Connect with us

a&e features

Best Of LGBTQ D.C. 2023

Blade readers voted and here are your favorites in food, nightlife, and more

Published

on

It’s that time of year again when we pause to celebrate the best of our exceptional local LGBTQ community, from food to activism to religion.

This year’s Local Hero award goes to the tireless Brent Minor for his many years of service to the community and his efforts to expand LGBTQ acceptance in sports. D.C. is bucking the trend of queer bars closing, as the city saw several new venues open this year. And our awards aren’t limited to D.C.; we’ve again included numerous categories from Rehoboth Beach.

More than 4,000 nominations and 30,000 votes were cast in more than 60 categories for the 22nd annual Best Of awards. The Blade’s Stephen Rutgers coordinated the process. Michael Key served as photo editor for the project. This year’s contributing writers are Patrick Folliard, Tinashe Chingarande, Cal Benn, Lou Chibbaro Jr., Evan Caplan, Kaela Roeder, Michael K. Lavers, and Kevin Naff. Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you to our sponsors ABSOLUT, PEPCO, Shakers, Heineken, and Infinite Legacy.

LOCAL HERO: BRENT MINOR

Team DC founder credited with helping to launch Pride Night Out events
Brent Minor is the Blade’s choice for the 2023 Local Hero honoree. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The selection this month by Washington Blade staff of Brent Minor as the 2023 recipient of the Local Hero Award comes a short time after Minor announced he was stepping down from his longtime position as executive director of Team DC, the D.C.-area LGBTQ sports organization.

“After more than 20 years of leading Team DC, first as its board president and then as the executive director, I have decided it is time to move on and retire from this part of my life,” Minor said in a Facebook announcement.

“It has been a joy and a privilege to establish and grow this organization over the years and help make sports a more welcoming place for all participants,” he stated.

Minor has been credited with helping Team DC become one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ sports organizations, which currently includes more than 40 LGBTQ or LGBTQ-supportive sports teams or sports leagues as affiliated members.

Under Minor’s direction, Team DC established the annual D.C. area Pride Night Out events in which about a dozen D.C. professional sports teams welcome LGBTQ sports fans to their respective stadiums or arenas to support the team and celebrate LGBTQ Pride during a home game.

Among the teams that work with Team DC to host the Pride Night Out games are the Washington Nationals baseball team, the Washington Wizards basketball team, the Washington Commanders football team, and the Washington Capitals hockey team.
The highlight of this year’s Pride Night Out at the Washington Nationals in June involved Minor and other Team DC officials joining former Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who threw the ceremonial “first pitch” to open the game as Nationals players and fans cheered loudly.

Minor has also played a lead role in helping Team DC establish its annual Team DC College Scholarship Program, which awards college bound LGBTQ high school student athletes $2,000 scholarships to support their college education.

“While it is great to host 12 Pride Night Out events annually, we want to work with our pro teams to make sure that they are fully supportive of LGBTQ issues and not just when they want to sell tickets,” Minor said in a 2019 guest column in the Washington Blade in explaining Team DC’s ongoing mission.

In discussing the role of Team DC’s more than 40 LGBTQ sports teams or leagues, Minor said, “The presence of healthy and well-organized sports clubs in D.C. helps make our LGBTQ community stronger and more stable. For many participants, their team adds a dimension to their life that a job or home just cannot fill.”

Minor, an Alexandria, Va., resident who is originally from Charlotte, N.C., has been involved with several LGBTQ-related causes and organizations prior to and during his early years with Team DC., according to a write-up of his professional experience he provided to the Blade.

He served from 2000 to 2005 as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS during the administration of President Bill Clinton, who appointed him, and President George W. Bush. He served twice as chair of the D.C. Bid Committee seeking to have D.C. become host in 2014 and 2022 for the Gay Games, the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports competition. The two bids were unsuccessful. He also served on the Gay Games Board of Directors from 2002 to 2008.

Minor served from 1996 to 2000 as Director of Community Relations and Public Funding for Food and Friends, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that delivers food and provides other services to homebound people with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. He served from 2006 to 2008 as Community Relations Director for the Whitman-Walker Clinic of Northern Virginia.
David Perruzza, owner of the D.C. gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which have worked with Team DC to help arrange for the sale of tickets to Pride Night Out games, expressed what appears to reflect the sentiment of many local LGBTQ sports enthusiasts of the work of Minor and Team DC.

“What an amazing night at Night Out with the Nationals,” Perruzza said in a June 6 Facebook post reflecting on the Night Out at the Nationals. “Congratulations Team DC for putting on the event of the year and Brent Minor and your crew,” Perruzza wrote.

“You are appreciated more than you will ever know,” he stated. “I hope the community respects and realizes what an amazing individual you are.”

Blade Editor Kevin Naff echoed Perruzza’s sentiments in explaining the Local Hero award, which is the only Best Of award selected by Blade staff.

“The Blade’s Local Hero honorees reflect the very best of our community,” said Naff. “Brent’s tireless devotion to LGBTQ causes has opened many doors along with hearts and minds. The community owes him our tremendous gratitude.”

In accepting the honor, Minor told the Blade, “I’m incredibly honored to be recognized for this award.”

EATING & DRINKING

Best Coffee Shop: Three Fifty Bakery and Coffee Bar
1926 17th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Tatte Bakery & Café

Jimmy Hopper of Three Fifty Bakery shows off his wares. (Photo courtesy of Hopper)

Gay-owned Three Fifty takes home the top spot this year, dethroning Compass after a five-year run. The bakery has been in operation for 10 years on 17th Street, but is set to move to larger locale nearby on R Street. The neighborhood spot sells carb-forward specialties like scones, croissants, quiche, breads, muffins, and cookies, as well as coffee drinks. Owner Jimmy Hopper in a recent Blade article says that he first envisioned a cake shop but quickly realized the area needed a bakery and coffeeshop.


Best Outdoor Dining: Hank’s Oyster Bar Wharf
701 Wharf St., S.W.
Editor’s Choice: Le Diplomate

Hank’s Oyster Bar at the Wharf (Photo courtesy of Hank’s Oyster Bar)

Neighborhood institution Hank’s Oyster Bar scoops up this award for its alfresco option on the Wharf. In October of 2017, lesbian chef and restaurateur Jamie Leeds opened Hank’s Oyster Bar on the Wharf, building on her wildly successful original Hank’s in Dupont (there is another in Alexandria). The sweeping vistas pair especially well with oysters and lobster rolls. Another of Leeds’s spots, Hank’s Cocktail Bar, is a two-time winner of the Blade’s “Best Craft Cocktails” award.


Best Restaurant: Crazy Aunt Helen’s
713 8th St., S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Beau Thai

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

Owner Shane Mayson’s flamboyant restaurant Crazy Aunt Helen’s takes home this coveted award for the second year in a row – and it’s only been open two years.

“To be receiving this attention makes us feel like we are on the right path,” said Mayson last year. “We serve American comfort food that we hope will make everyone feel like they’ve been given a big hug,” says Mayson, who plates American food with a twist. Appetizers include items like fried green tomatoes, and entrees include chicken fried steak smothered in chicken sausage gravy. Many dishes are vegan and vegetarian. The restaurant is a supporter of several LGBTQ organizations, and hosts a range of events, including drag shows, book readings, a ladies’ tea dance, play readings, bingo, and more.


Best Brunch: Red Bear Brewing Drag Brunch
209 M St., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: Homme Brunch

Desiree Dik performs at Red Bear Brewing Company. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Having taken home the Best Neighborhood Bar and Best Local Brewery awards last year, Red Bear Brewing now is awarded with Best Brunch. This gay-owned venue in the District hosts drag shows, trivia, and stand-up performances, among other events. It pours beers with suggestive titles like “Hefe Don’t Preach,” “OktoBEARfest,” or “Tall, Dark and Nutty,” to name a few. Its festive drag brunch, running monthly, pulls out all the stops with its themes, like Broadway, Chromatica Ball, and goth. Desiree Dik serves as host.


Best Local Brewery: DC Brau
3178-B Bladensburg Rd., N.E.
Editor’s Choice: Denizens Brewing Co.

Brandon Skall of DC Brau and Chord Bezerra present this year’s Pride Pils. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Taking back the top spot (DC Brau won this category in 2021), DC Brau was the first business to bring back D.C.-brewed beer as part of the recent beer resurgence. DC Brau founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock opened in 2011, now serving beers and hard seltzers. DC Brau holds the annual Pride Pils fundraiser to benefit SMYAL and the Blade Foundation. This year, DC Brau kicked off Pride with a party at fellow winner Red Bear Brewing with a party celebrating its Pride Pils.


Best Local Distillery: Cotton & Reed
1330 5th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: District Made

Cotton & Reed (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last year’s Editor’s Choice won this year. Co-founders Reed Walker and Jordan Cotton became friends while working as strategists for NASA and the aerospace industry, turning a passion into a business. The distillery aims to learn from the best practices of the world’s rum producers to create a line of distinctively American rums.
All fermentation, distillation, processing, and bottling is done on-site at the Cotton & Reed Distillery in Northeast DC’s Union Market District.
They make a full line of rums, from white to gold to dark to coconut and spiced options.


Best Burger: Duke’s Grocery
1513 17th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Ghostburger

Duke’s Grocery (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2021 winner Duke’s Grocery serves burgers with a British accent. With locations in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Navy Yard, and Foggy Bottom, this restaurant serves guests hearty portions of bar food. The burger has landed it on a whole bunch of lists, from Zagat to the Washington Post. Besides its famed Proper Burger, it also has a salmon, Impossible, and Wagyu burger. The Dupont location is currently closed for renovations.


Best Ice Cream/Gelato: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th St., N.W.
(Multiple locations)
Editor’s Choice: Ice Cream Jubilee

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

Located on 14th Street, and often with a line around the corner, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams has a “uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body” in flavors like birthday cake and fruit crumble. It scooped up the award last year, as well. There are also locations in Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Navy Yard, Yards Park, and McLean.


Best Pizza: Andy’s Pizza
808 V St., N.W.
(Multiple locations)
Editor’s Choice: 2 Amys

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

In the New York tradition, Andy’s Pizza serves up pizza from stone deck ovens made of long-fermented dough, Wisconsin mozzarella, and California tomatoes. Andy’s boasts seven spots across the area, including one in Shaw near popular bars Dirty Goose, Kiki, and Shakers.
The pizzeria serves slices in favorite options like pepperoni and white sauce, but the whole pies come in a range of flavors, including a Buffalo crispy chicken and a vegan pie with plant-based cheese.

“I am a local, born and bred in the DMV,” says Andy Brown, owner and head pizzaiolo, after winning last year. “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!”


Best Outdoor Drinking: Pitchers
2317 18th St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: Dacha Beer Garden

Pitchers (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Winner of the 2021 Best Neighborhood Bar, Pitchers launched in 2018 and bills itself as “a sports bar/restaurant for the LGBTQIA+ community where all are welcome.”

The sprawling building features several different spaces with distinct atmospheres, plenty of flat screens for sports fans, darts, video games, a dance floor, a subterranean lesbian bar, and two patios. The bar often plays host to drag performances, including appearances by RuPaul Drag Race contestants.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Best Drag Queen: Evry Pleasure
@evrypleasure
Runner-up: Sasha Adams Sanchez

Evry Pleasure performs at JR.’s Bar. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

This award-winning D.C. queen is a mix between pageantry, comedy, and dancing who delivers shows filled with energy, laughter, and glamour. At this year’s D.C. Drag Awards, she scooped up the awards for best drag queen and best at large. Last year, she was named Red Bear Brewing Co.’s Miss Slay Them. 


Best Drag King: Molasses
@kingmolasses
Runner-up: Flirty Rico

Molasses performs at Drag Underground. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a Vox explainer video, King Molasses described themselves as “the sweetest, stickiest drag king you’ll ever meet.” Molasses fuses different elements of traditional Nigerian fashion with a southern cowboy aesthetic to deliver electric performances that leave guests salivating for more. 


Best Transgender Performer: Gigi Paris Couture
@gigipariscouture
Runner-up: Baphomette

Gigi Paris Couture captures the title at the 2023 Miss Perry’s pageant. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It’s hard to miss Gigi Paris Couture when her glamour is so apparent even her eyes glisten with opulence. From voluminous long hair units adorned with colorful flowers to floor-length gowns that accentuate her Coke-bottle curves, Gigi proves that ostentatious is the beacon of top-notch performance art. 


Best Drag Show: Con Acento at JR.’s
1519 17th St., N.W.
jrsbar-dc.com
Editor’s Choice: Red Bear’s Drag Bingo

Con Acento (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Since 1986, JR.’s has been serving some of the city’s best cocktails. And it hasn’t lost its touch when it comes to invigorating dance parties. Con Acento, a Latinx monthly dance party, features the hottest hits that’ll have hips swaying and hands elegantly slicing the air.


Best LGBTQ Bar: Little Gay Pub
1100 P St., N.W.
thelittlegaypub.com
Editor’s Choice: Shakers

The Little Gay Pub (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Despite being one of the newest gay bars on the block, Little Gay Pub has proven that it’s on its way to becoming a mainstay in the city. Besides winning this award in its first year in business, the bar has made a name for itself, welcoming elite patrons, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly ordered a club soda before taking a bathroom selfie.

Its owners are business partners Dito Sevilla, longtime bartender and bar manager at Dito’s Bar located inside Floriana Restaurant on 17th Street near Dupont Circle; Dusty Martinez, former general manager at the nearby gay bar Trade; and Benjamin Gander, former general manager of the other nearby gay bar Number 9.

“Little Gay Pub aims to fill the needs of the LGBTQ community by offering a new and upscale drinking and snacking venue,” the owners said in a statement when the bar opened earlier this year.


Best Bartender: Wyatt Warnick, Uproar
639 Florida Ave., N.W.
Runner-up: Andrew Bunting, JR’s

Wyatt Warnick (Photo courtesy of Warnick)

A quick Google search will show you that Wyatt Warnick is a well-known D.C. bartender with a following of more than 18,000 on Instagram. The burly bartender has a gaze that makes you feel welcome and at home. His Instagram explains his popularity with D.C.’s bar patrons as it’s filled with shirtless shots and shower selfies. Blade readers responded with a resounding “Woof.”


Best Neighborhood Bar: Duplex Diner
2004 18th St., N.W.
duplexdiner.com
Editor’s Choice: Number Nine

Duplex Diner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What better place to cure your Sunday hangover than at Duplex Diner where the menu features hearty food options like a Belgian waffle that comes with fresh berries and whipped cream or the buttermilk biscuit oozing with sausage gravy? Duplex Diner is the place where you can “come pull up a chair” and enjoy the simplest of moments with friends and family. 


Best Happy Hour presented by ABSOLUT: Kiki
915 U St., N.W.
dcwannahaveakiki.com
Editor’s Choice: Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse

Kiki (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kiki undoubtedly has the smartest name on the street, and along with it some of the most fun events. This bar in Shaw neighborhood hosts weekly drag shows and a dance floor where guests can let loose and break out their best dance moves. Kiki has four different bar areas including a beer garden and a sports-themed bar area. 


Best LGBTQ-Friendly Bar: Dacha Beer Garden
1600 7th St. NW
dachabeergarden.com
Editor’s Choice: Flash

Dacha Beer Garden (Photo courtesy of Designing the District)

The name on everyone’s lips when you mention beer is Dacha! This locals favorite has an open plan that makes it easy to guzzle a beer, or two, or three, with family and friends, and meet plenty of likeminded people doing the same. Above all, its menu is affordable with brunch drinks offered at $5 each and weekly eats at $10 each.


Best LGBTQ Bar Outside the District: Freddie’s Beach Bar – Arlington, VA
555 23rd St. S, Arlington, Va.
freddiesbeachbar.com
Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Eagle

Desitiny B. Childs leads a show at Freddie’s Beach Bar. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Freddie’s Beach Bar is the place to be for the gays who love happy hour. Along with amazing food and drinks, the restaurant also offers vibrant karaoke nights, piano nights and thrilling games like beach blanket bingo. Anyone who’s been there can attest to Freddie’s being the place to be after work, blazer off, tie untied, heels exchanged for flats.


