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Lawmakers endorse trans equality

lawmakers, SB 212, transgender rights bill, gay news, Washington Blade, Maryland, Annapolis

Several Maryland lawmakers testified before the Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee for SB 212 on Feb. 4. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Included among those testifying before the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee in Annapolis on behalf of SB212, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, were Councilwoman Courtney Watson of Howard County and Councilman Tom Quirk of Baltimore County. Both represented jurisdictions where gender identity protections were enacted. Other jurisdictions that have such anti-discrimination laws in place in Maryland are Baltimore City, Montgomery County and the city of Hyattsville.

Howard County passed the law in December 2011, and Watson reported that since the law went into effect, there have been “no complaints, no problems.”  Baltimore County enacted a similar law in February 2012. Quirk, who also testified that there have been no problems arising from the law, said that the current bill before the committee represents “a respect for human dignity.”

Alvin Gilliard, representing Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, testified he was proud that Baltimore City was the first jurisdiction in the state to pass a non-discrimination law in 2002.

11
Feb
2014

Supporters rally for trans rights in Md.

Martin O'Malley, gay news, gay politics

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was among those who expressed support for a trans rights bill. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Bob Brittain was doing fairly well in Chestertown, Md., with a wife and family, earning more than $50,000 per year as a certified boat captain, assistant dock master and boat carpenter.  But since the age of three, he knew he was not comfortable with his gender. Two years ago, Bob transitioned to Susan Brittain, now 57, but still with her wife who has been fully supportive.

However, when Susan applied for other jobs, “the rules had changed,” she explained. As soon as she identified as transgender, she was not hired for the positions she was seeking despite her qualifications. While Susan would benefit from a statewide law that would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations, her concern is for others. “It’s for the younger generation,” Susan points out. “They should be productive and happy.”

To that end, on Feb. 17, the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality—a group with 54 components including Equality Maryland, PFLAG, Maryland NOW and a host of other progressive and religious organizations—held its annual Lobby Day at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. The goal is to rally trans activists and allies and to meet with individual legislators in an effort to persuade them to pass the bill, which has been unsuccessful the past seven years.

More than 150 braved the sub-freezing chill to hear remarks by Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland; Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County); Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) who introduced the Senate version of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (SB 212); Sara Wilkinson from the Maryland chapter of NOW; Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) who introduced the House version (HB 1265); Patrick Paschall, a member of the Hyattsville City Council, which passed a gender identity non-discrimination measure; Gov. Martin O’Malley, who, along with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch among other leaders, support the bill; activist and mother of a trans child Bonnita Spikes; and Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) who is a candidate for governor.

The theme for this event was “It’s time.” Evans stated to loud cheers, “We want to pass this bill this year and make this the last Lobby Day.”

Speaker after speaker alluded to the fact that this bill has languished in the legislature for too many years and it was time to break it free.  “This is the time to put the bill to rest,” said Madaleno.  “We’ve had eight years of pushing the bill.  If we don’t do it this year, we’re going to be back and back and back for however long it takes.”

Pointing to the successes in other Maryland jurisdictions—Baltimore City, Howard, Baltimore and Montgomery counties as well as Hyattsville — Hyattsville Council member Patrick Paschall stated, “Now is the time for the state of Maryland to follow the lead of local jurisdiction.”

Others highlighted the unnecessary discrimination faced by transgender people and offered a call for inclusion.  “It’s time for all Marylanders to be accepted for who they are,” declared Cullison. Sara Wilkinson said, “We believe the feminist movement can and should embrace transgender people. NOW stands against all oppression.”

A confident Clippinger predicted, “We are going to win this year because of the momentum we have.”

O’Malley said, “We’re all in this together. Everyone deserves to be treated equally with dignity and respect.”

The Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee is considering the bill and a vote is expected on Feb. 20. (Visit washingtonblade.com for updates.) SB 212 has 25 sponsors, more than enough to win on the floor. Last year, the bill died in the committee by a 6-5 vote.

