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Breeders: Can straights be queer?

Our identities are not solely about our sex partners

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As a barback, I’m pretty damn annoying. 

I push past you with my ice buckets. I take your glass away, sometimes before you’re finished. I bump into the bartenders, tell patrons to step aside, and cut the bathroom line, all while covered in sweat, stains, and sometimes a little vomit. 

In contrast, the bartenders get all the glory. They charm your socks off with pleasant conversation and — oh, would you look at that? They made you a fancy drink, too. How lovely. 

While I might sound bitter, I enjoy observing how the bartenders approach customer interaction. Some rely on wit, others on speed, a few on good ole fashioned kindness and, on occasion, a master who can employ all three. Yet there’s one bartender so charming, so magnetic, so comical, he leaves patrons (and some staff) swooning in his glow.  

His name is Fred. Here’s the thing about Fred: He’s a six-foot-three-and-a-half-inch hunk of a man oozing what kids today call the rizz, or charisma to us older folk, and in the wake of this rizz comes scores of adoring fans. Here’s the other thing about Fred: he’s straight.

Gay gasp — a straight bartender in a gay bar? The mere notion may cause some waves. And here, in a queer publication, just before Pride no less, I dare to ask whether straights can belong in the queer community. Time to roll out the cancellation carpet, folks. 

Admittedly, that reaction is understandable, for we gays are protective of our spaces. Fighting for nightlife is a cornerstone of our history; Stonewall was pivotal for a reason, after all. But the world is different now, isn’t it? There are more queers, more queer identities, and more allies all around us. As a result, we’ve made some significant strides. 

Yet the tone toward our straight allies isn’t always the most positive. We detest the straight bachelorette parties, those gay-baiting straight dudes, that shrieking straight girl piercing our ears, and the overly affectionate straight couple taking up space. For many, the straights remain our adversaries, so much so that we degrade them with terms such as the title of this piece.

Take, for example, a few months ago at the Pub. It was an early Sunday afternoon just before the post-brunch rush when a sizable group of straight-looking college dudes overtook three tables on our covered patio. As they strolled in, every queer glared them down like a scene from a spaghetti Western. A few patrons even complained. 

That was before we learned the group wasn’t there for a heist but rather their friend’s 21st birthday — the same friend who came out to them the night prior. Out of support, they all joined him in his first legal foray into a gay bar. If you’re not already thinking it, I’ll spell it out for you: That is fucking cute.   

So, why were we so hostile? Are we projecting our own trauma? Are we always like this? To help me understand, and in what can only be described as the most sound scientific study the world has ever seen, I messaged 10 D.C.-area straight friends with a simple question: Have you ever felt judged inside a gay bar? After half replied yes, I grew more curious and asked 10 D.C. gays the same question. Of those, seven said the same. 

Queers: me thinks we have a judgment problem. 

Perhaps I should be surprised, but I’m not. I, too, have felt judged in gay bars. Certainly I’ve been the butt of jokes, and if it’s not me, it’s someone else. Yet according to the history we’re oh so proud of, gay bars should be safe spaces for queers. Now I’m left wondering: What does it mean to feel safe, and who qualifies as queer?

For the first question, consider my anecdote from earlier. To me, the birthday boy’s straight friends were as critical in facilitating a safe space for him as the bar they entered, for they encouraged him to be himself, which is what safety is all about. In fact, many of us have straights who support us — when we come out, when we discuss our lifestyles, when they join our gay escapades — all while defending us to others. In my own life the straights sometimes feel like a reprieve, particularly from the hard knocks the gay community can deliver, and there’s no better example than my good friend Alec.  

Alec and I attended college together, and every so often he and I meet up at his house, order food, and smoke a ton of weed in his basement. We’ll catch up on life before diving into a show; right now, we’re watching the “Chucky” TV series (Yes, Chucky the scary redheaded doll, but the show is remarkably camp and queer. Turns out Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky, is gay).  

During these hangouts, it often strikes me how connected Alec is to queer culture: he loves watching Bravo, his place is impeccably decorated, and he’s often showing me what’s popular on gay Twitter. Last time, having just read an article about actor Darren Criss identifying as culturally gay, I asked him, “Do you ever feel confined by straight culture?” 