Best Theater: Kennedy Center
Kennedy-center.org
Editor’s Choice: Arena Stage

The Kennedy Center (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What’s lovingly called the big white box on the river has been selected as our readers’ favorite. The historic Kennedy Center has it all including symphony, dance, Broadway shows, and specifically queer-made shows like “The Night Garden: A Sartorial Celebration” on Oct. 25.

“The Night Garden” is a fashion show and small exhibition event celebrating the life and legacy of the first drag queen in America, William Dorsey Swann. The mission of this experience is to bring history alive for D.C. and celebrate queer history month by focusing on the legacy that is William Dorsey Swann, the first drag queen on record right here in D.C. This event is curated by D.C. drag queen and fashion designer, Pussy Noir.


Best Theater Production: “seven methods of killing kylie jenner”
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D St., N.W.
Editor’s Choice: King Lear, Shakespeare Theatre Company

Tia Bannon and Leanne Henlon in ‘seven methods of killing kylie jenner.’ (Photo by DJ Corey Photography; courtesy Woolly Mammoth Theatre)

Once again, Woolly Mammoth Theatre continues to remain No. 1 with Blade readers.
Directed by Milli Bhatia, playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones’ two hander “seven methods of killing kylie jenner” has proved beloved by the fans. It’s about a lot of things, but murder really isn’t one of them.

Beneath heated discussions of white-skinned privilege, queerness, and body shaming, it’s mostly a story of friendship. Before playing at Woolly, the wildly titled play was conceived at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2019, and then landed stateside for runs at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival last month in New York. Then at D.C, the production proved a big success like so many like so many show shows heralded by Woolly artistic director Manuela Goyanes Maria.


Best Live Music Outside of D.C.: Wolf Trap
1551 Trap Rd
Vienna, Va.
Editor’s Choice: Merriweather Post Pavilion

The Culture Club performs at Wolf Trap (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For music alfresco, Wolf Trap continues to reign supreme with readers.

Comprised of various venues (the mainstage Filene Center, Children’s Theatre-in-the Woods, and the Barns) set on 117 acres in Vienna, Va., Wolf Trap was established in 1966 and remains the only national park dedicated to presenting the performing arts. And like any performing arts center serving an increasingly diverse community, over time, needs concerning art, music, and style change tremendously.

Its president and CEO, Arvind Manocha, is gay. When he took the helm in 2013, he quickly noted the increasingly diverse communities making their homes in the area: “Whether Puerto Rican, Indian and South Asian, or LGBTQ+, we needed to reach out. It’s important for us to be a mirror to the society around us, and anticipate the changes they’d like to see.” And that’s only gotten better.


Best Live Music in D.C.: 9:30 club
815 V St. N.W.
930.com
Editor’s Choice: The Anthem

9:30 Club (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

The venerable and great 9:30 club wins again.

Words from a former a 9:30 club staffer and Blade editor: “Your favorite band plays at the 9:30 no matter what your favorite band is.” He continues, “Workers are great. The sound is great. It’s an intimate venue. The best place to see a concert, and they had the best gay parties back in the day, including Blowoff.”

Named one of the best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, and dubbed “Venue of the Decade” by the widely read VenuesNow, the 9:30 is legendary. Since opening in 1980, the club has hosted everyone from the Psychedelic Furs to the B52s to Tony Bennett.


Best Museum: National Air & Space Museum
600 Independence Ave, S.W.
airandspace.si.edu
Editor’s Choice: National Gallery of Art

National Air and Space Museum (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The National Air & Space Museum is a favorite for tourists and locals alike. Complete with a planetarium, an Imax theater, numerous exhibits, and frequent events, there’s something for everyone.

The museum is LGBTQ-friendly, having “QueerSpace,” a podcast available on their website that talks about the impact that LGBTQ people have had on space exploration and research, as well as science fiction. “LGBTQ+ People” is an entire subtopic on the website that brings you to many such stories. This museum is a great choice for when you need to escape the D.C. humidity, and you’ll likely find yourself inspired.


Best Amateur Sports League: DC Front Runners
dcfrontrunners.org
Editor’s Choice: Stonewall Kickball

The D.C. Front Runners Pride Run 5K (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For sporty queers looking for an athletic club and place to socialize, the DC Front Runners has become home to many. The DC Front Runners are the local chapter of the International Front Runners, a welcoming club for runners and walkers alike for 40 years.

In addition to runs, they host several social events throughout the year, including volunteer work, happy hours, and annual anniversary and holiday parties. The club is based in D.C., but has members worldwide. 


Best Local Winery: District Winery
385 Water St., S.E.
Editor’s Choice: Bluemont Vineyard

District Winery (Photo courtesy of District Winery)

District Winery describes itself as a modern, wine-focused, globally minded restaurant and bar on the ground floor of a working winery. The Blade’s readers clearly have embraced the concept, voting it the city’s best.


Best Local Professional Sports Team: Washington Capitals
Editor’s Choice: Washington Commanders

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

COMMUNITY

Best LGBTQ Event: Flower Factory
@flowerfactory_party
Editor’s Choice: District of Pride Showcase

(Photo courtesy of Flower Factory and Jakob Stronko)

This is the queer DJ collective’s debut on this list. Flower Factory has been throwing events every second Sunday of the month since June 2021, and aims to create a more inclusive LGBTQ+ nightlife scene in the District. The group throws parties at several different venues in the area, including As You Are, Zebbie’s Garden and Black Cat. The music showcased at Flower Factory parties ranges from techno, pop, hip-hop and house, and attracts hundreds of guests. Typically beginning in the afternoon and ending in the early evening, it’s a way to end the weekend and begin the week with a celebratory tone.


Best Pride Outside of DC: Annapolis Pride
annapolispride.org
Editor’s Choice: Baltimore Pride

Annapolis Pride (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For the second year in a row, Annapolis Pride wins best Pride outside of D.C. Founded in the spring of 2018, a group of Annapolis locals decided it was about time the city had its own Pride event, just like Baltimore and D.C. Its first festival officially kicked off in 2019 and attracted more than 6,000 attendees. The city will celebrate its fourth Annapolis Pride Parade and Festival in June 2024.


Best Day Trip: Annapolis
visitannapolis.org
Editor’s Choice: Harper’s Ferry

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

Next time you need a quick getaway, check out the endless activities in Maryland’s charming capital city on the Chesapeake. Check out the famous historical landmarks like the Maryland State House and St. Anne’s Church. Explore the plethora of antique shops like Blue Crab Antiques and West Annapolis Antiques. And you can’t visit without indulging in seafood dining spots like Cantler’s and O’Learys Seafood. There are also several gardens and parks, like Broadneck Park (613 College Pkwy) or the Chase Home Garden (22 Maryland Ave.) where you can unplug and enjoy a stroll.


Best Clergy: Bishop Allyson Abrams
Runner-up: Rev. Ashley Goff

Bishop Allyson Abrams officiates a wedding. (Photo courtesy of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral)

Bishop Allyson Abrams founded and established the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in May 2014. She resigned from a Detroit church a decade ago after it was revealed she had married a woman, she told the Blade in 2014. After that, she decided to resign and moved to the area to start her own Baptist church — Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, now based in Lanham, Md.

“We welcome and affirm every race, gender, sexuality and disability,” Abrams told the Blade in 2014. “We want to give them a safe space, teach principles and to pour into them God’s love. People say it’s amazing to hear a pastor say that God loves us the way we are. I’m always going to make sure God knows them.”


Most Committed Activist: Heidi Ellis
Runner-up: Rayceen Pendarvis

Heidi Ellis attends the 2023 Human Right Campaign National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Heidi Ellis is the founder and CEO of HME Consulting and Advocacy, a company that seeks to advance policies and initiatives that address issues of intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ community. She works on a variety of projects in the consulting and advocacy space, like facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve and work with LGBTQ clients and employees, for example. She is a leader in the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition, and since she began leading the coalition, it has raised more than $5 million for local LGBTQ programs.

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission-driven,” she told the Blade in September. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”


Best D.C. Public Official: Robert White
Runner-up: Salah Czapary

D.C. Councilmember Robert White marches in the 2023 Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

At-large Councilmember Robert White has been a member of the D.C. Council since 2016 and ran for mayor in the 2022 election, where he garnered endorsements from LGBTQ organizations like the Capital Stonewall Democrats. As a Council member, he’s introduced pro-LGBTQ legislation like the Pride Plates Amendment Act of 2023, which would create a special purpose fund to support the work of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs through a line of Pride license plates. He’s also been outspoken in condemning violence against the LGBTQ community. “I want my LGBTQ neighbors to know that I see you, I hear you, I support you, and I am deeply troubled and disturbed by these attacks,” he said in 2019.


Best LGBTQ Social Group: Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington
1517 18th St., N.W.
gmcw.org
Editor’s Choice: Impulse DC

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs ‘Dolly’ at the Lincoln Theater last June. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A repeat winner in this category, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington calls itself the “voice of equality of the nation’s capital,” and with an annual audience of 100,000+, many would agree.
The GMCW entertains, inspires, and advocates through music. They have toured nationwide and been featured on the “Today” show. Their next show in D.C. will be the Holiday Show on Dec. 9. 


Best Non-Profit powered by PEPCO: SMYAL
410 7th St., S.E.
smyal.org
Editor’s Choice: Capital Pride

Two scholarship recipients attend the SMYAL For Summer event at Hook Hall. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last year’s Editor’s Choice, SMYAL, takes the crown for 2023’s Best Non-Profit. SMYAL is an organization dedicated to LGBTQ equality and opportunity. It provides counseling services, development opportunities, and after-school programs for LGBTQ youth.

It also provides education and training for adults servicing LGBTQ youths in schools, housing programs, local government agencies, and hospitals.

SMYAL’s mission is to instill confidence and life skills into youth as well as to inspire them to partake in community service. These fundamental values will be critical for LGBTQ youth to carry into a brighter, empowered future. 


Best House of Worship: Foundry United Methodist Church
1500 16th St., N.W.
foundryumc.org
Editor’s Choice: Metropolitan Community Church of Washington DC

Foundry United Methodist Church (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For LGBTQ people of faith, finding a supportive community can be challenging. The Foundry United Methodist Church is an inclusive, Christian community that is welcoming to all.  As stated on its website, some of its strongest values are a devotion to diversity and that they honor humans just as they honor divinity.

The church hangs the LGBTQ and transgender Pride flags outside, making it clear the community is welcome. The inclusion does not stop there, as the church has an LGBTQ board member, and occasionally hosts events such as the LGBTQ+ Potluck they held last year.


Best Local Website/Social Media Account: Washingtonian Problems
@washingtonianprobs
Editor’s Choice: District Fray Magazine

Washingtonian Problems began as a Tumblr blog in 2012. It moved to Instagram in January 2019 “to have a better chance of building a solid community.”

“The brand’s mission is to foster a deep love for Washington, D.C., through informing residents about what’s happening across the city, providing laughter, and allowing followers to engage with the brand,” reads its website.

Recent posts on its IG page include DC Dates Live and the renaming of the long-maligned Dave Thomas Circle to Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson Plaza. Embattled New York Congressman George Santos, who is also known for his stint as a drag queen in Rio de Janeiro, also gets an honorable mention.


Best Local TV/Radio Personality: Britt Waters, ABC7
@itsBrittWaters
Runner-up: Chuck Bell, NBC4

Britt Waters (Photo by Stephen Gosling)

Britt Waters joined ABC7 in September 2021. She is a morning traffic reporter on “7News On Your Side” and host on “Good Morning Washington.” Waters is also a Washington Wizards in-game host.

She also hosts Sirius XM’s “Pandora New Thumb 20 Countdown Show.” When not working, Waters is known for her pro-wrestling commentary on TikTok, her vast collection of sneakers, and her love of pasta at Filomena in Georgetown.


Best Medical Provider: Whitman-Walker Health
Editor’s Choice: AIDS Healthcare Foundation

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health has been serving the D.C. community since 1973.

Named after Walt Whitman, who once lived in Washington, and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a physician who worked in D.C. during the Civil War before she became a women’s rights activist, Whitman-Walker was one of the first organizations to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the city. Whitman-Walker’s mission has expanded to include legal services and general medical and dental care for LGBTQ Washingtonians and the city’s residents as a whole.

Whitman-Walker’s new Max Robinson Center opened last month in the city’s St. Elizabeth’s East campus in Southeast Washington.

The Blade also acknowledges AIDS Healthcare Foundation for its continued work in D.C. and around the world.


Best Alternative Transportation: Metro
Editor’s Choice: Capital Bikeshare

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Private School: Barrie School
13500 Layhill Rd.
Silver Spring, Md.
Editor’s Choice: Burgundy Farm Country Day School

Barrie School (Screen capture via YouTube)

BUSINESS

Best Local Businessperson: Roger Whyte, Stratus Firm
stratusfirm.com
Runner-up: Ed Bailey, Trade & Number Nine

Roger Whyte (Photo by Rodney Bailey)

Roger Whyte in 2011 founded RJ Whyte Event Production. The company in January rebranded itself as the Stratus Firm.

“The rebrand demonstrates the company’s depth of expertise as producers, technologists, designers, strategists, videographers, and everything in between,” reads the rebranding announcement. “As the landscape for event production has evolved the last few years, Stratus Firm recognizes its unique position to continue innovating in new ways by renewing its focus in the competitive industry and delivering enhanced services at the highest level.”

Whyte said he remains thankful to his colleagues and partners “who have lifted us to a position to be able to make this change for our clients.”

“It is because of their hard work, expertise, and skills that we have been able to create connections with our clients and produce events that exceed expectations,” he said.


Best LGBTQ-Owned Business: Jane Jane
1705 14th St., N.W.
janejanedc.com
Editor’s Choice: District CoOp

Jane Jane (Photo courtesy of the Capital Pride Alliance)

Jane Jane is a local restaurant and bar with a wide variety of cocktails, beers, wines, as well as a non-alcoholic menu for under-21s. Unique house features include “Classified Documents,” “Gin Soaked Felon,” “Seasonal Affective Delight,” and more. Jane Jane is also a participant in D.C.’s annual Taste of Pride, among other local restaurants. 


Most LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace: Logan 14
1314 14th St., N.W.
logan14salonspa.com
Editor’s Choice: Capital Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness

Logan 14 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

This year marks Logan 14’s eighth consecutive win on the Blade’s Best Of. With roughly 75% of the business’s clientele being LGBTQ, this is their first win in this category. 
Logan 14 offers everything you could want from a salon or spa, including cut, color, extensions, waxes, massages, and hair styling for special occasions. 


Best Fitness or Workout Spot: VIDA Fitness
Multiple locations
VidaFitness.com
Editor’s Choice: Barry’s Bootcamp

Photo courtesy of VIDA Fitness

VIDA Fitness is without a doubt one of the DMV’s best-known and beloved gyms.
The franchise has locations on U Street and in Logan Circle, City Vista, Gallery Place, the Yards, and in Ballston. Another VIDA Fitness gym will soon open in Reston.

“Our gyms set the standard for high-quality, contemporary fitness with uniquely designed spaces, state-of-the-art equipment, industry-leading programming, luxurious amenities, and a social atmosphere that motivates you to achieve at your highest capacity,” reads VIDA’s website.

VIDA’s Penthouse Pool and Lounge on U Street is one of the city’s more exclusive summertime refuges.


Best Dentist: Dr. Gregory Martin DDS
5454 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
gregorymartindds.com
Runner-up: Dr. Rob McKernan, Big Gay Smiles & Staff Dentist, Whitman Walker Health

Gregory Martin, DDS (Photo courtesy of Martin)

Best Real Estate Agent: Justin Noble, TTR Sotheby’s
BurnsandNoble.com
202-503-4243
Runner-up: Stacey Williams-Zeiger, Zeiger Realty

Justin Noble (Photo by Meg Shupe)

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development, and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at all price points.


