All Posts By

Clare Mulroy

Area arts organizations every writer (and reader) should know.

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published July 1, 2021 in Washington Independent Review of Books here.

Even throughout the pandemic, we were reminded of the resilience of the arts. Now, with the world beginning to open again, read how a few local nonprofits are contributing to the arts and literary scene in DC.

826DC

Under the storefront of Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Company in Columbia Heights, 826DC provides free writing and publishing opportunities to young people in the District.

According to incoming Senior Manager of Communication and Development Sarah Richman, nonprofits like 826DC are essential in serving DC’s youth.

“Too often, literary spaces only feature adults, and that is such a disservice to young people who have incredible and powerful things to say, but also to us,” Richman says. “We’re missing out on magnificent stories, on important points of view, and on a really valuable slice of the human experience.”

826DC focuses on creating relationships both with the writing community and among writers. Supporting newspaper clubs at schools in DC is one way it encourages aspiring journalists to identify what is important to them within their own communities and nationally. Students not only find mentors in 826DC volunteers; older students get the opportunity to mentor younger ones.

The organization also hosts programs like the “Young Authors’ Book Project,” which gives students the hands-on experience of writing, editing, and publishing their own book. This year’s project is “Sometimes I Have to be Brave,” which includes personal narratives and poems about community written during the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the pandemic shifted 826DC’s operations to fully online, Richman says it gave the organization another unique opportunity to foster space for young people to cope with and process difficult changes in the world.

Day Eight

An artist and writer himself, Robert Bettmann created Day Eight as a way to further connect the world of the arts and creative projects. According to Bettmann, the “left and right hands” of the organization are its poetry publishing and arts journalism work.

Day Eight offers opportunities for local poets through publishing and performance. The organization is currently working on a nature-themed anthology featuring the work of 16 poets and four visual artists.

For the past six years, Day Eight has also hosted the DC Poet Project — one part poetry reading series, one part open-mic contest. Accompanying the competition is the DC Poets for DC Schools Project, where finalists and winners of the contest are invited to perform and teach in local schools.

Day Eight’s work with students doesn’t stop there. They also host an Arts Writing Fellowship, which is designed to support early-career arts writers. The program is often sought out by college students, and Bettmann says that this kind of experience is particularly important for young journalists entering such a competitive field.

“By creating this program where we make the decisions for who is included based on the quality of the writing, we feel like we can actually affect that trajectory a little bit,” he explains, “helping people stand out as having been recognized as one of the best writers in the area and also make actual connections with editors and mentors who could possibly hire them.”

The Inner Loop

When Rachel Coonce and Courtney Sexton moved back to DC in 2014 after college, they struggled to find a literary community that wasn’t affiliated with a school or specific program.

Soon after, they launched the Inner Loop, whose mission is creating connections between local writers and the community. With around 75 attendees at their first event in April 2014, Coonce and Sexton realized that there was an empty space in the District that needed to be filled.

Years later, the Inner Loop is operating with that same mission. The organization has five distinct programs. Their writing series brings both established writers and beginners in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry together each year. “The Inner Loop Radio” is a podcast hosted by the pair. The Inner Loop also hosts a summer writers-in-residency program and fall retreats, and their author’s corner project works as a publicity campaign for newly published writers by partnering with local restaurants to promote their work.

During the pandemic, this project became especially important as the arts and food-and-beverage industry struggled to adapt to a newly virtual world.

“How can we engage and support them and our writers at the same time?” Sexton recalls asking. “The idea there was this ‘side of literature’ with your order, essentially. Encouraging people to patronize the restaurants where our writers were being featured.”

They started an “inspiration series” on the podcast, too, speaking to authors about coping during lockdown, and they launched a writing contest in partnership with District Fray. Surprisingly, Coonce and Sexton say event enrollment did not suffer during the pandemic. The need, evidently, persists.

[Photo of future authors courtesy of 826DC]

Day Eight fellow Clare Mulroy is a rising senior at American University studying journalism and minoring in both sustainability and women’s, gender, sexuality studies. Her freelance work appears in the Hill, Cape Cod Health News, and Tagg Magazine. Clare is also an intern at NBC News’ Washington Bureau. She lives in Washington, DC, but hails from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In her free time, you can find her searching for something new to paint or picking up a good book.

Rainbow Families 2021 Conference to Feature Indigo Girls, Conversations on Parenthood, and Programming for Kids

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published May 17, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here

Rainbow Families is embarking on their second year of online conferencing due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Vice President of the board Liz Dean is confident that this year’s festivities will be a hit.

The Rainbow Families 18th Annual Family Conference will be held on May 22 and 23. The two-day event will feature Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-NY17) as keynote speaker and recipient of the Rainbow Families Hero of the Year 2021 award, as well as a performance from the Indigo Girls.

