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Unraveling mystery of the Kilbourne Place memorial stones

Three gay men lived in this Mount Pleasant neighborhood before dying of AIDS

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Three gay men are memorialized in stones placed along Kilbourne Place in Mount Pleasant. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Walking down Kilbourne Place is like stepping into another world. The quiet street lined with row homes is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Mount Pleasant Street. Mount Pleasant is a village within a city with a thriving El Salvadoran population, long-term residents, and newcomers such as myself. On any given day, Purple Patch is serving up sizzling plates of Sisig and the 43 bus is whizzing its way on its journey to the Kennedy Center. On Kilbourne Place, the sound of sizzling pork and the loud hum of the Metrobus can be heard. Within this little slice of serenity, there are three men that I’ve become acquainted with: Robert Rockerhousen, Jakob Efsen and Charles Winney.

On Aug. 18, 2022, my dear friend Courtney decided that it was a good idea to take a walk around the neighborhood after a long day’s work. As we took a right on Lamont Street to walk up Kilbourne, I decided to slow my pace and lag behind. When I caught up to Courtney, she was standing in front of 1755 Kilbourne Place staring at a patch of grass.

I looked down at what caught her eye. It was a headstone with the name Robert Rockershousen and the years 1959-1998 etched onto it. We both sat there and scratched our heads at this find. Without exchanging words, I stepped a couple of paces to the left and found Jakob Efsen and Charles Winney’s headstones. Courtney and I reconvened back at Robert’s stone and we started to exchange ideas about what these headstones could be.

My first thought was that these were trees planted as a memorial but Courtney reminded me that there were no trees. We said that these could be stones for beloved family pets but the names sounded too human. Getting caught up in trying to find out why headstones would be in this quiet neighborhood, we forgot the years that were etched into them. We both settled on the stones being a memorial for slaves since an enslaved burial ground was found not too far away in Adams Morgan. Now that the mosquitoes were biting at every inch of exposed skin, we settled on this rationale and walked away. Before leaving, I decided to snap a picture.

One glass of wine and a few hours later, I pulled out my phone and took a look at the headstone. The enslaved memorial theory was quickly discarded because I saw the year 1998 clear as day. Doing what most people in my age group do when we’re looking for information, I turned to the Internet. I posted on the r/washingtondc subreddit hoping to ask residents if they knew anything about these stones. The commenters on that post were as confused as I was. Knowing that I needed more information, I walked back down the street the following day and took pictures of Jakob and Charles’s stone. It was on this second trip back and actually paying attention to the stones that a thought started to form.

The author became fascinated by several memorial stones on Kilbourne Place and decided to investigate. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

All three of the stones were in honor of men who passed away in the mid-to-late 1990s who were all under 50 years of age. I decided to take another shot at the Internet and back on the r/washingtondc subreddit I made a post soliciting the help of elders in the area’s LGBTQ community. As I was waiting for comments to roll in, I was anxiously checking my phone and refreshing the feed hoping that someone somewhere had answers. No one could say who, what, or when the stones were placed on Kilbourne Place but a few provided some valuable insight on the neighborhood and a few told me to check the Washington Blade’s obituary section with my library card. That night, I spent hours going through each issue in the 1998 archives until I landed on the Nov. 13, 1998 issue. There in black and white was Robert and his cause of death was listed as complications from AIDS.

I went back into the archives and started scrolling through 1996 until I got to July 26, 1996 where I found Charles. In black and white was the cause of death due to complications of AIDS. It took a while for me to find Jakob’s obituary but it was found through the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Even though his cause of death wasn’t explicitly listed as complications from AIDS on his obituary, I knew what that 3×6 panel represented. Here before me were three men who were gay and died from AIDS. At first, my looking into these headstones was something to satiate my curiosity. I was still relatively new to Mount Pleasant and I wanted to know every little thing about the place I now call home. I did not know that this undertaking would become deeply personal for me.

I didn’t fully embrace and accept myself until I turned 25. Growing up, I had conflicting feelings about my sexuality and identity. As young as elementary school I knew I had an attraction to girls and I preferred to present more masculine. Among my friend group, I preferred to be called Tee because Tiana never sounded right to my ears. It wasn’t until adolescence that I also realized I had an attraction to boys. Throughout my adolescent and early adult life, I had visible relationships with men and closeted relationships with women. It was already programmed that there was a “wrongness” within me. I was mocked for my tomboyish appearance. I couldn’t maintain friendships with other girls because they would be immediately labeled as dykes. In college, the dean of my sorority indicated that she would feel “uncomfortable” changing in front of me, implying that there is something inherently predatory about my sexuality.

The closet is where I stayed until June of 2022. Around that time, the walls of the closet started to close in on me and a change needed to happen. I chopped off all of my hair, threw away my feminine clothing, and became Tee again. While this newfound freedom was liberating, there was also a deep sense of regret. When I went to Pride that year I saw a beautiful and vibrant community. A community that I knew nothing about and was afraid of my whole life. Stumbling upon Robert, Charles, and Jake’s headstones as a newly out queer person allowed me an opportunity to learn about a community that I deprived myself of in favor of trying to be “normal.”

I immediately got to work researching everything I could about the men. No longer was finding out the person or entity that placed the headstones an important part of my research. The most important thing was telling the stories of these three men and the lives that they led. Jakob was the first of the three that I started researching. There was already quite a bit of information on him due to his quilt panel. On his panel, there was a pair of cowboy boots and three flags. The cowboy boots represented his love for square dancing. He was a proud member of DC Lambda Squares, which is the area’s LGBTQ square dancing group. DC Lambda Squares members made Jakob’s panel. The three flags represented places that were deeply personal to him. Denmark represents the place he was born. Sweden represents the nationality of his parents, and South Korea represents where Jake served and lived during his time in the PeaceCorps.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jakob Efsen was born on Feb. 5, 1946 in Denmark. At some point in his childhood, he and his family relocated to Middletown Township, N.J., where he stayed until adulthood. Upon completion of university, he volunteered for the PeaceCorps where he served as a tuberculosis control volunteer in South Korea. In doing research about Jakob, I found a Facebook group of PeaceCorps volunteers who served in Korea. One of his friends, Neil Landreville with whom I had the pleasure speaking, was in K group 13 with Jakob between 1970-1972.

On June 23, 2023, I had the pleasure of speaking with Neil. Neil is now 77 years old and a retired HIV nurse living in New York City. He has a certain youthfulness and brightness to his voice that immediately endears you to him. We stayed on the phone for more than an hour talking about what he knew about Jake and trading stories of our careers in healthcare. Neil met Jake in San Jose where they were roommates for three days before PeaceCorps training in Hawaii. Neil first noticed that Jake was very tall and had an enthusiasm for life. He expressed that the people who knew Jake were immediately taken in by his generosity.

In the weeks they had to learn Korean and how to administer care to people with tuberculosis, Neil fondly remembers how Jake liked to take photos of flowers. Jake went on to become staff for PeaceCorps following the completion of his volunteer term. Being so inspired by the work he did in Korea, Jake came to the DMV area and worked as a tuberculosis case manager in Prince George’s County. Neil expressed that the same reason he worked in the Bronx during the height of the AIDS epidemic is the same reason Jake took on the job in Prince George’s County — he wanted to work directly with the people.

Another fascinating bit about Jake is that he liked to write letters to the editor in response to stories he read in the local newspaper. He was very vocal about his feelings on former Mayor Marion Barry during his drug scandal. He was also vocal about road safety and I have to believe he was passionate about it because he liked to ride his bicycle throughout the neighborhood. Another piece that spoke to me that I remembered when speaking to Neil is one from the Aug. 14, 1987 edition of The Washington Times. The piece was titled “AIDS: The Situation That the U.S. Faces.”

Six years into the AIDS epidemic, the crisis was being ignored by the government. Then-President Ronald Reagan did not mention the word AIDS publicly for years until after his Hollywood friend Rock Hudson came out as gay and revealed that he was living with AIDS. The government was so adamant about not mentioning AIDS that the topic was met with laughter and homophobic remarks in a 1982 press conference in which former Press Secretary Larry Speakes asked reporter Lester Kinsolving if he had AIDS. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when the AIDS death toll was nearing hundreds of thousands did the government expand funding for research and drug development.

In that time of governmental neglect, misinformation, and homophobia, Jake posed a challenge in his piece. He stated, “If Mr. Sobaran thinks the heterosexual population of this nation is safe from the AIDS infection, I suggest he study the incidence of genital herpes in the United States.” In talking with Neil, it was discovered that Jakob already knew he was HIV positive as early as 1990. Neil recounted a visit to D.C. to Jakob’s home where he stayed with his partner. He recalls Jake mentioning that he was taking Bactrim as a prophylactic for PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia). Even though Jake was living with HIV, he continued to work as a tuberculosis case manager all the way up until a couple of weeks before his passing.

Hearing that detail about Jake impressed and also flustered me. Tuberculosis is one of the many opportunistic infections for people living with compromised immune systems. I asked Neil if he was worried about Jake working such a job in his condition and he responded with “that was Jake.” Jakob died on June 5, 1995 with his long-term partner Bradford Jewett by his side. Neil went to the subsequent funeral service where he noticed that it was attended by a majority of his D.C. friends. Still not having any information on Charles and Robert and knowing that they were neighbors, I asked Neil if it would be OK if I sent him photos of Charles and Robert to see if he remembers them at Jake’s service. Unfortunately, he did not recall seeing them there.

Feeling at peace with what I found out about Jake, I started to look into Charles. Charles Winney was born on March 2, 1956 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he lived until moving to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins University in 1974 to study to be a pharmacist. It’s unclear how far he made it at Hopkins because he eventually went to the Howard University School of Pharmacy to continue his studies. In looking into Charles’s background, I wanted to find a better photo other than the black and white one used for his obituary. I scoured The Bison (Howard University’s yearbook) looking for any indication of Charles but he wasn’t in there. I continued searching for anything that could lead me to a photo of Charles and a Google search of his name led to a resume.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The resume was for a pharmaceutical researcher based out of Kansas. In the section where he listed the people he mentored, Charles was one of his interns in the summer of 1986 and he was listed as a senior. I went back to the 1986 and 1987 issue of The Bison looking for a photo of him and again, there was no photo. It is unclear whether Charles completed his studies at Howard but he worked for the pharmacy at George Washington University Hospital before working at Fidia Pharmaceuticals before retiring on disability in 1993. Charles also worked in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, not much is known about Charles at this point. I reached out for information to various people but none have yet to respond. Charles passed away on July 11, 1996, with his partner Larry Martin by his side.

While waiting for more information on Charles and Robert, I began to ponder a little bit more about Charles because just like me, he lived at the intersection of Blackness and queerness. That intersection was something that I had to reconcile within myself. In my community, it’s not uncommon to hear someone mention that homosexuality isn’t “African” or that homosexuality is an “agenda” being pushed by the white mainstream media to destroy the Black family structure. The thought that I struggled with through all these years was that by accepting my queerness, I too would be trading in my Blackness. The Black community is a community that had to build itself from the ground up. Through forced migration, we lost most of our native tongue, culture, and history. Some of those have been retained and passed down, which is evident in our music or cultural practices (i.e. jumping the broom at weddings) but it has been blended with the language, culture, and customs by the same people who kidnapped us from Africa.

Christianity was used as a way to instill subservience in slaves. Slave masters and captors frequently quoted Ephesians 6:5 to justify their complicity in bondage to human beings. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ,” the verse said. The Black church has become a pillar of the community and incubated the Civil Rights Movement. The Black church is also the same institution that uses Leviticus 20:13 to shun their very own. “If a man lieth with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination,” the verse says.

Even though the Black church is currently experiencing drops in attendance, not too many Black people are far removed from the influence the church has had on our people and unfortunately, homophobia has been one of its influences.

With this history in perspective, in certain parts of the Black community, queerness is viewed as giving into white supremacy where males are seen as giving up their masculinity for a more subservient, feminine position. The women are viewed as wanting to become men in order to escape gender-based oppression and only in finding the “right man,” will the woman return to her “natural” position. Being a Black gay man in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I wonder how Charles navigated these social issues. For Charles to have been out and in a long-term relationship during those times is a testament to his bravery.

In the process of digging through public records trying to find Charles, an unexpected call came in. Neil forwarded my request for information on Jake to a fellow PeaceCorps friend, Susan Pawlowsky. While she did not know Jake, she does have a love for genealogy. I asked her if she could use her skills to help me find information on Charles and Robert. She agreed and in the information that she sent, she sent the information for Robert’s mother. Acting on faith, I penned a letter and dropped it in the mail to Mrs. Rockerhousen.

On July 1, 2023, I had the pleasure of speaking with Arleen Rockerhousen. I expected to answer questions about my motivations in wanting to know information about her but I was met with a surprisingly sweet and pleasant voice. I told her to tell me what Robert was like and the type of child that he was.

Robert Rockerhousen was born on Aug. 17, 1959 in Michigan. Mrs. Rockerhousen explained that he had a good group of friends growing up but she would often find Robert in his room studying maps. Robert had wanderlust and had wanted to see the world from an early age. This passion for travel was ignited even further when he got a job at a local AAA office in high school where he again was surrounded by maps. After high school, Robert went to the University of Michigan Ann Arbor where he had an internship with Victoria University in Toronto. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1981. Upon completion of his undergraduate studies, Robert took whatever money he had and traveled around Europe until his money ran out.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When Robert came back to the states, he worked for American Express Travel Related Services until he eventually landed a job at the World Bank as a tariff specialist in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Rockerhousen was familiar with his group of friends in D.C. I found it quite funny when she mentioned that one of his friends was a cartographer due to his love of maps when he was younger. She also mentioned that she was familiar with Larry and Charles. In her recollection of events, she stated that the property on 1755 Kilbourne Place was not Robert’s primary residence. She stated that it was co-owned by him and his longtime friend John Koran. In a brief exchange with Mr. Koran, it was mentioned that he and Robert did indeed own and live on the property until Robert fell ill and eventually sold it to live with his partner Luis in the Shaw neighborhood.

Mrs. Rockerhousen mentioned that Robert, Charles, and Larry were very close and they enjoyed her cooking whenever she would come over. She mentioned that their favorite dish was her German lasagna. She isn’t quite sure how Robert, Charles, and Larry became friends but she remembers them very fondly. While listening to her reminisce about her son, I did not want to talk about HIV. I grew up in a post antiretroviral world due to being born in late 1996. I never knew a time when HIV was more than just a chronic manageable condition. In researching the AIDS epidemic to gain perspective on the times in which Robert, Charles, and Jake lived, just seeing footage and pictures was more than gutting in and of itself. I could not imagine being a parent and having to witness your child die before their time.

When the topic of HIV came up in regards to her son, Mrs. Rockerhousen spoke with poise and clarity. She mentioned that one of her biggest regrets when it came to Robert was that he couldn’t feel he could come out to her and their family. It wasn’t until Robert fell ill that he came out to them. Nevertheless, Mrs. Rockerhousen was very supportive of Robert and showed up when he needed her. On Nov. 6, 1998, Robert passed away at the age of 39 with his partner Luis Schunk by his side. Mrs. Rockerhousen mentioned that Charles’s partner Larry Martin held a wake for him inside of his house. I tried reaching out to Larry in order to find out more information on Charles, Robert, and if there was any connection to Jake but as of now there has been no response.

I still don’t know who placed those stones on Kilbourne Place and maybe I will never know. At first, I felt like Nancy Drew trying to unravel this mystery but when the lives of these three men unfolded in front of me, the mystery had to take a backseat. In front of me were three men who lived dynamic lives in spite of the AIDS epidemic. Robert, Charles, and Jake lived in their truths in a time when living in your truth could be met with scorn. Living in your truth meant having to witness the government neglect you as a virus was overtaking your community. Living in your truth meant watching friends and loved ones die but still finding community within each other.

When Mrs. Rockerhousen mentioned Larry having Robert’s wake in his own home, that touched me in a way that I could not imagine. It showed the love between friends and between members of a community. That is what these stones represent. Whoever placed these stones on this quiet stretch of street in the middle of Mount Pleasant loved Robert, Charles, and Jake enough to remember them where they felt the most comfortable. They were remembered in a place where they could be free without the prying eyes of the public. They were remembered at home, where the heart truly lives.

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Taste of Pride celebrates LGBTQ and allied restaurants

Weeklong event will feature local eateries and bars

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Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will headline the opening event for Taste of Pride.

Get ready to celebrate LGBTQ-owned, managed, and allied restaurants at Taste of Pride from Oct. 2-8. 

The weeklong event is a new initiative by Capital Pride Alliance. In 2021, the organization put on a single-day brunch event in June at LGBTQ and allied restaurants, but this is the first weeklong iteration. 

About 15 local restaurants and bars are set to participate, including As You Are, Shaw’s Tavern, Jane Jane, and Code Red. There’s also an opening party on Monday, Oct. 2 featuring food and drink vendors without a traditional brick-and-mortar space, like Suga Chef and Vegan Junk Food. 

Taste of Pride will raise funds for the Pride365 fund, which supports local LGBTQ organizations. There will be a three-course prix fixe menu at several of the participating locations, with lunch and brunch menus offered at $30, and dinner menus offered at $40 or $55. 

Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will be headlining the opening event on the evening of Oct. 2 at Lost Generation Brewery. Queeman, the founder and owner of the renowned bakery Mr. Bake Sweets and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, said he’s excited to spotlight LGBTQ chefs and mixologists. 

Queeman said he’s proud to be a part of bringing queer culinary experts together to celebrate the work they’ve all done and discuss what changes need to come to the industry — there will be a panel discussion on Oct. 2 covering those topics. LGBTQ chefs have long gone unnoticed, he said, despite the innovative work they’ve done. 

“Queers have been in the industry doing the work for a very long time and we just haven’t really gotten that acknowledgment,” Queeman said. 

Providing this space for LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry is paramount to giving a sense of power and ownership in the work they do, Queeman said. He wishes there was this kind of space for him when he was coming up as a chef when he was younger. 

Taste of Pride is also a great opportunity for LGBTQ people looking to get into the industry to find safe spaces to work that are run by queer people, Queeman said. 

Rob Heim, the general manager at Shaw’s Tavern, said he’s looking forward to being a part of the event. And new fall menu items at Shaw’s Tavern will be available during Taste of Pride, which he’s thrilled to showcase. 

“I was really excited to help out and participate,” he said. “It’s a great idea.” 

The smaller number of participating restaurants in Taste of Pride is intentional, said Brandon Bayton, a volunteer executive producer organizing Taste of Pride. It’s so each restaurant can be well-represented during the week, and different restaurants will be highlighted on social media on separate days. Capital Pride Alliance is also partnering with influencers to get the word out. 

From left, food from 801 Restaurant and Bar and a drink from Code Red. (Code Red photo by Michael Emond; photos courtesy of Capital Pride Alliance)

Visibility — all year long 

It’s important to have events like Taste of Pride outside of June, Bayton said. 

“We exist 365 days,” Bayton said. “So we need to make sure that we continue the celebration and invite others to celebrate with us and just be authentically ourselves. We enjoy and do a lot of things other people do. There’s no reason why we should just be constrained to one month.”

Queeman agrees. His identity as a queer Black man doesn’t stop or start at any given month. 

“I’m not just a queer or gay man in June or I’m not just a Black man in February,” he said. 

And food is a major intersection that all people of all identities enjoy, Bayton said. It’s a simple way to bring people together. 

“We do the exact same things that everyone else does,” Bayton said. “We all eat. We all love to eat.” 

Taste of Pride will run from Oct. 2-8. For more information and to make reservations, visit capitalpride.org/event/taste-of-pride.