18
Feb
2014

Mizeur campaign keeping busy

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Heather Mizeur held a slew of campaign events in seven counties last weekend in her pursuit of the governor’s office. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery County) continued her grassroots “people-powered movement to end politics as usual in Maryland” campaign last weekend. She is seeking to be the first female and the first openly gay governor of Maryland.

On Jan. 8, she appeared before a well-attended candidates’ forum sponsored by the Columbia Democratic Club. Mizeur was the only candidate running for the top spot on the ticket speaking at the forum while lieutenant governor hopefuls Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Del. Jolene Ivey (Prince George’s) represented the Anthony Brown and Douglas F. Gansler candidacies, respectively. At the forum, Mizeur separated herself from her rivals with her push to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana to help fund early childhood education.

During the weekend of Jan. 11-12, billed as a “Weekend of Action,” Mizeur continued her campaign schedule with 18 events in 7 counties. Included were “Meet and Greet” stops on Jan. 11 in Frederick, Elkridge, Annapolis, Waldorf, Clinton and Gaithersburg. In addition, phone banks were conducted in College Park, Baltimore, Silver Spring and Greenbelt.

On Jan. 12, “Meet and Greet” events took place in Rockville/Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, and ended in Baltimore in a Mount Washington Community Forum. Phone banking efforts occurred in Adelphi, Fort Washington and Silver Spring.

14
Jan
2014

Summertime happy hours scheduled

Members of Equality Maryland marching at the Baltimore Pride parade last year (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Members of Equality Maryland marching at the Baltimore Pride parade last year. There will be a Baltimore Happy Hour fundraiser on July 18 for the organization. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

EQUAAC, Anne Arundel County’s LGBT and straight ally social group, will host its next happy hour on July 16. It will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Wild Orchid Cafe, 200 Westgate Circle in Annapolis.

Equality Maryland will host a happy hour on July 18 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mad River Bar and Grille, 110 S. Charles St. in Baltimore. The Federal Hill area event will feature the sale of raffle tickets for an upcoming “equality cruise.”

Equality Maryland was a critical player in the effort to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the Free State in 2012. Last November, Maryland voters allowed stand a law that allowed for gender neutral marriages, as did voters in Washington state. Washington, Maryland and Maine (whose voters extended marriage to same-sex couples by ballot) joined six states and the District of Columbia in performing gay nuptials.

Maryland, which recognized same-sex domestic partnerships since 2009, announced recently that the domestic partnerships law would be phased out in light of the marriage law.

Phil Reese contributed to this report.

10
Jul
2013

Trans advocacy group lauds progress

Dana Beyer, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director, Dr. Dana Beyer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a statement signed by Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dr. Dana Beyer and board chair Sharon Brackett, the state’s only civil rights organization exclusively representing trans people announced significant progress has been made in assuring fair and equal implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for transgender Marylanders this October. Maryland is not only on schedule to implement the ACA, but because of early acceptance of the act, it will be among the first states to roll it out this fall.

As part of the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange (MHBE), the ACA requires that the MHBE be administered in such a manner as to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, and assess progress in providing access to care and compile data reflecting any disparities encountered, on an annual basis.

Recognizing that discrimination is illegal, the Governor’s Office of Healthcare Reform, the Health Benefits Exchange, and the Maryland Insurance Commissioner are now reviewing the plans to ensure full and equal access to care, with the goal to bring Maryland into line with jurisdictions such as California, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia that have taken the lead over the past year.

24
Jul
2013

Baltimore wins top score in HRC study

Baltimore, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade, Prime Tiimers

Baltimore was among 25 cities that received a perfect score on HRC’s Municipal Equality Index. (Photo public domain)

The Human Rights Campaign released the findings of a study that showed Baltimore received a perfect score when it comes to equality for its LGBT population. Titled the Municipal Equality Index, the survey, which was co-published by the Equality Federation Institute, rates 291 municipalities drawn from each state in the nation on the basis of how inclusive their laws and policies are of LGBT people. These laws and policies include non-discrimination laws, equal employee benefits, relationship recognition, inclusive city services and leadership on matters of equality.

