Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Just before taking their vows, Keith Spangler-Vellios and Andreas Vellios with twins Georgia and Peter.
by Carol Joynt

Washington is the nation’s capital but it may be America’s gay capital, too. When I make this reference I’m not saying Washington is the Provincetown of world governments. Actually, it’s more like the Disney Corporation, because there are lots of gays, much diversity, and to be gay here is not to be an outsider, but an insider with rights and power. Sure, there are rent boys walking the streets and cruising the clubs, but it’s the other components of gay world that make Washington equal parts relevant and notorious. And last week, at the high and low ends, Washington became gayer.

On the high road, and on Washington’s behalf I should point out it is mostly high road, the city welcomed its first legal same sex marriages, becoming the sixth jurisdiction to allow gay marriage, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Interestingly, the citizen reaction was less political and more ebullient. Maybe that’s because as population accustomed to taxation without representation it felt grown-up, like the city did something on its own, and didn’t wait for permission from Mom and Dad.
A very serious Peter and Georgia Vellios.
Jerry Greenfield (the Jerry of Ben & Jerry's) and PR "grand poobah" Sean Greenwood.
Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Vermont’s enlightened Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, who include peanut butter-fudge-preztel “HubbyHubby”in their product line, flew to Washington to attend one of the first legal gay unions, which took place at the Georgetown Ben & Jerry’s. The happy couple, Andreas Vellios and Keith Spangler-Vellios, a restaurateur and a hairdresser, said they chose the kitschy ice cream shop “as our family version of a Vegas wedding.” The ceremony included, in addition to Greenfield, the grooms’ 2 ½ year old twins, near and extended family and friends, plus lots of media. The happy husbands planned to honeymoon in Atlantic City.

Washington’s gay rush to the altar has turned out to be a welcomed boost to the city’s corps of event planners and caterers; after all, weddings are profitable. The Marriott owned Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain is stepping up with enthusiasm. Mere hours after enactment of the new law they sent invitations for a party “to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage.”
Wedding decor inside the Georgetown Ben & Jerry's.
Ben & Jerry's enlightened ice cream.
The party tonight aims to be a virtual emporium of all things the Ritz views as “gay marriage,” including “wine, champagne, vodka bar, a tequila and rum bar, butler-passed hors d'œuvres, cake bites, truffle pops and macaroons…and gay wedding rings,” according to a source, who added, “someone from our corporate office will be there to talk about honeymoon destinations and we’re giving away two complimentary trips.” Plus: “…we’ll have a …wedding cake.” They plan for male and female models to enact same sex marriages (though, alas, not the honeymoon part), and, for good measure, “an estate tax attorney with information on same sex marriage rights.”

The low end of gay Washington was center stage on Capitol Hill, where once again an elected official faced the job kill of “inappropriate” behavior of a sexual nature. New York Rep. Eric Massa resigned in a firestorm of sexual harassment accusations. While he admitted only to “tickle fights” with male staff, dirt flew in every possible direction, including something to do with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel angry and naked in the House gym shower with Massa (though not in a gay way) and Massa calling Emanuel “the son of the devil’s spawn.”
Before the vows, lots of family picture-taking.
Hubby Hubby.
The ring ceremony as minister Lance W. Orndorff looks on.
Family, friends and media move in close as Andreas and Keith take their vows.
The brouhaha lit up the “did you hear” network, and supposedly had something to do with the health care bill, though sadly Massa’s relative gayness (or lack thereof) got more media coverage than the legislation.

So it goes in a town while quite comfortable with its gayness also has a rich heritage of conflicted, closeted behavior. The list is long. If I added the names of political notables only “rumored” to be gay, well, the NYSD site might crash from the length.

For example, there was this phone message from a friend: “Carol, you have to come with me to the Crew Club. You won’t believe who you’ll see there. Of course, to get in you’ll have to dress as a drag queen.”

Carol’s reply: “Prefer not. Can you just let me know?”
Peter Vellios waits patiently for the wedding and the ice cream cake to follow.
As with Los Angeles, “who is” and “who isn’t” are the town’s favorite guessing games. And, like show business, coming out is not always beneficial for the career. It has risks. Politics is still a conservative industry where homogeny prevails.

