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Drag performers join Gays Against Guns to decry nationwide attacks

‘We’re tired and we’re angry and we’re scared’

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Gays Against Guns held a news conference and gathering at As You Are bar on Dec. 7. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Three D.C.-area drag performers joined members of the New York City-based group Gays Against Guns at a news conference and gathering at As You Are bar on Dec. 7 to speak out against what they say has been an escalating and alarming number of threats against the LGBTQ community and against drag shows in particular across the country.

The Gays Against Guns members along with local supporters came to D.C. to attend the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, which took placed that evening at nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. President Joe Biden attended and spoke at the vigil.

Among those present at the press conference and who attended the vigil were Gays Against Guns members wearing white robes and hoods and carrying photos of people who died from gun violence, including victims of the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. in 2016.

Fresh on their minds, they said, was the shooting at the Club Q LGBTQ bar on Nov. 19 that took the lives of five people and injured at least another 17 before the lone gunman was wrestled to the floor by one of the customers and held until police arrived.

“We will represent members of the LGBTQI+ community with these human beings,” said Gays Against Guns organizer Ti Cersely at the press conference, referring to the group members wearing white robes and hoods “They are silent protesters donned in white, holding space for a person that has been killed by gun violence,” he said. “And we’re here to ensure the nation sees these lives and honors and respects them as we do.”

Another speaker at the news conference was D.C.-based drag performer Vagenesis.

“I perform all over the country. And it’s been a privilege to be able to be an artist on this platform as I have been over the past five years,” Vagenesis said, acknowledging two other drag performers standing behind them.

“And we’re tired and we’re angry and we’re scared,” Vagenesis told the gathering. “And I have to be scared walking out of my apartment building. I had to put on a hoodie and sweatpants to get to this event because I was afraid someone would hurt me or bash me for looking like me.”

Added Vagenesis, “As a queer person, as a Black person, as a drag artist, my body has a big target on it. And I can’t feel safe walking anywhere when all I want to do is bring happiness to people.”

The other two drag performers appearing at the press conference and gathering identify as Citrine and Rico Pico, who won the 2021 title of Best Drag King in the Washington Blade’s Best of LGBTQ contest.

“I’m very tired of our community just continuing to be sad in mourning,” Pico Rico told the Blade. “It’s not just our effort but a collective effort from our allies as well,” he said. “Everyone needs to be on the same page to fight what led people to get killed.”

Jay Walker, one of the founding members of Gays Against Guns, said the attacks on drag shows appear to be orchestrated by the same far-right groups and individuals that have long targeted LGBTQ people.

“And there has been, if my estimates are not mistaken, at least 300 separate verbal, physical, intimidation attacks on drag performances, and drag story-telling over the course of the last year,” Walker said.

“Our LGBTQIA2s+ communities are under siege,” he said. “And our federal government and our law enforcement have been ignoring us,” he told the gathering, adding that the sometimes inaction by law enforcement officials “emboldens” groups such as the Proud Boys, Patriot Hunters, and Three Percenters that have been harassing drag shows.  

Walker expressed concern that people not directly impacted by the attacks against drag shows or shootings like those at Pulse nightclub or Club Q in Colorado Springs appear to have the mistaken impression that these anti-LGBTQ attacks won’t put them in danger.

“They need to know that these weak-minded angry small men who commit these atrocities across our country are only going to expand their attacks, believe me,” he said. “It is not going to remain with sexual minorities or performers who wear makeup. It is always going to end up attacking the general public,” he said. “and our law enforcement and our government know that.”

Walker was among those who joined the Gays Against Guns contingent, including the members in white robes, who walked from the As You Are to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to attend the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, which began at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7.

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District of Columbia

‘Talking Trans History’ explores lives of D.C. advocates

Rainbow History Project holds first panel for city-funded Trans History Initiative

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Seated from left panelists Earline Budd, Rayceen Pendarvis, and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas are joined by Rainbow History Project officials and supporters. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocates Earline Budd and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas gave personal accounts of their transition as transgender women and their work as trans rights advocates Tuesday night, Jan. 24, at a “Talking Trans History” panel discussion organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project.

Joining them as a panelist was Rayceen Pendarvis, the acclaimed local event host, public speaker, and LGBTQ community advocate. Pendarvis, among other things, told of being nurtured and taught by dynamic transgender women who proudly affirmed their identity not only as trans people but productive citizens in the community at large.

Vincent Slatt, Rainbow History Project’s director of archiving, served as moderator of the panel discussion. He told the audience of about 25 people who gathered at the Southwest Branch of the D.C. Public Library that the event was the first of many such panels planned by the project’s recently launched Trans History Initiative.

Slatt noted that Rainbow History Project received a $15,000 grant for fiscal year 2023 from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to conduct the Trans History Initiative. The initiative plans to “better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into our programming,” according to a RHP statement.

