A Chat with Varla Jean Merman


Jeffery Roberson (aka Varla Jean Merman) is one of drag’s biggest (literally) personalities. He starred in the musical Lucky Guy opposite Leslie Jordan in NY at the Little Schubert in 2011 prompting The New York Times to rave, “If Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman had stood in front of the right pair of funhouse mirrors, they might have resembled Ms. Merman and Mr. Jordan in stature as well as comedic talent”.

He guest starred as Varla Jean on Ugly Betty in the final season of the show and was also featured on Bravo’s Project Runway Season 5 as the winning model for the show’s drag challenge. He played the role of Mary Sunshine in the revival of Chicago on Broadway and also made his network television debut on All My Children in the recurring role of lady of the evening Rosemary Chicken.

He shared the Outfest Film Festival “Best Actor” Award and the Aspen HBO Film Festival “Best Actress” Award with his costars Jack Plotnick and Clinton Leupp for his featured performance in the cult classic film Girls Will Be Girls (Sundance 2003) directed by Richard Day.

As Varla Jean, Jeffery has filled cabarets and concert halls across the world including the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, the New York Public Theater, London’s Soho Theatre and LA’s Renberg Theatre. Jeffery wrote and starred in the short Improve Your History with Varla Jean: Stonewall, for the launch of the MTV’s television network Logo and was also seen in their One Night Standup: Dragtastic special.

After just wrapping up his 26th Season in Provincetown, he’s bringing his newest show Stand By Your Drag to the American Theatre in Hampton on October 20 and 21. We recently had a sit-down with Jeffrey to talk about all this and more. Listen.

Here’s Your 2023 Virginia Voting Guide



September 22 : First day to vote early at your local voter registration office or satellite voting location. Find your local office.

October. 16 : Last day to register or update your address to vote a regular ballot for this election. (Voters may register in person after this date through Election Day, and vote using a provisional ballot.)

October 27 by 5PM : Last day to request that a ballot be mailed to you .

November 4 (Saturday) : Last day to vote early in person.

November 7 : Election Day . Polls are open 6AM to 7PM. Find your polling place.


Receive a Ballot by Mail: Request a ballot at by 5PM October 27. You may return your ballot:

  • By mail, postmarked on or before November 7 and received by noon on Monday, November 13
  • To your local voter registration office on or before Election Day
  • At any polling place or drop-off location on Election Day

Since July 1, witness signatures are not required if you vote by mail. You will need to provide the last four digits of your social security number and year of birth. If you do not have a social security number, you can provide your voter ID number instead.

In Person before Election Day September 22 through November 4: You can vote early at your local voter registration office or satellite voting location. Bring acceptable ID.

In Person on Election Day, Tuesday November 7, 6AM – 7 PM.

Out on Film presents Hedwig and the Angry Inch next Thursday night

Following up last month’s screening of “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,” the second of the Virginia Queer Film Festival’s Out on Film series is Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Zeiders American Dream Theater on Thursday, September 21. The film–a cult classic and award-winning Broadway show–is a musical comedy-drama film written for the screen and directed by John Cameron Mitchell and based on Mitchell’s and Stephen Trask’s 1998 stage musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The film tells the  story of the “internationally ignored” rock singer Hedwig Robinson and her search for stardom and love as she tours the country with her band.

The music is steeped in the androgynous 1970s glam rock style of David Bowie (who co-produced the Los Angeles production of the show), as well as the work of John Lennon and early punk performers Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.

The film won the Best Director and Audience Awards at the Sundance Film Festival as well as Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review, the Gotham Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Mitchell received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Premiere magazine Performance of the Year Award.

In 2014, the show saw its first Broadway incarnation with Neil Patrick Harris in the lead, opening that April at the Belasco Theatre and winning the year’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

Out on Film Presented by David Nygaard is a year-round schedule of full length LGBTQ+ films curated from a comprehensive collection of wide release feature films and documentaries and screened in Hampton Roads participating theaters and other venues.

WANT TO GO? WHEN: 7:30 PM, September 21, at Zeiders American Dream Theater, Virginia Beach TICKETS $12 general admission$10 Senior/Mil/Student, $9 obstructed view. Available at or at the door.

Equality Virginia announces Commonwealth Dinner keynote speaker and Outstanding Virginians.

Equality Virginia recently announced Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr as the keynote speaker for our 20th annual Commonwealth Dinner on October 7. Rep. Zephyr is the first trans woman to hold public office in Montana and has been a fierce advocate for affordable housing, healthcare, and human rights throughout Montana. Zephyr has received nationwide attention, both potion and negative, for her vocal opposition of multiple anti-LGBT bills introduced during the 2023 Montana legislative session. During a floor debate on April 18, 2023, Zephyr admonished those who supported Senate Bill 99, which prohibits gender-affirming medical and surgical care for minors. She commented, “If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed.” This and other comments resulted in her speaking privileges being revoked after an almost unanimous vote by the House Republicans. Her privileges have yet to be restored. In a statement, EV said, “Rep. Zephyr’s leadership and bravery in taking on her colleagues in defense of gender-affirming care shows great strength and the vital importance of LGBTQ+ and allied representation at all levels of government.” In addition to Zephyr, four Outstanding Virginians will be recognized for their service the LGBTQ+ communities in their regions:
  • Liam Hudson, Co-Founder and CEO of the Lean In Project, the only LGBTQIA+ specific crisis service provider in Southside Virginia.
  • Brianna Diaz, Policy and Legislative Council with the ACLU of Virginia.
  • Phillip Crosby, Executive Director of the Triangle Players.
  • Danny Lawson, Executive Director of the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition.
  • The Pride Liberation Project.
The Virginia  Commonwealth Dinner is Virginia’s premier black tie LGBTQ+ gala to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Featuring a silent auction, entertainment and guest speakers, the Commonwealth Dinner is an event you don’t want to miss. Tickets on sale now.

Hampton Roads Pride announces 2023-24 Board of Directors

Hampton Roads Pride yesterday announced the members of the organization’s first-ever 15 person board of directors. Their term starts in November and will run through November of 2024. Officers and Board Members are:
  • Jeff Ryder, President. Jeff is the Managing Director at Virginia Stage Company.
  • Jamar Davis, Vice-President.
  • Jason McDonald, Secretary. Jason is a Technical Team Manager at Emergent.
  • Tony Crudup, Treasurer. Tony is Assistant Controller at Tidewater Fleet Supply/TNT Parts.
  • Nick Dentelmann, Immediate Past President. Nick is a Buyer – Category Manager at Dollar Tree.
  • Rudy Almanzor is a registered nurse at AMN Healthcare.
  • Hannah Barber.
  • Angela Benard is the Senior Director, Advancement & Communications at Virginia Living Museum.
  • Faun Faulks is the Business Office Director at Chesapeake Place Senior Living Community.
  • Dr. Charles Ford is a Professor of History at Norfolk State University.
  • Cory Moreno is the the Event Liaison at Tradition Brewing Company in Newport News.
  • Michael Pidgeon
  • Greg Reynolds is the CEO and Founder at Hadley-Reynolds, Hampton University.
  • David Seeley is the Tax Director at Beth Moore and Associates.
  • Christina Schmidt is a Program Manager, Medicaid Pharmacy Ops at Elevance Health Careers.
In his outgoing statement, Past President Nick Dentelmann said, “It is with extreme thanks & gratitude that I complete my term as President. I stated I would complete a one year term with three goals in mind: financial stability, year round events, and an updated board mission and headcount. “We welcomed new sponsors. We added an Art Series, Brew Tour, expanded sports events and expanded city festivals. We now have a 15 member board. With all three completed, I am happy to see the torch passed to this new group of leaders.”

12th annual Outer Banks Pridefest has its genesis in a 30-year old grassroots movement

I moved to the Outer Banks in the early 1990s to take a job as Director of Marketing and Public relations at The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, and it was a dream come true in so many ways. Seriously, a job at the beach in theater marketing? I was a 30 year-old out gay man. My family knew, my co-workers at The Lost Colony knew (90% of them were gay, too), and I had nothing to hide. I simply assumed that the many gay locals I met were out as well. Surprisingly, that was not the case. The Outer Banks then was generally not an LGBT-friendly community, Lost Colony notwithstanding. My impression was that many of the locals considered the gay enclave clustered on the north end of Roanoke Island to be a necessary prerequisite for having a thriving and professional theater company. But, boy, if you were a gay native of Dare County, you stayed deep in the closet. There were no gay bars and social or support outlets in Dare County. When we wanted to go out on the town and dance with our people, we’d pile in someone’s car and make the two-hour (or sometimes three, depending on traffic) trip to Norfolk for the weekend. In the harsh winter months, it seems as if all we did was huddle up at someone’s house and drink ourselves silly. Finally, a group of my Lost Colony friends and co-workers decided to create those missing social opportunities. The name of our fledgling group was the Outer Banks Gay and Lesbian Community (or GLC for short—because we had to have a secret code). We began by approaching those few businesses we knew were gay owned. At the time, that was Sam and Omie’s and Yellow Submarine in Nags Head, Island Taxi (now Island Limousine), and Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk. We asked and they enthusiastically agreed to host an occasional private party just for us: invitation only, closed to the public. Plus you had to know the secret code to get in if we didn’t know you. Privacy was paramount. There were many prominent people who joined our group as long as we guaranteed it. We also built a newsletter mailing list by quietly networking and spreading the word—quite an undertaking in the days before email. I wrote it on the computer in my office and printed copies on the company Xerox machine. I figured that was OK after all the gay community had done for The Lost Colony over the years. We funded the postage out of our own pockets. We started holding GLC Beach Days during the warm months at Coquina Beach (we called it CoQueena). Those beach days were some of the best of my time on the Outer Banks. We flew a ginormous rainbow flag on the dune so that any weary gay travelers on Highway 12 would know where to find our safe spot. We always had a big crowd. We held ocean kayaking races, fishing tournaments, and best tan competitions. Afterwards, we wrapped it up with a visit to the Oasis Restaurant on the Nags Head Causeway to hear Laura Martier wail the blues.
One of the early GLC newsletters.
Eventually, we started collecting donations to fund the newsletter. We collected enough to take out classified ads in regional gay publications such as The Washington Blade and Our Own Community Press (in Hampton Roads) promoting our private parties and beach days to tourists. We often had vacationers join us as a result, and I made some great friends, many of whom I still count among my besties today. I moved to Norfolk in 1998, and the group kept plowing away. Eventually, my new life took precedence, and I lost the pulse of what was happening with the GLC. Then 12 years ago, one of the GLC’s founding members, David Miller (who has been associated with The Lost Colony since the colony was lost) founded OBX Pride, Inc. and produced the first-ever OBX Pridefest. Imagine that! A full on, in your face gay pride celebration on the Outer Banks. It was exciting and somewhat disconcerting at the same time. How would the community accept this public display? It had its challenging moments, but in the end all was for naught. The local norms had evolved in both attitudes and acceptance, and the timing was finally right. Today, thousands of visitors from Richmond and DC to Raleigh and Charlotte, both gay and straight, come to celebrate. The Dare County Tourist Bureau is our primary benefactor. The list of businesses that participate in the three-day event has grown impressively long. Because love–and persistence–always wins.


Looking for the year-round Outer Banks queer community? Follow these Facebook pages: Outer Banks Pridefest Out on the Outer Banks LGBT Outer Banks