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Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion

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Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.

The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.

I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me. 

Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre. 

Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, Andr​​é 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing. 

My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call. 

As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense? 

A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender. 

“Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.” 

The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.

“Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”

Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.

“Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.” 

This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio. 

And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of  patriarchy and homophobia. 

“‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”

“Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added. 

This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations. 

Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children. 

“You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100. 

In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.” 

In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop. 

“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”

So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.

Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms. 

“We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”

“More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added. 

(Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)

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Cuisine and culture come together at The Square

D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors

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(Photo by Scott Suchman)

Downtown got a bit tastier when “the next generation of food halls” opened its doors on Tuesday near the Farragut West Metro stop. Dubbed The Square, its half-dozen debut stalls are a Spanish-flecked mix of D.C. favorites, new concepts, and vendor-collaborative spirit.

After two years of planning – and teasing some big-name chefs – the market is, according to the owners, “where cuisine, culture, and community are woven together.”

Behind this ambitious project with lofty aims are Richie Brandenburg, who had a hand in creating Union Market and Rubén García, a creative director of the José Andrés Group who also was part of the team of Mercado Little Spain, the fairly new Spanish-themed Andres food hall in Hudson Yards.

Food halls have come a long way since the new Union Market awakened the concept a decade ago. Instead of simply rows of vendors in parallel lines, The Square has a new business model and perspective. This food hall shares revenue between the owners and its chef partners. Vendors are encouraged to collaborate, using one software system, and purchasing raw materials and liquor at scale together.

“Our goal was two-fold: to create a best-in-class hospitality offering with delicious foods for our guests; and behind the scenes, create the strong, complex infrastructure needed to nurture both young chefs and seasoned professionals, startups, and innovation within our industry,” says Brandenburg.

The Square has embraced a more chef-forward methodology, given that the founders/owners themselves are chefs. They’re bringing together a diverse mix of new talent and longtime favorites to connect, offer guidance to each other, and make the market into a destination. 

(Photos by Scott Suchman)

The first phase of The Square premiered this week. This phase encapsulates a selection of original concepts from well-known local chefs and business owners, and includes:

• Cashion’s Rendezvous – Oysters, crab cakes, and cocktails, from the owners of D.C. institutions and now-closed Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell (Ann Cashion and John Fulchino).

• Jamón Jamón – Flamenco-forward food with hand-cut jamón Iberico, queso, and croquetas, sourced by García himself.

• Brasa – Grilled sausages and veggies are the stars here. Chef García oversees this Spanish street-food stall as well.

 Taqueria Xochi – Birria, guisado, and other street tacos, plus margs. Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, and from a Jose Andres alum.

• Yaocho – Fried chicken, juices, sweets, and libations.

• Junge’s – Churros and soft serve ice cream. Brandenburg and García both have a hand in this stall.

• Atrium Bar – The central watering hole for drinks. Atrium Bar serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by The Square’s Beverage Director Owen Thompson.

“Having been part of Jose Andres’s restaurant group and getting to know Ruben and Richie, it’s amazing to see how their values align with ours at Taqueria Xochi. Seeing all these incredible chefs heading into Square feels like a full-circle moment,” said Geraldine Mendoza of Taqueria Xochi.

Slated for fall 2023, the next round of openings includes Flora Pizzeria, Cebicheria Chalaca, KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi, Shoals Market (a retail hub), and more. Additionally, chef Rubén García’s Spanish restaurant, Casa Teresa, will soon open next door to The Square.

The Square is just one of a handful of new food halls blossoming in and around D.C. Up in Brentwood, Md., miXt Food Hall is an art-adjacent space with tacos, a year-round fresh market, coffee, and beer. Across from Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin marketplace with everything from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant and a festive vibe. Closer to The Square is Western Market by GW University, which opened in late 2021 with a buzzy, relaxed style.

For now, the Square is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Square plans to open on weekends and extend hours to offer dinner service in the coming months. A few alfresco seats will accompany the hall.

(Photo by Scott Suchman)
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