Alec repacked his bong as answered, “absolutely.” 

When I inquired further, he explained, “My thoughts on straight culture can basically be summed up as ‘it’s boring’ and gay culture is a lot more fun. I’m not super into sports. I don’t golf. I don’t date. I’m not MAGA. I watched “The Sopranos” but once was enough. There’s not a lot for me in straight culture. I do, however, follow pop culture and entertainment news, I listen to good music, I take pride in my house and how it’s decorated, I love the “Real Housewives.” There’s just more for me in gay culture.” 

Now back to the second question: who qualifies as queer? Must we look a certain way? Dress a certain way? Some might say enjoying sex with the same sex, but what if you’re not sexual? What if someone happens to be straight but rejects the same traditional norms and values we do? And what if that straight makes us feel safer than some gays for simply being who we are? 

I usually prefer nuance, but when it comes to the question of whether straights can be queer, my opinion is absolutely. Definitely not all, but certainly some. Why? Because being queer isn’t solely about your sex partners. Rather, it’s about embracing non-normative sexual and gender lifestyles to allow queerness to flourish, and a heterosexual is just as capable of that mindset as a homosexual is of rejecting it (unfortunately those exist, but I’ll save that for another piece). Better put: when a straight person feels like a fish out of water in the pond of their own kind, well — what’s more queer than that?  

Speaking of fish out of water, the other day I asked my favorite straight bartender how his time at a gay bar has been. 

“It’s been very gay,” Fred so aptly replied, “and I mean that in the best way. It’s been a blast. Really couldn’t ask for a more accepting and open team than the one at LGP. I’ve learned more about the gay community in six months here than I would’ve learned in 10,000 years outside of it. It was a front flip cannonball into the deep end in the best way.” 

That warmed my heart to hear. And if there was any doubt in my mind about Fred’s true orientation, his cannonball metaphor all but erased it.

Jake Stewart is a D.C.-based writer and barback.

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Lawsuits won’t matter if democracy is lost

Be part of the megaphone that helps voters understand what’s at risk

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The New York Times has a column headlined, “The Resistance to the Trump Administration has Already Started.” It reveals, “A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Mr. Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself.” They are preparing lawsuits for any eventuality. What they are preparing for is the second column in the Times headlined, “If Trump Wins.”

It is because of the second column the time has come for all those in the elite groups who are part of the ‘sprawling network,’ and many others, to come out of their ivory towers, and take to the streets to spread the message across the nation about what happens when democracy dies. They need to do this NOW! Despite what some think, even those groups registered as a 501(c)3 in the tax code, can get involved in politics, just not for any one candidate. They can, and must, speak out and educate voters on what will happen to their rights if Donald Trump wins. While they may not tell people to vote for Joe Biden, they can make it clear what will happen if they stay home and don’t vote, simply by telling them the truth, based on Donald Trump’s words, and the words of his supporters. Tell them what he and his sycophants are saying, what they are preparing to do. Be part of the megaphone that helps voters understand, and then trust them to do the right thing. I trust they will, if they hear, and understand, the truth.

While I can say “Vote for Biden,” a 501(c)3 organization, like some of those the Times writes about, cannot. I ran organizations with that tax status and still went up to Congress and educated staff and members. I would talk about the pros and cons of the bills being considered. I would explain what the implications of a bill were for their constituents, and then let them decide how to vote. Not saying any organization should be as bad as the evangelical pastors whose churches exist under the same tax laws, and get away with actually telling their flock who to vote for. But they must stop thinking, they can’t get out in the community and speak out. 

Preparing their lawsuits for the possibility Trump could win, is fine. Actually, if God-forbid he wins, there will be time from Nov. 5-Jan. 20 to work on them. But stopping Trump from winning by explaining in plain English to the voters why you are doing this, and what could happen to their rights, is an equally, if not more important, use of time prior to the election. Let’s face facts. If Trump is elected, and gets to appoint more judges, all the lawsuits could lose. It will be too late to do much, if our democracy is lost. Trump and his sycophants, his MAGA cult, will laugh you out of court. 

