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Contents

October 15, 2020

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Volume 27 Issue 21

DANCE REVOLUTION

Since the pandemic began, DJ Matt Bailer has been determined to keep his dance parties alive, even through virtual means. By Doug Rule

A COMPLETE GUIDE TO

REEL AFFIRMATIONS Reviews by Rhuaridh Marr, Sean Maunier, John Riley, Doug Rule and Randy Shulman

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TRUST FUN

Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks spins a breezy comedy caper from a dad and daughter’s deep-seated trust issues. By André Hereford

SPOTLIGHT: OUTSIDE THE BOX: SYNETIC THEATER p.5 GAY MEN’S CHORUS CELEBRATES SONDHEIM p.9 VOICE YOUR VOTE CONCERT p.10 CONCERTS FROM THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS p.12 LIVED EXPERIENCE p.14 HILLWOOD’S NATURAL BEAUTIES p.15 MONUMENTS: CREATIVE FORCES p.16 BETHESDA ROW ARTS FESTIVAL p.17 SAVOR RECIPE: CHEESE SOUFFLÉ p.22 GLAMP YARDS p.24 GHOST LINE DC p.25 RETROSCENE: AIDSWALK p.27 THE FEED: SUPREMELY SUSPECT p.31 PETE’S PUT-DOWN p.33 CITIZEN GAIN p.36 RADICAL REPUBLICAN p.37 CAUGHT IN THE ACT p.39 ERASING IDENTITY p.40 GREAT GRANDMOTHER p.42 GALLERY: DAVID AMOROSO p.72 TELEVISION: HELSTROM p.75 RETROSCENE: PEACH PIT p.79 LAST WORD p.83

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Washington, D.C.’s Best LGBTQ Magazine for 26 Years Editorial Editor-in-Chief Randy Shulman Art Director Todd Franson Online Editor at metroweekly.com Rhuaridh Marr Senior Editor John Riley Contributing Editors André Hereford, Doug Rule Senior Photographers Ward Morrison, Julian Vankim Contributing Illustrators David Amoroso, Scott G. Brooks Contributing Writers Sean Maunier, Kate Wingfield Webmaster David Uy Production Assistant Julian Vankim Sales & Marketing Publisher Randy Shulman National Advertising Representative Rivendell Media Co. 212-242-6863 Distribution Manager Dennis Havrilla Patron Saint Joel Schumacher Cover Photography R. Classen / Shutterstock During the pandemic please send all mail to: Metro Weekly PO Box 11559 - Washington, D.C. 20008 • 202-638-6830 All material appearing in Metro Weekly is protected by federal copyright law and may not be reproduced in whole or part without the permission of the publishers. Metro Weekly assumes no responsibility for unsolicited materials submitted for publication. All such submissions are subject to editing and will not be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Metro Weekly is supported by many fine advertisers, but we cannot accept responsibility for claims made by advertisers, nor can we accept responsibility for materials provided by advertisers or their agents. Publication of the name or photograph of any person or organization in articles or advertising in Metro Weekly is not to be construed as any indication of the sexual orientation of such person or organization.

© 2020 Jansi LLC.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF SYNETIC

Spotlight: Stage

Outside the Box

With their new play Joy, Synetic Theater strives for a hands-on, interactive, virtually immersive experience. By André Hereford

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E ALL COULD USE A LITTLE (OR A lot) more joy in our lives, but how and where to find it is the challenge, even in the best of times. “There's this perception that trying to find happiness and joy when things are upsetting or sad is a selfish act, or not the most important thing,” says Christopher Rushing, who conceived and adapted Synetic Theater’s aptly-titled 20th-anniversary season opener Joy. “But really, it's super-important to take care of ourselves and to look out for ourselves. And finding joy is the most subversive thing you can do in a capitalistic society that's driven by financial

gain and the end result.” Joy, the theater experience, seeks its bliss through a pair of audience-interactive solo performances by Synetic company members Vato Tsikurishvili and Marie Simpkins. In an intriguing division of duties, Tsikurishvili will be directed by his father, Synetic’s Founding Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili, while Simpkins will be guided by company member Katherine DuBois. “It's built around what brings them joy, how have they found joy, the hardships they've had in their life and how they overcame them,” Rushing says. The playwright constructed the show from a OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Tsikurishvili and Simpkins

series of intensive interviews he conducted with each performer, artists from two very different backgrounds. “One is an Eastern European, Georgian immigrant who's been with the company from the beginning, and the other is a newer company member who is a Black Latinx woman. So it was really interesting and just incredible that they were so open and giving with their life.” While the creative process was personal and revelatory, Rushing “made it very clear that at any point and time, ‘If I touch on something that makes you uncomfortable, we can stop or change the subject.’ Because if we get down an emotional path, I'm gonna ask some prodding questions.” Tsikurishvili and Simpkins shared intimate ideas and experiences with Rushing, and now they’ll share their stories with a live — albeit virtual — audience. But the audience won’t simply sit by as idle observers. Each ticket for Joy comes with a box of mystery items, delivered by mail for audience members to play with and peruse during the show. All the items come from the performers’ own personal lives. “[They’re] things that have brought them joy or are connected to things that have brought them joy,” says Rushing. “And the hope is that someone will experience Vato's or Maria's, and then look at the other items that weren't used and be like, ‘Well why is this in there? How is this going to be connected?’ And then they'll sign up for the next one and we won't have to ship the box, they'll already have all the materials. But if not, then they've got stuff

that they can play with. A lot of them are very fun items. Hopefully these things will bring you joy before the show starts, because you can mess around with some of the stuff in it. And then afterwards they'll have more significant meaning when you understand the context.” One context for Joy, which will be streamed live from Synetic’s stage, are the less than joyful circumstances that have kept most theater stages dark for months. The piece responds to a moment that’s left audiences and artists reeling. “The news is so stressful,” Rushing says. “And there was a period of time where it was like wildfires in the West, and D.C. was flooding, and the super-aggressive and upsetting political landscape, and a pandemic, and a ravaged economy. “As someone who suffers from depression, and is pretty open about my own mental illness and my relationship to that, one of the things I've realized over the last few years is joy is not something that happens to you, it's something you have to seek out. It's an active endeavor. So the idea behind [Joy] was, how do we seek joy ourselves as human beings? And then, can we discuss the process of us trying to find joy and in doing so, help other people find joy? “Theater oftentimes is a personal or a risk-taking endeavor that brings the people doing it joy. And hopefully it brings the audience joy, and if it does so, then you're getting joy back tenfold. It's this cycle of giving and receiving, that I think is just really important.”

Joy runs through Nov. 8, live via Zoom. Tickets are $39 to $69. A hand-selected prop box is included with each ticket purchase, and is mailed in time for the selected performance. Visit www.synetictheater.org. 6

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Now through October 25, starts daily at sunset. The faces of change-making local artists light up trees on Strathmore’s 16-acre campus in this innovative outdoor art installation.

Reserve pay-what-you-can tickets at:

STRATHMORE.ORG/MONUMENTS 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852


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CRAIG CIPOLLINI / GMCW

Spotlight: Music

Jarrod Bennett, Rinaldo Martinez and Abel Jimenez

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Losing My Mind: A Celebration of Sondheim

TEPHEN SONDHEIM TURNED 90 AT the onset of the pandemic, and many of Broadway’s bests saluted the living legend and his vast musical theater repertoire in one of the first, and arguably best, virtual concerts of the pandemic. Now, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington is putting its own spin on the concept, a toast to Sondheim as well as to the group’s own anniversary. The virtual cabaret will kick off the GMCW’s 40th anniversary season by featuring over 20 soloists from the organization’s ranks to perform Sondheim standards, no doubt many rendered with a funny gay twist. Selections include “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Marry Me A Little,” “Somewhere,” “Being Alive,” “More,” “(Not) Getting Married Today,” and the Follies showstopper that serves as the unlikely, yet timely, title for the show, “Losing My Mind.” Artistic Director Thea Kano will lead the program with musical accompaniment from Alex Tang and Jeff Hamlin. Saturday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. Free, but registration required.

The chorus will continue its 40th anniversary season in December with its annual holiday show, an all-digital affair including its best hits from previous seasons as well as a virtual holiday sing-a-long. After that, in March of 2021, comes a virtual rendering of Genderosity, the glam-rock spectacle “celebrating the phenomenal spectrum of gender expression” that was to premiere on stage at the Lincoln Theatre last March before becoming one of the first COVID-19 casualties. The season-long anniversary celebration wouldn’t be complete without a concert specifically focused on turning the big 4-0. Next June offers the debut of a virtual package consisting of archival footage from the past 40 years plus “new digital recordings,” among them the performance of a “brand new anthem written especially for GMCW for our 40th anniversary,” titled “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” Specific dates and additional details, including registration links, will be announced later for each event. Visit www.gmcw.org. —Doug Rule OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Spotlight: Music

Howard and Batiste

Voice Your Vote: A Virtual Concert

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HE CITY WINERY CHAIN OF CONcert venues, including the multi-story complex in D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood, presents a digital concert and call to action this Sunday, Oct. 18. Led by Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s bandleader Jon Batiste, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, D.C.-born lesbian funk artist and composer Toshi Reagon, and Valerie June, the virtual concert was curated by June and inspired by the eclectic and acclaimed singer-songwriter’s “Young, Gifted & Black” playlist — which was in turn inspired by and named after the famous Nina Simone tune. The show is touted as one that “will crystalize the urgency of the causes dear to the hearts of Black American artists around the country in an effort to drive our audience to the polls, and to support the fight against voter disenfranchise-

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ment.” Net proceeds from the event go to the elections-focused organization Fair Fight and Movement Voter Project’s Black-Led Organizing Fund, benefiting 41 groups across the country working on voter mobilization efforts. The concert’s full lineup also includes Lizz Wright, Kandace Springs, Allison Russell, Son Little, Amythyst Kiah, Black Pumas, Chastity Brown, Deva Mahal, Devon Gilfillian, Jason Reynolds, Leyla McCalla, the Resistance Revival Chorus (accompanying Giddens), and Ruth B. It’s presented as part of City Winery’s exclusive CWTV series powered by Mandolin, a new livestream platform that offers what has been called “industry-leading concert-quality audio” and full HD video. Sunday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. A link to the livestream costs $15, or $60 for ticket including “CW Custom Voice Your Vote Wine.” Visit www.citywinery.com/washingtondc. —DR


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BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ

Spotlight: Music

Tao

Concerts from the Library of Congress

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OU WON’T BE SURPRISED TO HEAR that the upcoming season of “Concerts from the Library of Congress” will be an all-virtual affair. There are, of course, distinct advantages to such a move online, chief among them the fact that these free concerts, traditionally limited by theater capacity and fully booked shortly after being announced, will instead be available for any and all who are interested to enjoy at any time online. Another silver lining is the fact that viewers can sample complementary materials from the library’s collections while they enjoy the concerts, and also take in related curator talks and conversations with featured artists and composers. Plus, the library has also launched a new LibGuide resource (https:// guides.loc.gov/concerts-pick-of-the-week) featuring footage from past concerts and other archival materials. The series kicks off Friday, Oct. 23, with a collaboration between piano and composer Conrad Tao in partnership with tap dancer Caleb Teicher. Counterpoints combines both composed and improvised music and dance, including J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” Other fall con-

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certs, all of which will be made available at 8 p.m. on the scheduled premiere date, include the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, a world-renowned quartet performing new works by Mexican, Uruguayan, and Costa Rican composers (Oct. 30); Ensemble dal Niente, a 24-member ensemble from Chicago who will perform music by leading Latin American composers plus a new library commission from Igor Santos (Nov. 13); and violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Thomas Sauer performing two commissions from the library, Julia Wolfe’s “Mink Stole” and George Lewis’ “The Mangle of Practice,” as well as recent works for solo violin (Nov. 19). The Takács Quartet will kick off the “(Re)Hearing Beethoven” festival — a celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday featuring performances of all nine symphonies as transcribed and performed by solo or duo artists as well as chamber ensembles, plus related artifacts — with a performance of Beethoven’s Op. 132 framed by works of Bartók and Schubert, plus a lecture from violinist Edward Dusinberre, “Beethoven at a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet” (Nov. 20). Visit www.loc.gov/concerts. —DR


DELPHINE DIALLO

HARUKA SAKAGUCHI

Spotlight: Books

Diallo and Whitaker

Lived Experience: Reflections on LGBTQ Life

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ELPHINE DIALLO, A BROOKLYNbased French and Senegalese visual artist and photographer, has captured LGBTQ people and communities around the world, including Russia, Mexico, and Japan, in a groundbreaking series of photobooks. Her latest, just published by The New Press, features 50 full-color portraits and profiles of LGBTQ people over the age of 50 from across the United States. (Diallo interviewed them last year during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.) With a special focus on people of color, the diverse and resilient cohort of baby boomers experienced great loss and tragedy living through the AIDS epidemic but also helped usher in extraordinary progress in LGBTQ rights, visibility, and acceptance. “The journeys of the people in this book show the beauty of life — from overcoming

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loneliness, pain, sadness, and loss — to accepting who they really are and acknowledging their strength and determination when it comes to the way they have chosen to live,” Diallo is quoted in the book’s press release. These gay elders share their stories, reflections, and advice for younger generations, such as that from subject Evelyn Whitaker: “My advice to the younger generation is to live your life with as much passion and as much indulgence as you possibly can. Do not do anything to anyone that you would not have done to yourself. Just live life as a wonderful, wonderful experience.” The book includes an introduction by Tim R. Johnston of SAGE and a foreword by Juan Battle of the City University of New York. Available in paperback or as an e-book. Visit www.thenewpress.com. —DR


PHOTOS COURTESY OF HILLWOOD

Spotlight: Exhibit

Hillwood’s Natural Beauties

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RENOWNED COLLECTOR, MARJOrie Merriweather Post’s interest in gems and minerals wasn’t limited to their use in wearable fashion and personal ornamentation. Currently on display at Hillwood — Post’s grand estate nestled in the leafy, hilly Van Ness area of Upper Northwest — is a selection of nearly 100 objects and works of art made using precious or semi-precious stones and minerals, a number of them created by master artisans commissioned by Post herself. Heiress to the Post Cereal Company, Post was a pioneering, prominent female corporate executive, cultural philanthropist, and luxury design proponent in the mid-20th century whose passion for art, beauty, and the finer things in life is memorialized at Hillwood. Among a collection renowned for works of French and Russian provenance, there’s Post’s famous Fabergé (eggs and more) series, of which more than 20 were crafted out of hardstone materials such as jade, agate, and onyx, including a Fabergé snuffbox fashioned from gold, diamonds,

emeralds, and amethyst quartz. Post also commissioned a distinctive assortment of frames, ashtrays, desk sets, and bell pushes from Cartier. This line of exquisite art deco objets d’art, finely crafted out of various hardstones and ornamented with enamel and precious stones, is largely held in storage but explored as a collection on display exclusively for Natural Beauties. The exhibit also features a selection of Hillwood’s Chinese jades and gems, and what is billed as “probably the most imposing mosaic [table] top ever produced by a Florentine workshop,” an intricately designed pietra dura made of eleven different stones that now adorns the stately dining room at Hillwood — but originally commissioned in the 1920s by Post to take pride of place at her Palm Beach residence, a certain Mar-a-Lago. On display through Jan. 1, 2021. Advanced, timed-entry reservations are required for proper social distancing. Hillwood is at 4155 Linnean Ave. NW. Tickets are $15 to $18. Call 202-686-5807 or visit www.HillwoodMuseum.org. —DR OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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PHOTO COURTESY OF STRATHMORE

Spotlight: Exhibit

Steadwell

Monuments: Creative Forces

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E STEADWELL, THE BLACK “QUEER pop” musician, filmmaker, and storyteller, is currently being celebrated at Strathmore along with five other regional artists, all of whom are heralded as advancing their community for work that facilitates cultural connections and addresses social issues in fundamental and essential ways. Monuments: Creative Forces is a site-specific outdoor art installation by Australian artist Craig Walsh in which moving images transform the trees surrounding Strathmore’s 16-acre campus into sculptural creations portraying the visages of six artists chosen by a panel of community and arts leaders. In addition to Steadwell, the installation features Daryl Davis, a Black “piano peace maker” and author who has helped persuade more than 200 Ku Klux Klan members renounce racist ideology; Terron Cooper Sorrells, a young Black artist whose paintings of determinedly resilient African-American slaves has earned him com-

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parisons to Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence; Marjan Naderi, an 18-year-young Muslim Afghan American poet and spoken-word artist whose works touch on feminism, politics, culture, and family dynamics; C. Brian Williams, founder and executive director of the boundary-pushing dance company Step Afrika; and Yoko K. Sen, a classically trained musician creating ambient electronic music designed for hospitals through her company Sen Sound. On display starting at sunset every day (weather permitting) through Oct. 25. “Reimagining Monuments,” a special panel discussion on Zoom with Walsh, C. Brian Williams, and Daryl Davis, plus a performance by poet Marjan Naderi, is set for Monday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with suggested prices of $10 or $20, for both the exhibition — with admittance by timed-entry — and the Zoom discussion. Contactless on-site, day-of exhibition tickets limited by availability. Visit www.strathmore.org. —DR


Spotlight: Exhibit

Michelle Banks

Ric Grossman

Jack Brumbaugh

Bethesda Row Arts Festival

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T’S BEEN BILLED AS THE AREA’S LARGest outdoor fine arts festival and is also reputed to be one of the nation’s best. But you’ll have to wait until next year for the full Bethesda Row Arts Festival experience, with artists set up on a blocked-off street downtown in the Montgomery County suburb. This year, organizers have sprung for a greatest hits virtual display, featuring a selection of artists from past juried shows along with the opportunity to purchase their works, which span artistic disciplines ranging from wearable fabrics to woodworking, drawings to sculpture. The main page of the festival’s website features a directory with links to works by all 170 represented artists, whose works can be searched by artistic discipline and locale, as well as by those available to “BUY NOW” online. The showcase features artists from around the country, chief among them the 15 deemed by

jurors as the Best representatives at last year’s 22nd annual event, including Best in Show awardee Richard Wilson (drawing/pastels) and Best in Discipline honorees Bashar Jarjour and Roula Jarjour (ceramics), Christos J. Palios (photography), David Russell (glass), Doug Meyer of Rustbelt Rebirth (Metalwork), Gary Stretar (oil/acrylic), JD Dennison LLC (digital art), Jeffrey Cannon (drawing/pastels), Jonathan Metzger and Allison Metzger of Midnight Oil Studio & Workshop (graphics & printmaking), Jupi Das (mixed media 2D), Kevin Scheimreif of Steel & Grain (mixed media 3D), Larry Ringgold of Turtlepoint Driftwood LLC (sculpture), Maritza Newman of Maritza Silk Design (fiber-wearable), Pam Kessler of P.A. Kessler Studio (watercolor), and Sheko Kirby & Sarkis Chouljian of nyeari ( jewelry). Through Oct. 31. Visit www.bethesdarowarts.org. —DR OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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JULIOAN VANKIM

Spotlight: Music

Dance Revolution

Bailer

Since the pandemic began, DJ Matt Bailer has been determined to keep his dance parties alive, even through virtual means. By Doug Rule

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OPEFULLY IT WASN'T JUST A TREND this summer to, you know, care about Black people,” says Matt Bailer. For his part, Bailer was inspired by the Black Lives Matter-related calls for greater racial justice and equity to diversify the kind of retro pop music he’s become known for over the last decade. So he created a summer project for himself. After creating three distinct accounts on Mix-

cloud, he proceeded to focus on Black artists for the monthly mixes he creates for his two decade-specific accounts, inspired by his monthly parties Peach Pit and Shady Pines at DC9. (The third, DJMattBailer, focuses on current dance/ pop hits.) “For the ’80s [ShadyPinesDC] and ’90s [PeachPitDC] pages, I put together three mixes each. Each month’s mix is about three hours, so there’s a total of nine hours of ’80s music and OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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WARD MORRISON

nine hours of ’90s music by Black artists, many of which I knew and were familiar with, and many of which either the song or the artists I had never heard before.” Some of Bailer’s discoveries and additions have been making their way onto the setlists of the monthly livestreams he’s been offering since the pandemic forced an indefinite hold on nightlife in general, and live music and DJ dance events in particular. This weekend Bailer will celebrate the 11th anniversary of Peach Pit as well as offer another Shady Pines set through two nights of livestreams direct from DC9 accompanied by the venue’s owner Bill Spieler. “Bill has been extremely generous and supportive,” Bailer says. “Basically I go in there on the second floor where the dance floor used to be and I DJ to an empty room. And he's sitting across the room [handling the] technology, making it happen and controlling the visuals and making sure everything is going smoothly.” With the weather currently mild, DC9 has been able to open its roofdeck to patrons. “They are taking reservations with socially distanced tables, and feature screens to watch the livestream,” he says. “It’s great, because that way they're able to also make some money off of it.” Bailer had been working as one of gay D.C.’s most prominent DJs and party promoters on a full-time basis for a decade before the pandemic. In the months since, he’s mostly been relying on savings to make ends meet. He’s also relying on donations that come through his livestreams.

“People have been super-generous and I'm grateful for literally every cent that comes in,” he says. “But that's not why I'm doing this. I want to keep these events going. I have this general desire for sharing music, and this is the only way I can do that now.”The livestreams have come with their own set of “pluses and minuses,” as well as adjustments that Bailer says he’s still getting used to, among them the fact that there’s a camera on him as he spins. “I'm not used to or super comfortable with that,” he says. “When I DJ, I like to kind of disappear and let the music be the entertainment, not me.” In addition to images of Bailer spinning, the livestreams include a slideshow of pictures from the events over the years and a visual mix created by Bailer’s friend James Barker, a film producer in New York. “He’s spliced together some ’80s and ’90s visuals, some dancing videos and some clips of movies and commercials to set the mood.” For now, Bailer is resolute about keeping Peach Pit and Shady Pines running, even if they’re virtual for several more months. “I'm going to try to stick it out as long as I can,” he says. “I feel like there's a lot of us who are doing that, who are just kind of biding our time and hoping that we get a new president. A lot depends on that, I think. I’m hoping that things start up again sooner than later. I just hope that there are businesses to go back and play once this is all over, because that's not really guaranteed right now. So I'm trying to do my best to keep people in the mood and keep DC9 on the map.”

Peach Pit’s 11th Anniversary is this Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 9 p.m., and Shady Pines is Sunday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. Both livestreams are free. Visit www.dc9.club. Follow @djmattbailer on Facebook and Mixcloud. 20

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Savor

Cheese Soufflé Recipe and Photography by Craig Bowman

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F YOU ARE AN ASPIRING HOME chef, Jacques Pépin, who has appeared on more than 600 PBS cooking show, is one hell of a teacher. His style is easy-tofollow and practical. This amazing soufflé is his mamam’s recipe. It’s delicious and practically foolproof.

Ingredients

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 cups whole milk 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 5 extra-large eggs (or 6 large ones) 2-1/2 cups grated cheese, preferably Gruyère

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional to

(about 6 ounces), plus 3 more optional slices for

butter a 5- to 6-cup gratin dish

garnish (roughly 2-inch by 3-inch)

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons minced chives

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1

2

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Butter bottom and sides of a 6 cup gratin dish (or 10” pie pan)

3

Sprinkle half of the parmesan cheese into the dish. Make sure you coat everything.

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4

Add the cold milk and whisk until mixture comes to a strong boil, about 2 minutes. When thick and smooth, remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper.

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6

Cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl and beat well with a fork. Slice the remaining cheese.

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Working quickly, add the eggs, cheese, and chives to the sauce, and mix to combine.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour and mix in well with a whisk. Cook for 10 seconds.

Mince the chives.

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Pour into buttered gratin dish and sprinkle surface with remaining parmesan. Arrange several slices of cheese on top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and well-browned on top. It’s best served immediately.

Questions? Text to Craig at 202-217-0996 or email Savor@metroweekly.com. OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Savor

La Famosa

Anchovy Social

HIS WEEKEND, THE YARDS IN THE Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard neighborhood offers a “socially distanced glamorous camping grounds,” where groups of twoto-four guests can “glamp” it up in a section of the Yards Sundeck featuring cozy seating and boho-inspired decor. But there’s no need to pack an overnight bag as, despite the reference to camping, the event is only offered in two-hour increments. There’s also no need to pack a picnic or food, as the event features curated snack boxes and drinks from your choice of select restaurants. A sampling of items on offer include, from La Famosa a Carne Frita with tostones, Shrimp Mofongo with chicharones, Steak Encebollada, Mousse de Parcha, and cans of Medalla or cocktails of your choice; from Anchovy Social, Smoked Trout Dip & Focaccia, Prosciutto Fig, Lobster Sliders, and Pontile Cocktail Pouches; from Os-

teria Morini, Chef’s Curated Meat & Cheese Box and bottles of Pinot Grigio or Montepulciano; from Maxwell Park-Navy Yard, Lamb Cassoulet with merguez sausage and gigante beans, Smoked Salmon Dip with domestic caviar, Truffle Arancini, and Port Wine Poached Figs with Mascarpone Cheese and Honey, all paired with wine samples; and from Shilling Canning Company, Fried Chicken and Champagne. Additional items from Ice Cream Jubilee and other participating area restaurants can be purchased from the Yards via QR codes. Glamp Yards is open rain or shine Friday, Oct. 16, from 5 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17, from noon to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 18, from noon to 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person and are available in packs of two or four, with advanced reservations required. Visit www.theyardsdc.com. —Doug Rule

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Glamp Yards

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UNDER A BUSHEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Savor

Variety is on the menu at Ghost Line DC

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Ghost Line DC

VERYONE HAS THAT FRIEND WHO only likes the type of food that has become basic fare on American tables. So yes to pizza and fried chicken, no to Indian, and ramen only occasionally. Next time you decide to dine together, you’ll both be well served at Ghost Line DC, a recently opened food hall-type venue in Glover Park that serves everything from breakfast and dinner to gourmet coffee and desserts. The brainchild of restaurateur Aaron Gordon, the establishment is suited to our current pandemic time as a takeout- and delivery-oriented business, though it also features socially distant outdoor seating, with transactions conducted through contactless ordering and payment. Named in reference to the venue’s “ghost kitchen” where several established chefs prepare food at individual work stations unseen by diners, Ghost Line’s Garden features seating in a quiet, expansive, and heated year-round outdoor courtyard and deck with a treetop view, hidden from the venue’s busy stretch of Wisconsin Avenue by way of a long walkway that leads to the back. The opening lineup for dinner includes several styles of pizza from Gordon’s Little Beast,

the best of which are the Detroit-style deep dish options; some of the city’s best ramen as well as other “Japanese comfort food” options from chef Hiro Mitsui of Union Market’s Ramen by Uzu; plant-based Indian khichdi from Tokri; and perhaps best of all, a line of crispy and succulent chicken sandwiches from Queen Mother’s Fried Chicken by Hell’s Kitchen winner Rahman “Rock” Harper. If you can find room for an even sweeter finish, there’s a large assortment of desserts to choose from, including various options from Glover Park Ice Cream & Milkshakes, but the Red Velvet cupcakes by executive pastry chef Kristen Brabrook are definitely the sweet finish stars. Go for the Black Velvet, a moist chocolate cake made with Valrhona cocoa powder and topped with sweet chocolate “buttercream” icing, a vegan and gluten-free delicacy that will fool even the heartiest, most gluttonous gluten-eating diner you know. Ghost Line DC is located at 2340 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Mondays, and to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Call 202-347-7893 or visit www.ghostlinedc.com. —DR OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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RetroScene

Whitman-Walker’s 1997 AIDSWalk

Photographs by Todd Franson and Randy Shulman

For more #RetroScene follow us on Instagram at @MetroWeekly

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OFFICIAL PORTRAIT

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Supremely Suspect

Barrett

Amy Coney Barrett calls sexual orientation a “preference,” then apologizes for it. By John Riley

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UPREME COURT NOMINEE AMY COney Barrett apologized for using the term “sexual preference” in one of her answers to questions from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding LGBTQ rights during her confirmation hearing. On Tuesday morning, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), questioned Barrett’s impartiality when it comes to dealing with cases involving same-sex marriage, and whether she would overturn the 2015 Obergefell decision, which legalized marriage equality by striking down all bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. “I have no agenda, and I do want to be clear

that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference,” Barrett said. “Like racism, I think discrimination is abhorrent.” Later in the day, Barrett was called out for those remarks by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who alleged that Barrett’s use of an outdated and inflammatory term might be indicative of hostility towards LGBTQ individuals, saying she believed Barrett’s use of the term was deliberate. “Sexual preference is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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theFeed is not,” Hirono said. “Sexual orientation is a key part of a person’s identity. “That sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable was a key part of the majority’s opinion in Obergefell,” added Hirono. “If it is your view that sexual orientation is merely a ‘preference,’ as you stated, then the LGBTQ community should be rightly concerned about whether you would uphold their right to marry. Barrett later responded to Hirono’s allegations, saying she did not intend to offend anyone with her word choice. “I certainly didn’t mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community,” Barrett said. “If I did, I greatly apologize for that. I simply meant to be referring to Obergefell‘s holding with respect to same-sex marriage.” She also insisted that she was trying to be neutral when avoiding answering questions about challenges to Obergefell or other LGBTQ rights cases that might come before the court in the future. Barrett reiterated her apology for any offense under questioning from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), saying “she did not mean to imply that it’s not an immutable characteristic, or that it’s solely a matter of preference.” “I fully respect all the rights of the LGBTQ community,” Barrett said. “Obergefell is an important precedent of the court. I reject any kind of discrimination on any sort of basis.” Pressed by Booker on a recent opinion by Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito calling for the court to revisit the Obergefell decision, with the aim of overturning it, Barrett declined to answer the question, saying she didn’t know what the justices were referring to when they cast the decision as a “problem” that the high court must “fix.” LGBTQ rights groups took offense to the connotation that sexual orientation is a “preference,” which they say falsely suggests that a person has a choice in the matter, and is used to justify the use of “conversion therapy” to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The LGBTQ legal advocacy organization 32

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Lambda Legal tweeted that Barrett’s choice of words was a “dog whistle” to social conservatives who oppose LGBTQ equality. “[Sen. Feinstein] again presses Judge Barrett on her views on marriage equality. She refuses to answer, over and over again,” they wrote. “Her prior statements (supporting ‘marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman) speak for her.” They added: “IMPORTANT: Barrett used ‘sexual preference’ (not ‘sexual orientation’) when discussing her views on marriage equality. This is a dogwhistle. The term ‘sexual preference’ is used by opponents of equality to suggest that being LGBTQ is a choice.” Lambda Legal previously called out Barrett for her ties to Alliance Defending Freedom, where she was a legal fellow. In response to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) about whether she was aware of ADF’s advocacy against samesex marriage, Barrett responded that she was not. However, Lambda Legal provided a screenshot of ADF’s website in which the organization specifically states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The webpage in question asks readers: “What foundation do you want to build the future on?,” providing two visions of society: one in which heterosexual marriages are the building block for society and place the needs of children first; and the other, in which “individual desires trump what is best for society.” “In this society, marriage is defined as the emotional union of two or more consenting adults, and the well-being of children and the benefit of society are an afterthought,” the website reads. “Disagreement with this view is seen as a threat — some rights, such as sexual rights, are considered more important than rights such as religious freedom.” The Human Rights Campaign has criticized the international arm of the ADF for an intervention, or the equivalent of an amicus brief, asking the European Court of Human Rights to uphold laws requiring transgender people to be sterilized if they undergo a transition. The organization has argued against repealing laws that


theFeed criminalize homosexuality, both in the United States — coming out against the majority finding in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case overturning anti-sodomy laws — and praising courts in India, Jamaica, and Belize that dole out prison sentences for those convicted of homosexuality or engaging in same-sex relations. Domestically, the ADF the U.S. Supreme Court should find that Title VII does not protect employees from being fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and has been linked to several anti-LGBTQ bills being pushed in various states. When questioned by Sen. Josh Hawley, however, Barrett defended giving a lecture to ADF’s Blackstone program, a summer-long legal program designed to train Christian lawyers-in-training, saying she gave a one-hour lecture on originalism “four or five times” to students enrolled in the program. “I had several other colleagues who had participated in the Blackstone program, lecturing. I heard great things about it from them. We had a contingent of students from Notre Dame regularly attend this program, and they were among our most engaged and smartest students,” Barrett said of her choice to accept an invitation to lecture at Blackstone. “I certainly didn’t think there was anything wrong with my going to speak with a group of Christian law students about my legal expertise,”

she added. But some advocates expressed skepticism about her ability to be impartial in cases involving LGBTQ rights given those ties, as well as previous writings in which she criticized court rulings on marriage equality and transgender workplace rights. “Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s record is filled with red flags that should disqualify her from sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court. Given her perverse, reactionary judicial philosophy, Judge Barrett is unfit to fill the seat, much less the shoes, of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “There is so much at stake for LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV right now because so much of our civil rights progress has happened in the courts,” Buchert added. “Decades of hard work have led to legal victories such as the right to marry the person we love, to protect our families, to access health care and make decisions about our bodies. Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s record is fundamentally at odds with basic guarantees of equality, liberty, justice and dignity under the law for our communities. It is impossible for LGBTQ people to have confidence in Judge Barrett as her publicly available record makes clear that she would be unable or unwilling to respect and affirm our rights to equal protection of the laws.”

Pete’s Put-down

Pete Buttigieg gives an incredible response to Amy Coney Barrett’s opening statement. By Rhuaridh Marr

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ETE BUTTIGIEG DELIVERED A POWerful response to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s opening statement ahead of her U.S. Senate confirmation hearings. Barrett, a social conservative with a history of anti-LGBTQ statements, was nominated by Donald Trump to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat.

LGBTQ advocates have warned that she will attempt to “dismantle” LGBTQ rights and Democrats have described Republican attempts to jam through her nomination before the election as “shameful.” Ahead of the confirmation hearings, which began today, Oct. 12, Barrett issued the transcript of her opening statement to the Senate, and said OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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MSNBC

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Buttigieg

that courts “have a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law.” “Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” she added. “The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.” Barrett’s words echo those of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who recently argued that the Supreme Court had bypassed the democratic process in its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Her opening statement transcript was released while Buttigieg, the openly gay former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and former Democratic presidential candidate, was giving an interview on MSNBC’s AM Joy. Buttigieg was speaking about National Coming Out Day, but was asked to give his opinion on Barrett’s statement. “This is what nominees do,” Buttigieg said. “They write the most seemingly unobjectionable, dry stuff. But really what I see in there is a pathway to judicial activism cloaked in judicial humility.” 34

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He continued: “At the end of the day, rights in this country have been expanded because courts have understood what the true meaning of the letter of the law and the spirit of the constitution is. That is not about time-traveling yourself back to the 18th century and subjecting yourself to the same prejudices and limitations as the people who write these words. “The constitution is a living document because the English language is a living language. And you need to have some readiness to understand that in order to serve on the court in a way that will actually make life better,” Buttigieg said. “It was actually Thomas Jefferson himself who said that ‘We might as well ask a man to still wear the coat which fitted him when he was a boy as expect future generations to live under’ — what he called — ‘the regime of their barbarous ancestors,'” Buttigieg added. “So even the founders that these kind of dead hand originalists claim fidelity to understood better than their ideological descendants — today’s judicial so-called conservatives — the importance of keeping with the times. And we deserve judges and justices who understand that.”


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IMMIGRATION EQUALITY

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Elad and Andrew Dvash-Banks and their sons

Citizen Gain

Federal appeals court rules gay couple’s son, born abroad via surrogacy, is a U.S. citizen. By John Riley

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N YET ANOTHER BLOW TO THE TRUMP administration, a federal appeals court ruled that one of two twin boys born abroad via surrogacy to a gay married couple is a U.S. citizen. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the U.S. State Department last Friday, finding that 4-year-old Ethan Dvash-Banks is an American citizen, despite being conceived by the sperm of an Israeli father and born in Canada using a surrogate mother. Ethan and his twin, Aiden, were conceived with donor eggs and carried to term by the same surrogate before being born in September 2016 in Ontario, Canada. Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American citizen, fathered Aiden, while Elad, an Israeli national who is legally married to Andrew, fathered Ethan. But the U.S. State Department — in both this 36

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and in at least two other cases — has denied citizenship to the children of same-sex couples born abroad because it does not recognize the parents’ marriages as legally valid. Had Andrew and Elad been a heterosexual couple, the State Department would have recognized their marriage as legal, and thus, would have granted citizenship to any of their children, even if the children were born via surrogacy and did not have biological ties to both parents. In siding with the Dvash-Banks family, the 9th Circuit upheld the finding of a lower district court judge who ruled that the State Department had erred in denying citizenship to Ethan. Rather, simply the fact that Andrew and Elad were married should have been enough to recognize their sons as U.S. citizens, because U.S. law only requires evidence of a biological relation-


theFeed ship to a parent in cases where a child is born “out of wedlock.” Andrew Dvash-Banks told The Associated Press that he was “thrilled” by the ruling, and feels more relieved that his son’s citizenship has been upheld in court. While the twins are still too young to understand the uncertainty over Ethan’s citizenship status, Andrew and Elad set up email accounts to create a “digital journal” that the twins can read when they are older. Dvash-Banks said he planned to email the twins a copy of the ruling. “We want both to know how much we love then and how much we fight for them,” he said. “The fact that they’re twins and not being treated equally, we want them to know that we did everything to make that right and we were successful.” Federal judges have also ruled in favor of two other same-sex couples: one in Georgia, and another in Maryland, whose daughters were also

denied citizenship because the State Department refuses to recognize same-sex marriages as valid and, thus, does not recognize LGBTQ people’s parental rights to their own children. “After years of the federal government denying Andrew and Elad’s rights as a married couple, the 9th Circuit has unequivocally ruled in the family’s favor,” Aaron Morris, the executive director of Immigration Equality and co-counsel for the Dvash-Banks family, said in a statement. “No longer will these parents have to worry that their twin sons will be treated as if they were born out of wedlock simply because they have two fathers. This decision demonstrates yet again that it is far past time for the State Department to change its discriminatory policy.” The State Department has said it is reviewing the decision with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has not indicated whether it will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Radical Republican

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New Hampshire transgender Satanist and police skeptic is running for sheriff as a Republican. By John Riley

N AN INTERESTING TWIST, A TRANSgender Satanist and police skeptic is running for sheriff of a New Hampshire county as a Republican. Aria DiMezzo, a polyamorous transgender woman in her 30s, is a candidate for Cheshire County sheriff who won the Republican nomination in September, when she was the only person to appear on the GOP ballot. DiMezzo originally wanted to run as a Libertarian — as she had in 2018 — but decided to run as a Republican because it would have required her to collect signatures from voters in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Anyone who takes a look at me knows pretty much right off the bat that I’m clearly not a Republican,” DiMezzo told The Associated Press, referring to her dyed red hair and a series of tattoos on both arms. As part of her platform, DiMezzo supports

gun rights and limited government, but promises to be harsh on police who are accused of wrongdoing. She suggests having deputies “pull over police for harassing peaceful citizens,” and some of her signs incorporate the symbol for anarchy over a sheriff’s badge and include the phrase: “Fuck the Police.” “If the police were these fine upstanding honorable people just investigating crimes where there are victims and were serving and protecting people, I wouldn’t have an issue with that. But that is not what they are doing,” she said. She added that she would fire any deputies who have been accused of brutality or misconduct, and even consider charging them with crimes. DiMezzo, who is challenging incumbent Sheriff Eli Rivera (D), says she’s using the Republican Party infrastructure to help her campaign, but she never hid the fact that she was not a doctriOCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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FACEBOOK

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DiMezzo

naire Republican or that she was a skeptic of po- zo says she’s been attacked in online forums, had a homophobic slur spray-painted on her car, licing. “I never hid any of it,” she told the AP. “Any- and has even seen some local Republicans throw their support behind a proone who bothered to Goolaw enforcement write-in gle me would have found all candidate in an effort to this stuff about me and they undermine her bid for ofwould have seen the anfice. However, she has said ti-cop things that I was postthe overall response to her ing all over social media.” campaign has been posiDiMezzo is a high priest tive. Some locals have even of the Reformed Satanic speculated that she could Church, which she runs out draw votes not only from of her house, but clarifies Libertarian-types, but Demthat her church doesn’t believe Satan exists. Instead, ocratic-leaning voters who are more skeptical of law the church “stands for indienforcement. vidualism and voluntarism, “When I walk down the and opposes the god of the street, people cheer. They day,” which she says is the —Aria DiMezzo state. tell me they are going to vote for me,” DiMezzo said. Due to her controversial platform positions, DiMez“It’s great.”

“Anyone who takes a look at me knows pretty much right off the bat that I’m clearly not a Republican."

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BOBBY ELDER, VIA KTUL

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Security footage of the Tulsa contractor who made anti-gay comments about a gay couple

Caught in the Act

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Tulsa contractor fired after being caught on video making homophobic slurs. By John Riley

N INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR FOR the city of Tulsa’s water department was fired last week after being caught using homophobic slurs against a gay couple whose house he was working at and mocking them with effeminate mannerisms. Bobby Elder says the contractor came to his door to work on the water main outside his home on Friday, Oct. 2. His partner went to answer the door, and was told the water had to be shut off to fix the main. However, the contractor can be heard on tape, courtesy of Elder’s security camera, muttering, “Bunch of dope smokin’ queers,” and seen waving his hands in a limp-wristed manner and prancing as he approaches the house, saying:

“Get all your group showers done by then. I’m a queer.” Elder, who’s lived in Oklahoma for his whole life, said he’s never had a problem with people mocking his sexuality, and certainly not with the work crews like the one outside his house on the day in question. “I’m used to them working out there and always been very friendly in passing,” Elder told ABC affiliate KTUL. “So I was really shocked by what I heard.” On the other hand, Elder also believes it was “fortunate” to capture the contractor’s behavior on camera so that people can see that anti-LGBTQ attitudes still exist. Elder later reported the incident to city offiOCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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theFeed chelle Brooks, the communications director for the city, said in a statement. “The City has talked to the contractor and this individual was removed immediately from all City projects.” Elder says he appreciates the city’s response. “I would never wish for anybody to lose their job, or wish ill will on anybody, no matter what their beliefs no matter if they differ from mine or not, but I do believe that all actions have consequences,” he said.

MATEJ KASTELIC

cials, including City Councilor Cass Fahler, who reported it to the mayor’s office and the City Water and Sewer Department. The City of Tulsa later responded to the incident by noting that the contractor was not a city employee and has since been fired. “The behavior displayed by this individual was ignorant and reprehensible and does not reflect the City’s values of diversity, inclusion, and respect for all of the constituents we serve,” Mi-

Erasing Identity

Virginia transgender man forced to identify as “female” on paperwork to donate blood. By John Riley

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TRANSGENDER MAN WHO WAS trying to donate blood in Northern Virginia claims staffers at a local health facility forced him to identify as “female” in order to donate. The man, whose identity is being kept confidential, says he went to an Inova Health System facility in Sterling, Va., on Sept. 22 for a

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scheduled appointment. But when he arrived, a front desk staffer wrote down “gender at birth is female” and underlined it after repeatedly telling him, out loud so as to out him to others, that he must be listed by his assigned sex at birth in order to donate. “When you try to fight back, sometimes it just doesn’t work,” the man told NBC Washington.


theFeed “They’re too big or too powerful, and in this case it happened, and I said, ‘I’m tired, I’m tired.'” The man said he stayed and donated blood because it’s important. Blood banks around the country are struggling to encourage people to donate due to decreased supply, which has its roots in the social distancing measures people took to protect themselves amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was angry,” the man told NBC Washington. “I kept thinking about the next trans person walking in there that does not deserve that.” He says he’s sharing his story to encourage other transgender blood donors to speak out if they are misgendered in a similar way. “I know if it was me three years ago, this would be a different story,” the man said. “I’m strong enough now to do this.” There is currently no policy in place that re-

quires transgender people to identify as their assigned sex at birth. In fact, transgender donors are encouraged by Food & Drug Administration guidelines to self-identify their gender when making a donation. Inova Health System released a statement responding to the donor’s allegations. “We deeply regret that one of our valued blood donors had a negative experience at one of our centers,” the statement reads. “It is always our intention to respect the privacy of each of our donors, and we believe they deserve a comfortable, respectful and positive experience. We welcome and value the diverse community of donors whose generosity helps to keep our shelves stocked with much-needed, life-saving blood. We hold our team members to the highest standards and will use this as an opportunity to better train our team members and improve our processes.”

Great Grandmother

Gay DC man goes viral after convincing Republican grandmother to vote for Joe Biden. By John Riley

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LOCAL D.C. MAN’S TWITTER thread detailing a conversation in which he convinced his 94-year-old Republican grandmother to vote for Joe Biden and other Democrats because of the GOP’s anti-LGBTQ policies has gone viral. Brennan Suen tweeted that his grandmother has “always voted Republican,” but after two Supreme Court justices said they wanted to overturn marriage equality, he called her crying and said that “Republicans are trying to take away our right to marry, adopt, access health care.” “I told her a vote for Republicans was a vote that would harm me and my future. I told her I was scared,” he wrote. “And today, my grandmother promised me she would vote for Joe Biden…. She told me that I’m the love of her life and that she would not break her promise.” Suen, an employee of a left-leaning media advocacy organization, told Metro Weekly in an 42

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interview that he had been reticent about approaching his grandmother, who lives in Arkansas, about her political affiliation. But after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and watching a Facebook Live video from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Suen decided he needed to have a potentially difficult conversation with his grandmother. “I remember [Ocasio-Cortez] saying that we all have someone that only we can get to,” he recalls. “I have a very close relationship with my grandmother, and I always have. She’s always been extremely supportive of me, but the one thing that has always upset me is knowing she votes Republican. And she’s from the kind of generation where you don’t necessarily talk about politics or controversial stuff like that.” Suen says that while his grandmother is not a devout Trump follower or outright hostile to Democrats, she is used to voting Republican


PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENNAN SUEN

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caption

Brennan Suen with his grandmother

out of habit. “I don’t talk to her about politics much,” he says. “I’ve just seen the RNC letters come to her, and I assume she’s a Republican because of the economy — and, though I’ve never talked to her about Reagan — one of those people who glorifies the Reagan days. But she is a wonderful person. She’s never done anything but support me. But that was my fear, going into our conversation, that she’s just done something one way for so long that it would be hard to change.” Suen says he worried about damaging his relationship with his grandmother, who was accepting of him when he came out. “When I was younger, I had told her I was going to name my kids after her. And when I came out to her, she grabbed my hands and said, ‘Well, I hope you’re still naming your kid after me,'” he recalls. “I had to go to the bathroom because we were at a restaurant, and I was crying because is was so thoughtful. She is a wonderful woman. She is not a [social] conservative, but I think she

just doesn’t get a ton of information, and has just always voted Republican.” Realizing that absentee and mail-in ballots were being sent out to voters ahead of November’s election, after several false starts, Suen eventually broached the topic of the election with his grandmother. “The entire conversation moved very quickly, because I just got very emotional. Professionally, I’m an LGBTQ advocate, and I just see the negative aspects of what the administration and the Right have been doing over the last four years,” he says. “She asked me how work was, and I started talking to her about how hard it’s been to work at this time, and I talked to her specifically about Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito intending to overturn the Obergefell decision,” he says, referring to the 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. “I said, ‘I know that you have your beliefs and that you always vote Republican. But I want you to know what it means for me.’ And I told her that OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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theFeed the Republican platform says that they want to ap- fore, and so many hundreds of people commentpoint judges who will overturn marriage equality ed just saying, ‘I’m proud of you, I’m proud of and roll back LGBTQ rights. I told her what the your grandmother.’ administration has been doing to combat access to “I could hear her smiling through the phone, health care for LGBTQ people and that they’re try- and I could hear how proud she was,” he adds. ing to make it worth legal to discriminate against “And she was proud of herself, too. And she literLGBTQ people. And I was crying.” ally said to me, ‘I have my loyalty. But my number Suen says his grandmother quickly tried to one loyalty is to my grandson,’ which made me comfort him, and listened to his concerns. cry all over again.” “I wasn’t ever planning to give her an ultiCalling AOC’s retweet “the best compliment matum. I told her, ‘I unI could get” besides his derstand that you might be grandmother’s unwavering doing differently, but I want support, Suen says he feels you to know that it will hurt “privileged” and “lucky” me. And it does hurt me to that the conversation went know that you could vote so well, because many other that way.’ She said, ‘I won’t LGBTQ people with convote for them…. I will not servative relatives have not vote for the Republicans, I fared as well when they’ve promise you.'” attempted to start similar Suen clarified that his conversations. grandmother was promDespite criticism from ising to vote for Joe Biden conservatives, Suen says for president and Joyce Elit’s important to stress that liott, a Democrat from the the re-election of Donald Little Rock area, in a local Trump, and Republican congressional race. He was control of the U.S. Senate touched by the fact that she “will harm queer people” —Brennan Suen would consider the impact and other vulnerable popuher vote could have on him. lations. He says he realizes He later shared his story on Twitter, which was that can be difficult for people whose relatives retweeted by Ocasio-Cortez. are less accepting. Suen says that the Twitter thread recounting “I think my advice to others would be not to his conversation got a lot of replies, particular- give an ultimatum and say, ‘You have to do this.’ ly after Ocasio-Cortez — who has more than 9 But to say, ‘if you do this, I want you to know how million followers — retweeted it, commenting: it will affect me. This is the context your need “What a beautiful story.” to know when you’re making that decision,’ While some conservatives criticized him for because I don’t think that every single voter is manipulating his grandmother or mocked him thinking about all of that,” says Suen. “I think for being so emotional, he also received a signifi- personalizing the context and how it will impact cant amount of positive reactions to his story. you and your future, at least for me, was success“I talked to my grandmother, because I want ful and meaningful. to explain to her what happened and how the “I think we have an ability to change our loved story resonated with people,” Suen says. “And ones’ hearts that we sometimes take for granted,” I needed to tell her because the response was he adds. “I think it’s worth at least having that completely unexpected and overwhelming, I’ve conversation if you can, especially with those never had anything like that happen to me be- people who might not have all the information.”

"I think we have an ability to change our loved ones’ hearts that we sometimes take for granted. I think it’s worth at least having that conversation."

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A Complete Guide to

Reel Affirmations 27 From drama to comedy to everything in between, we have your definitive critic’s guide to Washington’s LGBTQ film festival.

Reviews by Rhuaridh Marr, Sean Maunier, John Riley, Doug Rule, and Randy Shulman


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R. Classen / Shutterstock

HE LAST MOVIE I SAW IN A THEATER was The Invisible Man starring Elizabeth Moss. That was seven months ago, at the AMC Mazza Gallerie Cinema on Wisconsin Avenue. Had I known that lame thriller would be my last theatrical experience for months, I might have chosen something else. That said, the next movie I’ll see in a theater will be — well, who knows what or even when that will happen? As a career film critic and longtime movie lover, I feel the best way to see any movie is in a communal setting with an audience. But these are strange, uncertain times and no movie — not even my all-time favorite, The Birds — is worth risking one’s life for. So we wait. Patiently. And until the time comes when it’s fully safe to gather in a movie theater — popcorn, Twizzlers, and jugs of sodas in hand — we adapt. Reel Affirmations has adapted. Magnificently. The 27-year-old festival has made the choice to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic by using a slick virtual presentation platform, one increasingly popular with film festivals across the country. Although watching virtually removes the formal structure of a film festival — you choose when to watch your film, but are confined to a limited time frame once you press play — it also creates the opportunity to enjoy more films than ever before. The entire festival, if you want. And why wouldn’t you want to enjoy hours of movies that affirm our place in the world, relay our stories, tickle our funnybones, and poignantly move

our collective LGBTQ hearts. All the while supporting one of our most important local, cultural institutions. Seems a no-brainer to me. By this point, we’ve likely all watched enough movies in the confines of our homes that enjoying this superb assortment of LGBTQ films in a different way shouldn’t feel all that strange. I do have a few suggestions, the most important being avoid the temptation to pause. When you choose to watch a film, make a commitment to it and experience it from start to end. Which means popping your corn ahead of time and using the restroom before you hit play. Also, watch on as big a screen as possible, aiming for a tablet at the very least. While six inches may be great for a lot of things, it doesn’t cut it when it comes to movie-watching. This year’s Reel Affirmations lineup is astoundingly strong. A full eleven of the 20 programs were awarded a Metro Weekly Critic’s Pick. On the pages that follow, you’ll find honest assessments of each program, starting with the features and then moving to the shorts. We’ve kept things alphabetical this year, but you can view them in any order — with the exception of Monsoon and Tahara, which are screening at a unique Drive-In event on Thursday, Oct. 22. I look forward to the day when we can once again gather in a darkened theater and collectively enjoy the festival. But until that day comes, grab your remote and experience the very best that contemporary LGBTQ cinema has to offer. —Randy Shulman

Reel Affirmations begins streaming in its entirety on Wednesday, Oct. 21, concluding on Sunday, Oct. 25. Programs can be purchased individually for $10 each. Festival packages are available for $25 (3 programs), $55 (6 programs) or $125 (all 18 virtual programs — an extraordinary deal). Two of the films, Monsoon and Tahara will be shown exclusively at a Drive-In Theater event at Union Market. Tickets are separate for those screenings and cost $20 each. For full details, visit http://reelaffirmations.eventive.org. OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Breaking Fast

Alice Junior

FEATURE FILMS ALICE JUNIOR ttttt

Most of us grew up with at least one story of a plucky newcomer who shows up out of nowhere and brings light and warmth to everyone’s lives, and it’s about time it was updated for the 21st century. Enter Alice Junior, a hip, glitzy comingof-age story from Brazilian director Gil Baroni. Blogger Anna Celestino Mota steals the show as Alice, a “carefree and spoiled” transgender teen and Youtube star looking for her first kiss. Alice is living a charmed life with a supportive father in their beautiful family home in one of Brazil’s most glamorous beachside cities. She’s popular and has a substantial social media following, driven home in the film’s chaotic opening minutes as we’re introduced to her high-energy YouTube channel. When her father moves them to the country’s rural southeast, however, Alice balks at having to go to a Catholic school that seems “stuck in time.” As much as Mota plays up her schtick as a high-strung, melodramatic teen, Alice barely exaggerates when it comes to the stark contrast between her life in Recife and her new environs. The small, rural school is grim, and she is treated with more than the usual suspicion that might otherwise greet a transfer student. The adults in the school are not much better, though it is a lot of fun to watch the actors ham things up as sour, reactionary school administrators. Alice views her new circumstances as a temporary setback to her ultimate goal — to have her first kiss. She won’t be discouraged, but she takes 48

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it as a given that she has to first win over her new neighbours and build up a circle of friends. Despite the emotional and physical bullying she endures (and pushes back against), her relentless optimism and ability to absolutely radiate charisma draw her classmates towards her and she forms some solid friendships with the other students. The film’s tone is as glitzy and upbeat as its titular character, with colorful animations and a soundtrack full of hip pop songs designed to dazzle audiences even as it gives them the warm fuzzies. Like most coming-of-age stories, Alice Junior is deliberately and affectionately overthe-top. It shows a sincere appreciation for the inner lives of teens and embraces Gen Z aesthetics and sensibilities to great effect, and while it may not closely resemble anyone’s real-life story, many viewers will likely see themselves reflected in Alice’s strength, resolve and sheer love of life. —Sean Maunier CRITIC’S PICK BREAKING FAST ttttt

On paper, Breaking Fast sounds like a fairly conventional romantic comedy, with a few twists to add a veneer of interest — the lead characters are gay, and one of them is a Muslim man preparing to fast for the month of Ramadan. In the hands of director Mike Mosallam, these small tweaks to the formula become rich ground for exploring a romance rarely seen on screen. We are first introduced to Mo (Haaz Sleiman), a dorky, somewhat high-strung West Hollywood doctor who is reeling from a painful breakup


anyone that Kal and Mo end up falling in love over the course of the film. Mosallam has not set out to deliver a groundbreaking plot or turn the structure of a rom-com on its head, only to paint a portrait of two people slowly falling in love, one that is as sensitive and heartfelt as it is genuinely fun to watch. —Sean Maunier

Cicada

more than a year on. He meets Kal (Michael Cassidy), an actor who exudes easygoing charm, at a birthday party for his best friend. The two hit it off, and make plans to meet up later that night, but a quick series of misunderstandings separate them and leave the hyper-sensitive Mo feeling Kal has rejected him. When the two run into each other again, Kal invites himself along to Mo’s iftar, and they soon begin seeing each other nightly, sparking a slow-burning relationship that becomes a test of patience for both men as Mo is abstaining from sex during the holy month. Kal, who used to live in Jordan with his family, is familiar with the customs and etiquette around Ramadan, a touch that allows the film to jump right into exploring the budding dynamic between the pair. Sleiman and Cassidy have an undeniable chemistry that goes a long way towards making their bond believable. Mo’s little moments of panic are fun and endearing, while Kal is sincere, charismatic and loyal, almost a human golden retriever. The film mostly opts to allow most of its charm and humor to come from the little moments and interactions between the two as their personalities rub up against each other, rather than the kinds of contrived situations that are a staple of the genre. Mosallam’s sensitivity and attention to detail is the film’s greatest strength. The director also deserves credit for treating issues of religious and cultural differences with respect and deference without ever making caricatures of them, or turning the film into a two-dimensional allegory. Breaking Fast hits the same beats as nearly any romantic comedy, and it shouldn’t surprise

CRITIC’S PICK CICADA ttttt

Matt Fifer decided to set his debut film in 2013 for reasons that go beyond that year’s 17-year periodic cicadas that give this evocative, moving drama its title. At the time, the appalling Jerry Sandusky-fueled Penn State child sex abuse scandal was still a regular topic in the news, as we hear in recurring snippets from the radio in Cicada. Yet viewers are left to speculate on what, if anything, links the scandal to lead character Ben (Fifer) for the longest time, in an echo of the film’s gradual shift in both tone and topic. Based on a true story, Cicada first registers as a highly stylized, atmospheric look at a young man’s attempts to connect and communicate, with Fifer portraying Ben as a laconic, heavy-drinking, sexually charged New Yorker who pursues sex with seemingly any man — as well as the occasional woman — who so much as looks his way. It’s not until Ben meets Sam (Sheldon Brown), who tries to resist Ben’s charms, that Cicada morphs into a romantic drama about a young same-sex couple’s attempts to connect and communicate, and the multitude of issues that each brings to bear. The quietly powerful film is one of those rare breeds of film that manages to get livelier and brighter the deeper and darker it gets. It explores, to varying degrees, issues of abuse and trauma, race and interracial dynamics, internalized homophobia and antigay violence, and family relationships and acceptance. Cicada even veers into black comedy territory — partly aided by the skilled comedians in its supporting cast, chief among them Saturday Night Live’s Bowen Yang. There are the occasional duds, with 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit as Ben’s OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Dry Wind

Ellie & Abbie

English, Dry Wind would benefit from greater character development and growth as well as refinements in plot. Yet as is, it’s exactly the kind of film that any other year would have packed in — and pleased — festivalgoers at a late-night theater screening. But even a solitary viewing of it at home makes one appreciate Larry MachaCRITIC’S PICK do’s gorgeously rendered, vivid cinematography, DRY WIND ttttt which helps ensure Dry Wind is as visually stunTo say Daniel Nolasco’s debut feature Dry Wind is ning as it is erotically charged. Which is another sexually explicit is kind of like saying the weath- way of saying the film is as handsome as its cast. er in the dusty remote Brazilian town where the —Doug Rule drama is set is hot in the summer. True enough, but that only scratches the surface. In fact, Dry CRITIC’S PICK Wind gets downright pornographic in a few ELLIE & ABBIE scenes, including the first of many clandestine ttttt trysts in the nearby forest between Sandro (Le- Had it been made a decade or two ago, it’s easy andro Faria Lelo) and Ricardo (Allan Jacinto to imagine Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) Santana), where the two attack each either like probably would have been a very different film. wild animals in heat. This is not lost on writer and director Monica Dry Wind focuses on Sandro, a handsome yet Zanetti, whose sense of the past and present resad-sack protagonist who burns hot with sexu- alities of what it means to be young and gay is al desire for other men but is too traumatized to apparent throughout. The film revolves around even contemplate being public about it, much to high-schooler Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) who the dismay of Ricardo. The two are co-workers has a crush on her friend and classmate Abbie at a factory that is one of the main employers in (Zoe Terakes) and must summon the courage its small rural town, and things only intensify to both come out to her mother and ask Abbie with the arrival of Maicon (Rafael Theophilo), to the school formal. Luckily for Ellie, the ghost a man straight out of a Tom of Finland fantasy of her dead lesbian aunt Tara (Julia Billington) whom Sandro openly ogles from the moment he shows up to dispense sage advice. Tara is quick first catches his eye. Sandro becomes danger- to take exception to the label of “ghost,” stating ously obsessed, and from there everything gets that she prefers to be thought of as a fairy godcranked up, from the soap opera-esque antics to mother, which becomes one of many recurring the fetishistic — and graphically unsimulated — gags delivered skillfully by the instantly likeable sexual activity. Billington. A Portuguese-language film fully subtitled in There’s plenty of humor in Tara’s well-meanglib and lackadaisical doctor. Yet Fifer’s consistently sharp writing and directing, as well as his genuine rapport and chemistry with Brown, who is credited with helping flesh out the story, keeps Cicada flying above the fray. —Doug Rule

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ing cluelessness running up against Ellie’s adolescent impetuousness, but some heavier subject matter disrupts the lightheartedness of the lowstakes drama of Ellie’s crush on Abbie. Revelations about Tara cause Ellie to see her in a new light and shake both her own confidence and her friendship with Abbie. Despite Ellie’s very real and legitimate struggles, the film keeps its focus broad and remains mindful of the long arc of what it means and has meant to be gay. Although played for laughs, Ellie’s intergenerational relationship with an older (albeit dead) gay family member becomes a lens for exploring the struggles that were necessary to get society to a place where it is taken for granted that Ellie can ask a girl to the prom. Even when the film brings up the past it never comes off as particularly preachy, and neither is it dismissive of the issues still faced by young queer people. It starts from the baseline assumption that — in modern, suburban Australia at least — someone like Ellie is unlikely to face much outright vitriol for coming out, and her biggest fear in asking Abbie to the formal is the near-universal fear of rejection. But starting from this assumption allows the film to explore more subtle shades of homophobia and shed light on the struggles that still exist. Heartfelt performances from a mostly-LGBTQ cast lend the film a sense of immediacy and warmth. The real key to the film’s success, however, is director Zanetti’s compassion and empathy, which allow her to deliver a film that is light-hearted without being dismissive, and poignant without being preachy. In Ellie & Abbie, she skillfully weaves together comedy and drama to tell a beautiful, affirming story of young love. —Sean Maunier MONSOON ttttt

Monsoon opens with a remarkable overhead shot depicting the beautiful insanity of traffic in Saigon. As an intense and relentless symphony of hundreds of scooters and cars converge, just barely missing each other, the scene becomes a study in controlled chaos. It is both mesmer-

Monsoon

izing and tremendously stressful to watch. Pity it doesn’t occupy the remaining 83 minutes of Hong Khaou’s latest drama. Khaou, of course, is the acclaimed director of the widely-admired 2014 LGBTQ film, Lilting. Which makes Monsoon all the more frustrating. He’s a gifted director, but apparently has decided to abandon his gifts for drama and storytelling and instead bask in obtuse, pointless self-indulgence. After the stunning opening shot, Khaou’s film, with only a minimal amount of narrative and absolutely no dramatic heft whatsoever, literally deep-dives into a pit of nothingness, never bothering to pull itself out. Kit (Henry Golding) has returned to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years since his family escaped during the war when he was six. He’s there to return the ashes of his deceased parents to their original home in Hanoi. He’s a stranger in the land of his birth and we are meant to see the world through his virgin eyes. Along the way, he reconnects with an old friend (David Tran), befriends a tour guide (Molly Harris), and has a few late-night hookups. One of these — Lewis (Parker Sawyer), an American living in Vietnam to launch his clothing brand — provokes slightly more than a casual, dispassionate response from Kit. Khaou’s overall point is tough to attain. His screenplay is underdeveloped, and his idea of directing here is to plop the camera down and present us with super-long, lingering shots that overstay their onscreen welcome, like guests that won’t leave. The characters are metaphors: Lewis represents the collective American guilt for fighting in a war they should have never been part of. “It’s OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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not a war we can recall with pride,” says Lewis, to which Kit responds, “Why would you want to recall it with pride?” Kit, meanwhile, represents the notion of cultural disconnect and dilution. Perhaps as a kind of Vietnamese travelogue, the film has merit, but really, isn’t that what the Travel Channel is for? One sequence in particular, in which we watch the art of making authentic Lotus tea, bursts to colorful, fascinating life, but it’s a brief respite from the movie’s drab, aching dullness. So little actually happens over the course of Monsoon that it becomes an ordeal to watch. More than once a character says to Kit, “You look bored” or “Are you bored yet?” It’s as if the filmmaker is taunting us to stay awake. Golding, as handsome as ever, gives a performance that is fundamentally lifeless. He might as well be playing a corpse. Sawyer lights things up a bit, though his character is written in a scattershot, uncertain manner. Monsoon is one of two films showing at a planned drive-in screening at Union Market, so it’s not on the streaming platform. So here’s what I suggest: Go and get out of the house in a safe environment, and support Reel Affirmations. Enjoy the first two breathtaking minutes, and then spend the rest of the time in the backseat of your car making out with your date. It’ll be time far better spent. —Randy Shulman Monsoon will be showcased in a special Drive-In Screening at Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 8:45 p.m. Tickets are $20. Click here for details. OUT LOUD ttttt

Out Loud chronicles the beginnings of the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, the first all-trans-identified chorus in the United States, which sprang out of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles five years ago. Led by its original co-founder and artistic director Lindsey Deaton, the newly-formed chorus seeks to “find its voice” throughout the course of the documentary as its members learn how to match pitch (a challenge for those whose 54

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Out Loud

voices are changing as they undergo hormone therapy), and re-learn how to sing in their new voices, and navigate group dynamics. Starting on the day of the chorus’ debut concert in 2015, Out Loud shows the behind-thescenes machinations of the performers as they warm up, check on last-minute details, and begin to prepare. We are then transported back six months to the chorus’ first rehearsal and see firsthand Deaton’s self-doubt about whether the new chorus will survive. Various chorus members talk about discovering their identity, their coming out processes, their musical backgrounds (or lack thereof ) and their reasons for joining. From the guitar player who is part of a band with her cisgender identical twin, to the son of a vocal coach whose transition has taken him from a soprano to a bass, to the dancer who can “pass” without people knowing her trans identity, the audience gains a glimpse into the personal lives of the performers in a way that enhances the film’s overall storyline. The rest of the movie serves as a “countdown” as the date of the debut performance approaches. Of course, nothing goes exactly as planned: On the day of the concert, a large weather balloon that was supposed to be part of a song and dance number pops, forcing the chorus to scramble. It’s an hour before showtime, and the basses are out-singing — and drowning out — the first tenors. Yet the chorus pulls itself together to deliver a solid first concert. The film’s theme is centered around finding one’s voice, both as a singer and as a trans person


Tahara

The Right Girls

to mention love interest — than the unflappably self-absorbed and emotionally stunted Hannah, at least in Sennott’s histrionic portrayal of the character as a wannabe mean girl. By contrast, we see Carrie become more selfaware, socially engaged, and willing to speak out in the same short span of time, to the point you’ll leave feeling better about her than you did when TAHARA ttttt first introduced. For that matter, you might feel “How do I get somebody to want me?” Hannah the same about the slow-burning Tahara itself. (Rachel Sennott) poses that immortal teenage —Doug Rule question to her lifelong best friend Carrie (Madeleine Grey DeFreece) halfway through Olivia Tahara will be showcased in a special Drive-In Peace’s feature-length film debut, the thoughtful Screening at Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, on yet somewhat tepid teenage drama Tahara. The Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $20. “somebody” in Hannah’s case is Tristan (Dan- Click here for details. iel Taveras), a fellow boy at the girls’ Hebrew school, who, it turns out, only has eyes for Car- CRITIC’S PICK rie. Carrie completes this unrequited triangle by THE RIGHT GIRLS wanting the rather oblivious Hannah. ttttt Carrie spends the better part of the mov- Gripping and engaging, Timothy Wolfer’s docuie trying to woo Hannah, who has a habit of mentary The Right Girls chronicles the story of making things worse. We meet the two teenage four transgender women from Central Amerigirls on the day of a funeral service for another ca who join the infamous “caravan” of refugees schoolmate of theirs, who died by suicide after who came to the United States in 2018 seeking struggling with her sexuality (as well as getting asylum. We are first introduced to three of the spurned after coming on to Hannah). A few piv- principal characters: Joanne Stefani, a black otal scenes in the film are embellished by the ad- woman from Honduras, is fleeing racial and andition of animated images and graphics created ti-trans discrimination and mistreatment at the by Emily Ann Hoffman that put things in stark, hands of her family; Chantal, from El Salvador, often surreal relief. is fleeing an abusive relationship; and ValentyWritten by Jess Zeidman, Tahara is a com- na, also from El Salvador, has a murky past and ing-of-age story notably told from a queer Black claims to be fleeing from gangs that she had to and Jewish perspective. DeGreece is thoroughly pay “protection money” to in order to keep her captivating as the shy, tentative Carrie, who de- small business operational. serves a whole lot better of a best friend — not A fourth, Sinay, from Nicaragua, appears in trying to find space in the world. An engaging film that earns its praise, Out Loud offers its audience a concise, easy-to-follow story about how a group of disparate individuals are united by a singular purpose. It’s a “feel-good” story if there ever was one. —John Riley

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part of the film and travels with the principals for a significant part of their journey, but rarely speaks to the camera. Her life, and even her personality, are shrouded in mystery — creating a loose thread that Wolfer does not do enough to resolve by the end of the film. Much of the documentary focuses on the dayto-day struggles of the band of trans women as they are forced to walk for miles each day, making their way through Central America. They try to hitch rides on trucks or pedicabs, but are largely ignored or turned away because of their gender identity. At several points, truck drivers tell the group they will only give rides to “women and children,” a stark reminder that the larger society does not view their womanhood as legitimate. The journey is hot, tiresome, dirty, and fraught with peril: any wrong step could put the women in danger of losing their lives. Ultimately, the group splits up following a conflict that is never clearly defined or fleshed out. Viewers see Chantal and Joanne crying and saying they feel betrayed by Valentyna, but the details are murky — a lost opportunity for storytelling. The audience sees Valentyna in Des Moines, Iowa, having been granted asylum, but sees no more of Sinay, Joanne, or Chantal. A single sentence mentions all four women were granted asylum, unlike 70% of people who request it — but it’s treated like an afterthought or an aside. Despite its strong narrative, attention to detail, and memorable characters, The Right Girls leaves several stones unturned, journeys untaken, and additional storylines or subplots unpursued. It’s a shame, because the film is able to keep us emotionally invested in the outcomes of the women’s journey, only to run out of steam in the final stretch. —John Riley THE UNLIKELY STORY OF THE LESBIANS OF FIRST FRIDAY ttttt

Community always finds a way. Such was the case in the early 1980s when a band of closeted lesbians living in rural southwestern Virginia, in and around Roanoake, gradually forged their

The Lesbians of First Friday

own quiet, tight-knit group called First Friday. Filmmaker Kathryn L. Beranich, a member of the group, recounts its history in the winsomely titled The Unlikely Story of the Lesbians of First Friday. The hour-long documentary is a love letter to the ladies, filled with personal recollections and vintage snapshots of their monthly meetings and, eventually, annual campground retreats. At the time, Roanoke was hardly the easiest place to be out. “It was very hard to be gay in that era,” says one of the group’s founders. “There were a lot of lesbians, but there was no core connecting group,” says another. “We were trying to create safe spaces.” Beranich fills the hour with dozens upon dozens of talking heads, each indelibly in their own way. The movie plays out like a time capsule brimming with treasures waiting to be discovered, the most dazzling being an extended segment about the group’s annual campground retreat, which featured appearances by iconic lesbian entertainers such as Chris Williamson and Kate Clinton, and a mock Olympics that opened with a torch fashioned from a Kotex tied to a broomstick and set aflame. “We brought out the best in each other,” says one of the women of the welcoming, embracing gatherings, which eventually drew lesbians from across the nation. Through it all, the group, which eventually dissolved, never lost its rustic, OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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playful charm. If there’s a bone to pick with the film, it’s that the surface is never scratched deeply enough. Much of what is warmly recounted grows repetitive after a point. Moreover, Berlanich has opted to impose a bouncy, twangy musical soundtrack to accompany the voiceovers. Not only is it horribly edited (a hacksaw comes to mind), but the music is played in a seemingly interminable loop that overwhelms the women as they speak. You just want it to stop. Quibbles aside, the movie is a potent reminder that things were significantly different for the LGBTQ community even as little as 30 years ago. And as we forged our path out of the wilderness, groups like the Lesbians of First Friday helped to pave the way. —Randy Shulman CRITIC’S PICK TU ME MANQUES ttttt

A complex film dealing with an even more complex subject matter, Tu Me Manque (I Miss You) can vary wildly between outstanding drama and preachy afternoon special, often with little grey area in between. But when writer-director Rodrigo Bellott’s script is firing on all cylinders, delivered by two incredible performances from stars Oscar Martínez and Fernando Barbosa, it is frequently breathtaking in its depth, eloquence, and emotional resonance. Based on Bellott’s award-winning Bolivian play of the same name, it deals with Bellott’s real-life experience of losing a closeted boyfriend to suicide, after he struggled to deal with the prospect of his parents learning his true identity. Here, Bellott’s film centers on a fictional version of the play, as well as delving into the relationships behind its creation. Told in flashback and constantly shifting between present and past, the end result is frequently messy, particularly when scenes move between timelines without any real indication of what’s going on or where we are in the story. While it can be confusing, stripping Bellott’s narrative flourishes back reveals a solid core built on the performances of Barbosa as Sebas58

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Tu Me Manques

tian, the playwright, and Martinez as Jorge, father of Gabriel, Sebastian’s ex. After accidentally talking to Sebastian on Facebook, Jorge travels to New York City to find out the truth about his son’s life — and what exactly led to his death. The scenes between Sebastian and Jorge are where Tu Me Manques shines brightest, particularly when emotions boil over and Bellott’s bilingual script allows both actors to let loose in their native Spanish. Barbosa and Martinez deliver astonishingly nuanced portrayals of grief, both in a partner still struggling to process the loss of a great love, and a father figuring out that he didn’t really know his son at all. Bellott can sometimes stray into contrived, preachy, or overwrought territory — including a couple of scenes where Sebastian and his friends “teach” Jorge (or, rather, the audience) about LGBTQ people — but he is also capable of some truly beautiful writing, such as a powerful scene between Jorge and a local priest, as they discuss the possibility that Paul the Apostle was gay, or a later scene between Jorge and Rosaura (Rossy de Palma), who took Sebastian and Gabriel under her wing in New York and has her own experience with devastating loss. While the confines of Tu Me Manques’ stage origins can often be felt — literally so, in the scenes where Sebastian prepares his cast for opening night — it also led to some interesting creative choices. Gabriel, for instance, is played in the film’s flashback scenes by three different actors — a nod to Bellott casting 30 men in his original play so as not to allow one actor to become the memory of his ex-partner. Bellott also makes the decision to portray Ga-


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Two of Us

Who’s on Top?

briel’s death through Sebastian’s version of the play, in a scene that is as devastating and affecting on screen as one imagines it was on opening night in Bolivia in 2015. Tu Me Manques may not be easy watching, both for its subject matter and its structure, but you’ll be hard pressed not to find yourself emotionally drained and reaching for the tissues when the curtain closes and the credits roll. —Rhuaridh Marr

fers a stroke, her children assigning a caregiver, their truth and life together left unspoken. Forced to watch from across the hall as her love slowly recuperates, guilt and desperation eat away at her as she tries desperately to find reasons to see and spend time with Madeleine. Without giving too much away, Two of Us quietly, devastatingly unpicks the ties that bound Nina and Madeleine’s life together, keeping it from view of the outside world. Sukowa delivers a masterclass performance, switching on the fly between any number of emotions — elation at Madeleine’s progress, anger at being kept from her, deep-rooted love in small moments of tenderness with her life partner. One notable scene that Sekowa knocks out of the park takes place the first night Madeleine returns from hospital, as Nina must remain in her apartment and look at empty cupboards and bare rooms, her entire life clearly lived across the hall with Madeleine. Forced to eavesdrop and peer out of her peephole to figure out what’s going on, Meneghetti keeps the audience in the dark and on edge alongside Nina, as she quietly tiptoes across the hall and into Madeleine’s apartment — her apartment — to sit with her, or share memories with her, or climb into their bed and hold her tightly. The narrative’s masterstroke is that it continues to unspool, stretching things further as Madeleine’s daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) discovers uncomfortable truths about her mother, and further separates Nina from Madeleine — which in turn only increases Nina’s desperation. The film often descends into dark places, such as Nina’s nightmares while in bed alone, or, in one deeply unsettling scene, as Anne tells Nina

CRITIC’S PICK TWO OF US ttttt

It’s hard to quantify quite what effect this powerful lesbian drama will have on you. Two of Us is not a typical love story, nor is it a typical drama. It doesn’t beat its audience over the head with exposition, nor does it grant them full access to everything occurring within its various set pieces. It is a bleak film filled with sadness, regret, and guilt, and yet also one punctuated by love, tenderness, and passion, with moments of hope, joy, and humor. Filippo Meneghetti’s film, co-written with Malysone Bovorasmy, follows an older lesbian couple, Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), who have kept their love hidden for decades, but now, after the death of Madeleine’s husband, are free to sell their neighboring apartments and leave France for Rome, where they first met. All they need is for Madeleine to break the news to her children — a task halted by insecurity and uncertainty, leading to a tense falling out between her and Nina. A vicious exchange during that falling out plunges Nina into despair after Madeleine suf60

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that her mother only had one true love, her abusive father, who “tyrannized” Madeleine — all while Meneghetti zooms into Madeleine’s open, unblinking eyes, as she sits between Anne and Nina at the table. Credit is also due to Chevallier for her performance as a silent, recovering Madeleine, seeing her life manipulated and maneuvered without her consent, unable to stop her separation from Nina despite evidence of its harm. With a simple glance, Chevallier conveys a thousand, unspoken words. With Two of Us, Meneghetti delivers not only one of the most compelling lesbian films ever made, but does so while also tackling aging, the secret lives many LGBTQ people lead, and the lengths some will go to in order to protect those they love. It is an incredibly moving, richly conveyed, powerfully acted, and beautifully constructed film that everyone should see. —Rhuaridh Marr WHO’S ON TOP?

herself and her family that was fractured by her coming out. As the hike continues, the climbers and their guides fall behind schedule, trying to reach the mountain before the morning sun potentially melts the snow and makes their path more treacherous. Each member of the group is eventually faced with deciding whether to press forward or to turn back. The movie serves as a heavy-handed metaphor for life: just as our four protagonists struggle to get up the 11,245-foot tall peak, LGBTQ people struggle against various odds in their lives and try to achieve personal victories or accomplishments. Even if they don’t reach the top of the mountain, the extent to which they’ve climbed or made progress serves as a personal best. Ultimately, Who’s On Top? lacks the emotional appeal that should be there as the audience empathizes with the four protagonists. And it feels like Tau could have “shown” more by saying less in a much shorter time period. —John Riley

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Devin Fei-Fan Tau’s Who’s On Top?, which shadows four different LGBTQ mountain climbers, starts off with the best of intentions, casting the ascension of Oregon’s Mount Hood as the climbers’ great white whale. Narrated by George Takei, the film includes beautiful shots of snow-capped Mount Hood, courtesy of director of photography Justin Rapp, and an engaging musical score that helps set the scene. Viewers are introduced to the four principal characters, each of whom have a goal they wish to achieve or a tribulation to overcome, for which their trek up the mountain serves as a metaphor. Ryan, a gay man, grew up in Oregon, where he was bullied and harassed for being effeminate, leading to intense anxiety and struggles with weight issues. Shanita, a queer artist, is overcoming trauma from an incident in which she was attacked by two men hurling racial slurs at her. Stacey, a trans woman, nature lover, and writer, is finally realizing her identity after years of being closeted. Taylor, a queer woman who has already climbed to the top of Mount Hood three other times, is trying to rebuild trust between

SHORT FILM PROGRAMS CRITIC’S PICK ALT-REALITY ttttt

The descriptor for this cluster of shorts claims the films are “sci-fi, fantasy, surreal, alternative reality.” That’s a pretty loose definition of what’s on offer here — don’t expect phasers set on stun. Still, the movies in this program manage to stun in their own ways, being sharp, interesting, and intelligent, even if their meaning isn’t always entirely accessible. It kicks off with an utter delight: Heart to Heart (ttttt), in which 21-year-old Liddy, in the hospital with heart disease, has an out-of-body discussion about her sexuality with her obscenely-minded blood-pumping vital organ, which calls itself Lump. The adage the heart knows one’s true desires could not be more true, and Lilah Vandenburgh’s film couldn’t be more amusing as the heart lasciviously urges Liddy to make a pass at the winsome student nurse attending her. “You want us to die without exOCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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periencing the joys of a human pussy?” Lump shrieks. It helps that the voice of Lump is performed — quite ribaldly — by David Tennant. Yes, it’s a one-joke film, but it plays out with an abundance of humor and, well... heart. Katie McNeice’s In Orbit (ttttt) feels like a ten-minute edition of Black Mirror, but with a sweet, sentimental twist. Sometime in the near future, when the world has gone to full climate-ravaged hell, an elderly Irish woman is questioned Heart to Heart about the past, bringing up her memories on a holographic screen. “A pound of my thoughts for your peace of mind and you still won’t know how it felt,” she curtly tells the interviewer. It’s poetic and moody, and feels like it could have used another five minutes to explain its narrative threads better. Watch it with headphones on if you can, as the sound design is significant. There’s far less to say about Light on a Path, Follow (ttttt), which feels as though it were made in a trance. A pregnant person, living alone in the wilderness, encounters a supernatural In Orbit force the credits only refer to as “the birthworker spirit.” Elliot Montague’s film is the equivalent of watching paint dry for 15 minutes — with two of them eaten up by an absurd amount of end credits. Miss Man (ttttt) is a potent tale of gender identity and repression, set in India. Manob (the eloquent Arghya Adhikary), is a gentle, transgender soul whose mother has recently passed. Struggling to achieve an authentic self, Manob fends off an abusive father and copes with emotionally harsh lovers, both male and female. “I’m Light on a Path, Follow attracted to women as well,” Manob says at one point. “But I’m not sure if it’s as a man or a woman.” The film is culturally dense, offering up compelling imagery to process, courtesy of dazzling cinematography by Tuhin Saha, and its narrative is occasionally scattered. But director Tathagata Ghosh eventually weaves the loose strands together in a magnificent, gratifying finale. Eric Rosen’s netuser (ttttt) is an unsettling, paranoid-infused thriller in which a famous internet provocateur (Denis O’Hare) recklessly endangers the life of his partner (Claybourne ElMiss Man der) and their two-year-old son after a random 62

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2 Dollars

CULTURES OF QUEER netuser

Skin

Grindr encounter. Rosen’s film is smart and edgy — he doesn’t spell things out but lets the atmosphere and a spectacular performance by O’Hare convey the story. The film escalates to a subtle yet heart-pumping climax that leaves you wondering if social media should only be used for trading cat photos. In Skin (ttttt), a grieving, isolated man (an excellent Tom Sturridge) is guided by the unseen voice of his company’s Chief Happiness Officer. Daisy Stenham’s drama has a satisfying conclusion, but it feels unfinished, obvious, and ultimately pointless. The Chinese-made Touch (ttttt) concludes the program with the startling tale of a young man’s attempt to connect with other men for late night mutual masturbation sessions. It’s a compact, absorbing, sorrow-drenched film, sensitive and evocative, and to give away its small, significant details would be to spoil its impact. —Randy Shulman

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Reel Affirmation’s Cultures of Queer program celebrates identities — be they hidden, unexplored, or erased by those who refuse to accept them. Kicking things off, Robin Cloud’s engaging short 2 Dollars (ttttt) centers on African-American nonbinary office-worker Syd (Gabrielle Maiden) trying to choose between their stifling job and bigoted coworkers, or giving it all up and pursuing their artistic passions. Whether it’s faux “woke” manager Veronica (a brilliantly cringeworthy Karissa Lee Staples) forcing Syd to bump fists while denying them a raise for being “too gay,” or office douche Carlos (Andrew Joseph Perez) ignoring their gender identity, everything comes to fruition when Syd learns the office lottery pool has won the jackpot, leading to an incredible performance from Maiden as Syd trashes the office in a glorious, all-too-relatable — and possibly premature — breakdown. Things shift into a quieter gear for Mirada (Gaze) (ttttt), about a young child (Biera Thomas Rossello) exploring their gender identity. The child plays outdoors, dressed in stereotypically boyish fashion, before being called home by their abuela, where they put on a dress and head into the kitchen for a meal. Patricia Cruz’s film doesn’t say much over its three minutes, but imparts just enough to convey its message. By contrast, Anika Benkov’s The Binding of Itzik (ttttt) has a lot to say, much of it deeply funny, some of it quite emotional, as Hasidic bookbinder Itzik (Eli Rosen) comes across a Craigslist ad for “binding lessons for submissive OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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The Binding of Itzik

women.” Curiosity piqued, he responds, keeping his identity a secret. What follows is a passionate, potent relationship with “MeatMaster500” — told entirely through their narrated emails to one another — that forces Itzik to confront a part of his sexual identity that remains repressed amidst his deeply conservative and religious lifestyle. And after a lot of virtual talking, Benkov and Rosen stick the landing with a closer that’s weighty, impactful, uncomfortable, and virtually silent. La Gloria is also part of this program, but was not made available for screening. —Rhuaridh Marr

2 Black Boys

Cuban Heel Shoes

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Dance, comedy, singing, art, and drag queens daring to break the mold center this shorts program, which kicks off with 2 Black Boys (ttttt), a black-and-white short celebrating the poetry of Giovanni Adams, which charts his black queer journey from boyhood to manhood. While the narrative and structure can be occasionally confusing and fleetingly amateur, Rachel Myers offers several gorgeous shots of her cast of dancers and actors set to narration of Adams’ work. Sticking with dancing, Cuban Heel Shoes (ttttt) follows two LGBTQ teenage boys in a derelict Spanish suburb, sharply contrasting their deprived surroundings with their desires to become flamenco dancers. David Gaitán and Pedro Puente move beautifully through both their choreography and Julio Mas Alcaraz’s script and film, as they scrape together money 64

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Flux.1

for dancing shoes by running drugs for the local cartel and deal with family issues that threaten their dreams. Slightly overstaying its welcome but offering a lot of food for thought in the process, Christopher Green’s 37-minute Flux.1 (ttttt) documents trans man T. Wise, a Hebrew teacher in Brooklyn who gave up his job to become a comedian one year after transitioning. While Green’s structure lends the film an overlong feel, there is a lot to love here, including Wise’s incredibly supportive rabbi father and insight into the comedy world from an LGBTQ perspective — the straight, male-dominated open mike nights are


I Am Samantha

In This Life

Inferno

filled with a preponderance of incest and sexual assault jokes, but discussing a transition is viewed as radical. It’s followed by the truly wonderful I Am Samantha (ttttt), a music video from Benjamin Scheuer with an all-transgender cast telling the story of trans woman Samantha, and the power of claiming, expressing, and living your true identity. Trans director T Cooper’s video is simple, but the effect is thoroughly uplifting and affirming. Things get a little weird in the program’s next two shorts. In This Life (ttttt) stars Broadway’s Robbie Fairchild as a man processing the five stages of grief through dance and perfor-

Lipstick and Leather

mance art. Each stage in Bat-Sheva Guez’s film is choreographed by a different artist, and can frequently surprise and impress with its striking imagery. Not to mention some truly harrowing makeup and movement during the depression sequence. Also relying on striking and often unsettling imagery, the dark, sexy, brilliantly imaginative art of photographer Gui Taccetti is on full display in part-film, part-documentary Inferno (ttttt). Filmmaker Andrew Blackman presents the various sets and subjects for Taccetti’s Inferno series, each dripping in religious iconography and overtures to fetishism, and processing his feelings about growing up gay and Catholic in Brazil — as Taccetti notes in his narration: “My work is a way of constantly coming out.” Things hit closer to home in the program’s final film, Amy Oden’s documentary Lipstick and Leather (ttttt), which charts iconic monthly alt-drag night GayBash DC as it launches a sister event in Baltimore. Founder Donna Slash, who recently relocated to Baltimore, stars alongside GayBash regulars Jane Saw and Ana Latour, as Oden captures their drag beginnings, the freedom of expression granted by GayBash’s embrace of alternative drag styles, and the runup to the launch of GayBash Baltimore. Technical issues with audio and framerate aside, Oden’s film takes on a more poignant note for D.C. locals with shots of Trade, GayBash’s home venue, filled with patrons and celebrating the queens giving it their all on stage. Trade may be open, but GayBash remains on hold — and Lipstick and Leather reminds why we can’t wait to have it back. —Rhuaridh Marr OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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After That Party

Home Girl

Paese che Vai (When in Rome)

CRITIC’S PICK I’M COMING OUT ttttt

The title of this magnificent collection of shorts says it all, but it’s the ways in which the coming out is achieved in each film that gives this series its sparkle. It opens with Caoi Scott’s positively inspired After That Party (ttttt), in which Leo (Lucas Drummond) grapples with the fact that a family member may be gay. The Brazilian entry is utterly adorable, tender, sweet, brimming with heart. It’s one of the best shorts in this year’s festival. 66

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Shéár Avery: To Be Continued

In Poonam Brah’s Home Girl (ttttt), the death of a parent sparks a rift between Roya (Aysha Kara), a closeted young woman, and her secret girlfriend, Charlie (Amy Molloy). The eleven-minute narrative is suffused with pain, guilt, confrontation, and revelation. “You are afraid to be happy,” a spurned Charlie tells Roya. “And you’re a homophobe, which sucks for you because you are a massive homosexual.” Brah tells the story eloquently and efficiently, though it does feature an annoying discrepancy in its timeline midway through. The emotional centerpiece of this grouping is La Ráfaga (The Gust) (ttttt), set in a 2017, hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Two neighbors, a middle-aged, insecure gay man (Edgar García, who also wrote and directed the 30-minute stunner), and his beautiful, athletic neighbor Ráfaga (a winning Héctor Enrique Rodríguez), who seems to spend all of his time shirtless, connect during their isolation from society. Their friendship is the core of an unexpectedly tender, sweet romance that winds its way to a satisfying and honest conclusion. Bonus: it’s the only movie you’ll hear the phrase “Trump is a fucking racist” uttered in Spanish. The bubbly and buoyant Paese che Vai (When in Rome) (ttttt) delights on every possible level, as a young gay man returning to his Italian village decides to come clean with his garrulous, overbearing father, a butcher who, at one point, goes on a sensual rhapsody about the joys of meat that has to be heard to be believed. Luca Padrini’s joyful, funny short, complete with a spry, lively score, charms on every imaginable


level. Abram Ceruda’s documentary Shéár Avery: To Be Continued (ttttt) is an emotionally shattering portrait of a homeless, 17-year-old transgender person in the process of starting their transition. They face a huge obstacle in a similarly homeless mother, who attempts to sabotage her child’s ability to continue with the necessary hormone treatments. Ceruda’s film, compelling and powerfully moving, features one of the most harrowing sequences in recent memory, as Shéár and a photographer are chased by several vocal homophobic Los Angeles locals. It’s a gripping portrait of an astonishing — and astonishingly grounded — individual. Yet, if it feels narratively unfinished, it’s because it’s a feeder for a feature documentary, ending with a plea for donations to “help us tell this story on a bigger scale.” You’ll want to give to that cause the moment it’s over. —Randy Shulman

Next Level Shit

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This gathering of uplifting, often funny shorts opens with Blocked (ttttt) an uber-gay parody in which filmmaker Kevin Yee tussles with writer’s block. With a not-so-subtle nod to The Sound of Music and a sharply funny, unexpected ending, it captures the simplicity and artfulness of the short movie format in under 4 minutes. Oriana Oppice’s Go Go, Boy! (ttttt) is less successful in its story of Bobby (Marcus Owens), a budding young queer with an obsession for both wrestling and drag. It’s inoffensive enough, but it feels incomplete. Still, Owens saves it by playing his character’s inner desires to the hilt. In Next Level Shit (ttttt), Taylor (Ben Bauer) desperately wants to keep his pipes clean in anticipation of a big date with Chris (Daniel K. Issac from The Other Two and Billions). He refuses to eat for the entire day, leading his friends to casually mock his rumbling stomach. Things head toward a predictably disastrous conclusion when store-bought sushi enters the picture. Even though you can see the narrative coming from ten-miles away, writer-director Gary Jaffe manages to put a smart, human spin on the com-

Self Worship

edy, providing it a cute punchline at the very end. Things get truly bizarre in the experimental dance short Self Worship (ttttt). A testament to female empowerment, complete with menstrual blood as warrior paint, the film stars Che Che Luna, whose dancing is as vigorous as her on-screen performance. The artistic self-indulgence is a bit much at times. Still, the film manages to be absorbing and there are moments where it’s utterly transfixing. The clear winner in this program is Sexpert Advice (ttttt), in which a relatively seedy sex OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Sexpert Advice

Freed

To Be With You

The Act

specialist (a scruffy Eddie Cahill) helps nervous, uncertain Albert (Tobit Raphael) land an online hookup. “We’ve got to send him the goods,” he says, instructing Albert to drop his drawers. “Are you a shower or a grower?” It’s a gleaming little gem, written and directed by Raphael with an abundance of humor and humanity. The amblin’, rough-around-the-seams To Be with You (ttttt) closes things out, as Alex (Avi Roque) and Mari (Sierra Santana), two old friends, reconnect after Alex, who has recently transitioned, visits L.A. to spread the ashes of his father. Written and directed by Elliott Feliciano, the movie, at 20 minutes, is too long by half. Feliciano needs to work on developing better pacing, as the acting feels improvised and unsure of itself. Yet there are elements to admire — the brief romance that develops between the two feels authentic, Nacia Schreiner’s photography, especially during an L.A. montage, is often entrancing, and the music by Mike Meehan is sumptuous, especially in the film’s final minutes. You get the sense you’re watching budding talents at the start of their careers, with enormous promise ahead. —Randy Shulman 68

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Kicking off this program, French filmmaker Josza Anjembe’s Freed (ttttt) follows Issa (Alassane Diong), a young gay man who is about to be released from jail when he meets Gaetan, a new arrival at their “open” prison where inmates are granted certain freedoms and independence. Diong delivers a quiet yet powerful performance as Issa, who struggles with the prison bully, his burgeoning feelings for Gaetan, and the knowledge that his mother won’t allow him to stay with her when he is released due to his sexuality. Anjembe offers an ambiguous but satisfying ending to Issa’s tale, as he commits a defiant final act before release. Next we hop over the English channel — and back in time — for The Act (ttttt), a superb short about the decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967. Backdropped by narrated debate in Britain’s parliament about homosexuals and their proclivities, Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin’s film follows Mr. Matthews (Samuel Barnett), a young profession-


immigrants, and the impact on their family. The titular Mariana (Melissa Barrera) is forced to pack up the house she shares with brother Gabriel (Oscar Emmanuel Fabela) after their father is taken away by ICE. Gabriel, who unlike Mariana benefits from American citizenship, lusts after a straight boy and ignores their plight, leaving Mariana to hold together their fractured family and her fractured feelings over the loss of their religious conservative father. Hena Ashraf’s The House of Mariana y Gabriel film doesn’t pontificate, but instead offers a restrained glimpse into the stress, hurt, and confusion facing families across America. Ending on a lighter but no less timely note, Wedlocked (ttttt) is a farcical satire about the lengths some gay couples had to go to in order to divorce prior to the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage decision. Sydney (Shelli Boone) is faced with packing up her life in Texas and moving for six months to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage in order to divorce her ex-wife and marry fiance Cameron (Whitney Mixter). But to do so, she also needs to bring her ex-wife, their new partner, the partner’s mother, the mother’s pig, the pig’s vet… and so on. It’s ludicrous, but also perfectly highlights the insanity of pre-Obergefell marriage laws. And what’s more, this 2015 film is even more relevant today, amid debates about Supreme Court justices signalling their intent to undo marriage equality Wedlocked and plunge us back into the days of Wedlocked. Kamaʻāina is also part of this program, but was not made available for screening. al exploring London’s secret gay nightlife. His —Rhuaridh Marr chance meeting with Jimmy (Simon Lennon), a working class labourer, leads to an affair. As pol- CRITIC’S PICK iticians argue over whether gay people can truly TRUE CONFESSIONS love, Matthews develops feelings for Jimmy, who ttttt asserts “I aint’ like you” and rejects him — lead- Embracing and expressing an inner truth is the ing to a police sting in a restroom, professional subject of this shorts program, and it opens with repercussions, legal debate over homosexual the beautiful and moving French short Beauty identity, and a number of interactions with the Boys (ttttt), about burgeoning drag queens scene-stealing Duchess (Cyril Nri), the grande Leo (Simon Royer) and Yaya (Mathias Houngdame of Matthews’ local bar. mikpo), who plan to perform during their small The House of Mariana y Gabriel (ttttt) is village’s open stage night — much to the horror of a relatively quiet and simple film that deals with Leo’s older brother Jules (Marvin Dubart). Floan extremely timely topic: deportation of illegal rent Gouëlou’s film charts obvious waters, but is OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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Beauty Boys

Piss Off

termined to eject her from the vigil. Naturally things aren’t that simple, and two wonderful performances from Sterling and Carrasquillo keep things simmering in this delightful short film, as the women dance around the other guests, the past, and their true feelings. While this year’s Reel Affirmations is mostly virtual, if ever there was a film that demanded a live audience — and their live reaction — it’s Henry Baker’s frankly jaw-dropping documentary Piss Off (ttttt). It tracks the “performance art” of Athleticpisspig, whose fetish for urine manifests in daring, audacious public displays of pissing, be that solo, with another person, or full-on group acts, everywhere from restrooms to public transport to out in the open of international city streets. It’s shocking, vulgar, occasionally nauseating, but always utterly fascinating — and what’s more, Baker’s documentary is tightly structured, filmed, and edited, including talking-head commentary from fans of Athleticpisspig’s work and the anonymous man himself. Is it art? Is it porn? Whatever it is, Piss Off is fascinating, shocking, and absolutely worth watching. Rounding out the True Confessions program is PLUS (ttttt), a beautiful sucker punch of a film from Dominican-American filmmaker Andrew Rodriguez. Rosbel Franklin turns in a devastating performance as Zaire, a young, Black student coming to terms with an unexpected HIV diagnosis. Rodriguez’s 13-minute film is at once heartbreaking and uplifting, as Zaire hides the truth from his concerned mother, before finally finding the courage to break the news to his best friend. A timely reminder that, for all the incredible advancements made in treating those living with HIV, that first diagnosis can be truly earth-shattering — and sharing that truth with those you trust can make all the difference in the world. Drip Like Coffee is also part of this program, but was not made available for screening. — Rhuaridh Marr

no less enjoyable because of it, as Leo and Yaya are aided by “big city” cousin and scene-stealing drag queen Cookie Kunty (Romain Eck) to deliver a showstopping performance. Maritere (Awilda Sterling) is forced to put her mourning on hold when Angela (Magali Carrasquillo) crashes her husband’s funeral in Pati Cruz’s La Amante (The Mistress) (ttttt). Past emotions are dredged up while Maritere’s son For more information about this year’s Reel AffirFernando (Modesto Lacén) watches, convinced mations or to purchase tickets or festival screening this woman is a past affair of his father’s and de- passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org. 70

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Gallery

Un Poco de Todo Amoroso

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AVID AMOROSO HAS ENHANCED his latest exhibit of artwork to make it more of a multi-sensory affair. “I’ve put up QR codes next to all the paintings,” he says, “so you can sample the music that we feel goes with that painting. Or with the painting of a huge Chihuahua, I have some really annoying Chihuahua sounds sampled that you can listen to. We’re just trying to make it as much of an experience as possible.” The exhibit, whose title in English is A Little Bit of Everything Amoroso, was originally conceived of last year as part of a Day of the Dead party and celebration at the nonprofit ARTfactory in Manassas, Va. The pandemic altered those plans, but the core remains the same: a showcase of the artist’s rich trove of art inspired by his affinity and admiration of Latinx pop culture. The paintings are grouped into three specific areas, including Amoroso’s Mexican Icons featuring images of mid-20th century cultural and religious figures, chief among them Frida Kahlo; Latino Products, his pop art-style displays of 72

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food “enlarged to epic proportions or repeated ad nauseam in rainbow colors to mimic their ridiculously lavish flavor options”; and El Machismo, his explorations of masculinity featuring real-life macho-posturing Latinos interlaced with delicate elements of retro wallpaper designs that “rest like tattoos across their bodies and engulf the subjects.” The gallery is currently only open to the public for select hours on Saturdays. Amoroso is aiming to be on hand on select Saturdays to greet guests and fans while also leading demonstrations in various artistic techniques, including one on Saturday, Oct. 24, about Papel picado, the decorative style used on banners for Mexican celebrations. It’s all, as Amoroso puts it, “to make it a little bit more personalized or different each time if somebody wants to stop by a few times.” The gallery is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and other times by appointment through Dec. 11. ARTfactory is located at 9419 Battle St. in Manassas. Call 703-330-2787 or visit www.virginiaartfactory.org. —Doug Rule


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Movies

Trust Fun

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Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks spins a breezy comedy caper from a dad and daughter’s deep-seated trust issues. By André Hereford

ILL MURRAY, WEAPONS SET TO charm, might be top-billed, but Rashida Jones is the main attraction in Sofia Coppola’s understated father-daughter comedy On the Rocks (HHHHH). Jones is warmly appealing as New Yorker Laura, a somehow chill yet neurotic writer struggling with her latest book, and with the itching suspicion that her tech bro husband Dean is cheating with his hot new “accounts manager.” Dean is played by the adventurous choice of Marlon Wayans, who tries to make this unlikely screen pairing work by dialing back his usually manic persona to something that reads as generically enthusiastic. Dean’s not that deep, but the film — which progresses in a few swift edits from their skinny-dipping honeymoon to married with one kid in grade school and another in a stroller — sells Laura and Dean as a love worth saving. So, why can’t or won’t Laura just talk to Dean about her suspicions, and work out what’s 74

OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

truly nagging at her and stalling her creative output? Enter her father, Felix (Murray), an incorrigible ladies’ man and frequently absentee parent, who pops in just in time to stoke the fire of Laura’s growing mistrust. Felix takes it upon himself to suss out whether Dean’s a cheater, since it takes one to know one. Uncertain of her own judgment, Laura can’t get Felix to call off his investigation, so she joins him. And the movie lifts off like Murray’s buoyant performance, as the two zip around town in Felix’s classic red convertible chasing clues, and downing martinis and caviar. They’re rich, you see? Felix is a former art gallerist who now gallivants between world capitals dealing Hockneys, coveting Twomblys. Coppola’s characters inhabit a world of hipster wealth that a viewer might easily register as autobiographical. The film’s witty comments on privileged culture — see Laura’s uber-self-absorbed pal Vanessa (Jenny Slate) — certainly continues on page 60


Television

To Hell and Back

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Hulu’s dour Marvel adaptation Helstrom keeps its focus too firmly set on the rearview mirror. By André Hereford

AST IS PROLOGUE, PREMISE, AND all-purpose plot device in Hulu and Marvel’s gloomy supernatural series Helstrom (HHHHH). Created by Paul Zbyszewski, the show obsessively rehashes the backstory of its titular dysfunctional family. Although dysfunctional is putting it mildly, given that siblings Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon) are mostly estranged, their mother Victoria (an excellent Elizabeth Marvel) is possessed by a demon, and their dead father was a serial killer and possibly the most powerful force of evil the world has ever known. In the Marvel comics, Daimon Hellstrom (note the telling extra ‘l’) is branded the Son of Satan, and Ana’s better known as Satana. Right there is all the backstory anyone needs for why

brother and sister might shudder in their sleep at the thought of their once-dead dad returning to claim them. But, in dropping the ‘l’ from the family name, and the Marvel brand from the title, the series adds a protracted mystery about who or what exactly the Helstroms’ father might be, and what he’ll want with them when he makes his forewarned return from the demon realm. Demon dad takes his sweet time getting there in the five episodes Hulu released for review, as Ana and Daimon catch each other up on old times and what they’ve been up to the past 15 years or so. She hunts down macabre antiquities and artifacts from her homebase San Francisco, he teaches Ethics at a college in Portland, and they both dabble in the supernatural. Ana alludes to having a sexy and queer personal life, OCTOBER 15, 2020 • METROWEEKLY.COM

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but any details remain offscreen. The details of their tortured family history are downloaded onscreen as dialogue with spunky novitiate Sister Gabriella (Arianna Guerra), sent by the Vatican to monitor the semi-authorized exorcisms that Daimon performs. Filmed in Vancouver, Helstrom teases an amusing Mulder-andScully-style teaming between Daimon and Gabriella, and Austen and Guerra definitely seem up to the jazzy, constantly shifting interplay of skeptic and believer. Thanks to Austen’s arch portrayal, Daimon is basically the only character with an actual sense of humor. But the show quickly forgoes the route of serving up a ghoulish case-per-episode while building its deeper mythology.

Rather, Helstrom just plugs away at the history of the Helstroms, each episode laced with flashbacks, dramatic family showdowns, and not enough present-day pursuits of deadly supernatural entities. Daimon and Ana’s battles against the powers of darkness, abetted by sidekicks Dr. Hastings (June Carryl) and the Caretaker (Robert Wisdom), do occasionally erupt into bursts of telekinetic action or blood and gore. More often than not, the camera cuts away from truly grisly moments of impact or violence, leaving much to the imagination, resigned to the shadows. This saga of siblings fighting to overcome their lineage, and defy the control of their evil patriarch, likewise doesn’t land with full impact.

Helstrom is available starting October 16 for streaming on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.

continued from page 58

seem pointed. Also, knowing that the filmmaker’s dad is Oscar-winner Francis and that Jones’ real-life dad is Grammy-winning legend Quincy would suggest even more compelling subtext to the laidback father-daughter repartee, but who

knows really? The detective adventure suffices for plot here. And the meat on the bone is the easy, layered rapport between Jones and Murray, as a questioning child and the parent who has an answer for everything except for why he is the way he is.

On the Rocks will be released on Friday, October 23 for streaming on AppleTV+. Visit www.appletv.com. 76

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Peach Pit at DC9 - Sept. 19, 2015 Photographs by Ward Morrison

For more #RetroScene follow us on Instagram at @MetroWeekly

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LastWord. People say the queerest things

“ If we have a court that is so set on not helping marginalized communities receive equality, I think we’re all in trouble.” —JUDY SHEPARD, mother of Matthew Shepard, speaking on MSNBC about the ongoing confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. “We have recent polls, right, that the country is largely in favor of equality for the gay community. So listen to the voters,” Shepard said. “Do what they want you to do, not what your previous thoughts were. It’s a new world. Get with the program.”

“At every gay bar every night they play that song. And there he is dancing. You cannot write this stuff.” —CNN’s DON LEMON, discussing Donald Trump dancing to The Village People’s “YMCA” at a recent campaign event. Trump’s lesbian niece, Mary Trump, responded to Lemon: “Is that dancing? I’m sorry. I thought it was a white man’s overbite thing.”

“Am I glad to be alive? I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that.” —TONY GREEN, a gay Republican who gained national attention this year after hosting a party at his home that led to multiple family members contracting COVID-19 and his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s mother dying from the virus. “I used to call it the ‘scamdemic,’” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “I thought it was an overblown media hoax. I made fun of people for wearing masks.” Now? He feels “empty,” writing, “The grief comes in waves, but that guilt just sits.”

“Your pronouns matter. You matter. You are loved.” —An excerpt from an open letter affirming support for transgender and non-binary people, signed by hundreds of literary and publishing professionals including STEPHEN KING, MARGARET ATWOOD, and NEIL GAIMAN. It adds: “To that end, we say: non-binary people are non-binary, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights.” It comes after a similar letter from U.K. professionals, and amid ongoing controversy over anti-trans comments made by author JK Rowling.

“In sport, we are all equal...

we therefore welcome that Tokyo 2020 has embedded diversity and inclusion in the Olympic Games model.

—International Olympics Committee President THOMAS BACH, in a statement after Japan opened Pride House Tokyo, the country’s first permanent LGBTQ center in the nation, as part of its 2020 Tokyo Olympics’ Programme. It will “create a safe and secure place to broadcast information on and by the LGBTQ community.”

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Profile for Metro Weekly

A Complete Guide to the Reel Affirmations Film Festival  

From drama to comedy to everything in between, we have your definitive critic’s guide to Washington’s 27th annual LGBTQ film festival. By R...

A Complete Guide to the Reel Affirmations Film Festival  

From drama to comedy to everything in between, we have your definitive critic’s guide to Washington’s 27th annual LGBTQ film festival. By R...

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