An LGBTQ Insider's Guide to Washington, DC

by Troy Petenbrink

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 2, 2021

Washington, DC is well-known as the capital of the United States, but some people might be surprised to learn that the rainbow flag is flown throughout the city nearly as much as the 'ole Stars and Stripes. According to an analysis by researchers at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 9.8 percent of the entire population of DC identify themselves as part of the LGBTQ community — making it among one of the gayest cities in the country.

Much of what makes DC an attractive destination for members of the LGBTQ community to call home also makes it an ideal getaway for LGBTQ travelers. So we asked a few of those residents and business owners to share some of their insights on what makes DC special.

DC's vast number of museums and art galleries are at the top of the list for David Winer, a principal with EatWell DC, which operates multiple restaurants in the District, including Commissary, The Pig, and Logan Tavern near Logan Circle.

"The National Portrait Gallery is where I love to send my out-of-town friends," said Winer. "It might sound stodgy, but it isn't. It's a fantastic gallery space with a diverse and fun collection." Plus, don't miss the iconic, glass-ceilinged courtyard — the perfect location to enjoy something from the café.

With over 23,000 items, the Portrait Gallery's collection narrates America's complex and ever-evolving story through the individuals—including those from the LGBTQ community—who have shaped its culture, including 19th century gender-bending actress Charlotte Cushman and LGBTQ activist Dustin Lance Black, both currently on display.

Visiting art fans will also want to be sure to check out queer Latinx artist Stephanie Mercedes's work, "The Weight of the Rainbow," as part of Georgetown Glow, a free outdoor light art experience (through September 26).

Drag performer Sasha Adams appreciates DC's eclectic mix of neighborhoods—and she has visited them all during her more than 10 years of performing in the city's many LGBTQ bars.

"My friends know that if they are coming to visit me, we will be spending time in the city's U Street neighborhood," explains Adams. "I love that its history as a hub for African American performers is actively promoted and preserved. And that it now is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city."

U Street's must-sees include the historic Howard Theatre that hosted such greats as Duke Ellington, The Supremes, and Black lesbian comic Wanda Sykes, the first artist to play the theatre following its extensive refurbishing and reopening in 2012. Visitors will also want to head to Ben's Chili Bowl, continually serving DC's signature half-smokes (DC's take on a hot dog) since 1958.

LGBTQ presence in DC extends well into the city's burgeoning makers movement. Pia Carusone is one such maker, as co-founder of the first woman-owned distillery in Washington, DC's history, Republic Restoratives. And when Carusone isn't making her multi-award-winning spirits, the mother of two young children appreciates that the District offers several food halls with vendors that can satisfy even the finickiest of diners.

"When my wife and I don't feel like cooking, or our kids crave different things, Union Market in the NoMa neighborhood is our saving grace," says Carusone. "We especially love that there is often live music or other entertainment for us to enjoy while we're dining."

Restored and reopened in 2012, Union Market offers visitors more than 40 different food vendors to pick from. Capitol Hill's historic Eastern Market, which has operated since 1873, also houses a number of unique eateries as well as a variety of local arts and crafts vendors.

Of course, DC is also an ideal city for visitors who enjoy taking and sharing photos from their travels — at least that is what Albert Ting will most tell you. A DC-based professional event photographer, Ting is a big fan of the nation's capital, as evidenced by the many fun and creative photos of the city that fill his Instagram account.

"DC's many monuments and memorials are some of the best subjects and backgrounds for photos," says Ting. "I also make a point of directing my friends to the rainbow-colored 'LOVE' mural tucked away in Blagden Alley."

Commissioned by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the "LOVE" mural was painted by artist and LGBTQ activist Lisa Marie Thalhammer in 2017 and is one of the hundreds of murals that adorn the city and range in artistic expression and purpose from honoring local hero to advocating for equality.

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Troy Petenbrink resides in Washington, DC and is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter: