(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) A transgender woman’s lawsuit alleging discrimination at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center will be allowed to move forward in a potentially landmark decision in the fight for trans rights.
Former inmate Kesha Williams can pursue her complaint arguing that the harassment she experienced at the county jail violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled in an opinion released today (Tuesday).
The decision overturns a lower court’s dismissal of Williams’s lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 20 and details her incarceration from November 2018 to May 2019.
“Kesha Williams faced horrible treatment at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center,” Joshua Erlich, Williams’s attorney, said. “We’re thankful that the Fourth Circuit ruled in her favor and we are excited to get back into court to vindicate Kesha’s rights.”
Williams, now a resident of Silver Spring, alleges in her lawsuit that the jail housed her with men after deputies learned that she is transgender and had not undergone genital surgery, The Washington Post reported in May.
Williams reported that the bras and other clothes she was initially given were taken away, she was misgendered and harassed by deputies as well as inmates, and a nurse delayed or neglected to provide the hormone treatments she had received for the past 15 years.
The inability to regularly access the medicine Williams was prescribed to treat gender dysphoria led to “significant mental and emotional distress,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz recounted in her opinion, which was also backed by Judge Pamela Harris.
Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and the other defendants have argued that Williams has no grounds to seek relief, because the ADA doesn’t protect “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” A U.S. District Court judge agreed and granted a motion to dismiss the case.
In her majority opinion, Motz says that argument reflects an outdated understanding of gender identity. Gender dysphoria is now recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a distinct clinical condition that some, but not all, trans people experience.
“While the older DSM pathologized the very existence of transgender people, the recent DSM-5’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria takes as a given that being transgender is not a disability and affirms that a transgender person’s medical needs are just as deserving of treatment and protection as anyone else’s,” Motz wrote.
With the appeals court’s ruling, Kincaid could now seek a rehearing before a larger panel of judges or appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Otherwise, the lawsuit will be sent back to the district court, where it could eventually go to trial, according to Erlich.
“We will not be commenting on a case that is still pending,” the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Fourth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule specifically on whether gender dysphoria constitutes a disability protected by the ADA. While the lawsuit focuses on the treatment of trans individuals in jail, the outcome could have broader implications at a time when states are restricting access to gender-affirming health care.
“This is not limited to individuals who are incarcerated; any individual seeking accommodations for gender dysphoria will be affected by this ruling,” Erlich said. “This applies in employment, public accommodations, and in any other context in which the ADA provides disability protections.”
Two Face Drug Charges After Seven Corners Police Shooting — “Two men have been charged after an officer-involved shooting that occurred last night at approximately 10:45 p.m. in the 6100 block of Arlington Boulevard in Seven Corners…The officer involved in the shooting has been identified as an 11-year veteran assigned to the Street Crimes Unit.” [FCPD]
Local LGBTQ+ Student Group Speaks Out — Fairfax County’s Pride Liberation Project released a statement backed by more than 600 students criticizing a proposal from the state Department of Education that they fear will classify any references to LGBTQIA+ people and events as sexually explicit. The guidelines address a new law that requires parents to be notified when school materials include sexually explicit content. [The Washington Post]
Meet Reston Association’s New CEO — “On Thursday, July 28, the Reston Association board of directors voted unanimously to confirm Mac Cummins, AICP* as the next chief executive officer of the non-profit organization…Cummins sat for a Q&A with the Connection Newspapers on Friday, July 29.” [Connection Newspapers]
Police Chief Addresses Staffing Emergency — The Fairfax County Police Department declared a personnel emergency last week, requiring officers to work mandatory overtime to compensate for staff shortages. Chief Kevin Davis says the department’s 189 operational vacancies are exceptionally high, though 51 recruits currently in the academy will eventually join the force. [ABC7]
Back in Nature, Snake Found in Fairfax Is Healing — “K2C Wildlife Encounters, LLC, received a call on June 5 from a Fairfax resident who had a snake in their backyard that they wanted removed…The female, eastern ratsnake had a torn jugular vein, a hole in her trachea, a protruding eye, numerous lacerations, and broken ribs.” [Patch]
New FCPS Teachers Prepare for School Year — “Minutello and Edinborough are among the newest teachers in Virginia’s largest school system, and are starting at a time when staffing challenges are making headlines. The county had hundreds of vacancies at the end of the last school year, but 97% of staffing positions have been filled as of last week, Superintendent Michelle Reid said.” [WTOP]
Centreville’s Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Lot to Temporarily Close — “The parking lot and entrance for Cabell’s Mill will be closed from Aug. 8 through Oct. 7, 2022, for construction. Work related to the new Stewardship Education Center will include a larger parking lot that will include features and a design that will better control and filter water from rain and runoff from the adjacent neighborhood.” [FCPA]
State Sales Tax Holiday Starts Tomorrow — “The 3-day sales tax holiday starts the first Friday in August at 12:01 am and ends the following Sunday at 11:59 pm…During the sales tax holiday, you can buy qualifying school supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness items, and Energy Star™ and WaterSense™ products without paying sales tax.” [Virginia Department of Taxation]
It’s Thursday — Humid throughout the day. High of 95 and low of 76. Sunrise at 6:14 am and sunset at 8:18 pm. [Weather.gov]
The Boro in Tysons is going to the dogs this weekend, hosting a pair of canine-friendly events that will also benefit a local LGBTQ youth advocacy group.
The mixed-use development near the Greensboro Metro station is inviting pups and their humans alike to a “Yappy Hour” at 5-7 p.m. tomorrow (Friday).
The Sandlot Tysons (1640 Boro Place) will feature a Bone Bar with dog treats and branded bag holder giveaways and a photo opportunity in front of the word “bark” spelled out in “jumbo light-up letters,” according to a news release.
There will also be live music and cocktails, and the local nonprofit Wolf Trap Animal Rescue will be present to share information about fostering a dog. A portion of all beverage proceeds will go to Safe Space NOVA, an Alexandria-based nonprofit that provides support and resources to LGBTQ teens.
In addition to offering a support group, educational programs, and social activities, the organization will host its annual Pride Prom for high school students at The St. James in Springfield tomorrow. Designed to be inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations, the event had been on a two-year break due to the pandemic.
“In celebration of Pride Month, The Boro is excited to partner with one of the great local organizations aiming to help members of the LGBTQ+ community,” The Boro said in a statement. “Safe Space NOVA is dedicated to providing a safe, accepting and supporting environment to combat social stigmas, bullying and other challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth.”
“Yappy Hour” is free and open to the general public, but the development encourages registering in advance through Eventbrite.
The following morning will bring a less-boozy affair with a “Camp Bark” training session at Boro Park.
A local trainer will lead the class for beginners from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday (June 25). Free coffee and treats will be available, and a portion of sales from the tickets, which cost $10 per dog, will be donated to Safe Space NOVA.
Registration on Eventbrite is required for participants.
Additional Pride Month events coming to the Tysons area this June include the Mosaic District’s first-ever Pride Celebration on Saturday and a concert by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington at Capital One Hall on Sunday (June 26).
Rabies Confirmed in Biting Coyote — The Fairfax County Health Department confirmed yesterday (Monday) that a coyote that bit four people and two dogs over the weekend in the Lake Accotink area was infected with rabies. Anyone who touched or was bitten or scratched by the animal should call the county health department’s rabies program at 703-246-2433, TTY 711. [FCHD]
Confederate Soldier’s Tombstone Defaced — The letters ‘CS,’ ‘NVA,’ and a Star of David were spraypainted on the tombstone of Armistead T. Thompson in the Thompson Family Cemetery by the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield. Fairfax County police received a report last Tuesday (May 31) and said the property management is working to remove it, though as of Sunday (June 5), the graffiti was still there. [Patch]
Homicide Investigation in Reston Continues — “Detectives and officers are canvassing in the area of Springs Apartments & Hunters Woods Plaza in Reston after Rene Alberto Pineda Sanchez was found deceased on May 31. Call detectives at 703-246-7800, option 2 w/any info.” [FCPD/Twitter]
Inova Opens Northern Virginia’s First LGBTQ-Focused Clinic — “Inova’s Pride Clinic will be open to anyone who needs services. It will begin small as a primary care practice for patients of all ages and then grow to include specialties…The Inova Pride Clinic ribbon-cutting will be Wednesday, June 8 at 10 a.m. in Falls Church at 500 North Washington St., Suite 200.” [WTOP]
Tysons Emergency Is Now Open — “HCA Virginia held a grand opening ceremony on Friday, June 3, 2022 for its new freestanding emergency room in Northern Virginia…The state-of-the-art ER will be staffed with board-certified emergency medicine physicians and nurses, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, just like an emergency room that is housed within the walls of a hospital.” [HCA Virginia]
County Puts Food Inspection Reports Online — “The public can now access retail food establishment inspection reports more quickly and easily, as part of an update to the county’s new online PLUS platform…Environmental health staff inspect restaurants and other retail food service establishments to make sure employees follow safe food handling practices, covering sanitation, food storage and preparation, and have adequate kitchen facilities.” [FCHD]
