When did it stop
being embarrassing
to say you live in
D.C.? A group of
the capital’s most
influential gays
shine a light on
the city’s rise to

Richard Morgan
photography by


Wo l b e r g e r


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n 2004, Wonkette,
the D.C. gossip blog, reported that MTV
had bought a house for a supposed Washington season of The Real World. The notion was thoroughly mocked, then abandoned. Since then, MTV returned to L.A.
(for a second time) and New York (for a
third)—even anointing Key West and Las
Vegas worthier locales than the nation’s
capital. Smart people have always come
to D.C. But the smart cool ones? No. The
saying was “D.C. is Hollywood for ugly
people,” the bland leading the bland. Now,
change—and The Real World—has come to
Washington (and the real world).
Busboys & Poets throbs as the city’s
Berkeley-in-a-box café; the phrase “Let
America be America again / Let it be the
dream it used to be” is etched on a mural
photography by TK

Houston Ruck,

creative director, Growth Energy;

Tico Almeida,

labor policy adviser, Committee
on Education and Labor, U.S.
House of Representatives;

Andrew VanderLinden,


fundraiser, American Red Cross

photography by TK

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The Creators

Daniel Phoenix Singh, president/
artistic director, Dakshina Dance
Company; Sabri Ben-Achour,
sculptor; Michael Dumlao,
founder, Fashion Fights Poverty;
Drew Porterfield, curator/director,
Long View Gallery; Hugh McElroy,
founder, Ruffian Records

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Americans. And there’s a construction
boom (remember: D.C. is America’s only
recession-proof city), plus a bounty of historic townhouses with cute front gardens
and backyards. D.C. is the charm of Brooklyn with the purpose of Manhattan.
“It’s not embarrassing anymore to
say you live in D.C.,” says Richard Florida,
the author who rethought city coolness
with his book The Rise of the Creative Class.
“When we measure the gay index, D.C.
is off the charts. Of course, you still have
preppy dinosaurs living in the formaldehyde netherworld of Georgetown. But
that’s ending.” The ’70s had San Francisco,
the ’80s had New York, the ’90s had L.A .
and the ’00s had London. Now D.C. is the
city of the moment, the living zeitgeist.
Fenty, who runs the city while also
running 3:36 marathons and raising twin
10-year-old boys and a toddler, is the city’s
overachiever-in-chief. “That’s what this is,
really,” explains Florida. “It’s coolness by
way of earnest achievement. D.C. is full of
young, post-careerist people who are more
into their work than their résumé. Cool is
not enough. You have to also achieve; otherwise you’re just some schmo.” n

Party Politics

What’s life like in D.C.’s gay boom? Our 26
participants weigh in.
AMBINDER: The bias of D.C. is a bias toward historic events. So Obama was powerful as a new era of possibility, a clearing
of the decks. How many big cities get to
start over?
DIMPFL: D.C. is still growing and changing. It’s that rare place that has the ability
to become something different.
DUMLAO: It’s like that moment when you
realize your parents are people.
VAN HORN: Think about San Francisco
before it was a dot-com town. Does anyone
remember that? Cities can change. But it’s
so rare. So it’s really exciting to be in the
city at the moment.
SCOTT: The happiness of the turnaround is
in more respect for D.C. in its better days—
Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Zora
Neale Hurston, Marvin Gaye—not the
Smithsonian stuff, but the real living history, the soul. You can feel the swell.
TERRY-SMITH: D.C. is in that Goldilocks
sweet spot right now.
RIOS: With so many big cities, people go
wondering what it’ll do to them. In D.C.,


there. It’s the opposite of Smith Point, the
guest-list-only Georgetown boîte popular
during the Bush era with the polos-andpearls country club crowd (the Bush twins
were regulars). The Obama model of artof-the-possible civic energy is amplified
by a White House stacked with the most
fuckable intellectuals since The West Wing.
But D.C. also has its youngest-ever mayor,
Adrian Fenty, a suave fedora-sporting triathlete who was elected at 35. “This is a resilient city,” Fenty, a native son, said during
a recent 5:30 a.m. run, steam rising from his
pecs. “Our energy has returned.”
Gestalt coolness pervades. There’s
widespread running and bicycling culture
normally seen in Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo. When Fenty signed the bill legalizing gay marriage in D.C., he referenced
the struggle his parents faced in their interracial marriage. Embassies, almost universal Obamaniacs, are festive again. Megablog The New Gay jolts the city’s social
scene. Georgetown has a gay student center (the country’s first at a Jesuit campus).
After its first-ever gay exhibit last year, the
Smithsonian is following up quickly with
a National Portrait Gallery show on gay


Matt LeBlanc, gay student center


program coordinator, Georgetown
University; Ty Cobb, legislative
counsel, Human Rights Campaign;
Jason Walmsley Rios, teacher;
Matthew Jarvis, copresident
AURAform Architects

photography by TK

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The Egalitarians

Michael Eichler, cofounder, TheNewGay.
net; Andrew Dimpfl, marketing director,; Zack Rosen, editor in

