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The Hill is a Rainbow

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has certified The Capital Candy Jar at 201 15th St. NE as a LGBTQ owned business. Founded by David Burton, a gay man, the local candy maker, ice cream and treat shop is featured regularly by Destination DC, the District’s tourism office.

Burton believes the identification was needed. “I think visibility is important in the LGBTQ community,” Burton said. “Growing up I didn’t know anyone else who was gay and because of that I thought it was something to be ashamed of.” Meeting other LGBTQ-identified people living happy successful lives gave him the courage to come out and be his true self, he said.

“I hope that by being visible I can pass that on to others who might be struggling in their own process of self-acceptance,” Burton said.

David Burton says visibility is important in the LGBTQ community. Photo: E.O’Gorek/CCN

In June, the entire country takes “Pride” in the LGBTQ+ community. Capitol Hill is no exception. This article celebrates the LGBTQ people who are now and have been an essential part of the social and commercial life of the Hill community.

 

“Gay Way”

Capitol Hill has long been a center for the District’s LGBTQ residents. In 1949, Johnny’s, a gay sing-along club, opened at Eighth and E streets SE. In the 1950s, the Guild Press, operating out of what is now what is now Taoti Creative at 507 Eighth St. SE published gay fiction, travel guides and a local newspaper, the Gay Forum. In the 1960s, Plus One at 529 Eighth St SE became the first gay-owned bar to allow same-sex dancing. JoAnna’s at 430 Eighth St. SE later opened the floor to lesbians. By the late 1960s, Barracks Row had become “gay way,” a key social center for the LGBT community.

Today’s Barracks Row carries on that legacy. Temporarily closed for structural work as of May 2024, safe space, restaurant and lounge As You Are (AYA) opened in 2022 at 500 E St. SE.

Down the street at 737 Eighth St. SE, Little District Books owner Patrick Kern picked Barracks Row for his LGBTQ bookstore because he liked the neighborhood’s “hustle and bustle,” but also referenced its history.  “We are a proud part of a neighborhood that has been a haven for the LGBTQ+ community over the past 50+ years,” Kern said.

District Vet Dr. Dan Teich says the LGBTQ businesses of the Hill helped to form the fabric of the welcoming community. Photo: E.O’Gorek/CCN

Mr. Henry’s at 601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE has been expressly gay-friendly for more than 50 years. Former hairdresser and openly gay proprietor Henry Jaffe bought the place in 1966. “Mr. Henry’s was also known for attracting a diverse crowd that included white, African-American, and gay patrons, an unusual mix in the 1960s,” according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“We have become a gathering space for folks of various backgrounds, neighbors, music lovers, mahjong players, book clubs and of course, our regulars,” said current proprietor Mary Quillian Holmes.

Those businesses aren’t just on the Hill because it is welcoming. They also help create the amicable community that is the Hill, said Dr. Dan Teich.

A 17-year Hill resident, Teich operates District Vet in three locations, including in Brookland, Navy Yard and near home, at Eastern Market. While it has recently become fashionable for corporations to put out the Pride Flag, Teich said the commitment to equity and to being heard is most genuine from LGBTQ small business owners.

“If somebody feels like they are being discriminated against, we take it personally,” Teich said. “You are more likely to be heard at a small business. And that’s what feeds community.”

LGBTQ businesses owned by locals, he said, like his, realtors like Gary & Michael at 350 Seventh St. SE or retail stores like the gift, card, party supply store Groovy DC at 321 Seventh St. SE, are a presence that creates an eclectic community.

Resting in Peace

Pride past and present crosses paths at Congressional Cemetery, site of the 12th annual Pride Run 5K, where more than 1,200 are expected to get a running start on Pride weekend June 7.

Congressional Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the modern gay rights movement’s leaders. You can celebrate Pride by visiting the resting places of important District figures. The grave of Frank Kameny, the co-founder of early gay rights organization the Mattachine Society and the first openly gay person to run for Congress in 1971 is located there. Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen, who founded the first American lesbian rights organization in 1958 and worked to convince the American Psychiatric Association to remove “homosexuality” from its list of mental illnesses rest there as well.

San Francisco Mayor Harvey Milk’s ashes were scattered at Congressional in part. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is buried right up the road from the man he breakfasted with most mornings, his longtime companion Clyde Tolson.

Nourishing the Spirit

Many LGBT congregations were launched on the Hill. In 1971, a group gathered to worship in the home of Rev. J.E. Paul Breton at 705 Seventh St. SE; that group would go on to found the Metropolitan Community Church, at 474 Ridge Rd. NW in 1992. In 1975, the Bet Mishpachah Synagogue, a congregation composed of self-identified “homosexuals,” began meeting weekly at Christ United Methodist Church at 900 Fourth St. SW before moving to the Jewish Community Center at 1529 16th St. NW in 1997.

Today, LGBTQ members of the community are also leaders of many religious institutions on the Hill. Rabbi Jenna Shaw, who identifies as queer and uses they/them pronouns, is High Holiday Assistant Rabbi for Hill Havurah (212 E. Capitol St. NE). Last October, Shaw told the Hill Rag that being part of the LGBTQ community has affected the way they deal with questions of authority and power. “I think, for me, my queerness has put me in a place where I’ve had to think a lot about power and I’m really mindful of how much power and authority I have,” Shaw said.

