Metro Weekly

Pride’s Guides: Jerry Houston and Destiny B. Childs

Once a year, Jerry Houston and Destiny B. Childs take center stage on Pennsylvania Avenue -- and fill it with Pride.

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

Call it fate. Call it kismet. Call it… well, call it destiny. But Capital Pride emcees Jerry Houston and Destiny B. Childs are such a natural pairing, they seem custom made for the event.

Once a year, on the second Sunday in June, they take charge of the main stage — now known as the Capitol Stage — and, with the Capitol dome majestically rising behind them, glinting in the summer sun, they guide the massive, assembled crowd through a day of performances, speakers, and even an annual crowd-pumping Metro Weekly cover shoot.

“One of my favorite parts about being able to host is to hype up the crowd for that shoot,” says Childs, who, when out of drag, goes by Richard Legg-Benavides. “To hear that roar coming from that massive amount of people out there is awesome.”

At a glance, Houston and Childs seem polar opposites. He’s soft-spoken and gentle-natured, she’s pure brass and sass, exactly what you’d expect from a multiple title-holding (Miss Ziegfeld’s, Miss Freddie’s, Miss Gay USA, etc., etc., etc.), local drag legend. She’s the sarcastic comic, he’s the happy-go-lucky straight man. She brings the sparkle and flamboyance, he brings the friendly, bearish, everyman charm. Together, they make the perfect guides to Capital Pride.

Houston, 40, grew up in Baltimore County and works in radio, these days as Director of Client Services for iHeartMedia. He’s a swing DJ on HOT 99.5, filling in where needed, and has his own show on iHeartRadio’s Pride Radio, accessible through an app and via internet connected cars and home devices. “We’re on 24 hours, every day,” he beams. “We have a DJ on every single day. It’s programmed and hosted by members of the LGBTQ community from across the country.”

Legg-Benavides, meanwhile, was raised in Florida and Arizona and moved to D.C. after he was stationed at Walter Reed while in the Army. He currently works as Inspector General for the Department of Defense. “My specialty is whistleblower reprisal cases,” he says. “I inspect fraud, waste, and abuse with the government.”

His alter-ego, Destiny B. Childs, was born out of happenstance.

“I was Mr. Remington’s at the time, and they did a turnabout night and put me in drag,” says the 39-year-old. “I enjoyed it. A lot. It was actually Ophelia Bottoms who said to me after I got off stage, ‘This is what you need to be doing. You’re a natural at being a drag queen.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.’ Here I am, sixteen years later.”

Portraying Destiny has helped give Legg-Benavides more confidence. “Destiny doesn’t give two shits,” he says. “She doesn’t take crap from anybody. People used to walk all over me. I was picked on as a child. I was bullied. Destiny started being more brave than Rick was. When I was in drag, I would say what I wanted, do what I wanted, I didn’t care. That has since moved into Rick, so Rick is the same way now.” He laughs. “A lot of people call Destiny a bitch. I like to say that’s what the B stands for in her name.”

Both men are happily partnered — Jerry’s relationship is going on nearly six years, while Destiny’s marriage hit the 17-year mark not long ago. Three months ago he became an adoptive father, officially, to his partner’s 24-year-old daughter.

We’re sitting in the in cluttered basement storeroom of Freddie’s Beach Bar, the iconic Alexandria, Va. LGBTQ bar where Destiny runs the popular, 15-year-old drag show Freddie’s Follies. Nearby, a Freddie’s employee quietly eats his lunch, pretending not to listen, but clearly rapt, as Childs and Houston converse with heartfelt openness about of their years with Capital Pride, what it means to them, and why the day is — and always will be — so incredibly important to us all. Especially now.

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

METRO WEEKLY: Let’s start with the fact that you have emceed Pride’s main stage together for…

JERRY HOUSTON: This will be our eighth year, right?

DESTINY B. CHILDS: Eighth year together. I hosted on my own for several years before Jerry came aboard.

MW: At one point, Pride used to rotate through various emcees throughout the day. Do you think it helps to have a consistent annual presence?

JERRY: I think so. You have a certain level of consistency. I think people are now comfortable having us up there. We’re all there as one big family, and we’re fortunate to have been chosen for that. This is our chance to really celebrate our community’s accomplishments and just be ourselves. And it’s so great to be able to do that and make sure everybody’s heard.

DESTINY: How do I put this without people laughing at us? We’re not spotlight queens. We don’t have to be out there talking. We get out there, we do what we need to, we introduce the next act, and we get off. We let the entertainers do what they’re there to do. We just get out there, we do our job, and nobody has to sit there and guide us and teach us. We get our piece of paper with the day’s lineup and we roll with it. And the two of us work well off each other. If I’m on the stage with Jerry, I know the look from him when it’s “We need to leave” or “I need you to keep talking.” One time, we had to kill time, and they were like, “Destiny, just perform.” So I had to do seven numbers in a row in the same outfit — which was bothering me, because I never do that. In the middle of it, there was a torrential downpour. I got soaking wet, but I didn’t stop entertaining.