Wolf Trap Nonprofit Awarded by Governor — A provider of short-term, overnight care for children with intellectual disabilities, Jill’s House was honored on May 26 with the second ‘Spirit of Virginia Award’ given by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin since they took office in January. The organization has served more than 1,000 families since it opened in 2010. [Sun Gazette]
Annandale Park Gets Clean-up — “A big thank you to community volunteers who came out to Backlick Park this past weekend and held a spring clean-up. This successful venture was a wonderful way to mark World Environment Day and the National Great Outdoors Month.” [FCPA/Twitter]
Chantilly Neighborhood Watch on the Lookout for Thievery — “Rob, 53, was already a neighborhood watcher in his Brookfield community…before the ransacking incident two years ago but he said it made him increasingly aware neighborhood watch is a needed position to mitigate this from happening to one of his neighbors.” [Fairfax County Times]
It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 74 and low of 62. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:34 pm. [Weather.gov]
Truck Fire Shuts Down I-95 South — “Saturday around 4:30 p.m., units were dispatched for a Truck Fire on I-95 South at Mile Marker 161. Multiple Vehicles on fire being transported by 18-Wheeler Vehicle Carrier, located in local lanes. Multiple Lanes were shutdown in southbound lanes. No reported injuries.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
BB Gun Drawn in Reston Over Smoking Confrontation — A security guard was surrounded by 10 juveniles outside a business in the 11900 block of Market Street on May 31 after telling them that smoking was not allowed there. One of the juveniles displayed a handgun that police later determined was “a replica style Glock BB gun.” No injuries were reported, but police intend to seek petitions for charges. [FCPD]
Idylwood Section of W&OD Trail Opens — A new, realigned section of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail by Idylwood Park has opened. Work on the new trail segment began in January to accommodate new ramps constructed as part of the project to add express lanes on I-66 outside the Capital Beltway. [W&OD Trail/Twitter]
Vienna Police Busy During Memorial Day Weekend — According to the most recent weekly report, the Vienna Police Department responded to a variety of incidents during last week’s ViVa Vienna festival. Issues included a juvenile attempting to enter a locked trailer, a driver backing into a police vehicle, and thefts of $20, a beverage, and 100 wristbands. [Sun Gazette]
Firefighters Rescue Kitten in Woodlawn — “On Saturday, May 28, a crew from Woodlawn Fire Station (Tower 424) responded to a non-emergency call from the Mount Vernon area about a whimpering kitten that had been stuck in a tree for over an hour. The team of first responders, led by Lt. Dave Bender, used the bucket to access the kitten and bring it to safety.” [On the MoVe]
See Photos from Reston Pride — The 2022 Reston Pride Festival was held at Lake Anne Plaza on Saturday (June 4). The festival’s fifth iteration featured more than 65 vendors, drag and spoken word performances, the acapella quartet Kinsey Sicks, and more. [Washington Blade]
Things to Do in Fairfax County This Summer — Fairfax County’s guide to the season highlights outdoor concerts, swimming pools and water parks, a “family adventure pass” to county rec centers, the Fairfax County Public Library’s summer reading program, and the recently launched “Potomac Banks” tourism campaign. [Fairfax County Government]
It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 79 and low of 61. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]
Governor Attends Vienna Memorial Day Ceremony — “Vienna residents joined Gov. Glen Youngkin and other dignitaries at the Town Green today to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. In his remarks, Rear Admiral Fred Kacher noted that for Gold Star families, every day is Memorial Day.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]
West Falls Church Apartment Fire Displaces Residents — Assisted by Arlington and Fairfax City, Fairfax Count fire investigators are looking into a two-alarm apartment fire that damaged 12 units in the 2900 block of Dover Lane on Sunday (May 29). There were no reported injuries, but an “unknown number” of residents were displaced, including a dog. [FCFRD/Facebook, Twitter]
Transgender Woman Sues Fairfax County Jail — A former inmate at Fairfax County Adult Detention Center alleges in a lawsuit that she was housed with men and experienced harassment after officials learned she was transgender. The case is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. [The Washington Post]
