Rayceen Pendarvis was born on January 11. Known affectionately as the High Priestess of Love, the Queen of the Shameless Plug, and the Goddess of DC, the self-described “gender-blender” is the host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” an emcee, entertainer, social media personality, activist, and “SWERV” magazine columnist.
Rayceen Pendarvis was born one of six siblings in Washington, DC, to a military father, Robert, and a social worker mother, Mary. Pendarvis attended McKinley High School, and was active in the drama club and pep squad, and served on the school’s yearbook staff.
Pendarvis became an activist at an early age after recognizing the call to fight against social injustice. Foremost in Pendarvis’s activism is being a voice for those who feel they are not being heard. As a native Washingtonian and a product of the DC public school system during a time when the expectation to excel was commonplace, Pendarvis has a desire to ensure that future generations will have the same opportunities.
In 1985, after witnessing an astonishing number of friends and family fall victim to HIV/AIDS, Pendarvis began to shift focus onto the need to address gay men’s concerns. What followed was the dedication of many years of time and talent to the raising of awareness and funds. The organizations with which Pendarvis collaborated include ICAN, Whitman-Walker, Us Helping Us, Transgender Health Empowerment, and the Wanda Alston House.
In 1991, Pendarvis received the honor of being selected to host the inaugural DC Black Pride. This role would be repeated in subsequent celebrations, as would many years as an active board member of the organization. In addition to serving as a board member for the Inner City AIDS Network, and as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Washington, DC, Pendarvis has mentored in an LGBTQ foster care program, and has worked with MD Fashion Week, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Red Cross, and DC Children’s Hospital.
As one of the founding members of the DC chapter of The Legendary House of Pendavis, Rayceen Pendarvis has combined an expertise in the field of cosmology with the flair of ballroom culture to become a sought-after commentator, moderator, emcee, and host. Pendarvis also had the honor of working with and being a child of the legendary Avis Pendavis. Another blessing which Pendarvis holds dearly is being a “father of five and mother to many!”
Pendarvis’s love of performing has led to participation in theatrical productions of “Dreamgirls,” “The Wiz,” and “Cats,” just to name a few. Further involvement in the entertainment industry has included working with music divas such as Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Martha Wash, Ledisi, Fantasia, and Faith Evans.
In 2014, Pendarvis was recognized as one of the “205 Heroes in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS in the Last 30 Years” exhibit at the National Library. That same year, Pendarvis appeared on the cover of “Metro Weekly,” hosted the DC Black Pride festival, moderated a panel at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was a double nominee (for Most Committed Activist and Local Hero) in the Washington Blade Best of Gay DC Readers’ Poll, and received the Angel Award at the Latex Ball in NYC.
In 2015, Pendarvis was profiled by “Tagg” magazine and the “Washington Blade,” was honored by both The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the Community Church of Washington, DC. Milestones that year included hosting Black Transcendence: A Black Queer & Trans Art Experience; moderating the panel discussion at the Smithsonian’s “Paris Is Burning” screening; co-hosting the 25th Annual DC Black Pride Cultural Arts and Wellness Festival with another frequent host of the event, ButtaFlySoul; hosting “Quick and Dirty” at The DC Center’s Fifth Annual OutWrite LGBT Book Festival; moderating a panel and hosting the mini-ball at Reel Affirmations and Team Rayceen Present “Paris is Burning! Celebrating 25 Years: The Book…The Film…The Ball”; co-hosting SongMaster’s 18th Annual BGL Cruise; hosting the annual DC Queer Theatre Festival; and co-hosting a talent showcase with Curt Mariah on the final three Saturdays of the semi-annual arts event, Artomatic.
The following year, Pendarvis was honored by both Casa Ruby and the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church. Capital Pride selected Pendarvis to be a recipient of the 2016 Heroes Award, and appear in the annual Capital Pride Parade. Despite not being ordained or ministering in a traditional capacity, Pendarvis was voted as Best Clergy in the Washington Blade Best of Gay DC Readers’ Poll.
In 2017, Pendarvis headlined numerous events, including Capital Trans Pride, The Artomatic 2017 Finale, and a series of programs for the DC Office on Aging at each of the city’s six senior wellness centers. In addition to articles for “TUV (The Unleashed Voice)” and “Q Virginia” (formerly “Unite Virginia”), Pendarvis wrote articles for EFNIKS.com, a website focusing on LGBTQ people of color. There were a number of honors bestowed upon Pendarvis, including being a finalist for Excellence in the Humanities for the 32nd Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards.
After many years of activism, Pendarvis has received awards from multiple organizations, including the Triumph Award, Spirit of Light, Us Helping Us Lifetime Award, the Wilmore Cooke Award, the Gillard-Alston Award, and the Red-Era Ballroom Legendary Award for outstanding community service.
Pendarvis can be seen regularly as the host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a free, monthly, live event on first Wednesdays (March-November) in DC. Show segments include panel discussions, interviews, live music performances, improv comedy, and audience participation games. All are welcome, and admission is always free. For more on the show, and to find Rayceen Pendarvis, Team Rayceen, and “The Ask Rayceen Show” on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, visit www.askrayceen.com.
Currently single and “open to being in love again,” Pendarvis says, “I had the privilege of being with David Davis, the love of my life.” They were together for almost twenty years, until his death in 2008. Pendarvis enjoys concerts, listening to music, traveling, reading, tweeting, and remaining committed to activism and advocacy.
“Our community is important to me because it is the essence of my identity, and Black LGBTQ people were the first to support me and remain my core audience,” Pendarvis told the Ubuntu Biography Project. “Black LGBTQ people should be proud of who they are because too many died for us to free, so we must celebrate and honor their spirits.”
We thank Rayceen Pendarvis for being the hostess with the mostess, and for contributing in so many ways to our community.