This conference has been a staple with the non-profit organization since 2003, where it began as a full day conference of workshops, educational speeches, and panels. When in person, the conference is typically held at a D.C.-based vendor and marketed to LGBTQ families in the DMV.

But when last year’s virtual conference skyrocketed attendance numbers with a more accessible platform, Rainbow Families transformed their marketing to reach families all over the country.

“We are lucky to be in Washington, D.C. because D.C.’s super gay, D.C. is super liberal, and D.C. has health resources and reproductive resources,” says Dean. She adds, “However, if you’re in a smaller city or in a state that’s anti-trans — there’s a lot with legislation that’s anti-trans especially for a trans youth — I think the need is definitely there, which has helped us to be able to meet this need and the kind of rise to the occasion.”

On the virtual platform Hopin, participants will be able to attend workshops and Expos via a virtual room where you can move your icon from booth to booth. Parents can attend parenting workshops, and prospective parents can learn about the fertility journey. There will also be a coffeehouse feature where attendees can chat with other attendees and meet new people. There will be two different programming paths for kids — stretching activities for 4-7 year olds and pilates for 7-12 year olds.

The theme of this years’ conference is “Forward, Together…” which emphasizes resiliency.

“The last four years were hard for people,” explains Dean. “And this theme just shows we’re here together, we’re moving forward together. We’re in this: you have a community, you have people you can talk to, you have other families you can learn from.”

The conference caters to all different kinds of LGBTQ families — it doesn’t matter what “makes you rainbow.” Many of the conversations will address diversity in the queer community.

“We don’t expect that everyone comes in [as] two moms and two dads and that’s their family,” she says. “We’re very open to and cater to families that are of all family structures.”

Another prominent conversation topic at this year’s conference is mental health. For parents-to-be, the fertility journey can be difficult mental health-wise.

“It’s been a rough year,” says Dean. “And I think that [in terms of] mental health just in general in the queer community, it’s hard to find a good therapist, it’s hard to find competent care that’s inclusive, and that meets the needs of the queer population.”

Candice Taylor on Art, Community, and Being Unapologetically Herself

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published April 5, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here

Candice Taylor got her start as an artist drawing on walls as a child. When her father was tired of cleaning walls, he helped her channel that energy into coloring comic strips and painting doll houses he built.

Taylor is the co-founder of CreativeJunkFood, a multimedia creative studio founded in 2010 that explores areas of public art, experiential art, and installations. The studio also hosts workshops and works regularly with museums and schools.

Taylor considers herself an artist-activist. “Art with function” is what drives her work. Recently, CreativeJunkFood partnered with the Civil Rights Corps to create graphics for criminal injustice initiatives and events honoring the leadership of Black women. They also animated a video for Stonegate Filmworks called “Turn it Blue,” a schoolhouse rock-style video advocating for voting blue in Georgia during the 2020 election season.

“It’s one thing to be an artist and make beautiful images, but it’s another thing to create art that also functions, and that also goes to better people’s lives and empower movement [and] social commentary,” says Taylor.

Much of Taylor’s work is community-focused. As a Washington, D.C.-based organization, CreativeJunkFood regularly designs community art, like a #LoveShaw animation and Ward 7 Speaks murals, and is working on the branding and launch for an upcoming refurbished Metro railcar coming to the District this spring.

One aspect of community art Taylor particularly enjoys is connecting with younger kids and artists as an educator. In the future, she says she hopes to expand workshops to make the “wealth of information more available.”

“That’s what empowers me when I’m thinking about that social justice…being able to help this younger generation,” she says. “I feel like those voices are the voices we need to be listening to, so I’m doing whatever I can do to amplify that.”

According to Taylor, coming from a marginalized community and now being an artist has positioned her uniquely to understand the impact and value of art in daily life. Taylor says she is determined to use her art to create an environment that she wished she had as a kid—she was encouraged to pursue her dreams but didn’t necessarily have the resources to accompany them.

In her own words, Taylor has a “tenacity for breaking barriers,” which she says means simply not seeing them at all.

“It’s just a constant climb, it’s this constant ‘What’s next?’ and it’s constantly challenging of yourself, it’s challenging the norms,” Taylor explains. “That’s why I have all these colors in my hair—that’s why I show up to my business meetings in the same outfit that I wear when I’m painting a mural.”

She views being a lesbian in the same vein—it’s not something she ever tries to hide, but also not something that she feels she has to flaunt.

“It’s a package, and I approach it as such,” Taylor says. “It’s about being really unapologetic about it.”

The Butch Boudoir Project is a Platform for Butch People to Be Unapologetically Themselves

By Clare Mulroy 

This article was first published March 29, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here.

Though Gabby Horner has been “out” for over 20 years, she didn’t truly find herself until about five years ago. In the time since she’s been more comfortable identifying as butch, she’s made waves with the Butch Boudoir Project, a movement to empower butch and masculine people across gender identities.

The Butch Boudoir Project began two years ago as a photoshoot with photographer Graciela Valdes to expand the traditionally feminine concept of boudoir photos modeled by Horner herself. The revelation came when she was looking for inspiration on Pinterest and found virtually nothing.

“I can’t find butch women doing anything other than completely fully dressed, or they look like MMA fighters,” says Horner. She adds, “If I couldn’t really find anything on Google, it’s not enough.”

It was then that Horner and Valdes realized this was much bigger than just one photoshoot. The “impressive” reaction made her realize that butch visibility needed a bigger platform. Her next endeavor was an Instagram account for the project.

“The only thing I had access to was myself, [so] the only thing I could do was continue to showcase myself,” she explains. “So I started pushing myself and my boundaries to take more photos of my daily life.”

But from the moment the project became more than just one photography session, Horner knew it had to be bigger than just herself. She gathered a group of friends, known affectionately as the #ButchCrew, for another photoshoot set in a barber shop. In between haircuts and a candidly-shot game of pool, Horner says the “butch siblinghood” was powerful.

“That’s insanely underrepresented. I think it tears down toxic masculinity that is sadly common that a lot of butch people feel intimidated by other butch people,” says Horner. She adds, “Those types of toxic concepts are totally shattered if you can get a group of us together, hanging out, being friends.”

Now with over 3,000 followers on Instagram, the Butch Boudoir Project has become a hub for virtual discussions and questions. The questions have ranged from a humorous “Are you single?” to inquiries about how to best support butch people in your life.

“I thought about butch visibility, I thought about being able to see people like me,” she explains. “But I did not think about people who are attracted to butch people having questions and needing to see that representation as well.”

By nature, this is a particularly personal project for Horner, who is a graphic designer by trade and the co-founder and vice chair of Ignite Community Services.

Horner identified as a “tomboy” at a young age but struggled with how her discomfort with femininity fit in with her gender identity.

“I thought you couldn’t be a girl and also want those things,” Horner says. “I firmly identify with being a woman, and that’s not a question for me, but I don’t identify with being feminine.”

That changed when she found other people who celebrate masculinity within their womanhood and individuals who prefer gender-neutral terms. Now, at 35, Horner says it’s an indescribable feeling when someone tells her she’s handsome.

Next year, she is looking forward to creating a calendar featuring the growing #ButchCrew. The Butch Boudoir Project will likely expand to more in-person conversations when the coronavirus pandemic ends. However, the virtual community they have online is something she never wants to abandon.

“Those conversations are also a big deal, they’re important,” says Horner.

Ahead of the Curve is the Story of Franco Stevens, Curve Magazine, and Lesbian Visibility

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published March 17, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here

Jen Rainin had no directing experience before taking on Ahead of the Curve, but she knew it was a story she had to tell.

Her wife, Frances “Franco” Stevens, the founder of Curve Magazine, told stories over the years — taking out a dozen credit cards and betting on horses to come up with money for the magazine. She won three times and used her winnings to launch Curve Magazine (formerly Deneuve) in 1991.

Armed with these stories and a garage full of archives from Stevens’ life, Rainin spent the next three years making the documentary, which is set for its worldwide premiere on Apple TV and Amazon Prime on June 1.

“As I was researching for it, I realized how little our history as queer women has been documented,” she explains. “I realized I actually think I owe it to the community to tell this story first as a nonfiction film.”

Rainin says the best part of creating Ahead of the Curve was learning about her wife through the eyes of those who knew her decades before the two met.

“She has such trust in me. She knew that I was going to tell a balanced and fair and honest story,” Rainin says. “She’s a badass, but she’s a flawed human, like everybody, and she wanted people to see that.”

The filming and post-production process had its own plot twists, however. During filming, Stevens received an email from the current owner of Curve Magazine saying that the magazine might not be able to survive another year. Stevens sold the magazine in 2010 after a disabling injury.

The coronavirus pandemic also modified the film’s festival circuit. The crew was set for a grand debut at The Castro Theatre in San Francisco for Frameline44, but when in- person events closed, co-director and producer Rivkah Beth Medow suggested changing the event to a drive-in screening. The event was held on the day originally slated for Dyke March, and the audience rolled up decked out in pride and protest gear.

“We’re focused on making sure that our historical stories and our present-day stories are told and shouted from the rooftops,” Rainin says.

LGBTQ Black History: Remembering Trailblazer Pauli Murray

Black and white photo of Pauli Murray sitting at a desk in a library.

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published February 16, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here.

Pauli Murray was a Black, nonbinary, queer poet, writer, lawyer and priest whose legacy carries on through law and activism. Born in Baltimore, MD in 1910, Murray moved to New York City after graduating high school and attended Hunter College to pursue a degree in English Literature. Murray was an avid writer and gained national media attention after campaigning to attend the University of North Carolina, which at the time was exclusively white. Murray studied law at Howard University and continued to write civil rights essays and poems.

Murray’s work was influential for decades — former President John F. Kennedy appointed Murray to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, where Murray worked with civil rights activists like A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King.

In the world of legal reform, Murray influenced both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. Marshall used Murray’s senior thesis from Howard, “Should the Civil Rights Cases and Plessy be Overruled?” to successfully argue Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In an interview with Time Magazine, Ginsburg credited Murray for the idea to interpret the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which states that it’s unconstitutional to deprive “any person” of equal protections. This interpretation, which appeared in Murray’s 1965 article “Jane Crow and the Law” helped Ginsburg win Reed v. Reed. Murray’s name is credited on the brief as an honorary writer.

Murray’s legacy lasts as a pioneer breaking sexuality and gender norms. Struggles with gender identity lasted Murray’s entire life. After being rejected from Harvard because the school only accepted male applicants, Murray wrote back that “I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but…the way to such change has not been revealed to me.”

Murray sought hormone therapy unsuccessfully for years and even persuaded doctors to perform tests to see if Murray was born with hidden male genitalia or hormones. The Pauli Murray Center reports that Murray used the phrase “he/she personality” with family members . They chose “Pauli” as a gender neutral name over their birth name, Anna Pauline. Murray also had two significant romances in their life with women, one of which was described as Murray’s life partner.

Murray is also notable for breaking yet another barrier by becoming the first Black woman to become an Episcopal priest. They became the first woman to give the Eucharist in the Episcopal Church in North Carolina.

Remembered today as the silent warrior behind some of the country’s most crucial civil rights cases, Pauli Murray is a hero to many and one to be especially remembered during Black History Month.

Love Wins: Travel Style Company Unveils Black LGBTQ Beach Towel

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published January 9, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here.

Kinyatta Gray, founder of FlightsInStilettos, has a vision for the future of travel — accessories that look and feel representative of her customers.

Her latest endeavor is the first ever LGBTQ beach towel that features a Black lesbian couple. Gray released the latest design, the “Love Wins” beach towel, as part of her 2021 Glam Girl Beach Towels collection. The “Love Wins” towel features a Black queer couple holding hands on the beach.

“You don’t see a lot of these images on beach towels at all, and then to drill down even deeper, you definitely don’t see a lot of images of people of color,” says Gray. “Go even deeper, [images of] Black lesbians…it does not exist.”

The design is inspired by Gray and her wife, who got married in 2017. Gray’s motivation was to create a towel that featured images of a lesbian couple, opposed to the typical pride colors or designs. The microfiber beach towel is also in response to the lack of images of people of color in travel accessories.

Since the release of the “Love Wins” towel, Gray says she is impressed by the outpouring of support from the community. Women who have similar hair or tattoos see themselves in the images represented in the new beach towels. The entire 2021 Glam Girl Collection features women of different races and body types sporting unique beach outfits.

“I’m very confident that it may really be one of the first beach towels that has that kind of image on it,” she says. “It’s almost shocking, and it’s surprising. [Customers] are like, ‘Gosh, someone is thinking about us.’” According to Gray, she even submitted the towel to the Guiness Book of World Records to confirm the “Love Wins” towel as the first ever Black LGBTQ beach towel.

Not only does Gray incorporate representation in the images of women, she also tries to weave it throughout her entire business. FlightsInStiletto originally started as a travel blog but quickly turned into a brand once Gray realized that she didn’t see a lot of accessories that represented her or reflected her personal style.

She began designing products in mid 2018. Now in 2020, FlightsInStilettos has appeared in New York Fashion Week and has a growing presence online. Between customizable luggage sets and the “Traveling Tiaras” children’s travel accessories with images of young jet-setting girls of color, Gray’s mission is to incorporate representation of her customer base and her own travel style.

Ultimately, Gray believes there is an opportunity for the entire fashion and travel industry to step up and increase representation.

“I think there are a lot of organizations that are really stepping up to the forefront. [We need] to see advertising, and clothing and all kinds of travel destinations that really speak to you and let you know, ‘Hey, you are welcome,’” says Gray. “It’s something that we’re seeing more and more, but we can always do better.”