Twenty-five cities in 2013 earned a perfect 100-point score with Baltimore among them compared to only 11 in 2012. Other cities in Maryland and their scores were: Annapolis (70), College Park (62), Rockville (58) and Frederick (52). The national average was 57.

Baltimore’s total score benefitted from nine bonus points awarded because of the city’s strong showing in some areas, such as providing services to vulnerable populations of the LGBT community. Baltimore lost five points for not having a city contractor non-discrimination ordinance.

“I was pleased to see that the HRC’s MEI has shown what we here in Baltimore have known for a long time — that Charm City is a welcoming and wonderfully unique place for our LGBT brothers and sisters to settle roots,” Matt Thorn, executive director for the GLCCB told the Blade. “Baltimore has a rich history of LGBT activism, including being one of the first four cities to open an LGBT Community Center in the country back in the ’70s, and I’m excited to see what our future holds.”

25
Nov
2013

Calendar through Feb 14

Jared Shamberger, Boo Kitten, Balancing Acts, Sitar Arts Center, Brave Soul Collective, gay news, Washington Blade

Jared Shamberger performs as ‘Boo Kitten,’ a character he created for the show ‘Balancing Acts,’ that will be performed Friday at the Sitar Arts Center by Brave Soul Collective. (Photo by Omar Miguel)

TODAY (Feb. 8)

Special Agent Galactica welcomes singer, actor and co-founder of the cabaret series La-Ti-Do, Don Michael H. Mendoza to the Black Fox Lounge (1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) tonight from 6-9 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit pinkhairedone.com.

Brave Soul Collective in collaboration with the D.C. Center presents “Balancing Acts: Tales of Triumph, Trial & Error” tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which was observed this week. The performance will take place at the Sitar Arts Center (1700 Kalorama Rd., NW). The performance tackles a range of topics such as religion and spirituality, family, divorce, relationships, sex, dating and relationships through theatrical pieces and personal testimonies from people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information, visit thedccenter.org.

The Bethesda Art Walk returns this evening from 6-9 p.m. in downtown Bethesda. The galleries feature painting, sculpture, photography, pottery and mixed media. Attendees are invited to enjoy free refreshments and peruse the diverse pieces of art. Participating art galleries include Artworks (7740 Old Georgetown Road), Consider It Done (7806 Old Georgetown Road), Gallery B (7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E), L’Eclat de Verre (7015 Wisconsin Ave.), “Tunnel Vision” Public Art Exhibition (Metro Tunnel, Bethesda Metro Station) and Waverly Street Gallery (4600 East-West Highway). For more information, visit Bethesda.org.

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts Bear Happy Hour tonight from 6-11 p.m. This event is for people 21 and older. There is no cover charge. For details, visit towndc.com.

The Washington, D.C. International Food and Wine Festival continues tonight at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW). The Wine Tasting Room is free and open to the public from 4-8 p.m. every day of the event, which ends Saturday.The festival also holds signature events every day as well as seminar series events. The festival offers individual tickets to the events as well as a combination of packages. Tickets vary from $35 to $200. The signature event for this evening is the International Tasting Day Two where around 100 wineries provide two samples of their wine and answer questions. The cost of this particular event is $75. For more information, visit wineandfooddc.com.

Saturday, Feb. 9

Town (2009 8th St., NW) hosts its Mardi Gras party with DJ Theresa, who plays live percussion while she spins, tonight starting at 10 p.m. Cover is $8 before 11 pm and $12 after.

Whitman-Walker provides free HIV Testing at the D.C. Center(1318 U St.) today from 4-7:30 p.m. For more information, visit whitman-walker.org.

