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Beloved NBC 4 Washington anchor & LGBTQ+ ally Wendy Rieger dies

“I still feel like I have a community simply because my gay friends are just so warm- y’all are still the most fun people around ever…”

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Wendy Rieger Screenshot/WRC NBC4 Washington

WASHINGTON — NBC owned flagship Washington station, WRC-TV 4’s recently retired beloved anchor Wendy Rieger died on Saturday after a fight with brain cancer. She was 65.

“We lost our smart, vibrant, wonderful Wendy Rieger today,” said NBC4 in a statement it posted to its website. “Wendy loved life as much as it loved her. She had so many passions and lived life sharing them with everyone she could. For more than 30 years, NBC4 Washington viewers benefitted from her unique style that blended humor, intelligence and compassion, and we are all better for knowing her.”

Rieger was born in Norfolk, Va., on April 18, 1956.

She was an actress before she graduated from American University in 1980 with a degree in broadcast journalism.

Rieger worked for WAMU, WTOP and CNN before she joined NBC4 in 1988 as a general assignment reporter. Rieger began to anchor NBC4’s weekend evening newscasts in 1996 and the 5 p.m. broadcasts in 2001. She retired last December.

Rieger throughout her career championed the LGBTQ community.

She participated in a number of D.C. AIDS Rides and emceed several SMYAL Fall Brunches.

The Washington Blade in 2015 named Rieger “Best Local TV Personality” for that year’s “Best of Gay D.C.” issue, which featured a cover photo of Rieger straddling a drag queen as she applied lipstick. Rieger in 2017 made a cameo in the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s adaptation of the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Rieger during an interview with the Blade after she announced her retirement from NBC4 credited Patrick Bruyere, a longtime volunteer for LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS service organizations who passed away from cancer in 2017, with introducing her to the LGBTQ community in D.C.

She said that Bruyere in 1999 asked her to host a fundraiser for One in Ten, a group that once ran the Reel Affirmations LGBTQ film festival, at the Lincoln Theater.

“I said, ‘I’d be glad to do that,’” said Rieger, recalling the conversation she had with Bruyere. “But you know, I’m just Wendy Rieger, I just anchor the news, you know. Don’t you have someone bigger? And he said, he actually said this, ‘I need a straight person because no one’s going to listen to us.’ And I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” 

“I saw so many people in the gay community moving into neighborhoods and using this vast creative spirit to renovate. And this renaissance that was happening all throughout our city, it was because of gay creativity,” Rieger told the Blade, referring to her reaction to the lack of support that the One in Ten fundraiser had received. “I was stunned that this was still going on. This bullshit was still going on. This crap is still going on.”

Rieger throughout that interview stressed discrimination cannot “occur anywhere.”

“Enough with this shit,” she said. “I’m so tired of bigotry and ignorance. It is exhausting. It is just exhausting. I’m just sick of it.”

Rieger also expressed her gratitude to her LGBTQ viewers who “let me into your family.”

“That meant so much to me because now I had a tribe,” she said. “My ancestors, when they came over from various parts of Europe, we just didn’t do anything, but become sort of, you know, WASPs in suburbia, What the fuck is that? I’m sorry. What the fuck is that? It’s just like something my mother would say; we were just colorless, odorless and sexless.”

“You guys really gave me something to attach to and a kind of family to belong to,” added Rieger. “I still feel like I have a community simply because my gay friends are just so warm. And I’m sorry, y’all are still the most fun people around ever, ever, ever.”

‘I have lived my life big and loud’

Rieger had open heart surgery in October 2020. She announced last May that doctors had diagnosed her with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

“As you know, I have lived my life big and loud. It is my nature. And I’ve had a blast. But a stillness has come over me that is profound and potent,” said Rieger in a letter she sent to her former NBC4 colleagues last May. “I didn’t know I could be this quiet. Life is not always a test. It is a teaching. I must learn this lesson with grace. And I will.”

Rieger discussed her diagnosis with the Blade.

She said a friend referred Rieger to the Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Her doctor, Pascal Zinn, removed the tumor within 10 days of having the MRI that found it.

Rieger underwent radiation for six weeks and was participating in a cancer vaccine trial at Duke University when she spoke with the Blade.

“It says on my file, life expectancy 14 months,” she said. “Odds are meant to be defied and she said the people who survive this the most are the ones that say fuck you to this cancer and they go live their lives and there’s nothing wrong with them.”

Rieger died a day after NBC4 announced she had begun hospice care. She was holding the hand of her husband, Dan Buckley, a retired NBC4 cameraman, when she passed away.

