul, with different clothes on. I like magnificent souls, with whatever. And in that celebration, you have a great tenderness to be open to wherever that soul and beauty will manifest.” 

AVAM has become a magnet for LGBTQ visitors, she said, because it’s a place where they feel comfortable with the art and the other patrons. 

“What I love about the museum is that it is such a haven,” she said. “There are so many young teens that are transitioning, who come because, whether you’re wearing a burka or whatever, there’s a safety in being in our museum because there’s such a welcoming, loving vibe. You can see people who you can relate to not only walking through the museum but also in the art.”

Following are some of the LGBTQ artists whose work is or has been featured at the American Visionary Art Museum:

Andrew Logan, (1945- ) His works at AVAM: A 10-foot-tall sculpture of Divine, a tribute to the drag performer who starred in “Pink Flamingos,” “Multiple Maniacs,” “Hairspray” and other movies by filmmaker John Waters; Black Icarus, a figure suspended above the museum’s main staircase, and the Cosmic Galaxy Egg, an eight-foot-high sculpture on a plaza outside the museum’s Jim Rouse Visionary Center, inspired by the deep space images revealed by Hubble Telescope transmissions. Hoffberger is hoping to add a fourth work by Logan, a sculpture of the mythical creature Pegasus.

Logan was born in 1945, the third of five brothers in a family with one younger sister. In 1967 Logan graduated from the Oxford School of Architecture and spent one year in the United States working for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. At the age of 27, Logan gained notoriety as the co-founder, along with Baltimore’s Divine, of the Alternative Miss World contest, an inclusive beauty contest open to transvestites, the old and the young, men and women. His contest emphasized imagination and the radiance of beauty from within. In 1979, Andrew’s Alternative Miss World contest fought off legal action from another event with the help of a budding young defense barrister – future British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Logan is a tap dance and yoga aficionado and a prolific self-taught artist whose sculptures, mirrored jewelry, costumes, stage sets, and performance pieces have garnered a wide audience. He creates his art by using materials that are at hand, often incorporating mirror fragments and fabric remnants, and adding realistically sculpted heads and bodies. In the 1980’s Logan founded his own museum in Berriew, Wales, to house and display a portion of his work.

“The mirror of the universe has been my life for almost forty years,” the museum’s website quotes Logan as saying. “It has an energy like no other material. I have played with mirrors to create monuments, portraits, wall pieces and sculptural jewelry…My life is an artistic adventure.”  

Judy Tallwing, (1945- ). Her work at AVAM: A painting entitled Prayer for Peace is part of the museum’s permanent collection. It was a gift of the artist in memory of Sashie Helene Hyatt.

Tallwing is an Apache elder, leatherwoman and multi-media artist who won the first International Ms. Leather contest in 1987. Born in Glendale, Ariz., Tallwing has childhood memories of living in the desert with her parents and seven half brothers and sisters, helping to hunt rattlesnakes, and selling rocks by the roadside. Like many Native American children, Tallwing attended both a Catholic girls’ school and Indian School. She has six children, 23 grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.

Tallwing started making art as far back as she can remember. “We didn’t call it art, we called it making things to sell along the road to help the family survive. I used to watch my grandmother, grandfather, and my mother all doing various forms of what I now know is art, to sell, and I wanted to help.” The first thing of hers that sold was a bee sitting on a flower, painted on a rock. It sold for 25 cents.  

In her youth, Tallwing did a little bit of everything, from running her own construction and leather production companies to being the executive director of a domestic violence victims’ program and running an animal rescue operation for 13 years. “I think an ‘aha moment’ for me was realizing I could go to college, even without much other schooling.”

Starting college at age 32 changed her life; she now holds both an associates’ and bachelor’s degree. She travels to what she calls “power places” and brings back tiny fragments from those places to put in every painting or sculpture that calls for them, including copper, silver, turquoise, garnet, prayer ashes, and minute crystal prayer beads. 

“I love trying to bring the stories I’ve heard to life and to add the spiritual aspects of the stories through the medicine of different elements of nature,” she has said. “Each thing that lives on the earth has its own energy and I try to put those energies together to create a healing.” 

Judy Tallwing’s ‘Prayer for Peace’ is on display at AVAM.

Ingo Swann, (1933–2013). His work at AVAM: The Light Bringer, a painting in the museum’s permanent collection.