The annual Scarlet’s Foundation Bake Sale happens this evening starting at 5 p.m. at the D.C. Eagle (639 New York Ave., NW). There will be a competition before the auction of baked goods. Winners will be chosen in five categories: Best Individual Entry, Best Commercial Entry, Best Club Entry, Most Creative Entry and the Directors Award. For more information, visit thedccenter.org.

Sunday, Feb. 10

Burgundy Crescent volunteers at the D.C. Central Kitchen (425 2nd St., NW) this morning from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers will prepare food along the D.C. Central Kitchen checks to help find hunger. For more information, visit burgundycrescent.org.

Monday, Feb. 11

Bears do Yoga takes place this evening 6:30 p.m. as part of a series at the Green Lantern (1335 Green Court, NW). This is part of a basic yoga series that takes place every Monday and is open to people of varying body types and experience. There is no charge. For more information, visit thedccenter.org.

The D.C. Lambda Squares holds an open house tonight from 7-8:30 p.m. at National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle, NW). The only square dance club located in Washington, this free open house invites everybody to meet members and to give square dancing a try. Experience is not needed. Food and door prizes will be included. For more information, visit dclambdasquares.org.

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., NW) holds its HIV+ Newly Diagnosed Support Group tonight at 7. It is a confidential support group for anyone recently diagnosed with HIV and the group welcomes all genders and sexual orientations. For details, visit whitman-walker.org.

Tuesday, Feb. 12

Whitman-Walker (1701 14th St., NW) holds its group Starting Over for Women tonight at 7. The group is for women whose long-term relationship with another woman. Registration is required. For more information, visit whitman-walker.org.

Green Lantern (1335 Green Court, N.W.) hosts its Safer Sex Kit-packing program tonight from 7-10:30. The packing program is looking for more volunteers to help produce the kits because they say they are barely keeping up with demand. Admission is free and volunteers can just show up. For more information, visit thedccenter.org.          

Wednesday, Feb. 13

Equality Maryland holds its Lobby Day on Lawyer’s Mall in front of the State Capitol in Annapolis this evening at 6 p.m. One hour prior to the event, attendees can gather the Sly Fox Pub (7 Church Circle) for light appetizers. Registration is not required. For more information, visit equalitymaryland.org.

The Big Gay Book Group meets tonight at 7 p.m. at 1155 F St., NW, Suite 200 to discuss “King of Angels: A Novel About the Genesis of Identity and Belief” by Perry Brass. For more information, visit biggaybookgroup.com.

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., NW) holds its HIV+ Newly Diagnosed Support Group tonight at 7. It is a confidential support group for anyone recently diagnosed with HIV and the group welcomes all genders and sexual orientations. For details, visit whitman-walker.org.

The Lambda Bridge Club meets tonight at the Dignity Center (721 8th St., SE) at 7:30 p.m. for duplicate bridge. Newcomers are welcome and no reservations are needed. For more information or if you need a partner, visit lambdabridge.com.

Thursday, Feb. 14

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., NW) holds its gay men over 50 support group this evening at 6:30 p.m. The group is for gay men entering a new phase of life. Registration is required to attend. For more information, visit whitman-walker.org.

Burgundy Crescent volunteers this evening at Food and Friends (219 Riggs Rd., NE) at 6 p.m. Volunteers will help with food preparation and packing groceries. The shifts are limited to 10 per shift. For more information, visit burgundycrescent.org.

07
Feb
2013

Gay sports activist Phil Sheats dies

Phil Sheats, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Phil Sheats

Philip Francis “Phil” Sheats Jr., a marketing manager for technology companies in the D.C. and Boston areas since the 1990s and a soccer player who participated in and promoted amateur and LGBT soccer events in the U.S. and abroad, died Feb. 7 at his residence in Boston. He was 43.

A spokesperson for the Boston Medical Examiner’s office said tests related to an autopsy seeking to determine the cause of death were incomplete, but a friend said authorities indicated the death appeared to be from natural causes.

An outpouring of comments on Sheats’ personal Facebook page and a separate Facebook page he created for a South Boston LGBT social group he founded called The New Southie portray him as a talented and admired friend and community organizer. Some of those who submitted comments praised him for using his marketing skills to help others, including several gay and non-gay charitable organizations.

“Whether at work or play, Phil will always be remembered for his smile,” said his longtime friend Kevin McDuffie of D.C.

Sheats was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the Annapolis, Md., area, where he graduated from Broadneck High School in Annapolis in 1987. He attended the University of Maryland in College Park and later Northeastern University, where he graduated with a degree in marketing and a minor in psychology.

According to information about his work history posted on his LinkedIn page, Sheats began his career in marketing-related positions for computer software and technology companies in the D.C. metropolitan area, including suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.

He later moved to Boston, where he worked for the high tech firms Legato Systems and EMC. His most recent position was that of senior manager for field marketing programs for the Cambridge, Mass., based firm Pegasystems.

McDuffie said Sheats was an “avid music aficionado” who spent some of his leisure time listening to and assembling his own mix of music, which he transferred to CDs and often gave to friends as gifts.

“CDs from Phil were cherished and collected,” McDuffie said.

But among Sheats’ passions was soccer, according to people who knew him.

“Phil was heavily involved in playing soccer at amateur events around the world, in locations such as London, Buenos Aires and Perth, Australia,” said McDuffie.

Sheats won a medal at the 1994 international Gay Games competition in New York. He later became the soccer marketing and press director for the International Gay and Lesbian Football (soccer) Association.

According to a March 2011 article in the Boston Globe, Sheats became the hub of a large social network in Boston’s gay community after founding The New Southie in 2008. “Southie” is a well-known term in Boston referring to a resident of the working-class, predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood of South Boston, which in the past hasn’t been known as being friendly to the LGBT community.

Sheats told the Globe he initially created The New Southie as a Facebook group to help him meet other gays in South Boston at the time he moved there. He said he later decided to bring the group “off the Internet and into the real world” by organizing events at neighborhood bars, the Globe reported.

McDuffie said the group quickly mushroomed into a popular venue that brought hundreds of people to South Boston bars and restaurants on nights where business was normally slow. He said Sheats charged an admission fee for some of the events, and used the proceeds to make donations to charitable groups such as the Trevor Project, an LGBT group that works to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.

“The membership eventually grew to over 1,000,” McDuffie said of The New Southie.

Sheats has been credited with playing a key role in breaking down barriers between gays and straights in South Boston through his event organizing.

He was known for his “engaging personality” and sometimes for his “lighthearted trouble-making mischievousness,” McDuffie said. “The side most people know and love about him was his great comedic timing, a master creator of nicknames for his family and friends – always loved but not always flattering. Having a nickname from Phil meant you had made it in his heart and life.”

He is survived by his mother, Mary Sheats of Arnold, Md.; his father, Phil Sheats and stepmother Marianne Sheats of Newport Beach, Calif.; his brother William Sheats of Arnold, Md.; and three sisters, Christine Zoellner of Annapolis, Carole Sheats of West Virginia, and Kathleen Sheats of Arnold; three nephews and many friends.

Friends are invited to a funeral mass scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church in Annapolis. A burial is scheduled following the mass at 10:30 a.m. at Lakemont Memorial Gardens cemetery in Davidsonville, Md. A Celebration of Life is scheduled after the burial from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Yellowfins Restaurant at 2840 Solomon’s Island Rd. in Edgewater, Md.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Trevor Project at thetrevorproject.org/MemorialandTribute.