Every one of us needs to spend the next 18 weeks before Nov. 5 reminding voters to listen to what Trump, and his people, are saying and planning — and believe them. They are evil. He has said he will be a dictator. He has said he will use the DOJ to seek revenge against anyone he perceives has wronged him. He said he would have the IRS go after those he doesn’t like. He quotes Hitler. All those lawsuits will lose to that. It’s time for everyone to get their hands dirty, and get in the game. Time to get down in the mud and educate the American people before it’s too late. Those who the Times writes about are smart, and have the ability to explain why they are preparing. Tell the American people what they need to know now, so in essence, all legal preparation won’t have to be used. Do it so the results of the election on Nov. 5 will allow for those legal briefs being diligently prepared, to join Trump and his acolytes, in the dustbin of history. 

I can promise anyone who does this will go down in history as someone who helped save democracy and not just someone who thought they could have an impact after it was lost.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Reflecting on Center Faith’s Pride interfaith service

Much work to be done before welcoming the world in 2025

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(Photo by WINDCOLORS/Bigstock)

“We must not rest! We must not rest! We must not rest!” These words rang out in Foundry Methodist Church during Center Faith’s recent 2024 Pride Interfaith Service. Rev. Cathy Alexander, associate pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)-Washington, DC, implored everyone in attendance to keep fighting “until the doors of churches and temples and houses of faith open wide in welcome to all people.” She quoted Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the first MCC church in 1968, from the 2000 Millennium March for Equality. 

It was a moving reminder of the many LGBTQ elders who have passed on, who have fought for LGBTQ rights today and made this service, held in a rainbow draped church, possible. This was especially meaningful as this year’s service also remembered Allan Armas — co-founder of the Pride Interfaith Service — who died this past October. 

Held on a drizzly evening, the service began with an opening drum call to gather by members of the Unity Fellowship Church of Washington, D.C., and a procession of all presenters. Church Elder and Unity Fellowship Pastor Akosua McCray offered a libation to the ancestors, like Armas, who won many of the rights that LGBTQ individuals have today. “Let us together call out their names and invite their spirit here today,” McCray shared. “Carlton Smith,” an attendee shouted from the back. “Allan Armus,” said another. “Marsha P. Johnson.” “Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.” With each name, McCray filled a red vase with water in their honor. 

Thus commenced the 41st annual Pride Interfaith Service, focused on the radical past, present, and future of LGBTQ interfaith action in the nation’s capital. The three-part service resonated with Capital Pride’s theme of “Totally Radical!” and included representatives from the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center and Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. McCray’s Libation was the first part of the creation and blessing of a sacred space, featuring a call to the elements, directions and divine by Jonathan White of Stone Circle Wicca, a call to prayer by Nabeel Kirmani and translated by Sister Michelle Munson of Muslims for Progressive Values, and an opening prayer by Rev. Thomas Wieczorek from the National Catholic Church, among others. 

GenOut Chorus, the youth chorus for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., provided music, opening with Philip Silvey’s “Always a Place for You.” Their song began a reflection on the radical origins of the Pride Interfaith Service all the way back to the 1960s. Reverend Elder Robert “Michael” Vanzant, a Doctor of Theology at the Faith Temple and one of the pioneers of the Pride Interfaith Service, recounted his own journey from a fundamentalist rural Southern community all the way to the steps of the Temple Church of God in Christ on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1982. 

Together, he and 16 others “embraced being same-gender loving and created a gathering of predominantly people of color, called a Third World gathering, to create a community for our sacred selves.” They gathered with signs, his reading “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:&, Mark 11:17), after a Church elder Dr. James Tenney was told by the Bishop that by including LGBTQ+ individuals at All Souls Church DC, he had excommunicated himself from the Church. The bishop warned that Tenney’s problem was that he had no shame so the group gathered that Sunday morning before and after church “bearing witchess that we lived our lives without shame.” Thus Faith Temple was born. 

Rev. Cathy Alexander reflected on MCC’s own history, followed by Rev. Eric Eldrith, Pagan clergy with Circle Sanctuary, Kirmani, Jonathan White, myself, and Armas’s best friend cellist John Kaboff sharing fond memories and words of love and life about Armas. Eldritch spoke to Armas’s radical welcome of him as an ex-ex-gay fundamentalist to a Radical Faerie to Pagan clergy at Circle Sanctuary. This tribute spoke to the importance of all including faith communities beyond Abrahamic traditions. Pagan, Wiccan, and folk magic communities have for centuries been places of belonging and acceptance for LGBTQ+ people but are normally excluded from LGBTQ+ religious historical narratives. Armas challenged this exclusion. 

“His deeply held Jewish faith,” White explained, “led him to care passionately about justice and liberation for all people, especially LGBTQ+ people, and to pursue justice as part of his own spiritual journey. He was humane, kind, thoughtful–he was a mensch. May his memory be a blessing.” He led his community surrounded by elders until he himself became one; one of the far too few LGBTQ+ elders who see the realization of their efforts. White celebrated this queer elderhood in Armas’s faith community, of bringing his experiences and wisdom to the community he helped to create. Kaboff played a Jewish funeral piece–one performed at an annual memorial service Armas founded, and Rabbi Jake Beilin-Singer blew the shofar, an instrument sounded during High Holy Day services, in recognition of his leadership. 

Armas’s radical welcome has made LGBTQ faith experiences possible, from radical living as interfaith families, to radical justice through collective liberation, to radical presents through living as authentic selves, and radical leadership through DC’s LGBTQ+ religious leaders including the first lesbian rabbi, Julie Spitzer, at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1987. Even radical pride from that first Pride Interfaith Service in 1983. 

During this time when over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, lay member of Sunstone Chapel Ebony C. Peace called us to remember, “hatred continues to come our way in full force because our liberation threatens their control. The liberation of all people threatens them. They are coming at us strong because we ourselves have become stronger.” It is only through love, Peace shared, that we can drive out hatred. This was especially true when two protestors interrupted the service, and were met with all attendees singing “This Little Light of Mine” to drown out their voices as ushers escorted them outside. 

The service ended by envisioning this future of love, including radical inclusive love in faith communities and interfaith relationships that imagine a future of collaboration with newly established groups like Queerly Gathered, introduced by Presbyterian minister Matt Nabinger and Cali Bronkema. 

Richmond looked ahead toward World Pride to be held in D.C. in 2025. Just as attendees committed this year’s service to “demonstrating the breath, depth, and sincerity of our faith, exposing the lie that anti-gay fundamentalists have a monopoly on faith and religion,” Pride Interfaith Service planner Jonah Richmond shared, next year’s service will include people from around the world remembering their LGBTQ religious histories, celebrating their presents, and pushing for LGBTQ+ religious liberation and community. It will celebrate LGBTQ elders of faith from around the world. As Alexander said, we must not rest! There is much work to be done before welcoming the world at the next service on June 3, 2025. 

Emma Cieslik served as a historian for this year’s Pride Interfaith Service.

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ROSENSTEIN: Is D.C. prepared for World Pride? Not just yet

An incredible opportunity for the city to shine

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Pride parade and festival in D.C. were a tremendous success. Congratulations to all who worked so hard on this at Capital Pride, and others, including the mayor’s office, to make it a success. Now it’s onward to the next event, WorldPride 2025.

From all accounts, WorldPride celebrations around the world have been amazing. From Tel Aviv, to Rome, to Sidney, millions have enjoyed them. It is an event awarded to a city by InterPride, the international Pride organization. In 2025, from May 23-June 8, it is D.C.’s turn to shine. The event was awarded to the Capital Pride Alliance. While I know the great people in D.C. can handle this event, I have real concerns over whether the city as a whole will be ready. It will take an incredible amount of work and coordination, to prepare for close to three million people who will descend on D.C. in less than a year.

Since I moved to D.C. in October 1978, it has been a place that supports the LGBTQ community. That was the year Marion Barry was first elected mayor. In early 1979, I attended a dinner, even though not yet out, of what was then called the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Barry spoke and thanked the leaders of the Club, and the “GLBT community,” that is what we were called then, for helping him win the mayoralty. Today the club is called the Stonewall Democratic Club. I quickly got involved in the civic life of D.C., and local politics. Over the years there were members of the community on the Council, including Jim Graham and David Catania. Today, Zachary Parker represents Ward 5. As an activist, I have always had positive interactions with the mayors and Council. 

Recently, the Washington Post had a column on how much the D.C. Council has placed in the budget for the LGBTQ community. It includes grants for housing, and for the new LGBTQ Community Center. It also has about $5 million for World Pride. It was sad to see some of the negative online comments, some asking why the money wasn’t being spent instead on the poor. Part of the problem is that it was a poorly written column. While talking about WorldPride as good for the economy of the city, it left out any detail, easy to calculate, on how good it will be. How much money will be spent in D.C. by the millions coming here for those two weeks. How much the city will add to its tax revenues. How much small businesses will make and how this benefits workers. This information would have helped people better understand the investment the city is making. I don’t think the budget investment is big enough. This is a giant undertaking, and I’m not sure there are enough people involved. This will be a citywide, multi-state event, because of our close-in suburbs. At least it should be. There should be planning for events in all eight wards of the city. Council members and community leaders in each ward, should be working on events, ensuring the businesses and residents in their wards feel a part of, and benefit from, the huge influx of tourists to our city. There will be concerts, dances, sporting events, and a Human Rights Conference. Potentially there could be an HIV/AIDS conference, as major research is going on in D.C. 

I question whether those planning for this event have had serious discussions with airlines, and global companies like Amazon, and FedEx, to involve them in funding and sponsoring events. Is there a committee working to involve all the embassies, in planning events beyond a float in the parade? They will all have attendees from their countries here. Like it or not, there will be issues with visas and passports, and people will need help solving their issues. Then there is the worldwide press operation. I can imagine that could be set up in the convention center, or other facility. If D.C. is to get the kind of long-term public relations promotion such an event should bring, organizing that is crucial. 

How is the planning group liaising with Congress? How are the couple of hundred members of the Equality Caucus involved? This is the time for them to show their support, while thousands of their own constituents will be visiting D.C. for the event. Maybe WorldPride is time to encourage another push to pass the Equality Act. If Democrats take the House, keep the Senate, and Biden is president, we could pass it. It’s important to bring together HRC, the Victory Fund, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Trevor Project, Carr Center at Harvard, among others, to work on this and other issues.  Each will contribute what they can and each will have ideas. Have the LGBTQ staffing groups on the Hill been involved with WorldPride yet? Then has the Capital Pride Alliance reached out to all the LGBTQ groups in the federal agencies, or to the wealth of talent within the leadership of groups like Whitman-Walker, SMYAL, and the LGBTQ+ Center, as well as those in the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland? Everyone should be involved. 

It is important to find a way to ensure visitors from around the world have a way to easily access information about all the events that will take place during the two weeks of WorldPride, as they plan their trips. This information can be shared through all the embassies, and worldwide press. We know many events, and venues, will require tickets, and reservations. Any traveler knows, having this information well in advance, clearly helps make for a successful trip. The information shared could include information on potential add-on trips to Rehoboth Beach, and other venues.  

One of the things we cannot know, is who will be president of the United States at that time. If it is Joe Biden, we are fine. If, God forbid, it’s Donald Trump, that could be scary. How would that impact how federal agencies get involved, how about Homeland Security? All contingencies need to be prepared for. 

WorldPride will bring together people from across the country. Young people from San Francisco to rural Mississippi, places where being out is not yet so easy. We must showcase how being free to be who you are will make your life better. We need to showcase the best of the LGBTQ community, and show the world here in the United States, we are working to be truly equal and free. We need to involve all those who support us, and who we support. That includes the corporate community, police departments, and the military. We have fought long and hard to get their support, now is the time for us and them to be proud of it. 

We have an incredible opportunity for D.C., and the entire United States, to shine. I urge those doing the planning to involve as many people as you can. Reach out, and let each person, and each group, take an active role in this venture. WorldPride 2025 will be better if you do. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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