Budd, 64, who has been a trans-identified activist since the 1970s, became involved in the 1980s with supporting people with HIV/AIDS before founding the D.C. organizations Trans Health Empowerment and Empowering the Transgender Community (ETC), for which she currently serves as executive director. She has received numerous awards for her work in support of the trans community and her self-proclaimed role as “the advocate” for the trans and LGBTQ community.

In her remarks at the panel discussion, Budd told of her childhood upbringing in a religious family where, like many trans people, her parents didn’t approve of her early identity as a girl.

“I want to say that around eight or nine my mother found me to be different,” Budd said. “The difference was she would lay my clothes out, my sister’s clothes and my clothes for us to go to school. And when I would come downstairs, I would always have on my sister’s clothes,” Budd told the gathering.

“And she would say why do you have on your sister’s clothes?” Budd continued. “I said mommy, it fits. No, it does not, you’re a boy,” Budd quoted her mother as responding. “And let me tell you, that went on and on and on,” said Budd, who told how she eventually parted ways with her parents and left the house to embark on her role as one of D.C.’s leading trans advocates.

Among her many endeavors was successful discrimination complaints, including one against a D.C. skating rink and another against the D.C. Jail for discrimination based on gender identity. Budd told how she won in both cases, with strong backing from the D.C. Office of Human Rights. 

Pendarvis, among other things, spoke about how an association with trans women as a young adult helped to shape Pendarvis’s longstanding and award-winning role as co-founder of Team Rayceen Productions, including 10 years as leading host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” which highlighted topics promoting the LGBTQ and trans community in D.C.

Similar to Budd, Pendarvis has received numerous awards and honors, including recognition from the D.C. City Council, for work as a host and speaker at LGBTQ-related festivals, fundraisers and other events.

“As an activist and host, I have been blessed to do many things,” Pendarvis told the panel discussion gathering. “For many who do not quite know how to identify or ask me to identify, first of all, I’m a human being,” Pendarvis said. “I am a father of five and a mother of many.”

Pendarvis added, “I’m a human being first and foremost, a child of God. And my trans sisters uplifted me first, embraced me first. I came out in a community where our transgender sisters were always on the front line.”

Thomas, 65, told the panel session she is a native of North Brentwood, Md., located just outside D.C., but D.C. became her home since shortly after finishing high school. She began her work in the LGBTQ community in 1989 as a caregiver for people with HIV. She has since worked for the local organizations Us Helping Us, Transgender Health Empowerment, and Terrific, Inc. She currently works for Damien Ministries and its “Trans Specific” programming called Shugg’s Place that, among other things, focuses on providing services for transgender older adults.

She told of her growing up as one of seven children in a family whose mother and father, she said ‘were very loving.” But like other trans kids, Thomas said her parents were uncomfortable over her desire to identify as a girl. A more understanding next door neighbor allowed Thomas to spend time in her house as Thomas helped with household errands.

 “I would go to the store and things like that for her,” Thomas said. “But what’s most important, I could dress as I wanted to in her house. She would give me dresses that I could wear. And I could go up there and put on my dresses and watch TV,” Thomas continued. “And then I would get to take my dress off and go home because mom and daddy wasn’t standing for that.”

At around the age of 10, Thomas said, she was aware of current events and observed that her father was a strong supporter and admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights leadership. “I said you can march with Martin Luther King for everybody else’s rights but you are going to deny me mine,” she recalled telling her father.

Thomas said she initially began patronizing D.C. gay bars after befriending gay men from her high school. A short time later, after realizing that the gay scene was not who she was, she discovered the then D.C. gay drag bars Louis’ and The Rogue and had a chance to meet “people like me.” But she said someone she met at one of those two bars introduced her to the then D.C. Black gay bar called the Brass Rail, where transgender women hung out.

“And I said, oh my God, I am home. This is heaven,” Thomas told the panel gathering. “When I came to the Brass Rail I felt like I was home” as a trans person, Thomas said. “I met so many terrific people.”

She went on to tell about the trials and tribulations of fully transitioning as a trans woman and her growth as a transgender activist with a career dedicated to supporting the trans and LGBTQ community.

Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, spoke briefly at the start of the Talking Trans History panel discussion. He said the mayor’s office was excited to be supporting the Rainbow History Project’s newly launched Trans History Initiative.

“I’m really, really excited to work for a mayor who not only is fighting for things for our community, but truly funding these opportunities,” Bowles said. “This is about you and our trans communities. So, I’m here to listen.”

Slatt also announced at the panel session that Rainbow History Project has a paid job opening for one or more positions to help run the city funded Trans History Initiative. He said information about the job opening for people interested in applying can be obtained through RHP’s website. He said a video recording of the panel session would be posted on the website in a week or two.

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for the New Year fundraiser set for Thursday

Annual event benefits housing, mental health programs

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A previous SMYAL fundraising event was held at Red Bear Brewing. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) is hosting its annual SMYAL for the New Year fundraising event on Thursday at Red Bear Brewing Co. The event will kick off a series of fundraisers supporting the non-profit’s new street outreach and mental health programs.

“SMYAL for the New Year serves a dual purpose,” said Hancie Stokes, director of communications for SMYAL. “One is to fundraise for the organization and the programs and services that we provide for LGBTQ youth, but the other is also to be an introductory event for folks in the community.” 

For more than five years, the Young Donors Committee and SMYAL Champions have held SMYAL for the New Year to engage young professionals in philanthropy. The Young Donors Committee is comprised of new philanthropists between 20 and 30 years old and operates under the larger SMYAL Champions network of donors who give roughly $10 to $35 a month. 

This year, SMYAL is directing those funds to a new bilingual street outreach program aimed at connecting LGBTQ youth to services such as legal aid, healthcare, hormone replacement therapy, and housing. The non-profit is also fundraising for its free mental health counseling program, which opened last year.

SMYAL’s commitment to assisting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth in Washington D.C. dates back to 1984, but the non-profit recently underwent programming changes. In March 2020 when COVID-19 hit, most of SMYAL’s programming went online, connecting members on Discord and Zoom. 

While SMYAL aims to engage those in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the virtual platform allowed the organization to reach youth in Texas, California, and Florida who are unable to access local centers like SMYAL.

“We did about two years of virtual events and we had folks still showing up and listening to what our programmatic updates were,” Stokes said. “But it is really nice to be able to share physical space with folks again.”

SMYAL continues to offer two virtual events a week alongside two in-person events, however, many of the larger fundraising events are back to fully in-person.

Last year, SMYAL’s new year event centered around two housing programs, which opened in spring 2022 and has since made the non-profit the largest LGBTQ youth housing provider in the region. But since Casa Ruby – an LGBTQ community center and housing provider – closed last September, more youth are in need of housing.

“One of our main goals as we head into 2023 is to really grow that program,” Stokes added.

SMYAL receives funding from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ affairs and Capital One, but Stokes says more support is crucial to continue investing in services that are accessible to non-English speaking youth.

Meanwhile, as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric gains traction in legislation across the country, Stokes emphasizes the importance of maintaining a safe space for LGBTQ youth.

“Our role as a service provider is to make sure that young people have places that they can turn to people that they can talk with, where they can just be a young person, understand their LGBTQ identity and find community and support,” Stokes said. “That’s what our programs really strive to do, everything from our housing programs to our mental health services, even just our weekly drop-in programs.”

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District of Columbia

Blade welcomes new journalism fellow, intern

Winter Hawk to cover issues of interest to local queer youth

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Winter Hawk and Andrés Jové Rodríguez.

The Blade Foundation this week announced the recipient of a new 12-week fellowship focused on covering issues of interest to queer youth in D.C.

Winter Hawk, a senior majoring in multiplatform journalism at the University of Maryland College Park was named recipient of the fellowship, which is funded by a grant from the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

“The Washington Blade and Blade Foundation have been a crucial voice for the LGBTQIA+ community and movement since 1969,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. “Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs believe it is essential to support the next generation of LGBTQIA+ journalism.” 

Hawk started her new position on Monday. Her work will be featured in the Washington Blade and she will be mentored by Blade editors and reporters.

“Despite covering LGBTQ+ news in art and culture for the past year, I feel like I’ve only skimmed the surface on true and just LGBTQ+ news coverage,” Hawk said. “As a queer woman, I cover LGBTQ+ stories because I want to highlight the LGBTQ+ community in ways its community thrives, not only to cover the community when it faces heterosexism. I’m incredibly grateful and excited to delve deeper into the stories that represent and impact the LGBTQ+ community in D.C. through this fellowship, especially as I seek ways to incorporate and elevate disenfranchised voices.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Blade this week welcomed a new winter intern. Andrés Jové Rodríguez is a third-year student at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo.

He is majoring in Tele-Radio Communications with an emphasis on News, Production and Direction. Andrés is interning with the Washington Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

“My goal is to one day be able to report on international and national political news on broadcast media so as to keep the general public informed of the to’s and fro’s of not only our political system, but also the ones abroad,” he said. “Likewise, I believe it’s imperative that as a reporter I properly educate myself on evolving trends that are taking the world by storm in order to have a conscious mode of communicating.”

Blade Editor Kevin Naff welcomed the two new contributors. 

“The best part of my job is working with the next generation of LGBTQ journalists and we’re all thrilled to welcome Winter and Andrés to the team,” Naff said. “They will help the Blade continue our mission of telling the stories of our local queer community and elevating underrepresented voices.”

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