Swann is best known as a pioneer in the field of remote viewing, the practice of seeking impressions about a distant or unseen target, also described as “sensing” with the mind. Swann’s high rate of success in this field led him to co-create, along with Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, the Stanford Research Institute of Remote Viewing and the CIA Stargate Project, launched to investigate psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications.

Swann was born high in the Rocky Mountains in Telluride, Colo., on Sept. 14, 1933. His father was a truck driver and he had two sisters. He often spoke of the beauty of his surroundings as a child, particularly the crystal-clear skies where he could see the Milky Way each night. 

Swann wrote that he first experienced leaving his body at the age of three, during an operation to remove his tonsils. At that time he also became aware of seeing “butterfly lights” around people, plants, and some animals, which he later learned were auras. By nine, he wrote that he’d remotely traveled to the Milky Way. He famously claimed to have sent his consciousness to Jupiter prior to the arrival of NASA’s Voyager satellite probe and accurately described many of the planet’s features, including Jupiter’s then-unknown rings.

Swann’s paintings express his passion for exploring the mysteries of the universe and recapture his visions from leaving his body, remote viewing, and seeing auras. Swann was also a musician and a writer of several books, including his autobiography, “Penetration: The Question of Extraterrestrial and Human Telepathy” (1998). He died on Jan. 31, 2013 in New York City.

Bobby Adams (1946 – ). His work at AVAM: His photographs, scrapbooks and shrines have been featured in three exhibits.

Adams is a multimedia artist and a member of filmmaker John Waters’ group known as the Dreamlanders. He was born Robert Reid Adams on Feb. 15, 1946 in Dallas, and grew up in Baltimore. His father, a former boxer and strict disciplinarian, operated a floor sanding business in Dundalk. His “beloved and gentle” mother taught school and would eventually die by suicide in 1976.  

Adams graduated in 1964 from Sparrows Point Senior High School and was able to avoid being sent to Vietnam because of a hearing problem. He became a pirate radio DJ in the late 1960s, playing at gatherings around Baltimore and spinning records for a station he dubbed W.E.E.D. He assembled elaborate scrapbooks stuffed with psychedelic collages and philosophical, often humorous, musings to illustrate his DJ patter and circulate among listeners at gigs. 

In 1970, he began working with John Waters, who filmed “Pink Flamingos” at the Baltimore County farm where Adams was living. Ever since, Adams has been the filmmaker’s unofficial documentarian, taking photographs on film sets and chronicling the exploits of Waters’ band of renegades, the Dreamlanders. “I never learned how to do the camera,” notes Adams. “I just point and shoot. My approach is simple: I start with love, and the camera sees it.”  

A self-professed Christmas addict, Adams makes hundreds of personalized, handmade, labor-of-love holiday cards for friends and family each year. Inspired in part by Waters’ own art making and an Edward Kienholz exhibition he chanced upon, Adams began making art in 1996, after the loss of his toy poodle, Odie. He created 50 multimedia tribute pieces to Odie and installed them throughout his waterfront cottage. Before it was displayed at AVAM, Adams’s art had never been exhibited publicly. When asked if he ever had an unrealistic hope fulfilled, he said, “Yes, being included in this show.” 

Robert E. Benson, (1930 – ). His work at AVAM: The shiny Universal Tree of Life visible near the museum’s main entrance on Key Highway; the fart machine in the museum’s Flatulence exhibit; the ocean beneath Andrew Logan’s Black Icarus sculpture and the sky above it, and other creations.

Benson is a popular classical music radio host who became a prolific visual artist late in life. Born in Chicago, he served in the Army from 1951-1953 as enlisted secretary to General Mark Clark, commander-in-chief of the Far East Command. From 1953-1955 he worked for the B&O Railroad as secretary to the Manager of Industrial Development, and for two years was Assistant Manager of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Benson’s radio career began in 1958 when he was program director of WFDS-FM, which two years later became WBAL-FM. He was program director and chief announcer there until 1974, when he became Director of Audience Development for the Baltimore Symphony.

In 1975, Benson became coordinator of the Maryland State Arts Council’s Community Arts Development program working to organize county arts councils in all 23 counties of Maryland. He also was in charge of grants to music organizations and individuals, and retired from his state job in 1995. In 1979 he became morning announcer for WBJC-FM, where he remained until 1986. For 10 years beginning in 1987, Benson did programming and announcing for WJHU (now WYPR). He has collected recordings for many years, with particular interest in historic performances. He has written reviews for numerous publications, including Forecast FM, Hi Fi Stereo Buyers Guide, High Fidelity and Stereophile.