15
Feb
2013

Md. rally focuses on trans rights

Rich Madaleno, gay news, Washington Blade, Annapolis, Maryland, Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality

Sen. Rich Madaleno spoke at a rally in Annapolis this week. (Washington Blade photo by Steve Charing)

A diverse crowd of nearly 200 gathered at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis on Monday to rally behind SB449, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013. The bill, if passed, would ban discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations based on gender identity or expression. The Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality sponsored the event and organized the subsequent lobbying efforts for individuals and groups by district.

“We must put our foot on the gas pedal until there is equality all over the state,” Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland and who emceed the rally, told the crowd.

Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) attended the event. He, along with Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), introduced the measure on Jan. 29. Madaleno expressed confidence in the bill’s passage by telling the crowd, “We are on the verge of this last big victory in Maryland,” noting that 23 senators sponsored SB449 and 24 are needed for passage. “I think all of the stars are finally in alignment,” he said.

Last year, a similar bill was passed in the House of Delegates by a margin of 86-52 only to die in the Senate. This year there is much more optimism given that Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller is supporting the bill. Therefore, it is likely to pass in the Senate as well as the House if it can make it out of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee. The JPR is scheduled to hear testimony on Feb. 26 at 1 p.m.

Other speakers at the rally included Rev. Larry Brumfield, Maryland Black Family Alliance; Mara Kiesling, National Center for Transgender Equality; Blake Wideman, Black Trans Men, Inc.; Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City); and Darlene Nipper, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

20
Feb
2013

The power of two

Sarah Bettens, Gert Bettens, K's Choice, music, gay news, Washington Blade

K’s Choice — brother-sister duo Sarah and Gert Bettens — are back with their first album in eight years. (Photo by Frank Clauwers; courtesy Think Press)

K’s Choice
With A Fragile Tomorrow
Wednesday
8 p.m.
$20
Ram’s Head on Stage
33 West St.
Annapolis, Md.
Ramsheadonstage.com

It’s an exciting time for K’s Choice fans. The brother/sister alt rock band that came to international fame in the ‘90s with hits like “Not an Addict,” “Believe” and “Almost Happy” while touring with Alanis Morissette and the Indigo Girls, are back with the U.S. release of their first album in a decade, “Echo Mountain.”

Though released abroad in 2010, “Mountain” and its acoustic companion “Little Echoes” are available stateside this month to coincide with a U.S. tour that kicks off next week in Tennessee. On Tuesday they play Ram’s Head Live in Annapolis.

During an interview last week, Sarah Bettens, who co-fronts the native Belgian band with her brother Gert, spoke to the Blade from her home in Johnson City, Tenn., (about four hours from Nashville) where she moved to be with her partner 10 years ago about the time K’s Choice opted for a long hiatus.

“It’s near the North Carolina/Virginia border,” she says, admitting it’s a much different place to live than her native Belgium where most of her family still resides “within about a 15-mile radius.”

“Yes, it is a lot different, but that being said, it has changed a lot in the last 10 years. There was just an article in the local newspaper about two guys looking to adopt. It was on the front page and I remember thinking, ‘Ten years ago, this would never have been in the local newspaper.’ Some, I’m sure, were offended by it, but more and more, they’re in the minority. People seem to care less and less. … It was an adjustment at first, but everywhere you go, you’re able to find like-minded people. We have good friends here and we’re happy.”


Of the four kids Bettens and her partner are raising, she says they’re, “actually very respectful” of her music.

“It’s always a bit of a surprise that they’re respectful about anything at that age, but when I play locally, which is only maybe once every two years, they come and feel proud.”

Sarah and Gert have one older brother. She says he’s “a music lover, but not musically inclined.” She says he’s always been supportive of K’s Choice, whose hiatus, she says, was “a very conscious thing.”

In the time between the last K’s Choice album, “Almost Happy,” in 2000, Bettens, 40, has released three solo albums and an EP and has also contributed her husky, haunting vocals to several movie soundtracks. Gert, 43, also did solo work in the meantime.

“We always said one day we’d get back together when we were ready and we knew it would be great fun, but we also considered the hiatus a true hiatus,” she says. “We needed to work with some other people, do some other things. We’d never really worked with anybody else because we’d kind of grown up in our own band so that kinda kept us from experiences with other musicians. That just had always been the way it was right from the beginning, so it was healthy and fun for us to go our own ways for awhile.”

Bettens’ U.S. residency did make for a few slight challenges when it came time to reunite for “Echo Mountain,” which has earned strong reviews with All Music Guide calling it a “simple but mature and filler-free alt-rock album” that’s more “nostalgic” and “downright fun” than “angsty.”

“For a long time, I would only see him when I was doing my solo tours,” she says. “We sent some MP3s back and forth but eventually we did have to sit down in the same room and decide what kind of record we wanted to make. It was very hard to get direction until we did that.”

Bettens says there’s not ordinarily a huge distinction between the songs she writes for her solo projects and K’s Choice material though the material for her first solo album — around the time she came out as a lesbian in the early ‘00s — was more personal than K’s Choice material had typically been.

She came out to her family “as soon as I was out to myself,” but waited to come out publicly.

“I didn’t wait around with a big secret for years and years,” she says. “I just kind of discovered it myself, for some reason I haven’t fully figured out yet, at a very late age. I was 28. Looking back, I really wonder why I didn’t see the 25,000 signs there were from the age of 5. But for some reason it took me til age 28 to fully figure it out. I didn’t come out to the rest of the world right away, not because I was scared of some backlash, but I knew I would quickly become some sort of spokesperson and I really felt I had nothing much to say about it yet. It was all so new to me that I didn’t want to have to speak for the gay community. I didn’t think I had anything interesting to share.”

Being outed in a magazine shortly thereafter was “fine,” she says.

“It was probably supposed to happen that way,” she says. “It was good to show young people that lesbians are normal people too.”

 

SIDEBAR:

5 quick music questions with Sarah Bettens

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Alt rock lyrics, especially in the ‘90s, are known to be sort of vague and oblique. Do you think about how direct you’re being when writing lyrics?

SARAH BETTENS: No, I don’t give it any thought when I’m writing. Afterwards, my brother and I laugh about how different our lyrics are. It’s a much more roundabout trip to get to the bottom of his lyrics I think.

 

BLADE: Your pitch always seems so dead on. When you’ve been singing professionally for many years, does that eventually become something that happens naturally or are you always thinking on some level about whether your pitch is right?

BETTENS: Sometimes when we listen back to, say, a three-part harmony, we will notice things like places where we tend to go a little flat every time so we know to watch out for it. Sometimes you listen back to a recording of a live show where you think you did a fantastic job and it’s a little disappointing because it always sounds more perfect the way you remember it in your head, which isn’t always the reality. And we do notice things in rehearsal, like, “OK, we tend to go flat here, we need to be careful of that.” I find simply looking up in those passages is helpful for tone.

 

BLADE: Having started your career before the Internet became really widespread, all things considered, has it been more of a blessing or curse for your music career?

BETTENS: There are obvious downsides. Everybody has lost money and record companies have gotten smaller and really struggled. We started right before that when everybody still had money so Sony was giving us big dinners and there was lots of money to record, a big budget for touring. That’s unheard of anymore. When we toured with Alanis, Sony gave us a tour bus, money to pay our musicians. Stuff like that today, at least on our level, is unheard of. … And it’s getting very hard for a band like us to get on the radio but even so, no matter how small you are or how dire the outlook, there’s always the chance that something will get discovered on the Internet. There’s always that hope. So to say it’s been a totally negative thing would be exaggerating. But for sure, we’ve lost money by not selling records. We’ll play some crazy sold out show in someplace like Israel where we’ve never been before and people will be singing along to every word and we know we haven’t even sold 2,000 albums altogether in Israel so you think, “How do they know all these songs so well?” It makes for pleasant surprises but it’s also a little disturbing too.

18
Apr
2013