Lack of Defibrillators Keeps Reston Pools Closed — “Due to supply chain delays, the following five RA pools did not receive new Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in time for Memorial Day weekend: Autumnwood, Ridge Heights, Hunters Woods, Golf Course Island, and Tall Oaks, according to an RA announcement.” [Patch]
Great Falls Pipeline Project Halted — “The Virginia Department of Transportation on May 24 issued a stop-work order for a Washington Gas pipeline-installation project on Georgetown Pike after receiving complaints from the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA).” [Sun Gazette]
Woman Killed in Annandale Crash Was Community Advocate — “[Eileen] Garnett, 83, was a longtime advocate for revitalizing Annandale. On the day of the crash, she was with a group of county and state officials on an inspection tour of Annandale hosted by the Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee.” [Annandale Today]
“Above-Average” Hurricane Season Forecast — “NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher).” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]
Centreville Park Gets Lighting Upgrades — “The Fairfax County Park Authority will begin a basketball lighting upgrade project this week at Chalet Woods Park, located at 14912 Cranoke St., Centreville, in the Sully District. The project scope includes removal of the existing poles and fixtures, followed by installation of new poles, fixtures and a push button for basketball court lights.” [FCPA]
It’s Tuesday — Humid throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:47 am and sunset at 8:29 pm. [Weather.gov]
Middle school sex education classes in Fairfax County will remain separated by gender going into the next school year.
A majority of the Fairfax County School Board agreed on Tuesday (May 24) to postpone a vote on whether to introduce gender-combined Family Life Education (FLE) classes for students in grades 4-8 and 10th grade, along with other proposed changes intended to make the curriculum more inclusive.
The recommendations came from the FLE Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC), which advises Fairfax County Public Schools staff on instructional materials and goals. FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio said this year’s report contained the most recommended changes he has seen in 10 years with the school system.
At the work session, several board members said they feel more time is needed to study the recommendations and conduct community outreach. FLECAC’s reports are typically open for a 30-day review period around the end of each school year.
“This is for many people an uncomfortable conversation, an uncomfortable topic, and just out of sheer respect for that, I understand the need to have further conversation and engage our families and speak to them as to why this recommendation was made,” Board Chair and Sully District Representative Stella Pekarsky said.
According to the FLECAC report, FCPS currently separates boys and girls in fourth through eighth grade for lessons on puberty, reproductive systems and processes, sexually transmitted infections, and abstinence. 10th grade students are separated for a lesson on self-examinations for breast and testicular cancer.
The committee proposes making those classes co-ed to better include LGBTQ, intersex, and other gender-diverse students, while giving all students the “opportunity to learn about individuals who are different from themselves” and normalizing conversations “that will be important to healthy relationships.”
“Dividing students into boys and girls classes sends a message that bodies different than their own should not be talked about and are mysterious,” the report says. “When students are separated by boys and girls, it affirms a rigid binary based on anatomy.”
Many school divisions across Virginia already combine genders for all or most sex-education classes, including Arlington, Alexandria City, and Virginia Beach City, according to FLECAC, which says in its report that there’s no “available research to support the practice of gender-segregated instruction.”
Karl Frisch and Laura Jane Cohen, who represent the Providence and Springfield districts, respectively, voted against extending the community review period, which FCPS staff said would delay implementation of any changes until the 2023-2024 school year.
“This change would align our program with best practices,” Frisch said.
However, other board members said more time for community feedback is needed to hear from a variety of perspectives, including from students, on FLECAC’s proposals, which also include adding gender to a 10th grade lesson about human sexuality.
FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the board that “very few” students opt out of the FLE program, and it’s important that the community understands the rationale for the proposed changes.
“What we want is for families to continue to access this curriculum and not opt out of information that I think is critical for young people,” Brabrand said.
FCPS Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ staff and families, said in a statement that it was surprised by the school board’s decision to postpone a vote on the FLE changes. The group says it supports gender-combined classes so students don’t have to “out” themselves or choose a gender, and research suggests more inclusive classes lead to healthier behaviors.
“We are confident that the school board will adopt gender-inclusive FLE classes,” FCPS Pride said. “They are best practices, common around the state and nation, and backed up by a substantial amount of academic and practical research. FCPS is a world-class school system precisely because we learn about and follow research-backed best practices.”
Photo via Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash
Reston Pride will return to Lake Anne Plaza this year for its fifth annual festival on June 4.
The annual event follows the theme “You Belong Here” in an effort to engage the LGBTQIA+ community.
This year’s event will feature more than 65 vendors, including local businesses, artists, and advocacy organizations. Organizers have also partnered with Elden Street Tea Shop to concoct a specialty tea blend — appropriately called Inclusivitea — produced to raise funds for Reston Pride.
Board president Kyle Rohen said the event has been blessed with active participation from the community at large.
“I believe the importance of pride cannot be understated, particularly at a time where the most vulnerable members of our community, specifically trans youth and queer people of color, are under relentless attack in legislatures nationwide,” Rohen wrote in a statement.
Drag performances, spoken word, and the event’s headlining act — The Kinsey Sicks — are also set for the event.
The Kinsey Sicks, an a capella quartet who describe themselves as “America’s favorite dragapella beauty shop quartet,” will perform at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage the same night at 8 p.m.
Nathan Hagan, an event organizer, said this year’s event has nearly double the number of vendors and organizations participating over last year.
“Some other changes this year include a reinforced commitment to community and giving back,” Hagan said by email. “In the wake of some of the political debates around the country and our region here in Northern Virginia, we have some specific community leaders who will speak and share their experiences within the Transgender community.”
Organizers anticipate between 2,000 and 3,000 people to attend the festival throughout the day.
“It is a hyper-local focused pride festival that first and foremost is about creating a safe environment where people feel empowered to be themselves,” Hagan said. “While we are called ‘Reston’ by name, our volunteers and board members come from across the region, and we serve and partner with individuals and organizations around the larger area.”
The organization hopes to donate proceeds from the event to Casa BruMar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to build an LGBTQ+ community center in Virginia. The funds would support housing stability for trans youth.
“Our directive here is clear; service to our community is vital for growth and longevity of the community itself, and Casa BruMar provides the exact kind of support necessary to keep trans youth safe,” Hagan told FFXnow.
Reston Pride is a nonprofit organization that launched in 2018. The group advocates and educates individuals about the LGBTQIA+ community in Reston and surrounding areas.
Photo via Chip McCrea Photography
Reminder: FFXnow Wants Your Input — FFXnow is conducting a survey to learn more about our readers and help shape future coverage. What kinds of stories interest you? Have strong feelings about the Tysons Reporter and Reston Now merger, or the length of our stories? Let us know before the survey closes after Sunday, May 15.
Former Falls Church Bicycle Shop Owner’s Mythology Unravels — “We’re not just talking about one man’s fabrications, but the ripples from those fabrications: a team of riders that allege abuse at [Nick] Clark’s hands, a series of embellished life events stretching back to the 1990s, ties with the political and military elite, alleged misrepresentations across multiple industries, and possible stolen military valour.” [Cycling Tips]
Police Thanked for Catching Victoria’s Secret Thieves — “The Fairfax County Police Department’s Tysons Urban Team (TUT) was recognized by executives from Victoria’s Secret on Friday for breaking up a retail theft ring. The thieves are believed to be responsible for the loss of more than $250,000 of merchandise from stores throughout the southern U.S.” [FCPD/Facebook]
Woman Who Sold Mantua Home With Squatter Speaks — “After days of speculation about the identity of the person living in the basement of a viral Zillow listing, the woman has come forward to tell her side of the unusual story. Last week, her Fairfax, Va., home…sold for more than $800,000 with the condition that it came with a person living in the basement who did not have a lease.” [WUSA9]
FCPD Seeks Person Behind Clifton Starbucks Vandalism — “Officers responded to the Starbucks at 5748 Union Mill Road in Clifton for a burglary report on April 27, when someone broke the front window and stole a Progress Pride flag from inside and left. The following morning, officers responded to the same Starbucks for a similar incident.” [ABC7]
Metro Shares Plan to Electrify Bus Fleet — “Metro expects to purchase 12 electric buses and associated charging equipment this year as part of the Battery-Electric Bus Test and Evaluation Program. The buses will begin arriving late this year and go into service in 2023 out of the Shepherd Parkway Bus Division.” [WMATA]
Man Convicted of Killing Fairfax Couple Denied Parole — “The Maryland Parole Commission denied parole to Sifrit, in his first parole hearing, since being sentenced to 38 years in prison, after he and his then-wife Erika killed and dismembered Martha Crutchley and Joshua Ford, of Fairfax City, over Memorial Day weekend almost 20 years ago.” [WTOP]
Capital One Center Named “Best New Development” — The Washington Business Journal has given its “Best New Development” award to Capital One Center, which is bringing 1.47 million square feet of construction to the financial company’s Tysons headquarters. The Reston Gateway office high-rises in Boston Properties’ Reston Town Center expansion was named a finalist. [WBJ]
It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 76 and low of 60. Sunrise at 6:11 am and sunset at 8:03 pm. [Weather.gov]
Fairfax City’s Epicure is no more, a blow to the students and artists who had turned the independent cafe on Route 29 into the area’s go-to quirky-cool hangout spot.
Fortunately for the local LGBTQ community, the Palace still stands. The biweekly drag show, which was started last May by a pair of high school friends, has sashayed over to the Earp’s Ordinary pop-up bar at 3950 University Drive.
While thrilled with the new venue, Palace co-producer Alan Xtra is still reeling a little from Epicure’s sudden closure on April 6.
“Oh gosh, Epicure is just fantastic — was just fantastic,” Xtra told FFXnow by phone. “There’s nowhere else like it in Fairfax County that I’m aware of that has such a vibrant arts community and was so open to hosting shows…Our current venue is great, but Epicure was something special.”
Like many millennials, Xtra first encountered the world of drag through the reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which launched in 2009. Instantly entranced, the Vienna native started performing in and organizing drag shows at his college in upstate New York.
Upon returning home, however, he found that there were no shows in Fairfax County, though D.C. has a rich history of drag culture.
Xtra brought up the idea of starting a show to Chase, a friend from their days in high school theater. She instantly got on board, as did the owner of Epicure when asked if they could use the cafe, and the Palace was born.
Hosted by MasVusi, a George Mason University student who got involved after seeing a show, the Palace’s drag and variety shows received a “great” reception from the start and have only grown since then, Xtra says, though he anticipates a slight drop in numbers with the venue and time shift.
The first show at Earp’s Ordinary was held on April 12 and the next one is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Tuesday (April 26). Going forward, they will take place on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month — a change from the usual Wednesday time slot at Epicure.
Face masks are also no longer required, in keeping with Earp’s mask-optional approach, but people are still welcome to wear them. Xtra acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges and likely reduced attendance.
“Pretty consistently, I still have people say, ‘Hey, I’m not very comfortable doing in-person events still.’ That’s just where we are,” he said.
While the Palace is open to straight, cisgender individuals, it’s envisioned as a space explicitly by and for LGBTQ people — something that feels especially precious at a time of increasing homophobic and transphobic violence.
From prohibitions on discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools (dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida) to the criminalization of gender-affirming health care, state legislatures have introduced record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills this year. Many young people, particularly transgender and nonbinary youth, have reported negative mental health impacts as a result.
Xtra sees the Palace not as a distraction from those urgent issues, but as an alternative, a space that gives LGBTQ people the sense of acceptance and belonging they’re often denied elsewhere.
“I think that a drag show is a place for queer joy,” Xtra said. “It’s a place for us to come together and celebrate each other as we are, as we’re meant to be, in our fullest selves, and love each other and give each other dollars and buy each other drinks. It’s a space for joy.”