There are many layers to gay life in Washington - from those so publicly and politically gay it’s practically the adjective before their names to those who are out and proud but subtle. They don’t hide from their sexual identity but it’s not their calling card, either. There’s a transgender community, too, with its own activist power base, which includes gays and straights who cross-dress as well as transsexuals.

Washington still has a “walker” class, who traditionally accompany older social women to parties and events, but they are evolving. The veteran walkers, who in their day tended to be coy but fooled no one, are being traded in for a younger contingent, who are boldly out. There are even male couples who “walk” that way. The women don’t mind; the only thing better than a walker on one arm is a second walker on the other. And there’s a new group: successful gay men who seek straight women as their walkers.
The D.C. marriage of Andreas Vellios and Keith Spangler-Vellios at Georgetown Ben & Jerry's.
“Don’t forget the lesbians,” a friend said, though truthfully they lead a quieter existence. I can’t recall a Washington sex scandal involving a lesbian. They have their mafia, though, and a bad ass power structure; just as much as the boys, they can fast track or block a person or policy.

Honestly, the town is gay enough that it can get crowded and confusing. I foresee a future of Washington dinners where the mystery won’t be who’s the spy but who plays on which team (or both teams). Given that it’s a very marrying town, no matter which team the guests are, with the new law everyone at the table can be married.
Outside the Georgetown Ben & Jerry's.
How times have changed since Beverly Hills 90210: Bravo greenlighted Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It can only mean more blond hair, bigger boob jobs and better Botox.
There were reports this week that the Washington franchise of Bravo’s Real Housewives may be on ice. Its shocking to think that parent company NBC would deny reality-loving America a romp with White House gatecrashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

Then again, NBC wants to sell itself to Comcast, and the Feds have pledged a tough review. Also, the Salahis may get indicted. Therefore, at such a sensitive time (read $$$$$) would NBC want to remind the President of the United States of a particularly embarrassing moment? Add to that mid-term elections? Hmmm. Maybe not.

I checked in with a source connected to Bravo, who confirmed, “the Comcast takeover is looming large and so at the moment no one at NBCUni (and therefore by extension Bravo) wants to rock the boat.”

Meanwhile, if you are thirsting for fresh reality TV, Bravo greenlighted Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It can only mean more blond hair, bigger boob jobs and better Botox.

Note: If you are a fan of Real Housewives of New York you may be interested in this interview I did with cast member Simon van Kempen. Its in five parts at this link.
Women Power: Maureen Orth, Liz Stevens, Polly Kraft, Ann Jordan and Ann Pincus.
There’s probably only once in my lifetime when I’ll be able to say this so I’m putting it right up front: I took a photo of Bill Gates this week. I go back and look at the photo and it fascinates me. In it, he’s so alone, a rare moment for the second richest man in the world.

We spent less than a minute together, outside the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, where his wife, Melinda, along with several other notable women, was receiving a Vital Voices Global Leadership Award.
The thousand people at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards.
With Hillary Clinton in the building, there was heavy security at the Kennedy Center.
After the tight guest security check-in, Secret Service officers pile into their mini-van and return to base camp.
He arrived after the program began but before his wife would take the stage. I happened to be outside the theater at that moment. His arrival was as subtle as a fair wind. A few men were at his side, but in pinstripes; they were not beefy muscle. Could they kill me? I’m sure. Do I meet the age demographic of potentially crazy white woman? Absolutely.

But when I approached they stood back and Gates was affable. When he looked at me – and this was a surprise – it was with the eyes of a man and not a nerd. I say that because the poor man (and in this respect I guess he is poor) is always described as the world’s biggest nerd. But nope, that’s not the vibe I got. Sure, there’s the sweater vest and all that, but he’s a cool dude. He looked right at me, but the moment the lens clicked, he looked away. That’s the part I find fascinating.
Bill Gates. Few people are closer to Hillary Clinton than Tamara Luzzato, her former chief of staff, here with Myra Moffett.
Inside the Eisenhower Theater, some fascinating women were receiving deserved rewards. Vital Voices has a mandate to train and mentor emerging women leaders throughout the world, but especially the Third World. The organization was founded nine years ago by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sat without fanfare in the audience.

