Metro Weekly

Capital Pride Honored LGBTQ Leaders In A Powerful Ceremony

At a time when anti-LGBTQ animus has reached fever-pitch, advocates stress the importance of renewed activism and mutual support for one another.

Brandon Bayton, Jr. (l) and Admiral Rachel Levine (c) at the Capital Pride Honors – Photo: Ward Morrison/Metro Weekly

On Friday, June 2, the Capital Pride Alliance honored LGBTQ leaders and trailblazers at its annual Capital Pride Honors ceremony, marking the start of Pride in the nation’s capital.

Receiving the “Paving the Way” award was Admiral Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the first out transgender government official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In her remarks, Levine, who has been attacked by critics as much for her gender identity as her performance in office, invoked the theme of this year’s Pride — “Peace, Love, Revolution” — and urged attendees to be catalysts for positive change. She also touted the progress achieved for the LGBTQ community under the Biden administration.

“From day one, the Biden-Harris administration has prioritized equity and equality for the LGBTQ community, and we are making progress, including [the Food and Drug Administration’s] new blood donation guidance, [the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s] new report online in evidence about the harm of conversion therapy, and my office’s work to end the HIV exclusion in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps,” Levine said.

Levine also urged those present to stand up against attacks on marginalized communities, including transgender youth and trans women of color.

“Right now, 30 states in our United States of America have passed ideologically- and politically-motivated laws that restrict access to best practice medicine. I want to say it very clearly: Gender-affirming care is medical care. Gender-affirming care is mental health care. And gender-affirming care is literally suicide prevention care. It improves the quality of life. It’s literally saved lives, and is based upon decades of study. It is a well-established clinical practice.”

Levine concluded with a message of hope and solidarity for those who may become frustrated or despondent over the attacks against the community. 

“There is a place for you. There is a place for all of us in this great country of ours,” she said. “I want to share a quote from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. She says, ‘Your identity is not your weakness. It is your superpower.’ We are all superheroes together…. All of your work matters, and you matter.”

Receiving Capital Pride’s “Super Hero” award was transgender activist Earline Budd, honored for her advocacy on behalf of people struggling with substance abuse, mental health challenges, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS, as well as pushing for affordable housing for members of the LGBTQ community.

“I am overwhelmed and honored,” Budd said of her recognition. “I do this work because it must be done. And if that makes me a superhero, then that’s what I am. Someone has to do the work. And even though I’m aging, at the end of the day, there are going to be young people behind me who have a passion for activism. So I try to set an example for them so that they’re able to continue this work.”

Taking home Capital Pride Heroes awards were drag entertainer and musical artist Shi-Queeta Lee; Benjamin Rosenbaum, the former chair of Nice Jewish Boys DC; Nancy Cañas, the president of the Latinx History Project; and community advocate Abdur-Rahim Briggs, the Ward 8 LGBTQIA+ Commission Chair.

Brandon Bayton, Jr., a volunteer for Capital Pride since April 2022, received the Bill Miles Award. The award is given to the volunteer who has made exemplary contributions to Capital Pride.

Bayton was honored for his photography work, capturing “the many moments we share as a community,” Tiffany Royster, the chair of the Capital Pride Alliance, said when presenting the award. Bayton has also worked on marketing and graphic design for Capital Pride’s various events.

“I would say there is something for everybody in Capital Pride,” Bayton told Metro Weekly. They don’t force you to work in a particular area. It’s kind of like focusing on what you’re interested in or what you’re good at. There’s a wide range of jobs, from the marketing team to the operations team, to parade logistics, festival logistics, and Pride 365…. My favorite part of volunteering for Capital Pride has been the people, the team I’ve worked with. They make you feel welcome, and they have become like family to me.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force and the DMV chapter of Drag Story Hour were honored with the Breaking Barriers: Community Impact award. The award is given to individuals or organizations whose work has benefitted the LGBTQ community at the local or national level and helped eliminate barriers to the community’s growth.

Both organizations were praised for their dedication to the LGBTQ community in the face of unyielding attacks against them, which are part of a larger anti-LGBTQ backlash against any form of LGBTQ visibility.

Kierra Johnson, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, expressed gratitude for the recognition of the organization’s work on behalf of the community, but also warned against complacency, urging people to fight back against various forms of censorship and the slate of anti-LGBTQ legislation being pushed at the state level.

“A big part of the work we have to do is re-engage our community,” she said. “We’ve got to take this fight back into our homes: our home states, our schools, our neighborhoods, our community centers. And we’ve got to be having real conversations with folks about what is happening and what is at stake, because a lot of our folks just don’t know, or don’t think it’s as bad as it is, or think it’s only affecting a few people.”

While acknowledging the uphill battle that the LGBTQ community faces, Johnson noted that the LGBTQ movement’s history can provide a template for fighting back against anti-LGBTQ animus.

“It’s not by accident that conservatives are removing information about our power and our impact on them on this country,” Johnson said. “Because that’s where the answer is. Communities have been through this before — women, black folk, immigrants — we have been here before. So how do we take what we’ve learned in the past and apply it to now? 

“We also have to remind ourselves that we are winning,” she added. “We are progressing forward. That is what the backlash is about. So we’ve got to keep being vigilant and owning our power. We’ve got what we need in our tool belt. We’ve got what we need in our friends, our allies, in our families. We’ve just got to get to work.”

Tara Hoot, one of the performers for Drag Story Hour DMV, said having the organization be honored for its work “lifts my soul and lifts my spirit,” especially in light of the attacks against drag across the country, resulting in threats against performers.

Hoot said that drag is one of several different types of performance art, and is nothing to be afraid of, urging people to come to a Story Time event or a brunch to see that drag shows are not what some on the political Right have sought to paint them as.

She also notes that the books being read by drag queens at Story Hour are not “sexually explicit,” as some have falsely claimed.

“On social media, someone said, ‘These drag queens aren’t even reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I literally read The Very Hungry Caterpillar at Story Hour,” she said. “And then I do a song about butterflies, read books about feeling beautiful, about being yourself, about being kind to others. Those are the books that are in story time.

“The question that informs my story choices is: what are the messages that we want to give kids these days? It’s to love people, to be proud of themselves, no matter who they are, and to really just give them a light to shine in the world.”

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