Little District Books (735 Eighth St. SE) features LGBTQ authors and stories as well as events around the LGBTQ community and its literature. Photo: E.O’Gorek/CCN

The Reverend Michele H. Morgan is the rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 301 A St. SE, the first to identify either as a woman or as queer. The St. Mark’s community has been welcoming for decades, hosting early meetings of the Mattachine Society and supporting the Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS (ECRA) in the 1980s.

Rev. Morgan has been out since the mid-eighties and married to her wife, Michelle Dibblee for 22 years.  She said her sexual identity was unimportant to the congregation when they selected her; more important was her ability to help the church expand into their then new building and to invite the community in. For her personally, living her authentic identity is key to her relationship with Jesus and to her role as a spiritual leader.

“To be of service in sacrificial ways and profound ways,” she said, “I think I have to show up [as] who I authentically am.”

Morgan knows that there are people who want to deny her existence as a reverend and as a queer person. She says being a queer woman who works as a spiritual leader on Capitol Hill “has a weird cache for a lot of places in the world, I am always really surprised by it,” Morgan said. “[But] it affords me the chance to have conversations with [LGBTQ] people who are still convinced that the church hates them.”

Civic Leadership

LGBTQ residents have also played a key role in politics. Navy Yard resident David Meadows has served as former Chief of Staff to At-Large DC Councilmember Anita Bonds and as past president of the Ward 6 Democrats and the Gertrude Stein Club, in addition to many other positions. He has lived all over Ward 6 before settling in Navy Yard where he was redistricted into Ward 8 in 2020. His political goals include DC Statehood as well as equity for all. Equity, he said, is not a war to win but a battle constantly fought, often from the Hill.

Meadows cites activist Paul Kuntzler, who worked with Mattachine’s Frank Kameny on the latter’s historic 1971 run for DC’s delegate to Congress; and Richard Rausch, an early and open advocate for LGBTQ and women’s rights in his role as staff member for various Congress people and in leadership positions in the Democratic Party, including co-founder of the Ward 6 Democrats.

Meadows says politicians need to stay vigilant. In May, Iowa Republicans included a repeal of the same-sex marriage law as part of their platform. “You’ve got to continue, because we’re under attack, we’re under attack today,” Meadows said. “And it’s Iowa last week, but it could be DC tomorrow.”

Other District political leaders agree. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) Robb Dooling (6A06) identifies as both Deaf and Queer. In 1973, DC became the first major city in the country to pass a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, education, housing, and public accommodations. “Statehood is an LGBTQ issue,” he said, because Congress has the power to repeal District law.

While Ward 6 has run at least one gay candidate for council, notably Steve Michael, who ran in a 1997 special election, the strongest showing of LGBTQ elected officials is our Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs). That list is led by former ANC 6D05 Chair Andy Litsky, who was probably the longest-serving openly gay public official in the nation when he stepped down in 2022 after 24 years. The new chair of ANC 6D is Edward Daniels, who identifies as Black and gay. Unlike earlier leaders like Kameny, Daniels doesn’t see his sexual identity as driving his politics, but it does help him understand alternative perspectives, he said.

“It sounds cliché, but representation matters,” Daniels said, intending it doubly: both as an elected official, and at the intersection of multiple identities.

While so much change has taken place in the 55 years since, Pride as an event that inspires future progressive action is still needed, he said. Same-sex sexuality and non-binary gender identities are not yet widely accepted, he noted. “It’s still something that isn’t as easily discussed within the Black community for some reason,” Daniels said.

He points out that Pride has roots in the 1969 Stonewall riots, when police raided New York City’s Stonewall Inn. “It wasn’t a party, it was a riot,” he said. “And it was led by transgender people; those people had enough.”

It is the same folks who need our support today, Daniels said. Transgender individuals, who have a different gender identity than the one assigned at birth, and drag queens, artists who put on an exaggerated performance of femininity, are conflated by extremists and are together the targets of the most intense vitriol. But recently the Hill has shown its support of the LGBTQ connumity.

Capitol Hill Pride

In 2023, conservative groups threatened a children’s story hour hosted by drag queen Ms. Tara Hoot at the now shuttered Crazy Aunt Helen’s on Barracks Row. Hundreds of people turned out in force with rainbow umbrellas, not only guarding the restaurant and children throughout story time, but occupying the entire block.

In 2020, Pride events were cancelled due to the pandemic. One Northeast Hill neighborhood decided to give a 12-year-old a chance to celebrate Pride. Michael McKeon was not allowed to re-enroll at his school when he announced he identified as male; 50 neighbors marched in a Pride parade behind him, culminating in a block party. He went on to attend Capitol Hill Day School (CHDS) the following year, a school that expressly considers gender expression as a learning opportunity.

Meadows said that doesn’t surprise him to hear. “One good thing about the neighbors on Capitol Hill and throughout Ward 6 is we’ve been fortunate to have strong, straight allies,” he said. Working together with members of the community, Meadows said, Hill allies have been critical to the advance of LGBTQ rights in the last fifty years, citing the time and money they have given to the pursuit of equity.

“Because it wasn’t a one-person event,” Meadows said. “It truly did take a village. And that is why the Capitol Hill village is a special place.”

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