Benson lives in Glen Burnie, Md., where he grows orchids in his “underground” greenhouse, a hobby of three decades, and listens to music on his elaborate surround sound system. Since 2004 he has been working with mirrors and stained glass, creating varied art and decorative pieces.

Andrey Bartenev, (1969 –). His work at AVAM: In 2007, Bartenev won first prize in the museum’s “Bra Ball,” for his black and white rubber costume and performance.

Bartenev is a Russian performer, sculptor and experimentalist who won the Alternate Miss World pansexual beauty pageant in 2018 as Miss UFO. He was born on Oct. 9, 1969 in the northernmost Arctic Circle city of Norilsk in Siberia, an industrial town famous for its reserves and production of aluminum. 

Bartenev recalls “three months of total darkness, one month of really hot summer, and 15 days each for spring and autumn.” His only sibling, a sister, was 12 years older. Bartenev’s father was a coal mining engineer and his mother was an industrial safety engineer. Both worked long hours, giving Bartenev free reign to decide how he spent his time alone.

At three, Bartenev loved scissors and began to cut images and patterns from books. “We made all our toys out of snow.” At an early age, Bartenev would organize parties for his friends who were also left alone, getting them to bring over all their pets. He used plastic to sculpt little “castles” for his mice and hamsters, and made costumes for his cats and dogs.

At 16, Bartenev moved with his family to Sochi in the south of Russia — “like Miami with mountains.” In college he studied theater and directing, graduating with high honors. His first job was directing a children’s theater near Chechnya. He also danced and performed in a local cabaret.

Moving to Moscow in 1990, Bartenev supported himself doing collages and graphics and competed in the Big Arts Festival at the Baltic Sea in 1992, where he met one of the judges, Andrew Logan, co-founder of the Alternative Miss World contest. Bartenev made a Snow Queen costume out of papier-mâché that won the top prize. Logan invited him to compete in the Alternative Miss World contest in 1995, 1998, and 2002 in London. There, Bartenev also created programs for the popular BBC children’s TV show, “Blue Peter” and re-staged his original performance show, “Botanic Ballet.” In 2007, he brought his talents to Baltimore and won first prize in AVAM’s “Bra Ball.” He has said his idea of perfect beauty is his childhood vision of “black sky and white snow.”

James Franklin Snodgrass (1922–2000). His work at AVAM: An untitled painting in the permanent collection, the gift of Robert Civello.

Snodgrass was born in Harford County, Md. in 1922. The son of a schoolteacher, he painted mannequins and traveled throughout the United States after graduating from college. During World War II, he declared himself a conscientious objector and worked as an ambulance driver for a Quaker society.

Appearing on television game shows became a peculiar “hobby” for Snodgrass, who won prize money on several occasions. In the late 1950s, he became the focus of public attention after he exposed fraudulent practices on the popular quiz show, Twenty-One. His story inspired Robert Redford’s 1994 film, “Quiz Show.”

Afterwards, Snodgrass grew increasingly reclusive and focused on his art. He was evasive, even secretive, about the untitled painting in AVAM’s collection, which took many years to complete. He died from cancer in early 2000.

Located at 800 Key Highway, the American Visionary Art Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Advance online purchase of a timed ticket is required to visit the museum. Visiting just the museum store, Sideshow, is free and does not require purchase of a ticket.

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The ultimate guide to queer holiday gift giving

Something for everyone, from charcuterie to an e-moped

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Drawing a blank on what to gift the queer loved ones on your holiday shopping list? Consider these thoughtful presents picked exclusively for your LGBTQ friends and family.


Mr. & Mr. Claus Mugs

Two glazed-ceramic Santas are better than one when you cop Sunny & Ted’s hand-painted Mr. and/or Mrs. cocoa mugs available in three blush-faced skin tones and two genders to accurately rep your festive-queer holiday cheer. SunnyAndTed.com, $27.50 each


Whiskey a Go Go 

Lift holiday spirits (in handsome drinkware, like Baccarat’s Harmonie Double Old-Fashioned Tumblers) by offering party guests a sampling of your home bar’s top-shelf reserves, like Blade & Bow’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask – a holy trinity all its own. ReserveBar.com, $48, $57, $91