The Conversationalists
Ben LaBolt, spokesman, White House;
Jon Lovett, speechwriter, President Obama


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creator, Homo Hotel Happy Hour


The Revelry

Shea Van Horn, co-creator,
Crack variety show; Sheldon
Scott, general manager, Marvin
bistro; Ed Bailey, co-owner, Town
Danceboutique; Justin B. TerrySmith, blogger, JustinsHIVJournal.; Aaron Riggins,


you have the chance to see what you can
do to the city. There’s the energy of people
coming to fix things.
LeBLANC: People here are invested in gay
policy. It’s not the Movement. It’s definite
and personal and normal—not all Prop
8 and marriage. People think about gay
healthcare, gay churches, gays in the Census. It’s more about the cake than the icing.
VANDERLINDEN: There’s a culture of
contribution, the betterment of society. There’s an aura of civic duty, pride.
LOVETT: It’s a very comfortable place to
live. For a lot of people, this is a place where
you can come for a few years to do something amazing, something important and
expressive and personal. And everyone
else is doing that same thing. It’s almost
like college in that way.
COBB: But it’s not just a party for a party’s
sake. Your social life and the things you
believe in cross more. People here partied
when the hate-crimes bill passed. Life here
is about the great debates of our time. It’s
not just about fighting boredom.
VANDERLINDEN: Because nobody’s from
D.C., you’re not competing with that idea
that you’ll never be a true local. So there’s
a bond.
SHAPIRO: It’s one of the friendliest cities
in America because nobody’s from here
so everyone remembers what it was like
to arrive without knowing people. People
are very empathetic, welcoming; there’s an
RUCK: D.C. leans toward talking with
LaBOLT: There’s a great sense of community. So many people live in group houses.
COBB: Generationally, we mix better,
maybe because being informed makes you
age-blind. I mean, my boyfriend is 10 years
older than me and our friends range from
20s to 60s.
RUCK: Here, there are so many government
jobs, so many high-tech jobs, that you find
those rare people: hot and smart. Other cities are mostly just, um, pretty. A great D.C.
night is one of great conversation, not just
great drinks or great bodies.
ROSEN: Gay culture here is more thoughtful and intelligent. But let’s not get carried
away. It’s only the difference between “I
like fucking blondes” and “Here’s why I
like fucking blondes.”
AMBINDER: This is a city where you’ll find
a gay couple who are tough-as-nails S.O.B.
conservative F.B.I. agents who will defend
Cheney to the death at your dinner party
and then go home to, well, I’ll stop there.
GOTTLIEB: Revitalization or reurbaniza-

The Distillery

Mike Gottlieb, lawyer; Marc Ambinder,
political editor, The Atlantic; Ari Shapiro,

Department of Justice correspondent, National
Public Radio; Jonathan Capehart, editorial
writer, The Washington Post

tion: First it was 17th Street, then 14th
Street, now it’s 9th Street. It’s steady. It’s
on a roll.
CAPEHART: Washington takes on the personality of the chief executive. Bush went
to bed at 8:30, rarely went out. The sidewalks rolled up. Now you have a young, hip
couple from Chicago. The president pops
in at his daughter’s soccer game. He horses around at the commentary booth at a
Georgetown basketball game. He’s engaging. When you have someone like that running things, there are fewer roly-poly men
chomping on cigars.
McELROY: It’s not an industry town for
the arts, but that’s what makes it better.
There’s less pressure, less expectation,
more of a sandbox/playground way of life.
BEN-ACHOUR: You feel better, more special. I know what I’m doing is different than
what other people came to this city for.
PORTERFIELD: Gallery districts are nice,
but they’re also a way that the rest of that
city can ignore the art scene. Here, galleries are everywhere, next to whatever.
RIOS: We’re not a state, taxation without

representation, so many transients. So if
we’re not going to do it ourselves, it’s not
going to get done for us. It’s a scrappy life
here. We’re gritty. We’re fighters.
EICHLER: Why isn’t cookie-cutter existence more antithetical to gay life, which is
all about open-mindedness?
TERRY-SMITH: Bohemian D.C. used to
mean wearing a green tie. Now it’s real. It’s
here. It’s OK. Now we can be open. Now we
can be counted.
JARVIS: You can’t wait around for the city
you want. You have to will it into existence.
VAN HORN: People are more than happy.
They’re excited. People are playing. There’s
a place in D.C. now for the crazy 8-year-old
in me.
SCOTT: With art in our bellies, our appetites only grow. And we’re getting to the
point that we can feed ourselves artistically. Look, the Capital Fringe theater festival is in its sixth year. I opened Marvin in
2006. We are not part of Obama’s renaissance; he is part of ours. n

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