Best Real Estate Group: Bediz Group, Keller Williams
1918 18th St., N.W.
Bediz.com
Runner-up: Jenn Smira Team, Compass


Best Adult Store: Bite the Fruit
1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (Second floor)
Editor’s Choice: Trick Box

Bite the Fruit is a frequent guest on this list — the shop has been voted Best Adult Store by readers several times and won in the Best Adult Store category in 2021 and 2022. The shop has a robust inventory of sex toys, films, and apparel. Bite the Fruit is self-described as kink-forward, gay-owned and straight-friendly. “We cater to everyone guided by what is safe, sane and consensual,” according to its website. Items are available in-store or online.


Best Tattoo Parlor: Fatty’s Tattoos
Multiple locations
Fattystattoos.com
Editor’s Choice: Dapper Dog Tattoo


Best Salon/Spa: Bang Salon
601 F St., N.W. #100
bangsalon.com
Editor’s Choice: Logan 14

Photo courtesy of Bang Salon.

With four locations in the D.C. area, Bang Salon offers everything you could need for your hair, such as cut, color, style, keratin treatment, loc maintenance, and so much more.

For whole body wellness, the salon has an aura spa, nutritional counseling, a penthouse pool, personal training, Pilates, Sweatbox, and Vida Fitness. 


Best Hotel: Eaton DC
1201 K St., N.W.
eatonworkshop.com/en-us/washington-dc/
Editor’s Choice: Four Seasons

Eaton DC (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Eaton DC, a returning winner in this category, is described as beyond a hotel for tourists. According to its website, “Eaton exists at the nexus of hospitality, impact, culture, and wellness.”

Dedicated to culture and creativity, Eaton frequently hosts original artistic programming such as live music, film, talks, theater, and more. The building itself was designed to be innovative and progressive, and environmentally sustainable.

Eaton has been welcoming to the LGBTQ community, hosting a month-long Pride festival in 2022. 


Best Car Dealership: BMW of Fairfax
8427 Lee Highway
Fairfax, Va.
Bmwoffairfax.com
Editor’s Choice: DARCARS

BMW of Fairfax (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Home Furnishings: Miss Pixie’s
1626 14th St., N.W.
Misspixies.com
Editor’s Choice: Room & Board

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

Miss Pixie’s, returning as winner of Best Home Furnishings for the third year in a row, sells vintage furniture and decor perfect for any queer home. They have everything you could need, including chairs, tables, bookshelves, dressers, mirrors, and “whatnots,” which includes dishware, photos, books, magazines, and even bottle caps. Miss Pixie’s diverse catalogue has a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes so everyone can find something perfect for them. 


Best Pet Business or Veterinarian: District Dogs
Districtdogs.com
Editor’s Choice: City Paws Animal Hospital

District Dogs (Photo courtesy District Dogs)

Best Lawyer: Jennifer Fairfax
Family Formation Law Office
827 Woodside Parkway
Silver Spring, Md.
Runner-up: Michele Zavos

Jennifer Fairfax

Jennifer Fairfax focuses on adoption and assisted reproductive law and is licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, according to her bio. (Fairfax was appointed Montgomery County Circuit Court judge in September so is no longer practicing as an attorney.)

REHOBOTH BEACH

Best Rehoboth Drag Queen: Magnolia Applebottom
Runner-up: ReginaCox

Magnolia Applebottom (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Magnolia seems too young to be a veteran and staple of Rehoboth nightlife entertainment, yet that’s exactly what she’s become. From Diego’s to the Blue Moon to the nearby Milton Theatre, Magnolia holds court in her inimitable way, always singing live and looking fabulous. She’s won this category multiple times, which is no small feat given the quality and quantity of drag shows in the Rehoboth Beach area. Even nearby Dewey Beach, popular with the straight college crowd, has gotten in on the drag craze with shows this year popping up at North Shore and other venues. But no one in the burgeoning drag scene at the beach does it better than Magnolia, who reigns for another year as queen of this category.


Best Rehoboth Drag Show: Drag Brunch at the Pines
56 Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Splash Party with Magnolia Applebottom at Diego’s

Drag Brunch at the Pines (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Drag fans have an embarrassment of riches in Rehoboth Beach and for the second consecutive year, our readers have embraced Drag Brunch at the Pines as the best. No one works harder to boost Rehoboth’s live entertainment scene than Kristina Kelly, who holds court at The Pines. She’s not just a performer, but also the one responsible for booking a wide array of entertainment at The Pines, from drag to piano to book signings. Rehoboth would be a much duller place without Kelly’s dedication and hard work; someone get her a key to the city!


Best Rehoboth-Area Live Show: Dirty Bingo with Magnolia Applebottom at Diego’s
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Diegosbarnightclub.com
Editor’s Choice: Legends at Blue Moon

Magnolia Applebottom leads Dirty Bingo at Diego’s (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Magnolia Applebottom’s Dirty Bingo is just one of her gigs but it’s our readers’ pick for the best live show in town. And there’s no shortage of competition here, from the venerable Pamala Stanley’s occasional Sunday dance party at Freddie’s to the talented singer and pianist Nate Buccieri at the Moon, there are plenty of options for live shows. Magnolia brings her fearless quick wit to her Dirty Bingo ensuring a hilarious good time for all.


Best Rehoboth Bartender: Chris Chandler
Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Runner-up: Georgiy Yanchenko, Purple Parrot

Chris Chandler (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Chris Chandler has won this category so many times that we thought about renaming the award in his honor. And it’s easy to see why. From the busiest summer holiday weekends to the sleepy weeknights in February, Chandler is a constant presence and handles the crowds with ease. The Parrot is always finding fun ways to party, including a recent event in honor of Mrs. Roper that drew a packed house during a tropical storm with everyone decked out in Roper wigs and caftans. Through it all, Chandler presides with a calm smile always at the ready with a generous pour of your favorite cocktail.


Best Rehoboth Outdoor Dining: Purple Parrot
134 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Runner-up: Aqua

Purple Parrot (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is the second consecutive win for the venerable Parrot in this category. In summer, there’s no better place to escape the boardwalk, grab a table, and enjoy the always-festive atmosphere of the outdoor Biergarten. There are regular food specials, including crab cakes, German cuisine, and prime rib nights. The Parrot is also home to perennial winners in our Best Bartender category, Chris Chandler (this year’s winner) and Georgiy Yanchenko (last year’s winner).


Best Rehoboth Coffeeshop: The Coffee Mill
127 Rehoboth Ave. B
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Rise Up

The Coffee Mill (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is the second consecutive win for the Coffee Mill, a locals favorite for its diverse selection of beans, cozy and welcoming atmosphere, and status as a place to be seen, especially on weekends when the outdoor tables fill up fast.


Best Rehoboth Restaurant: Drift
42 ½ Baltimore Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Editor’s Choice: Blue Moon

Drift (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Drift took Rehoboth by storm this year with its inventive seafood-centric menu (the lobster French toast is a must) and scored a well-deserved rave review in the Washington Post.
The building dates to the late 1800s and formerly housed the Seafood Shack. But the rustic vibe is gone after a gorgeous renovation that includes a narrow dining room, partially open kitchen, spacious outdoor dining area, and intimate bar that cleverly opens to the outside with room for a handful of outdoor barstools when weather permits.

Chef Tom Wiswell, known to D.C. diners from his stint at Kinship, has created a menu that celebrates regional cuisine like oysters and crab cakes, but elevates them with unique preparations and stunning presentations.

Drift is part of the growing 2nd Block Hospitality Group, which just opened its newest hot spot, Bodhi Kitchen, which will likely turn up in our 2024 Best Of issue. In the meantime, make a reservation at Drift and enjoy the best of the beach.


Best Rehoboth Real Estate Agent: Lee Ann Wilkinson
16698 Kings Highway A
Lewes, Del.
Leeanngroup.com
Runner-up: Jason Abela

Lee Ann Wilkinson (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is Lee Ann Wilkinson’s sixth consecutive win in this competitive category. The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group is regularly tops in regional sales in Sussex County, which is home to Rehoboth Beach. In this competitive real estate market with high interest rates and low inventory, you need talented professionals like Lee Ann on your side when buying or selling a home.