Happy Hanukkah Tea Gift Set + Subarzsweets

VAHDAM India’s Hannukah-special assortment of luscious herbal, chai and black teas – paired with Subarzsweets’ handmade, small-batch biscotti-cookie hybrids (the lemon-thyme flavor is what the chef’s kiss emoji was meant for) – is the treat-yourself pick-me-up you’ll crave after eight crazy nights. Vahdam.com, $24; Subarzsweets.com, $45


America the Beautiful Annual Pass

One of your nice-listers resolving to travel more in the new year? Set them up for success with the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands’ America the Beautiful annual pass, providing access for the holder (plus guests) to more than 2,000 federal sites in the United States, including parks, monuments, battlefields, protected wildlife refuges, stunning seashores, and more. Recreation.gov, $80


Yves Durif Grooming Set

Yves Durif didn’t reinvent the Italian-made, natural rubber resin petite brush and comb that bears his synonymous-with-style name, but he did make these luxury tools sexy AF so you can feel like a million bucks. YvesDurif.com, $105


Boarderie Charcuterie

A far cry from the shelf-stable meat-and-cheese gifts mom loaded up on at your local mall’s pop-up shop, Oprah-approved Boarderie charcuterie boards are chef-made daily and feature hand-selected artisan cheeses, meats, dried fruits, nuts and chocolates on keepsake Acacia platters. Hickory Farms could neverBoarderie.com$129-$239


Wagged Tails Custom ‘A-paw-rel’

Memorialize your loved ones’ recently passed pets with Wagged Tails’ custom-printed apparel and accessories, including T-shirts, tumblers, totes and mugs, emblazoned with their favorite heaven-sent smush-faces. Keep the Kleenex close. WaggedTails.com, $18-$67


Dough Bowl Candles

Drop a needle on Aunt Dolly’s holiday vinyl before lighting the wicks on Stroud’s Simply Southern dough bowl candles and you’ve got yourself an instant country Christmas. StroudSimplySouthernCo.com, $24-$79


Cantilever Toolbox

Utilitarianism is a hallmark of Japanese design, and Toyo’s handcrafted cantilever steel storage and tool boxes are no exception with two handy adjustable upper trays and eight removable dividers housed in a handsome, spacious shell deserving of double-takes. Placewares.com, $129


Habibi Santal Journey

Can’t go wrong with a fresh scent tucked under the tree or inside a stocking, and it doesn’t get any fresher (or spicier) than Habibi’s Santal Journey with notes of dry cedar wood, oud and sandalwood overtop wisps of crisp pear and precious orris. ForHabibi.com, $119


NQi GTS E-Moped

In sport mode, the NQi GTS e-moped’s top speed is a hair-straightening 50 mph thanks to a 60V26Ah Bosch motor, 4th-gen lithium battery tech, and a few body-shop elves who’ve watched “2 Fast 2 Furious” 2 many times. Niu.com, $TBD


Rotate Watchmaking Kit

Challenge your better-half gadget geek over holiday break with customizable Rotate watchmaking kits – available in easy, medium, and hard configurations – that come complete with parts, tools, and a user-friendly guide to keep the cursing at a Christian minimum. RotateWatches.com, $195-$225


Coravin x Keith Haring Wine Opener

Art and wine go to together like Saint Nick and snickerdoodles, which is why the Coravin x Keith Haring Timeless Six+ Artist Edition bottle opener – featuring the late artist’s iconic dancing figures in black and white – will look just as good on your dinner party tablescape as it will on display. Coravin.com, $350


Limited Edition Don Q Rum X Coquito NYC Drink Kit

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


Nuzzie Weighted Blanket

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


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

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Best of LGBTQ DC 2022

Our 21st annual celebration of city life

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

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


Local Hero: Kimberley Bush  

Kimberley Bush (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EATING & DRINKING

Best LGBTQ Bar: Number Nine

Number Nine (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1435 P St., N.W.

numberninedc.com 

Runner-up: As You Are Bar

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


Best Bartender: Dusty Martinez, Trade

Dusty Martinez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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


Best Neighborhood Bar: Red Bear Brewing

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

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer 

Editor’s Choice: Dirty Goose

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


Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: KNEAD Hospitality + Design

KNEAD founders (Photo by Connor Studios)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Most LGBT-Friendly Workplace: EatWell DC

Editor’s Choice: Whitman-Walker Health

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

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

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

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


Best Coffee Shop: Compass Coffee

Compass Coffee (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Multiple locations

Compasscoffee.com

Editor’s Choice: Tatte Bakery & Café

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

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


Best Restaurant: Crazy Aunt Helen’s

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

713 8th St., S.E.

crazyaunthelens.com

Editor’s Choice: Mi Vida

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

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

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

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

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


Best Brunch: Duplex Diner

Duplex Diner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

2004 18th St., N.W.

duplexdiner.com

Editor’s Choice: Perry’s Drag Brunch

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

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

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

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

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

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


Best Outdoor Dining: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse

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

1609 17th St., N.W.

anniesparamountdc.com

Editor’s Choice: Shaw’s Tavern

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

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

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

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

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


Best Outdoor Drinking: Uproar

Uproar Lounge (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

639 Florida Ave., N.W.

uproarlounge.com

Editor’s Choice: Pitchers

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

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


Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden

Dacha Beer Garden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

dachadc.com

Editor’s Choice: Wundergarten

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

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


Best Burger: Slash Run

Slash Run (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

201 Upshur St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: Duke’s Grocery

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


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

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

1925 14th St., N.W.

jenis.com

Editor’s Choice: Ice Cream Jubilee

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


Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza

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

2016 9th St., N.W.

eatandyspizza.com

Editor’s Choice: Timber Pizza

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

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

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

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


Best Local Winery: Montifalco Vineyard

(Photo courtesy of Montifalco Vinyards)

1800 Fray Rd., Ruckersville, Va.

montifalcovineyard.com 

Editor’s Choice: City Winery

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

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


Best ABSOLUT Happy Hour: Kiki

Kiki (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

915 U St., N.W.

dcwannahaveakiki.com 

Editor’s Choice: Larry’s Lounge

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


Best Local Brewery: Red Bear Brewing Company

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

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer 

Editor’s Choice: DC Brau

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


Best Local Distillery: Republic Restoratives Distillery

Republic Restoratives (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1369 New York Ave., N.E.

republicrestoratives.com 

Editor’s Choice: Cotton & Reed

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


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Best Drag Queen: Cake Pop!

Cake Pop! (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Vagenesis

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


Best Drag King: Molasses

Molasses (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Rico Pico

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


Best Transgender Performer: Sophia Carrero

Sophia Carrero (Photo courtesy of Carrero)

Runner-up: Whitney Gucci Goo

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


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

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

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

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

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


Best Museum: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum. (Photo courtesy SAAM)

8th and G Streets, N.W.

Americanart.si.edu

Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art

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

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


Best Theater: GALA Hispanic Theatre

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

3333 14th St., N.W.

Galatheatre.org

Editor’s Choice: Studio Theatre

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

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


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

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

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

641 D St., N.W.

Woollymammoth.net

Editor’s Choice: “Six,” National Theatre

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

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

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


Best Live Music in DC: 9:30 Club

9:30 Club (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

815 V St., N.W. 

930.com

Runner-Up: The Anthem

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

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

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

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


Best Live Music Outside-the-District: Wolf Trap

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

1645 Trap Road 

Vienna, Va.

wolftrap.org 

Editor’s Choice: The Fillmore Silver Spring

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

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


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

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

gmcw.org 

Editor’s Choice: Impulse Group DC

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

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


Best LGBTQ Event: Pride Run 5K

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

dcfrontrunners.org

Editor’s Choice: Nationals Night Out

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

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


Best Regional Pride: Annapolis Pride

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

Annapolispride.org

Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Pride

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

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

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


COMMUNITY

Most Committed Activist: Rayceen Pendarvis

Rayceen Pendarvis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Runner-up: Preston Mitchum

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

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

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

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


Best D.C. Public Official: Mayor Muriel Bowser

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

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

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

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

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

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


Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health

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

1545 14th St., N.W.

Runner-up: Robert McKernan, Big Gay Smiles

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

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

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

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


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

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

474 Ridge St., N.W.

Editor’s Choice: Foundry United Methodist Church

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

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

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

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


Best Local Day Trip: Easton

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

Editor’s Choice: Annapolis

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


Best Hotel: Eaton DC

Wild Days at Eaton DC (Photo courtesy of Eaton)

1201 K St., N.W. 

Eatonworkshop.com 

Editor’s Choice: The Line D.C.

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

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

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


Best Local Businessperson: Bryan Van Den Oever 

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

Red Bear Brewing Co.

209 M St., N.E.

redbear.beer

Runner-up: Ed Bailey, Trade & Number Nine

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

stmarysnccna.com/our-clergy

ashley-goff.com/

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

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

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


Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Mystics

Washington Mystics (Photo courtesy of the Mystics)

1100 Oak Drive, S.E.

mystics.wnba.com/ 

Editor’s Choice: Washington Nationals

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

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


Best Amateur Sports League: DC Gay Flag Football

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

dcgffl.org

Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Kickball

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

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

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


Best Real Estate Agent: Justin Noble 

Justin Noble (Photo by Meg Shupe)

TTR Sotheby’s

1515 14th St., N.W.

ttrsir.com/eng 

Runner-up: Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty

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

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


Best Real Estate Group: Jenn Smira Team, Compass

Jenn Smira Team (Photo courtesy Smira Team)

1313 14th St., N.W.

jennsmira.com

Runner-up: Asgari Moore Group, Compass

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

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


Best Lawyer: Lawrence Jacobs

Lawrence Jacobs (Photo courtesy of Jacobs)

mcmillanmetro.com

Runner-Up: Amy Nelson

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

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


Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness

VIDA Fitness (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1517 15th St., N.W.

vidafitness.com

Editor’s Choice: Barry’s Bootcamp

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

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


Best Alternative Transportation: Alto

Alto (Photo courtesy of Alto)

ridealto.com

Runner-Up: Capital Bikeshare

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


Best Pet Business or Veterinarian: District Dogs

District Dogs (Photo courtesy District Dogs)

2323 Sherman Ave., N.W.

districtdogs.com

Editor’s Choice: City Dogs

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

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


Best Salon/Spa: Logan 14

Logan 14 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

1314 14th St., N.W.

Logan14salonspa.com 

Editor’s Choice: The Burrow

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

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

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

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


Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit

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

Runner-Up: Lotus Blooms


Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax

BMW of Fairfax (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

8427 Lee Highway

Fairfax, Va.

bmwoffairfax.com

Runner-Up: DARCARS


Best Local Website/Blog: District Fray Magazine

districtfray.com.

Editor’s Choice: DCist

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

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

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

District Media is on social media at @districtfray. 


Best Local TV/Radio Personality: Evan Koslof, WUSA9

Evan Koslof (Photo by Laura Metzler)

Runner-up: Chuck Bell, NBC4

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

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

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

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


Best Tattoo Parlor: Dapper Dog Tattoo

Dapper Dog Tattoo (Photo courtesy Dapper Dog Tattoo)

75 Maryland Ave.

Annapolis, Md. 

Editor’s Choice: Tattoo Paradise


Best Non-Profit powered by PEPCO: Capital Pride

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

Editor’s Choice: SMYAL

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

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


Best Home Furnishings: Miss Pixie’s

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

1626 14th St., N.W.

misspixies.com

Editor’s Choice: Hamilton’s Sofa Gallery

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


Best Private School: Barrie School

(Photo courtesy of Barrie School)

13500 Layhill Rd.

Silver Spring, Md.

barrie.org

Editor’s Choice: Maret School


REHOBOTH BEACH

Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Magnolia Applebottom

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

Runner-Up: Kristina Kelly

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


Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot

Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

ppgrill.com

Editor’s Choice: Aqua

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


Best Rehoboth Bartender: Georgiy Yanchenko, Purple Parrot

Georgiy Yanchenko (Photo courtesy of Yanchenko)

134 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

ppgrill.com

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

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


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

(Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

56 Baltimore Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

thepinesrb.com

Editor’s Choice: Magnolia Applebottom at Diego’s

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


Best Rehoboth Coffeeshop: The Coffee Mill

The Coffee Mill (Photo courtesy of the Coffee Mill)

127 Rehoboth Ave B

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

coffeemillrehoboth.com

Editor’s Choice: Rise Up

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


Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Blue Moon

Blue Moon (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

35 Baltimore Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del. 

bluemoonrehoboth.com

Editor’s Choice: The Pines

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


Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson

Lee Ann Wilkinson (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

16698 Kings Hwy A.

Lewes, Del.

leeanngroup.com

Runner-Up: Chris Beagle

This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s fifth consecutive win in this category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group has ranked #1 in real estate sales in Sussex County, Del., for more than 20 years. She even finds time to contribute insights on the local market to the Blade. 


Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub

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

37298 Rehoboth Ave.

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Diegosbarnightclub.com

Editor’s Choice: Freddie’s Beach Bar

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

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Netflix resurrects Dahmer, triggering criticism

Milwaukee gay activist says series re-traumatizes victims’ families

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Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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