On stage, an impressive cast of celebrities honored these women: Roshenen Zafar of Pakistan, Pammela Castro of Brazil, Afnan Al Zayani of Bahrain, Rebecca Lolosoli of Kenya, Andeisha Farid of Afghanistan and Melinda Gates. The presenters included Sally Field, Michele Norris, Sheila Blair, Sheila Johnson, Andrea Jung, Nicholas Kristof, Suze Orman, Ann Moore, Diane von Furstenburg, Brian Williams, Reese Witherspoon, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Clinton.
The photographer was NOT on drugs, but the flag-draped ceiling of the Kennedy Center is visually compelling.
In the first row, Andre de Borchgrave and Alexandra de Borchgrave.
The audience before the beginning of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards.
Starting off the program: Angelique Kidjo and Sally Field.
Among the evening'st hosts, Susan Ann Davis and Bobbie Greene McCarthy.
Hello New York!
The evening’s co-chairs were Tracy Bernstein, Debbie Dingell, Sonnie Dockser, Samia Farouki, Bitsy Folger, Lorie Jackson, Marlene Malek, Anita McBride, Donna McLarty, Susan Ness, Victoria Sant, Lien Yao, Mary Goudie, Claudine Bacher, Anne Dickerson, Pamela Hayes, Jill Iscol, Alice Kandell, Sharon Patrick, Dina Powell, Juleanna Glover, Michelle Olson, Alexis Tobin, Mei Xu and Sissy Yates.

Since the evening was all about women power, my other favorite photo – apart from Gates – was catching this formidable Washington five-some as they arrived together: Maureen Orth, Liz Stevens, Polly Kraft, Ann Jordan and Ann Pincus. You want to get ahead in Washington? Sit down on a sofa next to these ladies.
Former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton, Thomas "Mack" McClarty, Jackie Duberstein, and former Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan Ken Duberstein.
Dana Powell, 10,000 Women Entrepreneurial Achievement honoree Andeisha Farid, and Washington co-chair Anita McBride.
Previous honoree Danielle St. Lot and Laura Pasternak.
Founder and President of the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society Aude de Thuin, J.C. Agid, and Human Rights Award honoree Panmela Castro.
Fern Holland Award honoree Rebecca Lolosoli, Vice-Chair of the Vital Voices Board Bobbie Greene McCarthy.
Diane von Furstenberg and Sheila Johnson. Melinda Gates and Ambassador Nancy Brinker.
Mimi Reisner and Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar.
Mary Nelson looks over at her daughter, Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson, and DC Councilmember Carol Schwartz.
Intel's Alice Borrelli and NBC News anchor Brian Williams.
Ambassador at Large Melanne Verveer and Ann Stock.
Ted Leonsis and “The Business of Happiness”

Some people celebrate the publication of a new book with a party.

For AOL “chairman emeritus,” Washington Capitals owner and filmmaker Ted Leonsis, author of The Business of Happiness, the celebration was a university panel discussion about, well, business.
The new business book from Ted Leonsis.
At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business he shared the stage with other Washington moguls: Tom Adams, founder of Rosetta Stone, Donald Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Company, Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET and owner of the Washington Mystics basketball team, and Joe Robert, chairman of J.E. Robert Companies, Inc.

The moderator was Leonsis’ friend, Georgetown president John J. DeGioia. In his book and from the stage, Leonsis shared his life-long belief that “success does not guarantee happiness, but happiness can result in even more success.” No doubt most people would welcome some of both.
A formidable line-up: Joe Robert, Sheila Johnson, Ted Leonsis, Jack DeGioia, Tom Adams and Donald Graham.
Leonsis gets wired for sound by Georgetown's Teresa Mannix.
Sheila Johnson and Joe Robert before going on stage.
George Daly, dean of Georgetown University's business school, welcomes the audience and introduces the panel.
Georgetown President DeGioia welcomes graduate Ted Leonsis, and friends, to the university.
Photographs by Carol Joynt & © James R. Brantley (Vital Voices)/Courtesy of The Hill's Washington Scene. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.