Best Rehoboth Business: Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
37298 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Diegosbarnightclub.com
Editor’s Choice: Aqua Grill

Diego’s Bar & Nightclub (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is the third consecutive win for Diego’s in this category and evidence of the enduring appeal and staying power of this favorite destination for tourists and locals alike. Whether you’re looking for a laid back happy hour with friends or a sweaty, packed dance party, you’ll find it at Diego’s, which is also home to an array of live entertainment and drag shows. The spacious and comfortable outdoor bar is simply one of the town’s greatest pleasures. Rehoboth could use more outdoor spaces like this.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

a&e features

‘Queering Rehoboth Beach’ features love, loss, murder, and more

An interview with gay writer and historian James T. Sears

Published

on

'Queering Rehoboth Beach' book cover. (Image courtesy of Temple University Press)

James T. Sears book talk
Saturday, June 29, 5 p.m.
Politics & Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

When it comes to LGBTQ summer destinations in the Eastern time zone, almost everyone knows about Provincetown, Mass., Fire Island, N.Y., and Key West, Fla. There are also slightly lesser known, but no less wonderful places, such as Ogunquit, Maine, Saugatuck, Mich., and New Hope, Pa. Sandwiched in between is Rehoboth Beach, Del., a location that is popular with queer folks from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The dramatic and inspiring story of how Rehoboth Beach came to be what it is today can be found in gay historian James T. Sears’s revealing new book “Queering Rehoboth Beach: Beyond the Boardwalk” (Temple University Press, 2024). As educational as it is dishy, “Queering Rehoboth Beach” provides readers with everything they need to know (and possibly didn’t realize they needed to know) about this fabulous locality. Sears was kind enough to make time to answer a few questions about the book.

WASHINGTON BLADE: James, it’s been a few years since I’ve interviewed you. The last time was in 1997 about your book “From Lonely Hunters to Lonely Hearts: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life.” At the time, you were living in Columbia, S.C. Where are you currently based, and how long have you been there?

JAMES T. SEARS: It has been great reconnecting with you. After that book, we moved to Charleston, S.C. There I wrote several more books. One was about the Mattachine group, focusing on one largely misunderstood leader, Hal Call. Another book shared reminisces of a 90-year-old gentleman, the late John Zeigler, interweaving his diaries, letters, and poetry to chronicle growing up gay in the South at the turn of the last century. From there I moved to Central America where I chronicled everyday queer life and learned Spanish. We returned several years ago and then washed up on Rehoboth Beach.

BLADE: In the introduction to your new book “Queering Rehoboth Beach: Beyond the Boardwalk” (Temple University Press, 2024), you write about how a “restaurant incident” in Rehoboth, which you describe in detail in the prologue, became a kind of inspiration for the book project. Please say something about how as a historian, the personal can also be political and motivational.

SEARS: I want to capture reader’s interest by personalizing this book more than I have others. The restaurant anecdote is the book’s backstory. It explains, in part, my motivation for writing it, and more crucially, introduces one meaning of “queering Rehoboth.” That is, in order to judge this “incident”—and the book itself—we need to engage in multiple readings of history, or at least be comfortable with this approach. I underscore that what is accepted as “history”—about an individual, a community, or a society—is simply a reflection of that era’s accepted view. Queering history challenges that consensus.

BLADE: Who do you see as the target audience for “Queering Rehoboth Beach?”

SEARS: Well, certainly if you have been to Rehoboth or reside there, this book provides a history of the town—and its queering—giving details that I doubt even locals know! Also, for those interested in the evolution of other East Coast queer resorts (Ptown, Fire Island, Key West) this book adds to that set of histories. My book will also be of interest to students of social change and community organizing. Most importantly, though, it is just a good summer read.

BLADE: “Queering Rehoboth Beach” features numerous interviews. What was involved in the selection process of interview subjects?

SEARS: I interviewed dozens of people. They are listed in the book as the “Cast of Narrators.” Before these interviews, I engaged in a systematic review of local and state newspapers, going back to Rehoboth’s founding as a Methodist Church Camp in 1873. I also read anecdotal stories penned by lesbians and gay men. These appeared in local or regional queer publications, such as Letters from CAMP Rehoboth and the Washington Blade. Within a year, I had compiled a list of key individuals to interview. However, I also interviewed lesbians, gay men, transgender individuals, and heterosexuals who lived or worked in Rehoboth sometime during the book’s main timeframe (1970s-2000s). I sought diversity in background and perspective. To facilitate their memories, I provided a set of questions before we met. I often had photos, letters, or other memorabilia to prime their memories during our conversation. 

BLADE: Under the heading of the more things change, the more they stay the same, the act of making homosexuality an issue in politics continues to this day. What do you think it will take for that to change?

SEARS: You pose a key question. Those who effectuated change in Rehoboth — queers and progressive straights — sought common ground. Their goal was to integrate into the town. As such, rather than primarily focus on sexual and gender differences, they stressed values held in common. Rather than proselytize or agitate, they opened up businesses, restored houses, joined houses of worship, and engaged in the town’s civic life. 

To foster and sustain change, however, those in power and those who supported them also had to have a willingness to listen, to bracket their presuppositions, and to engage in genuine dialogue. Violent incidents, especially one on the boardwalk, and the multi-year imbroglio of The Strand nightclub, gradually caused people to seek common ground.

That did not, however, come without its costs. For some — long separated from straight society — and for others — unchallenged in their heteronormativity — it was too great of a cost to bear. Further, minorities within the queer “community,” such as people of color, those with limited income, and transgender individuals, never entered or were never invited into this enlarging public square.

The troubles chronicled in my book occurred during the era of the “Moral Majority” and “Gay Cancer.” Nevertheless, it didn’t approach the degree of polarization, acrimony, fake news, and demagoguery of today. So, whether this approach would even be viable as a strategy for social change is debatable.

BLADE: In recent years, there has been a proliferation of books about LGBTQ bars, a subject that is prominent in “Queering Rehoboth Beach.” Was this something of which you were aware while writing the book, and how do you see your book’s place on the shelf alongside these other books?

SEARS: Queering heterosexual space has been a survival strategy for generations of queer folks. These spaces — under-used softball fields, desolate beaches, darkened parks, and out-of-the-way bars — are detailed in many LGBTQ+ books, from the classic, “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold,” to the recently published “A Place of Our Own” and “The Bars Are Ours.” Of course, these spaces did not encompass the kaleidoscope of queer life, but they provide us a historical gateway into various segments of a queer community and culture.

This was certainly true for my book. Unsurprisingly, until The Strand controversy, which began in 1988, all of Rehoboth’s queer bars were beyond the town limits. There were, however, homosexual watering holes in the liminal sexual space. For instance, you had the Pink Pony on the boardwalk during the 1950s and the Back Porch Café during the 1970s. So, in this sense, I think “Queering Rehoboth Beach” fits well in this ever-enlarging canon of queer history.

BLADE: As one of the most pro-LGBTQ presidents in U.S. history, how much, if it all, did the Biden Delaware connection have to do with your desire to write “Queering Rehoboth Beach?”

SEARS: It is just a coincidence. Interestingly, as I was researching this book, I came across a 1973 news story about Sen. Joe Biden speaking at a civic association meeting. One of the 30 or so residents attending was James Robert Vane. The paper reported the senator being “startled” when Vane questioned him about the ban on homosexuals serving in the U.S. civil service and military. Uttering the familiar trope about being “security risks,” he then added, “I admit I haven’t given it much thought.” In Bidenesque manner, he paused and then exclaimed, “I’ll be darned!”

Biden was a frequent diner at the Back Porch Café, often using the restaurant’s kitchen phone for political calls. Like the progressives I spoke about earlier, he had lived in a heteronormative bubble—a Catholic one at that! Yet, like many in Rehoboth, he eventually changed his view, strongly advocating for queer rights as Vice President during the Obama administration.

BLADE: How do you think Rehoboth residents will respond to your depiction of their town?