Rieger was beloved LGBTQ ally

NBC4 reporter Pat Collins after Rieger passed away described her as the station’s “poet laureate” who “would grab a story by the collar, and she wouldn’t stop until she had every little detail.” The Blade joined LGBTQ organizations across D.C. who also mourned Rieger.

“Wendy was one of a kind and a fierce ally to the LGBTQ+ community,” said the Blade after NBC4 announced Rieger’s death. “Thank you, Wendy, for all you did. You will never be forgotten.”

The Capital Pride Alliance in a statement to the Blade said Rieger “touched so many lives, and she will be terribly missed by all who knew and loved her.”

“I’ve known Wendy for many years, and she lit up every room that she entered,” said former Capital Pride Alliance President Bernie Delia. “She had a way of connecting with everyone she encountered. It was always a joy to meet up with her and she will be missed by the countless friends she had across the DMV.”

Capital Pride Alliance President Ashley Smith echoed Delia.

“I will miss seeing her radiant face lighting up the spaces in which she served as MC or guest speaker and more,” Smith told the Blade. “[She was] an amazing spirit we all got to share and [we] will miss her, but know she is always with us.”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington described Rieger as “incomparable.”

“She was our beloved Spring Affair emcee, and, in 2019, a recipient of the GMCW Harmony Award, which recognized her contributions to the LGBTQ community,” it said in a statement. “Rest in peace, dear Wendy.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also mourned Rieger.

“Wendy delivered the news honestly — with humor, heart and expertise and she will be missed dearly,” said Bowser. “Our hearts are with Dan, her @nbcwashington family and the many, many people who loved Wendy.”

Plans for a memorial service have not been announced.

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D.C.’s Duke Ellington arts school theater not renamed after Chappelle

The renaming was postponed after anti-transgender jokes in Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked controversy

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The Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: The Duke Ellington School for the Arts )

WASHINGTON – The Duke Ellington School for the Arts on Monday officially renamed its theater, but not after Dave Chappelle, the school’s most famous alumni, as had been expected.

The renaming was initially scheduled for Nov. 23, 2021, it was postponed after anti-transgender jokes in Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked controversy. Chappelle himself eventually helped choose a different name for the theater, saying that he did not want students to feel upset with his name being on it, since “the idea that my name will be turned into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable to me.”

The theater is now called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression, and in an interview with NBC4, Chappelle said that he chose to highlight artistic freedom because “that’s what I would want for myself, and that’s what I want for every student that goes to this school.”

“And I do feel like if that’s threatened, then the society at large is threatened,” Chappelle said. “If artists feel stifled, then everyone’s stifled. And I feel like artists have a responsibility to really be true to their art right now.”

Dave Chappelle (Photo by Mathieu Bitton)

Chappelle has previously included anti-trans jokes in his comedic repertoire.

He has previously made jokes about former President Trump’s decision to ban trans service members from the military and the possibility of Caitlyn Jenner posing nude on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, in a one-on-one interview with the Washington Blade in August 2017, Chappelle denied being transphobic. 

“I wouldn’t consider myself that because I’m not even sure what the term means,” Chappelle said. “I’m not an obstructionist of anybody’s lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or people I love and I don’t believe that lifestyle does.” 

Chappelle also called North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which prohibited trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity as “fucking absurd” and “clearly a mean-spirited law” designed to deny trans people their basic humanity. 

While Chappelle has at times defended the LGBTQ community and has denied being transphobic, trans activists and students at the Ellington School alike have expressed discomfort with his apparent lack of understanding and empathy about the ways his jokes harm trans people. 

“I appreciate a good joke as much as anyone. But when jokes lead to dehumanization, violence and death aimed at trans people, that’s when a line has been crossed and it has to be called out,” the late-Monica Roberts, a trans activist of color from Houston, said in response to Chappelle’s comments to the Blade.

In light of this controversy, which has only gained more airtime since “The Closer” premiered in 2021, Chappelle chose to take the focus off of himself by supporting an alternate name for the Ellington School’s theater. Currently, students at Duke Ellington — many of whom are LGBTQ — have access to “listening sessions” planned by the administration in which they can air their thoughts about the theater’s renaming.

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Vice-President Kamala Harris addresses Capital Pride in D.C.

“We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters”

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the 2022 Capital Pride Festival. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a surprise appearance, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke from the main stage of D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival late Sunday afternoon before a crowd of as many as a thousand people who had been watching the Capital Pride concert that had been taking place prior to Harris’ unannounced appearance.

To the delight of the crowd, Ryan Bos, executive director of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C. Pride events, introduced Harris and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, on the stage, drawing thunderous applause.

“Happy Pride everyone!” Harris told the crowd. “Oh, what a glorious day. Listen, we have so much to celebrate, and we celebrate each other every day,” she said.

“We celebrate the progress we have made,” she continued. “And we celebrate the fact that we are in this to stand for what we stand for and fight for what we stand for,” she said.

Also making an unannounced appearance on the festival stage about an hour before Harris’ appearance was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who expressed her strong support for LGBTQ Pride.

Harris’ appearance at the Capital Pride Festival on Sunday came exactly one year after she and Emhoff joined hundreds of LGBTQ participants in D.C.’s Capital Pride Walk as it reached 13th Street, N.W., near Freedom Plaza, becoming the first U.S. vice president to participate in an LGBTQ Pride event. 

Her unannounced appearance in last year’s Pride Walk came as a surprise to the Capital Pride organizers as well as to the delighted onlookers who saw Harris and her husband join the walk, which was an abridged version of the Capital Pride Parade that had been cancelled in 2021 as it had in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In her short speech on Sunday, Harris referred to the Pulse nightclub shooting exactly six years ago in Orlando, Fla., which took the lives of 49 mostly LGBTQ people, saying, “no one should fear going to a nightclub for fear that a terrorist might try to take them down.”

She also referred to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ laws under consideration or that have passed in states around the country.

“We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us,” she told the cheering crowd. “We will be fueled by saying no one will be made to fight alone. We will be fueled by knowing we are all in this together,” she said. “And we will fight with pride. Happy Pride everyone!”

Observers familiar with D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival, which was held this year for the first time since 2019 due to pandemic restrictions, said it appeared to have attracted one of the largest turnouts ever, with several hundred thousand people in attendance throughout the day. Like past years, the festival took place on a four-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between Third and Seventh Streets. 

More than 270 organizations or businesses registered to set up a booth at the festival, according to a list released by Capital Pride Alliance. Many of the organizations and businesses participating in the festival had also marched or road in vehicles or on floats in the Capital Pride Parade one day earlier.

Bos said there were about 245 contingents in the parade on Saturday, about the same number that participated in the 2019 Capital Pride Parade, the last one held since this year. But those familiar with the 2019 parade and those held in earlier years said they believed this year’s parade attracted more spectators than in past years, most likely because LGBTQ people, like so many others, wanted to join the celebration after the two-year hiatus brought about by COVID.

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses the crowd at the 2022 Capital Pride Festival.
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Full text of Harris’s remarks:

“Happy Pride everyone! Oh, what a glorious day. Listen, we have so much to celebrate, and we celebrate each other every day. We celebrate the progress we have made. And we celebrate the fact that we are in this to stand for what we stand for and fight for what we stand for.

Because no one should fear going to a nightclub for fear that a terrorist might try to take them down. No one should fear going to a Pride celebration because of a white supremacist. No one should fear loving who they love. Our children in Texas and Florida should not fear who they are. Black and brown and women of color, transgender women cannot fear for their lives.

We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. For we know what we stand for and therefore we know what we will fight for. And we will do what we have always done in this movement, in this community, which is collectively, we will continue to build unity. We will continue to build coalitions.

We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us. We will be fueled by saying no one will be made to fight alone. We will be fueled by knowing we are all in this together. And we will fight with pride. Happy Pride everyone.”

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Six years after Pulse shooting, calls for change grow around the nation

Thousands gathered on the National Mall as March For Our Lives held a rally calling for solutions to escalating gun violence

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March For Our Lives held a rally calling for solutions to escalating gun violence Saturday (Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

WASHINGTON – On the night of June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooting has since remained one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history.

Six years later, efforts to curb gun violence in America and halt the country’s epidemic of mass shootings have reignited in the wake of more recent mass shootings.

Just before noon on Saturday, June 11, thousands of people carrying signs and clad in anti-gun-violence clothing flooded the north lawn of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. across from the White House. 

March for Our Lives Rally attendees walk along 15th Street NW, Washington D.C. on June 11, 2022
(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

One of those in the crowd was Jessica Mahoney, a young activist with ties to a national past littered with gun violence.

“My close family is from Sandy Hook and, as the sign references, I used this sign four years ago,” Mahoney said. “This has been a very personal issue for me since 2012 when I had to spend over an hour wondering if my cousins were alive or not. I just feel like it’s so important that people are out here that haven’t been personally touched by the issue because I just think that shows that there’s a real movement behind what’s going on.”

Mahoney and her fellow protesters in the crowd were some of the hundreds of thousands more protestors who marched in different cities across the country on that day calling on state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation reforming the nation’s gun laws.

The marches, organized in large part by the youth-led gun violence prevention organization March for Our Lives, were triggered by a sustained national outcry for action following the latest mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, both in late May. The organization held similar nationwide rallies in 2018 following the Parkland school shooting that led to the group’s inception.

Mahoney described her feelings about having to return to another rally four years later in an effort to address the same issue.

“It’s frustrating and a bit maddening at times to be honest that we still have to do this,” Mahoney said. “But it just seems like there’s more energy every time and so I think that I’m also hopeful about it.”

Anti-gun violence protestors (Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

The issue has been one plaguing Americans in various settings and from various walks of life and has affected those across a spectrum of identities, including the LGBTQ community.

Marking the six-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a statement the day before the March for Our Lives rally.

“Gun violence remains an LGBTQ+ issue, with three-fourths of homicides against transgender people – including nearly eight in ten homicides of Black trans women – involving a gun,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison said in the statement. “Compounding this tragedy is the fact that in the six years since Pulse, we have been unable to advance meaningful federal gun reform legislation.”

But in an effort to prevent future mass killings like those in Parkland, Uvalde, Buffalo, and Orlando, prominent activists have since brought a spotlight to the issue of gun violence in America. Many such activists descended on the grounds of the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital on Saturday to speak to those gathered and amplify their message.

David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and a founder and board member of March for Our Lives, spoke to the crowd.

“We need to stop these shooters before they get on campus and stop endangering the lives of our first responders, our students, our teachers because people on Capitol Hill don’t want to do their job and protect us,” Hogg said.

March For Our Lives Co-Founder David Hogg speaking to the crowd.
(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

Alongside Hogg were a number of other activists and politicians who shared the goal of reducing gun violence in America, including Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-MO 1st District.

Bush described her own proximity to gun violence in calling for action, sharing with the crowd her past escape from such as she ran from an abusive partner who kept firearms in their home.

“When I turned back for a moment, because, ‘Why isn’t he chasing me?’” Bush said. “I turned back, and I saw him standing still, ‘Why is he standing still?’ Next thing I knew, I heard shots.”

Bush believed the near-death experience to be “completely preventable.”

“Closing the boyfriend loophole could’ve saved me from a near-lethal encounter with gun violence,” Bush said. “A red flag law could’ve saved me from a nearly lethal encounter with gun violence.”

Hogg and others took aim at counterarguments from pro-gun entities that have advocated for mental health support rather than gun reform to solve the problem.

“We also must address the fact that mental health does have a role to play in stopping gun violence, but that racism is not a mental illness,” Hogg said. “Hatred, racism, radicalization, xenophobia are not mental illnesses.”

But even at an event meant to highlight what gatherers felt was a need to curb the nation’s scourge of gun violence, the specter of fear and violence remained ubiquitous.

During a moment of silence for the victims of America’s gun violence, a man toward the front of the crowd began to shout and attempted to breach the event’s main stage. A source close to the stage told the Blade that the man threw a megaphone into the crowd while shouting, “I am God.”

Those assembled feared the worst. Due to the size of the crowd that had assembled, rallygoers across the lawn perceived the disturbance to be an active gun threat. Hundreds dropped flat to the ground while others ran from the stage in an attempt to escape the potential violence.

U.S. Park Police Officers (Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

After organizers and police were able to apprehend the disruptor, rally organizers attempted to reconvene the frightened crowd and push forward.

“Do not run, freeze, do not run,” an organizer said over the sounds of emerging police sirens. “There is no issue here, do not run.”

But the moment of fear clung to many who were present.

Rallygoer Kirsten Hiera witnessed the moment of mass confusion but was unable to flee the scene despite her own fear.

“I was scared but I didn’t want to run away because I’m with someone who’s elderly and I didn’t want to have her be abandoned,” Hiera said. “I felt scared and confused but I didn’t want to abandon my friend.”

As those gathered began to tepidly rise and return to the stage, the organizer proceeded to draw attention back to the focus of the rally, leading a chant exclaiming peace to be a lifestyle.

(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

Exiting the stage toward the end of the rally after the crowd had reconvened, the organizer left them with advice that touched to the core of the movement’s mission – one that, in the wake of tens of thousands of gun deaths in shootings like Orlando, organizers like Hogg have described as not pro-gun or anti-gun, but pro-peace.

“The other thing that I want to say is let’s not give into the hate,” she said. “Let’s not give into the hate. There’s more people who are about love than there is that is about hate.”

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