MW: What caused the delay?

JERRY: I think it was the weather, it was starting to get frightening. And we had a couple acts that weren’t quite ready to go on stage.

DESTINY: Every year now I bring a CD of music, just in case.

JERRY: That’s also why we have DJ Twin on stage now to help. He can just spin music if we need him to.

MW: What’s has been the biggest challenge in all your years of hosting?

DESTINY: I will tell you my biggest challenge: When RuPaul was there in 2009.

JERRY: [Laughs.] Oh, I wasn’t there for that one. But I sure heard about it.

DESTINY: I had a problem with RuPaul. First, she was two and a half hours late. Then she wanted the backstage area cut in half, and there was a line that nobody was allowed to cross. There were no pictures allowed. And when she finally showed up, they purposely put a tent up on the side of the stage right next to the stairs. I thought her car was going to drive into the tent. But it pulled up that close and she went in real fast, changed her clothes and plopped on stage. For the whole first song, she stood at the back of the stage, as far away as possible from the audience. She didn’t move. And I’m like “What? Who do you think you are? You’re no better than anybody else.”

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

JERRY: [Laughs.] I want to make it clear that was before HOT 99.5 and iHeartRadio’s involvement.

DESTINY: Oh, and everybody had to be off the stage — she didn’t even want the DJ on the stage. And the host had better not introduce her because she has her own intro already pre-recorded.

Well, I was pissed. I’m like, RuPaul’s an idol of mine, and I was excited to meet her all day. And then now they’re telling me this. In true Destiny fashion, I still introduced her. And then I planted a chair on the side of the stage and sat there and took pictures of her entire performance. Just to piss her off.

MW: Jerry, you mention HOT 99.5’s involvement. How did that come about?

JERRY: I’d started hosting before HOT 99.5 was a full Presidential Sponsor of Capital Pride, and I got to see the operation. I saw a lot of room for improvement. Having a background of producing a lot of concerts and shows, the gears started turning. I was like, “How can I get involved? How can I make this even better?” I went to Capital Pride, and said “What can we do to make this bigger and better?” because it brings so much more attention to the cause. We have this power. Let’s put it to good use.

When the radio station started supporting Pride, they helped us make connections through some of the acts that we’ve had in recent years, like Charlie Puth, Meghan Trainor, and Rita Ora. And this year, Miley Cyrus and Tinashe. It’s a world of difference from where we were ten years ago.

DESTINY: HOT 99.5 has revamped the entire process and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s streamlined. It’s so easy. I remember before how hectic it was. The very first year they had me host the entire day by myself, I was ready to pull my own wig off. I think I actually did at one point. Jerry and HOT 99.5 have taken this to where we really don’t have hiccups anymore.

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

MW: Are you looking forward to working with Miley Cyrus?

DESTINY: Oh, I’m so excited for Miley Cyrus this year, I could just spit.

MW: Unless she clears the backstage area…

JERRY: I don’t think that’ll happen. I’ve talked to all of the people associated with her production team and they’re all genuinely excited to play this show. I haven’t seen this level of excitement from an artist team in a long time.

MW: Why do you think that is?

JERRY: I think it’s because it’s Miley. This is a cause that’s near and dear to her heart. She has her own foundation, the Happy Hippie Foundation, that helps homeless LGBTQ youth. She has an opportunity to make a difference with her charity, bring that to light, talk to all of these people — and it’s in the nation’s capital in what is a tumultuous time. She’s an activist at heart, so she gets to be right here, in the center of everything.

MW: Jerry, in your experience dealing with musical artists, are the younger straight ones coming around as far as playing at pride events is concerned?

JERRY: Coming around? I don’t know if I would say that. I think they have already been around and this is second nature to them. Even probably as recent as ten years ago, you had artists who would question it. “Do I want to be at a Pride Festival? How’s that going to be for my image?” That doesn’t happen anymore. We don’t have that conversation. People on stage now are there because they are either part of the community, or they are a huge ally and want to use their power to bring attention to the cause. That’s the best part of that stage — it’s an open mike: you can say what you want, everyone can hear you.

MW: Do you think the fact that they’re performing in front of the Capitol has resonance for them?

JERRY: I think so. It has a huge impact. You’re right there on America’s Main Street. The Capitol is behind you, the White House is ahead of you. This event helps people really truly feel empowered to make a difference, make a change. And that crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue is the greatest. Everyone is so loud. The imagery is overwhelming. I remember when Icona Pop performed — it was right at the height of their popularity with their single, “I Love It” and they said to us that they had never played for a crowd that large before. They loved the experience because it was just momentous and monumental, really.

MW: Let’s talk about that crowd for a moment, because this is something that the average, everyday person doesn’t get to experience. I remember when we started to do Metro Weekly‘s annual crowd cover shot, I was overcome by the sheer size and scope of all the people, just looking out from the stage. It’s hard to describe the powerful feeling you get from it.

JERRY: The very first time I looked out from the stage and saw all those people, I was scared to death. You walk out there and you’re like, “They’re all looking at me! What am I gonna say?” But you start to realize that nobody’s judging anybody. And that’s what’s great about the crowd — people are there to have fun, to have a good time. I got comfortable, and once that comfort’s there, it just builds.

I think an important part of what makes our festival stand out from all the rest around the country is that we’re bringing in such huge names — and it’s still a free festival and concert to attend. There are cities that aren’t as fortunate, and they have to charge to help foot the bill and pay for those things. But that’s the wonderful part about all the sponsors we have. They help us with all of that. I hear about it all the time from people — especially youth — who wouldn’t have the money to drop at some private events, where it’s like 75 bucks to go. They don’t have that kinda cash. Pride should be free for everybody, especially here in the nation’s capital. Anyone who wants to celebrate should be able to celebrate.

DESTINY: For me, it was different coming from hosting a show in a bar of 80 people to all of a sudden, I walk on stage and I’m staring at thousands and thousands of people. It’s very nerve-racking. But it’s just one of those things. You have to grab yourself by the balls — and find them, because at that point, I don’t know where mine are when I’m in drag! [Laughs.] You gotta do the job we’re there to do.

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

MW: Do you ever give yourself a moment to reflect about the fact that you’re looking out over a literal sea of LGBTQ people throughout the day?

DESTINY: It’s… just thinking about it is tearing me up. It’s extremely emotional. Jerry and I have talked about this. I look forward to it every year because it means so much to me that I’m able to be there as a voice, on a microphone, on this stage, in our nation’s capital, for all those people that are out there on that street. People who, I don’t even know if they’re out at home, or not. I don’t know if they hide the fact that they’re gay during the week. But they’re out here today, celebrating who they are and who they love. So it’s very emotional and it’s very touching to stand there with Jerry and represent them.

JERRY: It is emotionally draining. The excitement of that day is hard to describe.

MW: A very vocal and determined opposing faction to Pride emerged earlier this year. One thing they’ve asked is that Pride abandon all major corporate sponsorships. What do you think about that?

JERRY: I would never want to turn anyone away from participating in a Pride celebration, and that includes companies who have LGBTQ employees. Those employees love that their company supports them. And I think that’s what’s really important. I think if you look at Prides of the past, it was a big deal when the first sponsors would come on board, because at that time, many companies didn’t want to associate with our lifestyle. I think that’s something the opposing group is missing. They don’t realize, from a Pride perspective, how that has changed over the past couple of decades. It’s been a massive shift. The sponsors make it possible for us to do what we do — and I think it’s fantastic. I love that we don’t have to rely on people paying out of their pocket to show their pride. Come. Celebrate. Be you. Don’t worry about anything. It’s like the one day you literally don’t have anything to worry about.

DESTINY: I agree. I would never turn a sponsor away. It bothers me when I hear groups in our community say those sorts of things. “We don’t need corporate sponsors.” Well, no, we do. You don’t need them to be proud of who you are to throw a party, but we do need them because it’s showing America that we’re here, and we have their support.

You scream for equality, you scream to be treated just like everybody else — well, don’t push people away. That’s how I look at it. Why would you push somebody away that wants to come in and help us? We want you to be able to celebrate and have a good time. So I welcome any sponsorship that comes to us.

MW: Part of their argument is that many of these corporations have controversial stances in other areas, such as the environment or judicial system. In your opinion, can a company have a controversial position outside the LGBTQ realm and still be a sponsor of Pride?

JERRY: That’s a question I know the Capital Pride Board is tackling every day.

DESTINY: I’d say to each to their own. You have a right to support who you want to support. In your own daily life, there might be things that you support that your best friend refuses to support. Does that mean you’ve got to stop being friends? No. To each their own. Do what you want to do.

JERRY: I do think there’s too much polarization now. I think there’s got to be common ground that we can all find and build on. That’s my biggest thing. The political climate is really so difficult to navigate right now. Everyone’s afraid of offending someone. Find that common ground. Let’s build from there.

MW: Much of the time, the day’s tone is set by the weather. We’ve had beautiful days. We’ve had torrential downpours. We’ve had heat waves. We’ve seen it all and gotten through it. That’s part of the luck and makeup of the day.

JERRY: Yep, it is.

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

MW: But what we never expected to have at Pride was what occurred last year. Our community — and the nation — woke up to the news of the Pulse shootings. How did the tragedy change the day for you?