SEARS: Well, if recent events are predictive of future ones, then I think it will be generally positive. My first book signing at the locally owned bookstore resulted in it selling out. The manager did tell me that a gentleman stepped to the counter asking, “Why is this queer book here?”— pointing to the front table of “Beach Reads.” That singular objection notwithstanding, his plan is to keep multiple boxes in stock throughout the summer.

BLADE: Over the years, many non-fiction and fiction books have been written about places such as Provincetown, Fire Island, and Key West. Is it your hope that more books will be written about Rehoboth Beach?

SEARS: My hope is that writers and researchers continue to queer our stories. Focusing on persons, events, and communities, particularly micro-histories, provides a richer narrative of queer lives. It also allows us to queer the first generation of macro-histories which too often glossed over everyday activists. So, as the saying goes, let a thousand flowers bloom.

BLADE: Do you think that “Queering Rehoboth Beach” would make for a good documentary film subject?

SEARS: Absolutely, although probably not on the Hallmark Channel [laughs]! It would make an incredible film — a documentary or a drama — even a mini-series. Because it focuses on people: their lives and dreams, their long-running feuds and abbreviated love affairs, their darker secrets, and lighter moments within a larger context of the country’s social transformation. “Queering Rehoboth Beach” details the town’s first gay murder, the transformation of a once homophobic mayor, burned-out bars, and vigilante assaults on queers, the octogenarian lesbian couple, living for decades in Rehoboth never speaking the “L word,” who die within months of one another. It, too, is a story of how the sinewy arms of Jim Crow affected white Rehoboth — gay and straight. In short, “Queering Rehoboth Beach” is about a small beach town, transformed generation over generation like shifting sands yet retaining undercurrents of what are the best and worst in American life and culture.

BLADE: Have you started thinking about or working on your next book?

SEARS: The manuscript for this book was submitted to the publisher more than a year ago. During that time, I’ve been working on my first book of fiction. It is a queer novel set in early nineteenth century Wales against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars and industrialization. I want to transport the reader into an era before the construction of homosexuality and at the inception of the women’s movement. How does one make meaning of sexual feelings toward the same gender or about being in the wrong gender? In the process of this murder mystery, I integrate Celtic culture and mythology and interrogate how today’s choices and those we made in the past (and in past lives) affect our future and those of others.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

a&e features

D.C. Latinx Pride seeks to help heal the community

Much history lost to generations of colonialism

Published

on

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Latinx History Project will host its 18th annual Latinx Pride with a series of 11 events this year.

Latinx History Project, or LHP, was founded in 2000 to collect, preserve and share Latinx LGBTQ+ History. Six years later, they began hosting DC Latinx Pride.  

Board member Dee Tum-Monge said organizers saw a need for the event that centered Latinx community members. 

“LHP knows our queer history as Latinx folks has most often been lost to generations of colonialism and imperialism,” they said. “Which is why we focus on documenting and highlighting the impact our community has in D.C. and beyond.”

According to UCLA School of Law, there are more than two million Latinx LGBTQ adults that live in the U.S.

“Events specifically for the Latinx community are important not only to make our experience visible but also to create spaces where we can grow closer with other groups and each other,” said Tum-Monge.

This year they kicked off DC Latinx Pride with a crowning ceremony for their royal court on May 31. 

Their three-part series, “La Sanación”, is underway with part two planned for June 16. 

“Sanación in Spanish means ‘healing’ which is a big part of what we want to bring to Pride,” said Tum-Monge. “Our communities go through a lot of trauma and hate, but we know there’s more to us. Our goal is to foster connection with ourselves, nature, community, and spirituality.”

In conjunction with the series there is a slate of other events; tickets can be purchased at latinxhistoryproject.org/pride.

In addition, Latinx Pride will march in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday and participate in the festival on Sunday. To stay involved with Latinx History Project after Pride and hear more about future events visit latinxhistoryproject.org.

Continue Reading

a&e features

D.C.’s queer nightlife scene thriving, bucking national trends

Deep Cvnt, Crush, other bars and events keep city venues bustling

Published

on

Deep Cvnt is a ‘mini ball deluxe-inspired party.’ (Washington Blade photo by Joe Reberkenny)

John Etienne is familiar with the drifting sounds from vodka-fueled conversations and the tapping of feet against the floorboards of Trade, a gay bar in D.C.’s Logan Circle. On any other Thursday night, Etienne — a party host, judge, and queer nightlife socialite — would be up on the dance floor, sipping a gin and ginger ale, dancing to the new Beyonce song with friends.

But this is not just any Thursday.

Tonight he is sitting directly beneath the dance floor in a salon chair, adjusting his sparkly green dress and white go-go boots, flipping between checking his phone and looking at the clock, waiting for the other judges to arrive. It is just after 9 p.m. and Deep Cvnt is about to begin. 

Deep Cvnt is a “mini ball deluxe-inspired party.” Etienne hosts the event once a month at Trade where queer people from across the city come to walk down a runway in categories, show off their best outfits to an established theme, and ‘vogue the house down’ making the “dive bar with a dance floor” feel like the set of a 2024 Paris is Burning. The party’s name is based on a slur, reclaimed into a symbol of feminine and queer empowerment.  

During the day, the 25-year-old works as a Digital Fundraising Director for the House Majority PAC. To him, gay bars that host events are instrumental in fostering a feeling of welcome and belonging for those who identify as LGBTQ.

“[For me] It’s the sense of community,” Etienne said. “ I think that being able to go to a spot where there are people who are like me, in some shape or form being that they’re queer or from a marginalized community, and can find refuge in these spots is something that’s incredibly important. And then, too, I think that these [queer] spaces are just a lot more fun.” 

Historically gay bars have acted as places for the LGBTQ community to gather, celebrate, and mobilize for political causes when the general attitude was more hostile to the community. D.C.’s unique queer nightlife scene sets it apart from other major gay hubs, like New York or San Francisco, due to the city’s number of welcoming spaces, its business appeal, and the strong presence of the federal government in its culture, allowing for the country’s capital city to be a statistical anomaly. 

Nationwide, gay bars have been on the decline since the 1980s. Damron’s Travel Guide, a database that has been recording the locations and ratings of queer/gay bars since the 1960s, found that in the year 1980 there were approximately 1,432 gay bars across the United States. A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine found that the number of gay bars in the U.S. has nearly been cut in half, with only 803 queer-identified bars in existence despite increasing numbers of public support for the LGBTQ community.

This trend is occurring at the same time as a record number of anti-LGBTQ legislation is popping up in state legislatures across the U.S. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2024. These laws restrict the ability of transgender Americans to get gender-affirming care, force teachers to out their students to parents, and ban First Amendment-protected actions like performing in drag, among other issues. 

Meanwhile the number of bars that cater to the LGBTQ community in the nation’s capital has increased from six in 1980 to at least 22 in 2024. 

The LGBTQ population is still large in D.C., with some estimates putting the number at just over 66,000. Historically the “gayborhood,” or primary LGBTQ neighborhood was on 17th Street and in the Dupont Circle area. That has changed as numbers have increased over the years, making the whole city feel like the gayborhood.

“Being one of the gayest cities in the world — with one of the gayest per capita populations — that is kind of baked into the fabric of the nightlife economy,” said Salah Czapary, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture, when asked about how the LGBTQ community has changed the landscape of the city. “If you look at these certain neighborhoods [17th Street and Dupont], their character has really been defined by the ‘gayborhood’ in the area. That has kind of changed and now you can’t really point to one area as being the sole gayborhood.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, causing the government to pause all non-essential businesses, including bars. After the pandemic, the growth in the number of gay bars accelerated.  “I think that’s kind of just generally after COVID, people are willing to take a risk on something new,” Czapary explained when discussing the impact of the pandemic on the gay bar community. 

Ed Bailey, a well-known DJ and co-owner of gay bars Trade and Number Nine, located around the corner from each other in Logan Circle, agrees about the economic opportunities COVID was able to provide but says that gay bar success boils down to the economics of real estate. 

“I have a very boring and not very sexy answer to why I think these things happen,” Bailey said when explaining the history of the prominent locations of gay bars in D.C. “At the end of the day, it’s all about real estate. Over time the gay community’s bars, restaurants, and nightclubs that catered specifically to, or were owned by, gay people were in underdeveloped neighborhoods… It wasn’t available to us to be in the high-priced areas. All the clubs and the bars were kind of on the ‘other side of town,’ whatever that meant.”

Bailey said the COVID-19 pandemic helped create a path for the current sprouting of gay bars all over D.C., especially in what are the mainstream, popular areas. “I think luckily the pandemic, at least in D.C., did open up an opportunity for a number of entrepreneurs to say ‘Hey! I have an option here.’ Some of these businesses are looking for people to buy them out or to move in, and so a bunch of people took advantage of that.”

The LGBTQ community has always had a presence in the city. It has been recorded that as early as the 1950s, Washington had become a space recognized for its ability to bring LGBTQ people together. 

“I feel like every time I take two steps, I run into another gay person,” Etienne said about living in Logan Circle and the queerness of the city. “I love it. I also think about the nature of what goes on in D.C. Historically, the government has always had a significant number of gay people working for it. Looking back to the Lavender Scare and even before then it’s always been a spot where gay men have either come professionally or personally.”

Mark Meinke, a 76-year-old self-described gay historian founded The Rainbow History Project, an organization that works to “collect, preserve and promote the history and culture of the diverse LGBTQ communities in metropolitan Washington, D.C.” His research supports exactly what Etienne described. 

“Between the [19]20s through the [19]60s, most of the gay spaces were owned by straight people,” Meinke said. A consequence of this, he explains, is that there was less of an outward recognition of these spaces as being LGBTQ friendly, keeping the community a secret. “Tolerance comes and tolerance goes,” he said as he explained why the number of accepting spaces increased and decreased during that time. 

This fluctuation of accepting bar owners began to change in the 1960s, as places that offered a safe space for LGBTQ people to meet, dance, drink, celebrate, and politically organize became more frequent and owned by more LGBTQ people. Meinke was able to track the increase of acceptance for the LGBTQ community by collecting advertisements from past issues of the Washington Blade (originally called the Gay Blade) from the ‘60s on as more gay-owned or more publicly gay-friendly establishments began to distribute the newspaper. Meinke also tracked additional gay literature in these gay bars, like that of Franklin Kameny’s Mattachine Society literature and their “Gay Is Good” buttons. The literature Kameny distributed was some of the first documented forms of LGBTQ activism in the U.S. and encouraged LGBTQ people to mobilize. 

Meinke noticed that during this time, one gay bar called JoAnna’s on Eighth Street in Southeast D.C. became a popular designation for gay people after the owner installed a dance floor. 

“In 1968, in Capitol Hill with JoAnna’s, a new social option had emerged for women, one with a dance floor,” Meinke said. In his presentation for the 2002 Washington Historical Conference titled “The Social Geography of Washington, D.C.’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community,” Meinke said that the gay community wanted more gay dance floors.

This inspired others in the gayborhood to create more dance spaces. “Johnnie’s (across the street [from JoAnna’s]) saw the future and installed a postage stamp-sized dance floor, and began getting lots of customers…Same-sex dancing in the clubs was perhaps one of the greatest innovations on the social scene in the 1960s,” Meinke wrote.

Not only did the expanding gay bar scene impact who was visiting the city, but the presence of the federal government and the number of universities located in the area also helped attract the gay community, Meinke explained. 

As more LGBTQ people moved to D.C. to pursue careers related to the federal government, a backlash was brewing and created a time we now call the McCarthy era. This era, which extended from the early 1950s into the 60s, brought in political repression of left-leaning individuals in D.C.

This repression and eventual prosecution of people based on the fear of communism was led by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and became a major part of the Republican Party’s platform. This fear also heightened political tensions, eventually leading to Republicans accusing homosexuals of espionage. This period was known as the “Lavender Scare.”  

Robert Connelly, an adjunct senior professorial lecturer for American University’s Critical Race Gender and Culture Studies Department, explained that this scare was real for many LGBTQ people working in the government. “In [McCarthy’s] mind, homosexuals’ perceived duplicity and emotional instability made them susceptible to foreign espionage and blackmail, you know, which meant that the gays were giving away our secrets,” Connelly said. 

This fear prompted the 34th president to take more legal action against the LGBTQ people working in government. “When Eisenhower took office in 1953, one of his first executive orders that he signed was Executive Order 10450,” Connelly explained. “This codified the exclusion of perverts from government employment and thousands of lives were ruined because of this in the early 1950s.” This homophobia eventually led to the firing of thousands of LGBTQ people within the federal government during the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

This systematic injustice triggered many LGBTQ people to adapt techniques other marginalized communities were using, mostly inspired by the increasingly successful Civil Rights movement, to politically mobilize and reclaim their power. The homophile movement, one of the earliest precursors to the modern gay rights movement, had major players located in Washington to help push for gay rights. The activism ignited by LGBTQ people during this time endured for decades, addressing a multitude of issues, including anti-war protests and the fight for expanded civil rights.

Some, like Chadd Dowding, 35, a regular patron of gay bars across Washington said that Washington’s gay bar scene has been successful due to the high number of LGBTQ residents and their desire to feel connected to their community. 

“I think D.C. has the largest gay population per capita of any city in the country, so that draws a larger audience of queer folks here,” he said. According to the Williams Institute, D.C. still holds the highest percentage in the U.S.  “I think there’s also a need for spaces for community, mostly because a lot of people in D.C. are transplants from other parts of the country.” 

Others, Like Bombshell Monroe, a drag queen from the House of Mulan (a chosen family, that works to support and mentor queens in Balls and beyond) said that contrarian attitudes are baked into the nature of the city. 

As Bombshell slipped on her flower-adorned flared jeans and orange tank top, getting ready to make her first appearance on the dance floor of Trade for Deep Cvnt, matching the spring bling theme of the night, she explained why she felt D.C.’s gay nightlife has been able to grow.

“I feel like D.C. has always been a place of independence and where people, even if we’re not accepted, will fight to be accepted,” Bombshell said while pulling on a fuzzy white and orange bucket hat. “I’m D.C. born and raised and can attest personally. I think that it’s so crazy because it’s political, but it’s not political. I feel like once we get the pushback from other states, we’re the ones that take it and say, ‘Well, bitch! We got something for y’all. You don’t want the gay bars here, we’re gonna put another one here!’” 

And put another one they did. Within the past three years, at least six new gay bars have opened up with very different styles and goals. Some bars cater to particular groups within the LGBTQ community, like that of Thurst Lounge on 14th Street N.W., which is a predominantly Black gay space. As You Are Bar, at 500 8th St., S.E., seeks to make an accessible and comfortable space for all in the LGBTQ community, focusing on often overlooked female and non-binary members of the community. Others focus on creating unique nightlife experiences, like that of the craft cocktails in Logan Circle’s Little Gay Pub with its Instagram (and Grindr) famous selfie mirror, or like that of the freshly opened Crush bar, focusing on creating a dance bar for LGBTQ people. 

Regardless of the specific reason people visit gay bars, It is clear that they offer platforms to authentically express queer identity in a world that does not always deem this acceptable. 

“If we get to a point where we have to start sacrificing more physical spaces for online ones, these spaces could be easily invaded by people who may not have the best intentions,” Etienne said, preparing to head up the scuffed stairs to Beyonce’s Jolene.  “There is something very valuable about having a physical space with a physical location because, at the end of the day, that’s what we have fought for.”

As the lights dimmed the Trade dance floor began to hush. A path opened up in front of the stage as the crowd of floral wearing ballroom fans stepped back, accommodating Etienne’s entrance. With the glittery green dress, knee-high go-go boots, and oversized sunglasses it is clear he is in charge of the night. 

“Since this is Deep Cvnt I need everyone to raise their hand up,” Etienne said with a smile. “And now put it below your waist. Check how deep your motherfucking cunt is.” The crowd roared with laughter and cheers. “Alright let’s get into it!” Deep Cvnt has begun.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular