Larry Kramer, 1935-2020
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Coronavirus upends campaign season as D.C. primary nears Gay candidate competing in hotly contested Ward 2 Council race By LOU CHIBBARO JR. email@example.com Nearly all of the 25 candidates running in D.C.’s June 2 Democratic primary for five D.C. Council seats and three congressional seats have expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights, prompting activists to predict that LGBTQ voters will likely choose a candidate to vote for based on non-LGBTQ issues. Early voting for the primary began on May 22 and was scheduled to continue each day except Memorial Day on May 25 at 20 voting centers located throughout the city from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The 20 voting centers were scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 2. The location of the voting centers can be found at www.dcboe.org. Board of Elections officials have said the deadline for applying online or by phone for an absentee mail-in ballot was May 26. Most political observers say the hotly contested Ward 2 D.C. Council race is the wildcard in a city primary election in which the incumbents usually win. With no incumbent in the Ward 2 race and in the midst of the coronavirus shutdowns making it impossible for candidates to hold inperson events or campaign outdoors, no one is predicting who the winner will be in that contest. Similar to nearly all D.C. elections, the winners in the Democratic primary are usually the winners in the November general election in a city with the overwhelming majority of voters being registered Democrats. Some — but by no means all — LGBTQ activists have joined gay Ward 2 D.C. Council candidate John Fanning in urging their fellow LGBTQ compatriots to vote for Fanning as a means of returning an out LGBTQ person to the ranks of the 13-member City Council. The Council has not had an LGBTQ member since January 2015 after the late gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) lost his re-election race in 2014 and gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) gave up his seat in an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2014. Fanning’s supporters argue that Fanning, 57, a longtime Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and a Ward 2 community services representative for several D.C. mayors is highly qualified to serve on the Council. Other LGBTQ activists, however, are supporting rival Ward 2 candidate Patrick Kennedy, 28, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Foggy Bottom who has been endorsed by at least three other gay ANC members, a gay member of the D.C. State Board of Education, and by Casa Ruby founder and executive director Ruby Corado. Catania is also backing Kennedy. Several of them have said Kennedy’s understanding and support for LGBTQ issues is exceptionally strong and while they too favor electing an LGBTQ person to the Council, at this particular time they say Kennedy is the best person for the job. Kennedy has also been endorsed by
JOHN FANNING and PATRICK KENNEDY have each been endorsed by prominent members of the LGBTQ community for the Ward 2 Council seat.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large). Fanning supporters note that Fanning has been endorsed by former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter, and by a number of prominent LGBT activists, including former Whitman-Walker Clinic Executive Director Cornelius Baker, former Whitman-Walker Board Chair Riley Temple, and longtime gay activists Paul Kuntzler, Jose Gutierrez, and Ernest Hopkins. Fanning and Kennedy are among eight candidates competing in the Democratic primary for the Ward 2 Council seat that former D.C. Council member Jack Evans has held for 28 years. Evans resigned from the seat in January after all 12 of his Council colleagues said they planned to vote to expel Evans over allegations of ethics violations. Evans has apologized for what he has called mistakes in judgment but insists he did not violate any laws. Citing his reputation as an expert in city financial and budget related matters, Evans has called on his former Ward 2 constituents – including LGBTQ constituents – to send him back to the Council to utilize his skills to help the city respond to the coronavirus crisis. LGBTQ activists, many of whom are not supporting Evans now, acknowledge that he has been among the Council’s strongest supporters on LGBTQ rights since he first won election to the Council. The remaining candidates running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 2 seat have also expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights. They include Burleith ANC member Kishan Putta, 46; former Obama administration official Jordan Grossman, 34; Marine Corps veteran and Microsoft employee Daniel Hernandez, 32; former Assistant D.C. Attorney General Brooke Pinto, 27; and
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Kaiser Permanente business development executive Yilin Zhang, 32. Pinto has been endorsed by the Washington Post and by current D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. Grossman received endorsements from the Metro Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, the Washington Teachers Union, and D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-AtLarge). Putta has been endorsed by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Evans has been endorsed by D.C. nightlife advocate and Washington Blade columnist Mark Lee. Also backing Evans are longtime LGBTQ rights advocates John Ralls and Michael Ramirez. Ralls is a former chief of staff at Evans’s Council office. All of the candidates except Evans and Hernandez are also running in a June 16 special election to fill the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat that became vacant when Evans resigned in January. The winner of the special election will hold the seat until Evans’s term would have ended on Jan. 1, 2021. Also running in the special election is Republican Ward 2 Council candidate Katherine Venice, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary also scheduled for June 2. Venice has alienated many of the city’s GOP activists by denouncing President Donald Trump and pledging to work hard for his defeat in the November presidential election. Venice received a +8 rating on LGBTQ issues from the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which praised her responses to its candidate questionnaire as being highly supportive and insightful on LGBTQ matters. She told the Washington Blade she would not accept CONTINUES ON PAGE 10
COMMUNITY LEADERS ARE BACKING
Columnist, Washington Blade
Casa Ruby LGBTQ Community Center
Ward 2 Representative D.C. State Board of Education
One person stands out among a group of qualified candidates. His relevant experience at the ward and community level, and his living by a set of steadfast progressive and honest principles, make Patrick Kennedy that candidate.”
We need new voices on Council and Patrick is one of them. He’s the new young talent. He has values for the real people of D.C. Patrick has shown he is committed to our entire community.”
Patrick Kennedy is one of the most focused, fair-minded, and trustworthy public servants I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Ward 2 residents have high expectations of our elected officials, and I have no doubt Patrick will serve us well as our next councilmember.”
Commissioner, Dupont Circle
Commissioner, Dupont Circle
Chair, Sheridan-Kalorama Commission
In a city of talkers, Patrick is a listener. In a city of too many self-promoters, Patrick is self-effacing. Above all, in a city too often divided, Patrick is a uniter. He is honest. He is kind. He will be a hard-working councilmember who will make you proud.”
Patrick Kennedy has consistently fought for our priorities, and has shown true commitment to making sure our communities are supported and funded at the Council. Please vote for Patrick Kennedy!”
The LGBTQ community achieved political success through our ability to engage, inform and find support within the larger community. Understanding how to persuade, educate, and lead others to achieve our goals are the instincts, abilities, and skills in Patrick Kennedy’s style of leadership.”
Patrick Kennedy is
ENDORSED D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson
Serious funding for the LGBTQ community
The Sierra Club, D.C. Chapter
Ending employment discrimination
Greater Greater Washington
Action on hate crimes and banning “panic” defenses
More openly LGBTQ Ward 2 elected officials than all other candidates combined
LGBTQ-affirming senior housing More at PatrickForWard2.com/issues
Updated list at PatrickForWard2.com
Your Vote is Critical in
TWO June Elections
Democratic Primary: MAY 22–JUNE 2
Paid for by Patrick Kennedy for Ward 2, PO Box 18055, Washington, D.C. 20036 Marina Streznewski, Treasurer Paid for by Patrick Kennedy for Ward 2 Special June 16 2020, PO Box 18055, Washington, D.C. 20036 Marina Streznewski, Treasurer
Special Election: JUNE 16
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2 gay men running for Baltimore City Council Mayor’s race wide open By MICHAEL K. LAVERS email@example.com Two gay Baltimore City Council candidates are on the ballot in June 2’s primary election. Akil Patterson hopes to succeed Council member Shannon Sneed, who currently represents the 13th District. Sneed is running to become the Council’s next president. State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Councilmember Eric Costello, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Jason Collins are among those who have endorsed Patterson. The LGBTQ Victory Fund and Progressive Maryland have also backed him. Patterson coached Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, an organization that promotes acceptance of LGBTQ athletes, when he wrestled at the University of Maryland. Patterson, who is also a member of the Baltimore City LGBTQ Commission and the city’s HIV Planning Council, told the Washington Blade in January that sports helped him come to terms with his sexual orientation. Patterson said his experience and his work as a government and community relations specialist qualify him to join the Council. “I understand policy,” he told the Blade. “I understand where the most pressing needs for policy are.” Campaign finance reports indicate Patterson has raised $65,269.20 since the beginning of 2019. The latest campaign finance report that Patterson’s campaign filed on May 22 indicates it had $13,772.33 in the bank. A spokesperson on Tuesday in an email to the Washington Blade said the campaign currently has roughly $21,000 on hand. “Out of all the candidates in the district we have the most endorsements and raised the most money,” said the campaign. “We have done this by running on a progressive platform that addresses crime, poverty, transparency and social determinants of health.” Phillip Westry, a lawyer who represents the Maryland Center for Legal Assistance and other nonprofit organizations, is running against Council member Robert Stokes, who currently represents the 12th District. The Victory Fund, Progressive Maryland and the AFL-CIO Baltimore Metro Council
PHILLIP WESTRY (left) and AKIL PATTERSON are running for Baltimore City Council. (Photos courtesy of Westry and Patterson)
are among the organizations that have endorsed Westry. Westry in a press release says his campaign has “knocked on over 32,000 doors, canvassing the entire district four times” before the coronavirus pandemic began. Campaign finance reports indicate Westry has raised $104,304.35 since the beginning of 2019, compared to $60,000 that Stokes has raised. The latest campaign finance reports, which were filed on May 22, indicate Westry has $21,489.66 in the bank, compared to Stokes’ $38,566.58. The primary had been scheduled to take place on April 28, but Gov. Larry Hogan postponed it because of the pandemic. The Maryland Board of Elections is encouraging voters to cast their ballots by mail. Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is running in the Democratic primary in the race to succeed Catherine Pugh, who resigned last May over the sale of copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books series to the University of Maryland Medical System while she served on its board. Mary Washington in March suspended her mayoral campaign because of the pandemic. Recent polls indicate there isn’t a clear frontrunner and there are 24 candidates on the ballot, including former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who also resigned amid legal troubles. Brandon Scott won the endorsement of the Baltimore Sun for mayor; former Obama official Mary Miller has polled well. But recent polls show nearly a quarter of voters remain undecided. CONTINUES AT WASHINGTONBLADE.COM
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McBride confident in Delaware state Senate race COVID forces changes to campaign By JOSHUA KELLER Since announcing her candidacy for state senator in Delaware’s First District, located in Wilmington, Sarah McBride has broken fundraising records and earned endorsements from local officials, including current First District Sen. Harris McDowell, and national figures, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. All was going smoothly until the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ability of political candidates to reach voters face-toface, forcing McBride’s campaign to adjust to the new reality. “These are certainly unprecedented times for so many of us in so many ways and for those of us who are candidates for office it requires getting creative about how we are connecting with voters,” explains McBride. “Particularly here in Delaware door knocking has been at the center of our campaigns and it was at the center of my campaign prior to the stay-at-home order. While we are no longer able to connect with voters face-to-face at the doors, we know that it is just as important to continue to reach out to people. More than anything else to check in with how they’re doing, express our well wishes, and share information or resources that people don’t know are necessarily available.” Looking ahead to the rest of the campaign McBride is “eager to be able to interact with voters and [her] future constituents,” but says that “public health has to come first.” She supports HB175, which would create universal vote-by-mail in Delaware. McBride also sees this pandemic as highlighting the importance of issues she emphasizes in her campaign, including access to healthcare and paid family leave. Even before the pandemic, McBride saw the Delaware economy as being at an “inflection point.” Now she says that “the economic ramifications of this pandemic — the businesses that are suffering, the workers who lost their jobs — reinforces that we have our work cut out for us to attract new jobs, particularly green jobs, to Delaware so that we can repair our economy and reimagine our economy to better work for everyone.” While McBride focuses her campaign
SARAH MCBRIDE would make history if elected as the nation’s first openly transgender state senator. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
on local issues, her candidacy also has a historic component: if elected, she would be the first openly transgender state senator in the country. Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund, believes that focusing on policy questions allows McBride to shine as someone who is “smart, progressive, has a great heart, and understands that public service isn’t about her.” “The people of Wilmington haven’t been sitting around for 10 years saying, ‘gee whiz, I wish we had a transgender senator,’” said Kiesling. “They are worried about healthcare, roads, and the economy. Sarah is worried about those things too and has a vision and has the skills.” McBride sees herself not as a “transgender candidate,” but as a “candidate who happens to be transgender.” “I’m not running to be a transgender state senator, I’m certainly not running away from my identity either. I’m proud of who I am and it’s something many people in Delaware and elsewhere know about me,” said McBride. “I also want people to understand that I’m running to work on all of the issues that matter to the First Senate District and my background and experience go beyond my identity. CONTINUES AT WASHINGTONBLADE.COM
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LGBTQ voters courted in June 2 D.C. primary an endorsement from the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans, the local LGBTQ GOP group, because Log Cabin has endorsed Trump’s re-election. Three longtime LGBTQ rights supporters — D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large), and D.C. Shadow U.S. Sen. Paul Strauss (D) — are running unopposed in the Democratic primary. Also running unopposed is political newcomer Oye Owolewa (D), who’s running for the shadow U.S. House seat. All four have been endorsed by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local GLBTQ political group. The Stein Club did not make an endorsement in the Ward 2 Council race as well as in the Council races in Wards 4 and 8. None of the multiple candidates running for the three seats, including incumbents Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) and Tryon White (D-Ward 8), received a required 60 percent of the vote by Stein Club members needed for an endorsement. In the Ward 4 race, Todd, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights who has been endorsed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, is being challenged in the primary by community activists Janeese Lewis George and Marlena Edwards. George, who identifies herself as a democratic socialist, is appealing to the ward’s liberal-progressive voters who George says agree with her assertion that Todd is a captive of business interests at the expense of working class residents. Todd supporters say George’s far-left positions put her at odds with the majority of Ward 4 residents who recognize Todd’s role as a political moderate who is credited with providing excellent constituent services and with helping to boost the economic development in Ward 4. George received a + 6.5 rating on LGBTQ issues by the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance compared to Todd, who received a +6 rating. Edwards received a +4.5 GLAA rating. GLAA rates candidates on a scale of +10, the highest possible rating, to -10, the lowest possible score indicating an anti-LGBTQ record or current positions. Similar to other otherwise LGBT supportive candidates, GLAA said Todd and Edwards lost points for opposing decriminalization of sex work, a position that GLAA and other local LGBTQ organizations support. Gay candidate wins key endorsements in Ward 7 In the Ward 7 D.C. Council race, incumbent Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter who received the Stein Club’s endorsement, is being challenged by five fellow Democrats. Among them is gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and community activist Anthony Lorenzo Green. The others running against Gray in the primary include attorney and community activist Veda Rasheed; Army veteran and Fannie Mae manager Kelvin Brown; Ward 7 businesswoman Rebecca Morris; and community activist James Leroy Jennings. GLAA assigned Gray a rating of +8, saying Gray has an excellent record on LGBTQ issues but lost points for his opposition to decriminalization of sex work. Green, who
Council member VINCE GRAY is widely expected to win re-election.
also has a record of support on LGBTQ issues, received a +4 rating after failing to return the GLAA questionnaire, according to a GLAA statement accompanying its ratings. GLAA says it has a policy of assigning a rating of “0” to candidates who don’t return the questionnaire if their record and positions on LGBTQ issues are unknown. For that reason, GLAA assigned a “0” rating to Ward 7 candidates Rasheed, Morris, Jennings, and Brown after each of them failed to return the questionnaire and their record on LGBTQ issues was unknown to GLAA. Green, Brown, and Rasheed joined Gray in participating in a May 11 online candidate forum organized by the Stein Club, and each of them expressed support for LGBTQ issues at the forum. Morris and Jennings did not participate in the forum. Most political observers believe Gray is the strong favorite to win re-election in the June 2 primary. But some of the same observers say Green has made a strong showing in both his campaign fundraising and by a few significant endorsements he has received, including from the D.C. local chapter of the AFL-CIO, the Washington Teachers Union and the progressive group D.C. for Democracy. In addition to the Stein Club endorsement, Gray has been endorsed by the Washington Post, the Sierra Club, and the local group Greater Greater Washington. In the Ward 8 D.C. Council race, incumbent Council member Trayon White (D), who has a record of support for LGBTQ rights, is considered the favorite to win re-election. He is being challenged in the Democratic primary by three opponents, each of whom has expressed support for LGBTQ rights. The challengers include Ward 8 attorney and community activist Yaida Ford, who received a +7 rating from GLAA compared to a +4.5 rating that GLAA gave to White. Also receiving a +4.5 GLAA rating is Ward 8 candidate Mike Austin. The remaining candidate, Stuart Anderson, received a +3 GLAA rating. Although each of the Ward 8 candidates, including White, expressed support for LGBTQ issues at the Stein Club’s May 11 virtual candidate forum, GLAA says in its ratings statement that all of the candidates except Ford did not provide sufficient substance to their answers to the 10 questions on the GLAA candidate questionnaire. GLAA said Anderson lost points for expressing opposition on the questionnaire to a pending D.C. Council bill calling for outlawing the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in criminal trials. Attorneys have used the panic defense to
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excuse anti-LGBT violence on grounds that a perpetrator lost control of his or her emotions after learning the person they attacked was gay or transgender. “Democratic candidate Yaida Ford agrees with GLAA on all issues and shows good substance in her questionnaire responses,” GLAA says in a statement accompanying its ratings. “She was legislative counsel for the Committee on Human Services under [former DC Council member] Jim Graham, and was his liaison to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club,” GLAA says in its statement, which adds that Ford represents LGBTQ people in her law practice. White, meanwhile, has been endorsed by the Washington Teachers Union, the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the Sierra Club, and Jews for Justice. Several independent candidates are running for some of the D.C. Council seats at play in the June 2 primary, but they will not be on the ballot until the November election. The Blade will be reporting on their campaigns in the coming weeks. ‘Presidential Preference’ receives little attention With the distraction of the coronavirus epidemic and the presumptive nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate for president, D.C.’s Presidential Preference Primary, also set for June 2, has received little attention in the media. But when D.C. voters go to the polls or receive their mail-in ballots they will discover that Biden and three other Democratic presidential candidates who dropped out of the race and announced their support for Biden earlier this year are on the D.C. ballot. The others on the ballot are U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). The D.C. Board of Elections has said the decision by the three to drop out of the presidential race came too late to change the ballots, which were already prepared. The name Donald J. Trump will be on the D.C. ballot for Republican voters in the June 2 Presidential Preference Primary. Other Republican candidates along with D.C.’s Statehood Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates will be on the June 2 primary ballot. Following is a list of those candidates along with the GLAA rating they received: At-Large D.C. Council: Marya Pickering (R), GLAA rating, -3; Ann C. Wilcox (Statehood Green), GLAA rating +0.5; Joe Bishop-Henchman (Libertarian), GLAA rating 0. Ward 2 D.C. Council: Katherine Venice (R), GLAA rating, +8 Ward 4 D.C. Council: Perry Redd (Statehood Green), GLAA rating 0 Ward 8 D.C. Council: Nate Derenge (R), GLAA rating -2 Delegate to U.S. House: Natale Lino Stracuzzi (Statehood Green), no GLAA rating; Ford Fischer (Libertarian) U.S. Shadow Senator: Eleanor Ory (Statehood Green), no GLAA rating; U.S. Shadow Representative: Joyce (Chestnut) Robinson-Paul (Statehood-Green), no GLAA rating.
Pentagon cancels Pride events due to coronavirus Most federal agencies curtailing celebrations By CHRIS JOHNSON firstname.lastname@example.org It’s another cancellation as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the first time since certification of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve openly in the armed forces, the Pentagon won’t host a celebration recognizing June as Pride month. A Pentagon spokesperson said in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade on Pride month plans that the annual event was cancelled, and DOD Pride — the affinity group for LGBTQ service members and civilian Defense Department staffers — confirmed it was due to the coronavirus. “Each year since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we’ve gathered in the Pentagon to celebrate and honor the contributions that LGBT service members and DOD civilians make to national security each and every day,” said Rudy Coots, president of DOD Pride. “That’s why we’re so disappointed that, due to COVID-19, we’ve had to cancel this year’s DOD LGBT Pride event.” In years past, the annual event — which began in 2012 – allowed LGBTQ service members and Pentagon employees to gather to celebrate Pride and hear featured remarks from senior defense officials. Speakers during the Obama years included former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former Army Secretary Eric Fanning, the first openly gay person confirmed to that role. The events continued through the Trump administration, even though President Trump instituted a transgender military ban. Last year, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) spoke at the Pentagon Pride event and slammed Trump’s anti-trans policy. The Pentagon didn’t respond to the Blade’s follow-up request to comment on whether senior defense leadership would issue a formal message recognizing June as Pride month. In 2017, Anthony Kurta, a senior defense official who was an Obama holdover, issued a Pride message, but that practice was scrapped thereafter under the Trump administration. The cancellation of the Pentagon Pride event is but one example of Pride events intended for LGBTQ federal workers that appear to be either not happening amid the coronavirus crisis or are dramatically scaled back in favor of virtual events. The State Department in coordination with GLIFAA, the LGBTQ affinity group for Foreign Service officers, also appears to be skipping an event. GLIFAA didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment and LGBTQ sources familiar with the State Department said they’re unaware of any plans in the works. Annual Pride celebrations had taken place consistently over the years at the State Department, notably in 2010 when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech and coined the phrase, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Those events had continued each year at the State Department and throughout the first three years of the Trump administration. (Last year, however, officials
distributed to employees a recycled Pride message from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo without even changing the date of the proclamation to the current year.) A State Department spokesperson reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protecting LGBTQ human rights across the globe when asked about plans for a Pride event, declining to respond when asked again in a follow-up email. “The Department of State works tirelessly to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings around the world, regardless of gender, religion or belief, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic circumstance,” the spokesperson said. “The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTI persons. Governments must ensure that all individuals can freely enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The State Department spokesperson, however, affirmed U.S. posts overseas will recognize Pride month in accordance with the custom of their host countries. “As we do each year, embassies and consulates around the world will celebrate Pride month in a variety of ways,” the spokesperson said. “Recognizing that each country context is different, embassies and consulates develop individual plans to raise awareness of violence and human rights abuses.” Last year, U.S. embassies were under new guidance requiring them to fly on their official flagpoles only the American flag, effectively barring them from flying the Pride flag in the same prominent way they had been doing in previous years. The State Department didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether that policy is still in effect or U.S. embassies will now be able to fly Pride flags on the official pole. The Justice Department each year also has held major events celebrating Pride month, although during the Trump administration they have moved the event away from the Great Hall to another room in the building. DOJ Pride deferred comment over plans to celebrate Pride to the Justice Department, which didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for information. The Department of Homeland Security, which in previous years has hosted Pride events for its employees in coordination with the LGBTQ affinity group DHS Pride, didn’t respond to multiple requests to comment on any Pride events. DHS Pride appears now to be defunct; it’s website is no longer functioning and its Twitter account has been inactive for a year. One department, however, that was enthusiastic about recognizing LGBTQ employees ahead of Pride month was the Department of the Interior. “The Interior Department stands at the forefront in defending the rights of all employees and having a workplace free of harassment,” a DOI spokesperson said. “Under the leadership of Secretary Bernhardt, the Department issued a policy extending protections from harassing conduct, which explicitly included the LGBTQ community.” The DOI spokesperson provided a detailed list of Priderelated events from May to June for LGBTQ employees
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) spoke at the Pentagon for the Department of Defense Pride event in 2019. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)
both within the National Park Service and DOI-wide, many of which appear to be virtual events amid the coronavirus pandemic. Among them was an education seminar in May called “How WWII Military Practices Planted Seeds of Queer Community,” an upcoming workplace webinar in coordination with the Human Rights Campaign as well as viewings of the documentary “Stonewall Uprising” and the movie “Milk.” The DOI spokesperson said the Bureau of Reclamation is set to hold an event on June 25 with guest speaker Ryan Sallans and the U.S. Geological Survey is having a program on June 24 with various guest speakers. “While we recognize the contributions of the LGBTQ community to the department’s mission year-round, we have been hosting events in May and will host several webinars, movie screenings, employee trainings and social media events in June to raise awareness,” the spokesperson said. The Department of Veterans Affairs articulated a modest approach to recognizing Pride Month amid the coronavirus pandemic. Susan Carter, a VA spokesperson, said about onefourth of the department’s staff is teleworking, but affirmed “VA facilities across the country will be celebrating Pride month in a variety of ways.” Among the ways the VA will recognize Pride month, Carter said, are visual arts displays, including posters and banners, to recognize LGBTQ veterans and employees; film screenings; and sharing LGBTQ-related educational and celebratory information with staff and veterans via email, newsletters, facility websites, social media and intranet platforms. The departments of Commerce, Energy, Agriculture, Education, Health & Human Services, Transportation, Treasury and Labor didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Blade to comment. A U.S. Small Business Administration spokesperson said there are “no details as yet on agency events to recognize Pride month.”
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Larry Kramer dies at 84 ‘Anger is a wonderful motivator for me!’ By TROY MASTERS largest private organization assisting people living “First there were a dozen, then two dozen, with AIDS. But Kramer felt the agency had frozen and suddenly 100 and then too, too many.” — Larry Kramer become reactive. in an email to Troy Masters. His highly acclaimed 1985 play “The Normal Larry Kramer died today in the middle of another Heart,” produced at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater pandemic, not the one he expected would kill him, at explored the failings of a bureaucratic approach to the age of 84. The cause was pneumonia, according combating an epidemic and honed his belief in the to his husband David Webster. power of collective political provocation. Kramer was often soft-spoken, almost shy, and, Kramer’s 2015 novel “The American People, Vol. at least the first time you met him, was unfailingly 1: Search for My Heart,” was a behemoth —nearly 800 polite. But when he spoke in public his voice became pages that tells variously of prehistoric monkeys, the a Moses-like lightning rod, parting the waters — some Puritans, the American Revolution, the Civil War and would say the nation — demanding respect and dignity also the abundant — in Kramer’s vision — homosexual for the lives of a people that were being decimated by proclivities of the U.S. Founding Fathers with a dizzying a then hidden plague, AIDS. He turned his audience cast that includes Washington, Hamilton, Lincoln and into an army that was unafraid to confront the evils of even John Wilkes Booth. prejudice, hatred and ignorance. They created ACT UP. Kramer, a D.C. native, is widely known for his In March 1983, Kramer wrote in his famous essay groundbreaking and searing play “The Normal Heart,” “100,000 and counting,” published in the Native, then adapted into an HBO Emmy-winning film, and other a New York City gay publication: “If this article doesn’t works. He lived in New York’s Greenwich Village with scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article his husband, David Webster (they wed in 2013) and doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay their Cairn Terrier, Charlie, a rescue dog Kramer, a men may have no future on this earth. Our continued dog person, said is “very good natured.” existence depends on just how angry you can get.” Kramer spoke to the Blade in 2015 about his That essay was a call to arms and, “Larry was husband. asked to speak at the LGBT Community Center in “I first started dating David in the mid-‘60s. We a writers speaking series after,” according to ACT dated for many years but he didn’t want to be pinned UP founding member Eric Sawyer. “Nora Ephron down. We finally got together permanently in 1995 or cancelled with the flu.” so and got married just a year or so ago. I promptly got Kramer called a number of friends and asked very sick and spent almost a year in and out of hospitals. them to come to the speech. He planned to call for He saved my life several times when doctors were not the formation of a civil disobedience group to protest helping; he found the right ones. It is certainly not the governmental, drug company and society’s refusal marriage one wanted to have, lover and caregiver. His to take appropriate action to respond to the needs LARRY KRAMER has died at age 84. (Photo by BOB KRASNER) own career as an architect has suffered as he worries of people living with AIDS or to find a cure for the for me. We have both certainly been put to the test and disease, which was killing gay men at an exponentially it has brought us even closer together.” growing rate. Kramer could be cantankerous to say the least. Of that reputation, he told the Blade, “Larry asked me to bring a bunch of my pretty boy Fire Island friends and to stand “I am not bitter. I am angry. Anger is a wonderful motivator for me!” up and volunteer to help with forming the protest group as boy bait to encourage Last June, Kramer spoke at the Queer Liberation March, the second of two marches others to join,” Sawyer said. in New York City that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. At one point in the speech, Kramer asked half of the room to stand up. He then said Kramer, who appeared on a stage set up at the rally site in a wheelchair, gave a “All of you standing will be dead within 12 months unless we get off our asses and get pessimistic view of the state of the nation’s fight against AIDS and anti-LGBT oppression into the streets to demand a major research project to find a cure for AIDS.” and bias close to 40 years after he began that fight in the early 1980s. The actor Martin Sheen, a friend of Kramer’s, also spoke, imploring the room that “There is no cure for this plague,” Kramer told the rally. “Too many among us still government inaction was not acceptable and that the community must demand a cure. get infected. We have become too complacent with PrEP,” he said, referring to the HIV The first demonstration was planned in front of Trinity Church at the base of Wall prevention drug. “We search for a cure and we’re still in the Stone Age. The treatments Street where a handful of people demanded drug companies and the government we have are woefully expensive and come with troublesome side effects. And their begin, according to Sawyer, “an emergency project to cure AIDS.” manufacturers are holding us up to ransom,” he said. The event amassed massive media coverage: having a group of patients demanding “I almost died three times,” said Kramer. “I started a couple of organizations to fight a cure from the government was unheard of at the time. against the plague. In the end, we failed. I certainly feel that I failed.” Kramer was a noted author and playwright who began his career at Columbia That comment drew shouts from people in the audience saying, “No you haven’t” Pictures and United Artists. His screenplay for the 1969 film “Women in Love” (1969) and “We love you.” earned an Academy Award nomination. Among his many accomplishments and Kramer responded calling on the LGBT community to “fight back” against what he awards, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his play “The Destiny of Me” (1992), called a current dangerous political climate. and a two-time recipient of the Obie Award. “If you love being gay as much as I do, fight back,” he said. “Our world needs every bit Even before AIDS, Kramer was known as a critic of his own community; his of help it can get, because I do not see enough of us fighting this fight and performing novel “Faggots” (1978) depicted gay male relationships of the 1970s as hedonistic, our duty,” said Kramer, adding: “Please all of you do your duty of opposition in these destructive and unaware. dark and dangerous days.” He co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), which has become the world’s
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Grenell to step down as German ambassador U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell plans to step down from his post. Grenell on Sunday in a tweet confirmed a German media report that says he will formally leave the ambassadorship in a “few weeks.” Fox News on Sunday reported Grenell in March told the White House he planned to step down as ambassador once his tenure as acting director of national intelligence came to an end. The U.S. Senate on May 21 confirmed U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) as the next DNI. A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Germany on Monday declined to comment to the Blade on media reports about Grenell’s decision to step down. Grenell on Twitter thanked U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff and others who praised his tenure. Grenell, 53, has represented the U.S. in Germany since 2018. He is one of five openly gay ambassadors under the Trump administration. Grenell in February became the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointee in American history when the White House named him acting DNI. The White House last year tapped Grenell to lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. The U.S. Embassy in Germany last summer hosted a group of LGBTQ rights activists from around the world. Grenell and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft late last year organized an event on the sidelines of a U.N. Security Council meeting that focused on efforts to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Grenell, among other things, publicly criticized Brunei over a provision of its new penal code that sought to impose the death penalty for anyone convicted of consensual same-sex sexual relations. Grenell also faced sharp criticism in Germany and from LGBTQ advocacy groups in the U.S. and elsewhere because of his outspoken support of President Trump. German media reported Robin Quinville, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Germany, will likely succeed Grenell on an interim basis. MICHAEL K. LAVERS
Costa Rica legalizes marriage equality Costa Rica on Tuesday became the first country in Central America to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Two women became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Costa Rica when they tied the knot in a ceremony that took place in the municipality of Heredia shortly after midnight local time on Tuesday. “Costa Rica officially recognizes marriage equality,” tweeted President Carlos Alvarado. “Today we celebrate liberty, equality and democratic institutions.” “May empathy and love be the moral compass that allows us to move forward and build a country where everyone belongs,” he added. “The day has arrived,” proclaimed Sí, Acepto, a campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Costa Rica, on Tuesday on its Twitter page. “Civil marriage equality is a reality in Costa Rica.” Margarita Salas, a Costa Rican LGBTQ activist who previously ran for the National Assembly, on Monday told the Blade the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in her country is “fundamental.” Salas added, however, it is “not the end of the fight.” “There is much that remains: An anti-discrimination law, classification of hate crimes, recognition of transgender people’s identities,” Salas told the Blade. “We will keep moving forward until we have all rights, everyday, for everyone.” MICHAEL K. LAVERS
Controversy, celebrations in Cuba HAVANA — The LGBTI+ community earlier this month celebrated the first anniversary of the march of May 11, 2019, when several hundred people demonstrated in Havana. This protest followed the cancellation of an official event for the LGBTI+ community that had taken place every year for a decade. The independent march was also inspired by the previous year’s debates about Article 68, a proposed revision to the Cuban Constitution that would have allowed marriage equality.
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U.S. Ambassador to Germany RICHARD GRENELL plans to step down from his post in the coming weeks. (Photo public domain)
Article 68 was suppressed in the new Constitution’s final revision, which was submitted to popular referendum in February 2019, creating tension between the community and the Cuban government. The government responded to the May 11 march with violence, dispersing the crowd with dozens of policemen who arrested activists and other participants. It also discredited the event in official state-run media. This police violence drew parallels with incidents such as Stonewall, an iconic moment for the international LGBTI+ movement, and caused May 11 to be considered by some activists as the Day of the LGBTIQ Cuban Movement. Taking this perspective, the Miami-based influencer Alex Otaola celebrated the anniversary with an online forum. Otaola is known for his show “Hola Ota-Ola,” where he has promoted controversial campaigns against artists who publicly sympathize with the Cuban government. That afternoon, independent LGBTI+ activists who work in Cuba — that is, those unaffiliated with the Cuban government — held their own virtual forum. The forum was broadcast on Facebook after a hacking attack reportedly disabled the website originally planned to host it, according to complaints the organizers shared by social media. The activist Jancel Moreno told Tremenda Nota, “At about 9 a.m., I could no longer access my page ‘Give Me Your Hand.’ After I complained publicly about this, my mobile data connection completely disappeared.” The forum organized from Havana began hours late because of the hacking, which Moreno denounced. The majority of the forum’s panelists were activists who participated in the march of May 11 and analyzed the LGBTI+ community’s challenges, including the upcoming debate about revising the Cuban Family Code. This revision represents the country’s best chance to legalize marriage equality, among other rights and protections for LGBTI+ Cubans and their families. They also related their experiences of May 11 and spoke about its historic significance. For example, the poet and critic Norge Espinosa Mendoza described the independent march as “a turning point in the history of the relationship between political powers and diverse sexualities in Cuba, a history that’s densely packed, fragmented, and very complex.” Espinosa was among the activists who first waved a rainbow flag at a public event in Cuba more than 20 years ago. “What happened on May 11 can definitely be understood as a phenomenon that gave voice and visibility to other needs of Cuban society beyond sexuality,” he said. Above-mentioned influencer Alex Otaola is a South Florida-based opinion leader of the Cuban exile community. He said last week that the Cuban LGBTI+ movement is “divided” because many of those who drove the march of May 11, 2019, refused to participate in the special anniversary program he hosted from Miami. “There’s a group that participated in that march but didn’t want to celebrate with us today because they think … that I’m a very politicized figure and that it won’t be the kind of homage the event deserves.” TREMENDA NOTA
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RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
is a writer and activist. Reach him at email@example.com.
Frank Kameny’s pioneering gay journey From WWII trenches to the stars to a revolution The letter began, “The United States federal government has received information indicating immoral conduct on your part.” It demanded, “Have you ever engaged in acts of anal copulation, sometimes referred to as sodomy or anal sodomy? If yes, approximately how many such acts have occurred? ... Dates of those acts? Were they in public? With how many people?” The letter’s author, Eric Cervini, Ph.D., added, “Just kidding. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the US government really did send letters just like this one.” He sent me the letter with a copy of his new biography of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, “The Deviant’s War,” from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (June 2, 2020). Such interrogations continued for decades. My friend Alan Savada, who hired Kameny in the early 1980s for help with a security clearance, was a cartographer with the Defense Mapping Agency when he faced similar questions. They were delivered orally in his case. I hired Kameny during a security investigation I underwent at the Labor Department, though employees at civilian agencies had an easier time by then. I met Kameny in the late 1970s when I was a college student and he was a speaker on gay rights. He was 53. But the movement elder I would know from then until his death was once a young astronomer in love: “He and Keith drove to the middle of the desert a few miles north of Tucson,” Cervini writes of him in the 1950s, “and on a warm night, they lay under a clear sky, a full moon. It was, as Kameny observed with Keith in his arms, perfect. How could something so beautiful, so objectively full of joy, be any less natural, any less right, than the inﬁnite stars above him?” Early in the 1950s, Kameny managed Harvard’s Oak Ridge Observatory. As the Soviet Sputnik satellite’s appearance over America in 1957 triggered a new phase of Cold War competition, he hoped to go into space; but a prior tearoom arrest abruptly ended his career. Cervini writes, “The path to equality exists not only because of a riot, but also because of a battle that began in a public restroom....
Pride emerged, slowly yet irrevocably, from a regime of secrecy and shame.” This absorbing book chronicles Kameny’s leadership in an era with no Human Rights Campaign as backup: Scolding D.C. vice squad chief Roy Blick in 1959 for police raids on private gay dance parties. Becoming a charter member and executive board member of ACLU’s National Capital Area ofﬁce. Sparring with Texas Rep. John Dowdy, who had introduced a bill to apply a moral test to deny a charitable solicitation license to Kameny’s Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW). Battling Civil Service Commission chairman John W. Macy. Joining the 1963 March on Washington. Organizing MSW’s 1965 picket of the White House. Coining “Gay Is Good” in 1968. Leading the MSW contingent at the ﬁrst Christopher Street Liberation Day in 1970. Storming the podium at the 1971 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. After Frank’s 1971 campaign for Congress birthed the Gay Activists Alliance of Washington, he was no longer in charge. A new era called for broader leadership. But he assisted many people as a security clearance expert, and mentored many younger activists. He also lived to see President Obama hand him his pen after signing a memorandum expanding health beneﬁts for partners of gay federal employees. And he received a formal apology from John Berry, Obama’s openly gay director of the Ofﬁce of Personnel Management, for the Civil Service Commission’s 1957 act in upholding his ﬁring from government service. In 2011, when Kameny’s long ﬁght against the military gay ban was won, he said he had resented for 68 years having had to deny his gay desire in order to serve his country in World War II. Because of the sacriﬁces he made on the home front in battling anti-gay persecution, those who have come after him are able to pursue their talents and live their lives in greater freedom. Eric Cervini’s exhaustive scholarship, wellchosen detail, and graceful prose capture a vanished era and beautifully humanize the brave, bold scientist who drew the blueprint for gay liberation. Copyright © 2020 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.
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Defeating Trump a ‘moral and political responsibility’ Left-wing Democrats should support Biden A letter from founders of 1960s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was published in The Nation and began: “On April 13, 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his supporters to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden. Writing as founders and veterans of the leading New Left organization of the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, we welcome Bernie’s wise choice—but we are gravely concerned that some of his supporters, including the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America, refuse to support Biden, whom they see as a representative of Wall Street capital. “… Now it is time for all those who yearn for a more equal and just social order to face facts. All of us have charged for years that Trump is the leader of an authoritarian party that aims for absolute power; rejects climate science; embraces racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence; holds the democratic process in contempt; bids to take over the entire federal judiciary; represses voting rights; and violates plain human decency on many fronts. These are the grounds for our solemn determination: A common effort to unseat him is our high moral and political responsibility.” Will today’s Democratic Socialists listen? Thus far the Democratic Socialists of America have stood by what they tweeted at the end of April: “We are not endorsing [Joe Biden].” It is time for anyone who is opposed to Donald Trump to come to grips with the fact his administration is destroying our democracy and maligning every decent human value. Time for everyone, including the most left-wing in our society, to accept if Trump is reelected any ideal they stand for, any program they support, will be lost for generations to come. Time to wake up to the reality that no Democrat, for that matter no candidate, will ever be perfect. No third party has a chance of winning in our country and the choice we face on Nov. 3 is between Trump and Biden. Which
one will give you a better chance of moving forward the programs/ideas you espouse and claim to be ﬁghting for? This year, Sanders made his choice and made it much quicker and clearer than in 2016. He seemingly found it easier as his personal relationship with Biden is so much better than the one he had with Hillary Clinton. We know so much of politics is personal. It is about the willingness to trust in the basic decency of the person you are supporting and in 2020 he clearly trusts in the basic decency of Biden. The debate now among the left and far-left of the Democratic Party (Democratic Socialists) and the more moderate wing of the party as represented by Biden and groups like Third Way, will be what statements end up in the Democratic platform. It seems Sanders has already conceded the term Medicare-for-All as he proposed it will not be in the platform. More than likely there will be a plank calling for a government option added on to the Affordable Care Act and maybe even the words ‘working toward universal healthcare.’ Then there will be an environmental plank and many progressives and moderates don’t want the term ‘Green New Deal’ to appear in the platform. Party platforms don’t mean much but they can become a target for the opposing party to use in the campaign. It is clear the people Democrats need to win in the six or so targeted states don’t like those terms. They fear them, rightly or wrongly. This election will be about a few things. It will clearly be a vote on how people see Donald Trump and whether they have had enough of his bombast and self-aggrandizement and his mishandling of the COVID-19 epidemic. It will also be about three issues and who can best serve voters own interests in the areas of healthcare, education and the economy. Using the right words and targeting tools Democrats can win the ﬁght on the issues. Trump will defeat himself on whether people want another four years of him.
KEVIN S. MINOLI
is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@ washblade.com
is a D.C. resident.
Kishan Putta will bring Trump’s attack dogs turn on health expertise to Council Blade reporter Fighting for Ward 2 for more than a decade Have you found yourself wishing, as politicians make decisions each day about how to protect our health and our livelihoods, that there was someone in our government who had a public health background? On June 2, Ward 2 has the power to make that happen by voting to elect Kishan Putta as our representative to the D.C. City Council. Kishan has been ﬁghting for Ward 2 for more than a decade, serving two different communities as ANC Representative. Kishan helped bring critical public transportation improvements to the 16th Street corridor, beneﬁtting all residents regardless of whether you walk, bike, bus, Metro, or drive each day. And Kishan has spent years working with D.C. Health Link to bring healthcare to all D.C.’s residents. Kishan Putta has the record, the results, and the resume we need on the D.C. City Council. Kishan’s work on the frontlines of our community’s healthcare needs stands out because of his focus on addressing the signiﬁcant healthcare disparities within our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought these disparities into plain view: according to the data published by Mayor Bowser, within the District, black/African-American residents represent 46% of the COVID-19 cases, but 76% of the COVID-19 deaths. The city is not collecting data on the number of LGBTQ+ residents who test positive for COVID-19, but the health disparities for LGBTQ+ individuals are well documented. This City Council election will reﬂect whether we want to address these disparities, and Ward 2 choosing a public health advocate to represent us sends a clear signal that we do. That is why I am voting for Kishan Putta to be our next Ward 2 City Council member, and why I ask you to do so as well. I am voting for Kishan not just because his public health leadership and
expertise stands out as exactly what we need on the City Council right now, but also because Kishan was doing this work for our community long before these topics were in the headlines. Kishan’s record of getting people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act – going so far as to meet people at laundromats on Sundays while they waited for their clothes – shows exactly the kind of grounded leadership and commitment he will provide at the Council. The fact that President Obama’s Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, endorsed Kishan’s candidacy only validates what I already know, “Kishan Putta does not just talk about change - he makes it happen.” Our community needs Kishan’s voice on the City Council because he has done the public health, public safety, and human rights work that should be the focus of a Council member. He fought for inclusive language related to gender identity in the D.C. Code, supported the decriminalization of sex work, and worked to make the Stead Park renovations a reality. Kishan Putta will be a powerful advocate for D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community. Kishan has spoken in deeply personal terms regarding his experiences with hate crimes and what it is like to be “othered.” Kishan would be the ﬁrst Asian American elected to the City Council and, as the child of immigrants himself, Kishan would ensure that the 25% of District residents who are immigrants or children of immigrants have a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion. Kishan Putta is evidence that our greatest strength comes from the diversity of our Ward 2 community. For the ﬁrst time in nearly 30 years, Ward 2 has a real choice for who will represent us on the D.C. City Council. This election is about more than venting frustration, it is about choosing a better way forward for our community. Ward 2 needs a Council member who understands and represents each of us, whatever our story may be. That is what Kishan Putta has always done. That is why I am voting for Kishan Putta. And that is why I am asking you to vote for Kishan Putta.
This is what happens when you challenge this administration Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson earlier this month challenged White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, over her opposition to marriage equality and the administration’s preparedness for the upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether Title VII applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. They were legitimate questions, especially given the gravity of the upcoming high court ruling, which could bar employment discrimination against LGBTQ workers in all 50 states. And McEnany’s record of opposition to LGBTQ rights is long and well documented. She’s now a senior adviser to the president of the United States, unlikely as that may seem, so her views are relevant as the government prepares for the ramiﬁcations of a potentially sweeping ruling on job protections for LGBTQ workers. McEnany followed the lead of her three immediate predecessors in the job, avoiding the question and acting exasperated in the process. After the brieﬁng, Trump’s toadies in the right-wing twitterverse and blogosphere jumped into action, attacking Johnson with personal insults and anti-gay slurs. The instantaneous attacks came by the hundreds. Johnson was called “Chrissy” and “light in the loafers” and labeled a “gaystapo clown.” Of course, the evercharming and predictable “faggot” slur was deployed. This was no coincidence. Trump has an army of mindless sycophants ready to defend him from any hint of challenge or criticism. From the big guns like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to the bloggers at Breitbart and RedState and many more lesserknown ﬁgures, Trump deploys them to trash, threaten and intimidate anyone
White House Press Secretary KAYLEIGH MCENANY deﬂected questions on her past opposition to same-sex marriage. (White House photo by Joyce Boghosian)
in the media deemed critical of his administration. Make no mistake: We have a White House that openly threatens reporters, disdains the First Amendment and emboldens its supporters to insult and intimidate journalists at outlets large and small. Fortunately, Johnson is a pro and we have a pretty thick skin in the LGBTQ media. But we’re at a dangerous crossroads, folks. Trump and his cronies are determined to dismantle our government and with it, democracy itself. Americans everywhere and from both parties need to speak out and vote in November if we are to reclaim the country from this madness. Kudos to Johnson and the other members of the White House press corps, who are working at personal risk to merely ask questions of this corrupt administration.
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Leading ‘Austin’-tatiously By PATRICK FOLLIARD
AMY AUSTIN says the COVID-19 ripple effects have impacted theater artists especially acutely. (Blade photo by Michael Key)
COVID-19 shutdowns particularly vexing for D.C. theater players, theatreWashington’s Austin says When the pandemic prompted the shutdown of D.C.-area theaters, Amy Austin had to think fast. As president and CEO of theatreWashington, an organization dedicated solely to promoting, representing and supporting all segments of the Washington area professional theater community, she felt compelled to do all she could for a community and industry she loves. So, in response to unprecedented closures and loss of work, theatreWashington quickly established the Taking Care COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, a successful fundraiser that allocates money to help theater professionals in need during these unusually tough times. “We had to serve the artistic community directly and quickly,” says Austin in a recent phone interview. “We got it up and done, but it could have never happened without the community itself as the driving force.” Prior to theatreWashington in 2015, Austin was the longtime publisher of Washington City Paper and a familiar face on the local arts scene. Not surprisingly, taking on the task of supporting over 90 professional theater companies by celebrating excellence (the annual Helen Hayes Awards are presented by theatreWashington) and fostering ways to work together to make the community stronger, has proved a good ﬁt.
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At home in Mount Pleasant things have changed, too. Austin is riding out the pandemic with her wife, Deirdre Joy, who is working from home, and their three children — two college students who are ﬁnishing off their sophomore years from home and a high schooler. “I go to the Dupont ofﬁce alone — literally alone,” says Austin, 62. “I’ve only seen the guard at the door and some repair people. Last week I saw a mouse, which was almost a welcome surprise. I take walks around the neighborhood to get some air.” Austin is warm with an unfailing sense of humor, yet a friendly manner doesn’t belie her concern about current circumstances. WASHINGTON BLADE: Amy, how are you? AMY AUSTIN: I’m pretty good given there’s an existential crisis affecting the industry I support. It’s an interesting and very difﬁcult time. BLADE: Was there a moment when you knew the theater community was in big trouble? AUSTIN: Right around the ﬁrst and second week of March when you could see that gathering was becoming dangerous. There were people attending funerals,
AMY AUSTIN says her organization acted quickly to establish a COVID-19 relief fund. (Blade photo by Michael Key)
church choir practices or ski trips in Italy who were getting sick. It quickly became the need to gather versus gathering is unsafe. Early on, I cancelled the Helen Hayes Awards, which were scheduled for May. Soon after everything closed pretty quickly. BLADE: What’s the last live performance you saw? AUSTIN: James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner” at Shakespeare Theatre Company which was glorious, a beautiful production with lots of talented local actors including E. Faye Butler. It’s a memory that you can carry with you. BLADE: Did the role of theatreWashington change quickly too? AUSTIN: Yes, mainly the creation of the COVID-19 emergency relief fund, a subcategory of our Taking Care Fund that has been assisting theater people with medical expenses since 2012. The COVID-19 fund gives $500 grants to individuals who need money — actors, box ofﬁce people, people who hang lights, people who design lights — anyone who works in the industry. BLADE: Earlier this month, Joseph Haj, artistic director of the prestigious Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, made an announcement that they would remain closed through March 2021. Thoughts? AUSTIN: I think his announcement demonstrates that people are following their artistic vision and their heart, so you’re going to get different responses from different institutions. To me, the root of his statement was that they won’t be making theater if people can’t gather together. Not everyone will be coming from that place; there will be variance. For instance, Woolly Mammoth is doing Play at Home, a new collection of plays that you can download and do in your living (or Zoom) room. It’s a great way to get new work out and they’re employing artists to write them. And they collaborate with different theaters like them — propensity for new work. And Signature Theatre, the go-to theater, best-in-show, for using video before the pandemic, is doing interesting things. They made a quick switch by having virtual masterclasses,
interesting deep dives into how theater works and who makes work; they showcase local talent up close and in ways we haven’t seen them before. There will be different responses. Some theaters are optimistically planning to have people gather in the fall. The question is can we provide a safe environment and will audiences feel safe to go back? Personally, I think people will wait. BLADE: What is the status of the Helen Hayes Awards? AUSTIN: The May event had been rescheduled to August at Anthem but that seems way optimistic at this point. So, we’ve decided to take it virtually. We haven’t set a date yet but I’m really interested in getting the awards up and out to people. BLADE: Are you tortured by this kind of decision-making? AUSTIN: I’m not tortured by decision making. What’s difﬁcult is translating the event to a different medium and make it meaningful. Just like theater, what makes the Helen Hayes Awards extraordinary is having everyone together, that kind of energy. BLADE: Do you miss the support of Victor Shargai? (Long-time theatreWashington board chair, theater lover and philanthropist, Shargai, who was gay, died on Dec. 24, 2019.) AUSTIN: I miss Victor deeply. He had strength and optimism and high regard for the arts and how it can change people and society. He remains a guidepost for me. BLADE: So where do things stand at this point? AUSTIN: For theater, there are reasons to worry across the entire spectrum. But I think if you had to choose, I’d worry most about the artists. The people who go from show to show — actors, designers, music directors — all of that group. It’s hard to comprehend the place they’re in. And that’s what we — community, institutions, supporters — should be concerned about most. We want to keep them safe and here until it’s time to get back on the stages.
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QUEERY Manny Cosme
Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He also founded a D.C. chapter of NeXco National, a business referral network. He’s working now to help those organizations bolster the growth of small, local businesses through free assistance, strategic ﬁnancial planning, free bookkeeping and more. Find out more at cfoservices group.com. “I believe that small businesses and non-proﬁts are the key to our community, the Vacaville, Calif., says. “If they do well, then our entire community beneﬁts.” Cosme had planned a cruise to celebrate his 40th birthday this weekend but it’s obviously been postponed. He plans a “delayed” party later in the summer in Rehoboth. Cosme came to Washington in 2009 for work. He lives in Columbia Heights and enjoys hiking, video games, yoga, nonﬁction and watching streamed drama series. How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell? I came out when I was 20. I told my mother ﬁrst, who was also the hardest since we are so close. Second hardest was my grandmother because she was a devout Catholic. But both were 100 percent supportive and loving.
(Photo courtesy of Cosme)
QUEERY: Manny Cosme
The accountant/entrepreneur answers 20 queer questions By JOEY DiGUGLIELMO firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: Doing something interesting or creative during lockdown? The Blade is always looking for compelling Queery subjects. To be eligible, the subject must be a D.C.-area resident, openly LGBTQ and someone who’s never previously done it. Trans folks, queer women and people of color are especially desired. Send Queery suggestions to Features Editor Joey DiGuglielmo at joeyd@washblade. com and you or a friend could be in an upcoming issue!
Washington-based accountant Manny Cosme and his husband, Christopher Reyes, have been separated since the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into high gear. Reyes, an Army reservist in the medical unit, has been deployed to New York to work as a nurse on the front lines. He even took their dog, Mila, a trained therapy dog. “It’s never easy and never something you get used to,” Cosme says. “My entire family has been gone.” But he’s been keeping busy. He started CFO Services Group, an accounting ﬁrm, in 2012 to help clients answer business challenges not ordinarily covered by traditional ﬁrms such as smart salary sizes, setting prices, taking out loans, etc. There are six full-time employees and ﬁve part-time contractors. Cosme is also a board member of the Equality Chamber of Commerce and the
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Who’s your LGBTQ hero? Ellen DeGeneres. She was able to completely turn her career around after being shunned for coming out, which is amazing. And she seems like such a genuine person. What LGBTQ stereotype most annoys you? That all gay men are sexually promiscuous. What’s your proudest professional achievement? Earning my CPA license. It was incredibly difﬁcult. What terriﬁes you? Heights What’s something trashy or vapid you love? Reality shows. I LOVE watching “Cheaters,” “Hoarders,” “My 600-lb Life,” etc. What’s your greatest domestic skill? I can wash dishes like no one’s business. But that’s about all. What’s your favorite LGBTQ movie or show? “Queer as Folk” What’s your social media pet peeve? People who post too many selﬁes. We know what you look like!
What would the end of the LGBTQ movement look like to you? When mankind collectively reaches a stage of enlightenment and oneness. Until then, there will always be rights that we will have to ﬁght for. What’s the most overrated social custom? Saying, “bless you” when someone sneezes. I’ve never understood that. What was your religion, if any, as a child and what is it today? Raised Catholic, but now I am a member of Unity and the Centers for Spiritual Living (non-denominational/spiritual center). What’s D.C.’s best hidden gem? The pathway on the northwest side of Meridian Hill park. Walking through there feels like you’re suddenly transported to a forest. What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime? Death of Michael Jackson What celebrity death hardest? Same — Michael Jackson
If you could redo one moment from your past, what would it be? Nothing. As painful as some moments were, they truly did bring me to where I am today. Except maybe eating that ﬁsh taco from the other day — that caused a pain I could have done without. What are your obsessions? Work. I do work a lot, but I love it. Finish this sentence — It’s about damn time: … for people to wake up and realize that they have the power to shape their own lives and destinies (and not anyone else). What do you wish you’d known at 18? How to dress better. I look back at pictures and I’m like, damn! Why Washington? I love this city! Geographically and architecturally it’s a beautiful city, full of trees and rivers and historic buildings. I have a group of amazing friends who have become my family. There’s never a dull moment — always something entertaining to do, a new restaurant to explore, a museum to check out. It’s located close to so many other great destinations like NYC, Rehoboth, Shenandoah. And most of all, I love the energy of this city. That’s why my husband and I came right back to D.C.
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CALENDAR OUT&ABOUT BY PHILIP VAN SLOOTEN
Pitch a Queer is June 5
‘Shakedown,’ a story of the Los Angeles black lesbian strip club scene, screens online starting today. (Photo courtesy Reel Afﬁrmations)
TODAY The Reel Afﬁrmations LGBTQ Film Series presents “Shakedown,” the story of the Los Angeles black lesbian strip club scene, beginning today at noon until Monday, June 1. Virtual tickets are $12. For more information, visit thedccenter.org. Busboys and Friends Virtual Dinner hosts writer, professor and feminist social commentator Roxane Gay today at 6 p.m. This free Zoom event features a special dinner guest and Busboys and Poets CEO and Founder Andy Shallal each week. Gay’s collection of essays titled “Bad Feminist” is widely considered to be a seminal exploration of modern feminism. For more information and to register for free tickets, visit this event’s Facebook page. Transmasculine Survivors of Violence and Abuse virtual open-mic is tonight at 6:45 p.m. via Zoom. The D.C. Anti-Violence Project hosts this free event which is available by registration only to foster a safe and intimate virtual space for transmasculine individuals to voice difﬁcult experiences, including that may have happened pre-transition. Email email@example.com to register.
Saturday, May 30
The Center for Black Equity presents Virtual Drag Bingo with host Harmonica
Sunbeam tonight at 7 p.m. via Zoom. The winner of each round wins a prize in the ﬁnal round wins cash. Visit bit.ly/ CBEDragBingo to register and view the event on Facebook Live at facebook. com/Ctr4BlackEquity.
Sunday, May 31
Shaw’s Tavern Virtual Bingo Night is tonight at 8 p.m. on Facebook live. A $10 donation is suggested to support a weekly cast of queer hosts and performers. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to register for bingo cards and to receive the venmo information for donations.
Monday, June 1
Stay-At-Home Showtunes, a weekly streaming beneﬁt show for JR.’s bar, continues tonight at 8:30 p.m. A rotating cast of drag performers, hosts and more participate in this virtual event to support JR.’s staff during the crisis. For more information, visit their Facebook event page.
Tuesday, June 2
The 2020 Maryland Democratic Primary is today beginning at 7 a.m. This is a mail-in Primary, and ballots were mailed out to registered voters in early to
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mid-May. Candidates include nominees running for local, state and federal ofﬁces in November’s general election. Voted ballots must be postmarked on or before today. For detailed instructions, including a video, visit the Maryland State Board of Elections webpage.
Wednesday, June 3
Rise, Rhyme and Read with Culture Queen is tonight at 6 p.m. hosted by Busboys and Poets via Facebook Live. This free virtual event is a children’s cultural literacy event featuring music, movement and storytelling activities from many lands. Visit this event’s Facebook page for more information.
Thursday, June 4
Howard University Television hosts a free online screening of “East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story” by Ken Burns tonight at 6:30 p.m. The Atlanta Housing Authority opened the East Lake Meadows public housing community in October 1970 but after being decimated by violence and the ’80s crack epidemic, it was bulldozed in the mid-1990s to make way for new mixedincome housing. For more information and online access to this screening, visit whutelmscreening.eventbrite.com.
Pitch a Queer, a virtual match-making event where single friends are promoted “Shark Tank” style, is Friday, June 5 at 8 p.m. via Facebook Live. Tickets are $10. The Facebook group Pitch a Friend has hosted several online quarantine events where participants assemble a presentation promoting a single friend as a fun and creative form of matchmaking. The June 5 edition is a special Pride month event to ﬁx up queer friends trapped in quarantine. “Pitchers” will have three minutes to deliver an engaging PowerPoint presentation promoting their single friend for some lucky viewer to date. The pitched friend will then have two minutes to respond to crowd Q&A via live stream. For tickets and information, visit the Pitch A Queer: Quarantine Edition Facebook event page.
Blade plans 4 Pride editions For decades, the Blade has run one main Capital Pride edition each June. But because of coronavirus restrictions and the cancellation of the Capital Pride parade and festival, we’re instead planning Pride content in each of our June papers. There will also be a live webchat devoted to each that will happen at 4 p.m. EST the day prior to publication. In the June 5 edition, we’ll examine “how to celebrate your ﬁrst Pride and coming out.” A webchat wth ofﬁcials from SMYAL, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the It Gets Better Project will be held on Thursday, June 4 at 4 p.m. EST. In the June 12 edition, the topic will be “Pride in business.” A webchat will be held on Thursday, June 11 at 4 p.m. EST with various guests. In the June 19 edition, the topic will be “reﬂections of Pride.” The webchat will be on Thursday, June 18 at 4 p.m. EST. In the June 26 edition, we’ll examine “global virtual Pride.” A webchat will happen on Thursday, June 25 at 4 p.m. EST with ofﬁcials from Capital Pride, L.A. Pride and others TBD. Links to the webchats will be published each week on the Blade’s Facebook page.
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Catherine ‘The Great’ is first-rate Hulu production Elle Fanning shines in powerful performance as starry-eyed princess By BRIAN T. CARNEY “The Great,” now streaming on Hulu, is an elegant and bawdy genre-busting history lesson about Catherine the Great. Over the course of 10 episodes that are stuffed with equal parts witty banter, lofty ideals and brutal debauchery, the series shows how Catherine is transformed from an innocent Austrian princess to the blood-soaked Russian Empress who wants to bring the Enlightenment principles of liberty, art and science to her new country. The excellent script is by creator and showrunner Tony McNamara (Academy Award nominee for “The Favourite”). He writes with stunning passion and precision, a sharp wit and blazing intelligence. He keeps the characters ﬁrmly in their own time period, yet skillfully deploys enough clever anachronisms to give them a contemporary edge. His writing is vivid and he creates rich, complex characters, carefully capturing their fascinating contradictions. The acting is ﬁrst-rate, and in a thoughtful move McNamara casts several actors of color in principal roles. It’s a clever strategy that opens up the historical Russian court in interesting ways. Elle Fanning gives a powerful performance as the starry-eyed Princess who becomes a steel-willed Empress. Nicholas Hoult is amazing as her husband Peter (the son of Peter the Great who is condemned to live in his father’s shadow). Catherine says that Peter is “the oddest of creatures” and Hoult’s bravura performance captures Peter’s charm and wit, his insatiable need to be loved, his ruthless cruelty and his mercurial moods with breathtaking ﬂamboyance. Belinda Bromilow is wonderful as Peter’s dotty Aunt Elizabeth who knows all the family secrets and whose eccentric behavior masks a keen intellect and ﬁerce sense of dynastic pride. Adam Godley is delightful as the cunning Archbishop who combines devotion to God with a ﬂair for political manipulation and a taste for sadomasochism. There’s not a lot of explicit LGBT action in “The Great,” although “Archie” and Elizabeth do their best to spice things up, but McNamara does an amazing job at capturing the impact of toxic masculinity and homosocial culture at the Russian court. The men preen and ﬁght for Peter’s approval; the women watch from the sidelines, valued only as sexual prey and eye candy. To explore this, McNamara sets up two fascinating triangles with Peter at the apex of both. In one, Peter and his best friend Grigor (Gwilym Lee) both sleep with Grigor’s
FILIPPO TIMI in ‘Fairytale.’
(Photo courtesy Breaking Glass Pictures)
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wife Georgina (Charity Wakeﬁeld); “George” ruefully realizes she’s the smartest one in the room when the three of them are together, but she also knows she’s just a pawn between the two men. Wakeﬁeld dexterously captures Georgina’s calculated carnality as she tries to please Peter and maintain her beloved husband’s position in court. In the second triangle, Peter “thoughtfully” appoints Leo to be Catherine’s ofﬁcial lover. Peter thinks Leo (Sebastian DeSouza) is the perfect candidate for the position. He has a massive cock, but has been rendered sterile by a childhood case of the mumps, and Peter likes him. After all, Peter declares, “a man should be friends with his wife’s lover.” These two fascinating triangles become central to the unfolding plot and raise interesting questions about sexuality, gender and power. A quick warning. As you might gather, “The Great” is full of graphic violence, sex, sexual violence and lots of coarse language. It is not for all audiences. But viewers who join McNamara, Fanning and company on this exhilarating journey will be rewarded with a great story that has some deﬁnite parallels to our own time. We have our Peter-the-not-so-Great, but where is our Catherine? Two other digital releases of note. If you need some fresh vistas this holiday weekend, “Clementine” features stunning cinematography by Andres Karu who lovingly captures the sylvan beauty of the Paciﬁc Northwest in all of its verdant glory. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie, written and directed by Lara Gallagher, is a disappointment. It’s billed as an “erotic thriller” but it’s really just a moody mess. Sydney Sweeney (“Euphoria” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”) has some ﬁne moments, but there’s not much chemistry between her and co-star Otmara Marrero. The thin plot — a lesbian cat-and-mouse game — never really goes anywhere, despite a great propulsive score by Katy Jarzebowski. A dazzling design scheme is also the highlight of “Fairytale,” an Italian fantasy that will delight fans of John Waters, Pee-wee Herman and Charles Busch. Out actor Filippo Timi, who wrote the play the movie is based on, gives an endearing and energetic performance as Mrs. Fairytale, a perfect — and perfectly unhappy — housewife in 1950s America. Odd things keep happening to Mrs. Fairytale and her friends, but director Sebastiano Mauri, who co-wrote the screenplay with Timi, neatly ties up all the loose ends in a charming and afﬁrming ﬁnale.
ELLE FANNING and NICHOLAS HOULT in ‘The Great.’ (Photo courtesy Hulu)
Agreement with Mister Rogers kept neighbor closeted for decades By KATHI WOLFE
In our polarized era, few people are loved by everyone from millennials to boomers. Yet, it’s a safe bet that even Darth Vader has a soft spot for Fred Rogers, creator and host of the children’s TV show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which ran on PBS from 1968-2001. (Rogers died in 2003.) François S. Clemmons, the black, gay opera singer and actor, played Ofﬁcer Clemmons, one of the “neighbors” on the show. He was the ﬁrst African-American to have a recurring role on a children’s TV show. The moment in 1969 when Mister Rogers, a white man, invited Ofﬁcer Clemmons, a black man, to dunk his feet in a wading pool with him is etched in our DNA. In the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it was a quiet, but radical, stand against racism. “Ofﬁcer Clemmons: A Memoir,” released in early May, is Clemmons’ honest, engaging account of his life. In it, Clemmons reﬂects on his experience as an abused child, encounters with racism, struggle with his sexuality, professional success and friendship with Rogers.
The book is ﬁlled with warmth and love — for Rogers, music, his friends, colleagues, family and children. Yet, Clemmons doesn’t sugar-coat the difﬁculties he’s endured or the hard truths he’s learned. The memoir begins with a letter that Clemmons writes to Rogers years after his death. Over the decades, Clemmons writes, fans have asked him questions ranging from “How’d you meet him? to “How did you get out of the television?” These questions were one reason Clemmons wrote the memoir. Yet, there was another compelling reason. He’d read bios of Rogers, but after reading these accounts, he writes, “I concluded that ... none of the other publications were authored by a black, gay, ordained person of the theater who had worked intimately with you (Rogers) for over 30 years.” His friendship with Roger and his work with the “Neighborhood” were vitally important to him. Yet Clemmons’ life has encompassed far more than being a “neighbor.” Born in 1945 in Blackwater, Miss., he
earned a degree in music from Oberlin College and a master’s from Carnegie Mellon University. Clemmons won a Grammy Award for his recording of “Porgy and Bess” and founded the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. From 1997-2013, he was the Alexander Twilight artist in residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir at Middlebury College. As a child in a racist Southern town, Clemmons watched as his father abused his mother. “My dreams conjured up the dangerous kitchen knife that my mother used in her ﬁght against my daddy,” Clemmons writes. To get away from her abusive husband, Clemmons’ mother moved the family to Youngstown, Ohio. Because he was black, his high school guidance counselors discouraged him from applying to Oberlin. “I learned about racial segregation well above the Mason-Dixon Line,” he writes. In Youngstown, his mother remarried. His stepfather abused Clemmons. Clemmons realized he was gay. “My family was a traditional Baptist, God-fearing one,” Clemmons writes, “And even before I understood what homosexuality meant, it was drilled into my brain that these (gay) men were wrong in the eyes of God.” At Oberlin, Clemmons embraced his sexuality forming friendships and relationships with queer men both out and closeted. With his school choir, he sang in the Soviet Union. He was inspired when he met Martin Luther King Jr. when King spoke at Oberlin. Rogers met Clemmons when he heard him sing at a church. Clemmons began appearing on Rogers’ show when he was a grad student at Carnegie Mellon. Rogers loved Clemmons as a friend and respected his talent. Yet, he was a product of his time. “If you’re gay, it doesn’t matter to me at all,” Rogers told Clemmons, “but if you’re going to be on the show ... you can’t be out as gay.” Clemmons stayed in the closet so he could continue to work with Rogers. He tried hetero marriage (it didn’t work out). Despite having to hide his sexuality, Clemmons treasured his friendship with Rogers, his spiritual father and mentor. If you’re looking for hope, inspiration and grit, “Ofﬁcer Clemmons: A Memoir” is the book for you.
‘Ofﬁcer Clemmons: A Memoir’
FRANÇOIS S. CLEMMONS (Photo by Vincent James)
By François S. Clemmons Catapult May 5 $26 288 pages (Photo courtesy Catapult)
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Lady Bunny’s comedy special slays sacred COVID-19 cows 4 wigs, 12 costume changes and new song parodies By SCOTT STIFFLER At a time where nothing seems certain, legendary drag queen Lady Bunny’s ignorance is our bliss. “Oh, I’ve never seen it,” says Bunny, when the RuPaul Netflix vehicle “AJ and the Queen” came up as a topic during our interview. Lack of first-hand knowledge didn’t stop the NYCbased DJ, actress, singer/songwriter, upcoming comedy special star, and creator of Wigstock from skewering “AJ” mercilessly, while co-hosting two recent Voss Eventspresented digital drag benefits that raised funds for queens out of work because of COVID-19. “Listen,” says Bunny, “I make jokes about ‘Drag Race,’ and I don’t watch that either. Honey, I don’t watch anything… I know Miss Vanjie said, ‘Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie’ on her way out, in a way that was odd, but I don’t really know what else happened in that episode, or why she was eliminated, or why she said that.” Bunny, whose television has not been hooked up for 10 months, admits, “Whenever you see me make a joke about pop culture, that is based on what I see other people talking about.” To compensate for this lack of firsthand information, “I will run it by friends who are more keyed into that kind of thing.” With no boob tube at home and no burning desire to binge online (her flirtation with Netflix didn’t last past the free trial period), Bunny says she’s been spending her COVID-19 isolation period “trying to catch up on things I said I didn’t have time for before the quarantine, like filing taxes; and exercising, and dieting, so I don’t have that excuse, ‘Oh, I have to run here or run there.’ ” Bunny is also devoting some of her spare time to long-planned personal projects, including a book she’s penning in partnership with her mother, and an autobiography. (“Just my life, before I forget it,” she says.) And in a moment in time when there’s never been more spare time to sit around the house, hit a few keystrokes, press a button, and share your opinion on anything, everything, and often, nothing, with the world. That’s part of why Bunny says she’s “trying to stay off of social media a bit more, because I was hitting it hard during the first few months of COVID-19. But now, things seem to have turned sour, and it’s disconcerting.” Known to those who follow her online as a steadfast supporter of Bernie Sanders (Bianca Del Rio often referred to Sanders as her “boyfriend” during the two Voss Events digital drag benefits they co-hosted), Bunny cited the trigger topics of social distancing and mask-wearing as among her reasons for dialing back on the sheer volume of postings and tweets. (She remains a presence on Facebook and Twitter—but these days, she’s just as likely to be writing about work from fellow artists as she is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. “I realize people are scared, and I realize people are
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segments, sketches, satire, insult humor, and raunchy jokes. That brings us to the June 5 VossEvents.com debut of her downloadable ($9.99) comedy special, “C#ntagias,” in which, press materials note, “Demented drag diva Lady Bunny shamelessly interrupts your isolation in an attempt to give what may be your last laugh before the apocalypse.” COVID-19-themed humor is front and center. Along with four signature sky-high wigs and 12 costume changes over the course of the 35-minute show, the press release further promises “brand new song parodies from artists as varied as Lizzo, Justin Bieber, and Madonna.” Genderblending provocateur Christeene christeenemusic.com duets with Bunny on a pandemically updated version of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is,” and Bunny will perform her timely parody of the RuPaul song, “Sissy That Walk.” Currently available via Bunny’s YouTube channel, the video for “Sissy That Cough” finds our quarantined gal noting: If I forget to use Lysol I’ll end up in the hospital I’m climbing up my fucking walls. LADY BUNNY’S COVID-19-themed digital comedy special, ‘C#ntagias,’ is available for download on June 5. (Photo by Santiago Felipe)
broke,” she says, of the COVID-19 tensions. “But I don’t understand the desire to lash out at people that aren’t observing the precautions that they decide to observe. It’s almost like they’re trying to prove they’re a better Democrat, because they dip their vegetables in Clorox water, and they wear masks everywhere. It’s just, like, I don’t understand what it is about a frightening, deadly pandemic that makes people want to scold others. If I walk down to the [NYC West Side] piers, as I do, almost every day, and I see people who don’t have masks on, and they’re coughing? Well then, I walk away from them. I don’t yell at them… At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own self-preservation. I mean, if someone who weighs 90 pounds and has a syringe sticking out of each eye tells me he wants to screw me without a condom, well, that situation may arise—but it’s up to me to say, ‘No,’ to protect myself.” Asked how COVID-19 has impacted her creative output, Bunny noted, “All of my work involves dance floors and audiences—and we’re not gonna have either of those for many, many months. So basically, my paychecks have stopped, but my bills have not. So I’m in the same position that, you know, most drag queens or club employees are in.” With little hope of audiences flocking to her bread and butter public gathering places any time soon, Bunny turned to what she does best: Parody songs, groovy dance
Those walls aren’t a problem, at least not in the video, which sees Bunny singing and dancing around an empty white space that is occasionally populated by, right on cue when the lyric comes in, bats she’s worried will: Fly, fly, fly, Uh-oh From Wuhan Chi, Chi, Chi. Bunny claims sole responsibility for crafting the lyrics to “Cough”—but overall writing credit for “C#ntagias” is shared with Beryl Mendelbaum, the Facebook drag persona of Bruce Jope, described by Bunny as “a fascinating character who hung out with everyone from Divine to Holly Woodlawn to Cher, back in the day.” There’s a reason for that. Long before the character of Beryl burst onto the scene, Jope and his late partner, Francis Toohey founded the magazine Hit Parade (19781983, first based in Boston, then NYC). It chronicled, with gusto, the sort of culture and mind frame that drew people like RuPaul and Lady Bunny to NYC. Mendelbaum, says Bunny, brings to their past collaborations (including stage shows “Clowns Syndrome” and “Trans-Jester!) an ability “to write as an older, Jewish retiree kleptomaniac, which is her online [Facebook] character. And I thought, if she can write in the voice of someone who she is not, maybe she can write for me, a potty-mouthed, southern, over-the-hill showgirl!” CONTINUES AT WASHINGTONBLADE.COM
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Can buying a house actually be fun? Is the process all nail biting and nerves? By JOSEPH HUDSON
Well, I think if you have a good agent it can maybe be a combination of those things. If you have never bought a house before, then you are going to probably have some fear of the unknown. The first time you do anything there can be fear. Think about the first time you drove on the highway. Then think about the last time you drove on the highway — probably very different experiences. You know where to look after you have logged some miles on the freeway, and you might actually put the windows down, turn up the radio and sing along. For some people driving across the country or taking short road trips can actually be therapeutic. Well what if buying a house could have some of those same elements? Liking the new kitchen. The countertop and the backsplash just make you smile when you see it – every time. You almost get goosebumps picturing yourself sleeping in your bed in the master bedroom and can visualize all of your shoes neatly organized in that closet. That back patio – oh the parties and grills we will have out there! You should have a good agent that makes you feel comfortable and safe in the process – assuring you of the ways you can back out of the contract if there is an issue that can’t be resolved, or negotiating a way to fix or resolve issues if any come up. I usually find that at some point in the process my clients and I have become friends and we finish a showing with a glass of wine at a bar and discuss what we just saw. These days with social distancing it might be in our own kitchens on a Zoom call with a glass of wine and discussing the pros and cons. Buying a home doesn’t have to be the most stressful thing you have ever done. It can at times go fairly smoothly. If it’s on your bucket list to accomplish anytime soon find a trusted real estate adviser to show you options for homes, and help write you a winning offer, and who can help and advise for the move in or move out process – moving companies, home inspectors, lenders, etc. My next homebuyer seminar will be a virtual one on June 4 at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom with a trusted lender – if you would like to “attend” email me and I can send you the link.
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Buying a home doesn’t have to be the most stressful thing you have ever done.
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Start your summer in a home by the sea! BEACHFRONT BEAUTIFUL Elevate your beach life in this fantastic 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath breath of refreshing salt air on Lewes Beach. Enjoy plenty of room for hosting friends and family - or as a rental investment in a premier Lewes Beach community with amenities. Stroll down the stairs, beachcomb, kayak, paddleboard, and enjoy community pool, tennis, private pier, in a quiet community where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Just a short bike ride to Historic Lewes for dining and shopping, and to Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth Beach on the trails!
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