JERRY: It was… it was…

DESTINY: It was horrible. It was hard.

JERRY: It was really hard, because we struggled with how do you have a good time when this just happened? And we knew there were a lot of people who just wanted to find a release for the day.

DESTINY: Right.

JERRY: It was just so… We were lost, I think, that morning.

DESTINY: I remember Jerry and I pulled ourselves to the side and we had our moment about it, with each other. I’m trying to hold back tears right now, because it’s still emotional — but we told each other we have a job to do. We will give the victims the respect that’s deserved. We’ll have that moment of silence, which we did, several times during the day. Other than that, we went on with our job.

It was hard for us because we both wanted to mourn and make sure everybody was taken care of. We didn’t want to overshadow it and just put it to the side. We did the best we could to keep it up front and center, but at the same time, we needed to have our fun and celebrate Pride in their honor. One of the first things we said when we walked out there, was, “Today, in their honor, we’re gonna scream louder than we ever have.” And we did.

JERRY: Sure did. Every single person involved at that show came to us and said, “We know what happened, we want to still go out, and we want to be able to honor their memory in our own way.” Meghan Trainor, Charlie Puth — they all dedicated their performances to Pulse. I think it helped us all get through the day because as a community, everyone was together in one place and we could all deal with it together.

MW: Destiny, you’re one of the co-chairs of the Equality March. How’s that going?

DESTINY: It’s rough, but it’s going.

MW: Why is it rough?

DESTINY: Because it’s just a lot. Especially with Pride as well. One of the things I was very grateful for is that the board and the committees with the march have done their very best not to impede onto Pride. They didn’t want to interrupt any Pride event that was going on. And that was the way it’s been since day one when [David Bruinooge] posted on Facebook, “I think this is what we should do on this weekend” and it just went from there. He had no clue it would get to this, but it did. And it is what it is, and it is gonna be what it’s gonna be. It’s a March that’s needed. I completely agree with it.

Now, I’m not completely happy that it’s on our weekend, but I’m happy about the fact that the march is bringing all these extra people in from out of town.

JERRY: It amplifies what we were doing. It’s a great, complimentary event. It’s bringing in so many more people that wouldn’t necessarily participate in a Pride event. You get a whole new audience, and everybody gets to enjoy everything. As soon as the march ends, our festival begins, and everyone is welcome to come over.

DESTINY: I think it’s gonna be our biggest crowd yet.

JERRY: [Laughs.] It’s a good problem to have.

Destiny B. Childs and Jerry Houston — Photo: Julian Vankim

MW: This year’s theme is “Unapologetically Proud.” What does being unapologetically proud mean to you?

JERRY: A lot of different things. But mostly it means that I don’t have to say I’m sorry for being who I am. I think a lot of people have felt that way, especially recently. You have people who might not be as open as they once were. They backed off a little bit because of the current political climate. I think this message is to make sure that those people know that you don’t need to do that. We’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere. We’ll get through this. Be proud. Be who you are, and don’t apologize for it. Don’t be sorry.

DESTINY: My heart bleeds rainbow, and it always will. I am who I am, and I’m not changing for anybody. And that’s what unapologetically proud means to me. I’m very proud to be a gay man. I don’t hide the fact that I’m gay, even when I got a new boss a year ago. The very first thing I told him was, “Yeah, I’m married. I’ve been married to my husband for 16 years, and we have a 24-year old daughter.” And you see it in their faces — it’s a little shock because I’m so open about it. With the political climate that we have. So I think it’s more important now more than ever to be out there and to make your voice heard. To say we deserve the same as everybody else in this world.

MW: This is the first time in the last eight years that the administration has not declared June as an official Pride Month, complete with a reception at the White House. Okay, no real surprise there, but still, it was incredibly meaningful to be acknowledged during the Obama years.

JERRY: Trump declared it as Homeowner’s Month or something. Great Outdoors month. There was a list.

MW: A list we weren’t on.

JERRY: Which is why it’s important, now more than ever, to be united as one voice. It’s a great juxtaposition in the Nation’s Capital to have this gigantic celebration where everyone is moving towards a common goal, as opposed to the current administration, which would rather ignore it’s even happening. That’s why we need to bring everyone together, to be that one voice that speaks louder than anything else. We have to make that difference this year.

DESTINY: They might not light up the White House with a rainbow, but we’re gonna light up Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s gonna be amazing. It’s gonna be beautiful. Just like it always has been and always will be. We’re not going anywhere.

The Capital Pride Festival is Sunday, June 11, from noon to 7 p.m. The Monument Stage, will go live at 1 p.m. with performances until 7 p.m., capped by a headliner appearance by Miley Cyrus and a Dance Party with DJ Tracy Young. For the latest, up-to-date information, as well as information on VIP Pride Concert Tickets, visit capitalpride.org.

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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.