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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights: Rehoboth excited about Biden presence in Delaware beach town

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Lori Kline, owner of Lori’s Café in Rehoboth, flanked by Joe and Jill Biden. (Photo courtesy Kline)

Lori Kline, owner of Lori’s Café in Rehoboth Beach, is one of many LGBTQ people who own and operate businesses in the popular Delaware resort town that has become known at least since the 1970s as a “gay destination” in the nation’s mid-Atlantic region, especially for LGBTQ people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Kline, whose café is located in a courtyard next to CAMP Rehoboth, the local LGBTQ community center, says President-Elect Joe Biden and soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden have been regular customers at Lori’s Café.

“I saw Jill a lot this summer,” Kline told the Washington Blade. “She would come in. She would pick up their order. I have met Joe Biden as well,” she said in referring to the president-elect’s past visits to Lori’s.

“I have a picture with him,” she said. “They’re wonderful, wonderful people.”

Kline is among the many Rehoboth business owners and residents as well as summer visitors, including those from D.C., who have seen the Biden family during the Bidens’ visits to Rehoboth for more than 20 years.

Three years ago the Bidens bought a house in the North Shores neighborhood located just outside the Rehoboth city limits, which is expected to serve as the presidential retreat for the next four years.

Gay Rehoboth resident Joe Mack, owner of Double Dippers ice cream shop located about a block away from Lori’s Café, said Joe Biden has been coming to his business for nearly 20 years going back to when Biden was a U.S. senator.

“He loves chocolate ice cream and a waffle cone,” Mack said. “That’s his go-to. He’s always very friendly. He’s had his grandkids in and his niece.”

Mack said Biden sometimes offered him quotes from people Biden respected, including his grandfather and great grandfather as well as former presidents during his visits to Double Dippers. “This one was from Harry Truman and I wrote it down,” Mack told the Blade. “It says, ‘I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.’ And that’s the Harry Truman quote he gave me that I thought was really, really good.”

Mack said Biden did not stop by his shop this past summer or this fall, most likely because he was busy campaigning for president. Mack said business owners in the town believe that Biden and many others may also be keeping a distance from businesses and other indoor locations because of the COVID pandemic, which Mack says has hurt his and many other businesses in Rehoboth.

Longtime Rehoboth residents and regular summer visitors say they are hopeful that with a COVID vaccine expected to become available in the coming months and the interest in Rehoboth generated by the Bidens, the sharp decline in business brought about by the epidemic will quickly reverse itself.

“He’s always been a very avid supporter of businesses in town,” said gay D.C. diversity consultant and executive coach Wesley Combs, who with his husband has been working remotely at the couple’s Rehoboth home.

Combs said that in the recent past Biden has been a regular customer at Browseabout Books, the popular Rehoboth bookstore that added more LGBTQ-related titles to its collection after Rehoboth’s gay bookstore closed three years ago.

Biden greeted people on the sidewalk in front of Browseabout Books in July 2019 when Jill Biden appeared at the store for a book signing event to promote her recently published memoir.

“Whenever the Bidens are in town there’s a buzz in town,” Combs said. “He goes to the Starbucks to get his coffee. And so when they are in town they often frequent the businesses and the town loves him and Mrs. Biden for that reason.”

Combs and others who have been in Rehoboth when the Bidens have come to town after the presidential election say they have observed the presence of Secret Service agents accompanying the Bidens. They expect more staff and presidential aides to join the Bidens during his upcoming visits after he becomes president on Jan. 20, a development they believe will give a needed economic boost to the town and surrounding areas.

Others have expressed concern that if the Bidens arrive in town in an expected presidential motorcade, the already frequent traffic jams on U.S. Route 1, the main road going into Rehoboth from other parts of Delaware, will become far worse.

D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who also has a Rehoboth home, points out that Route 1 is nearly always backed up in traffic during the peak summer months as visitors and summer residents travel to Rehoboth.

“There’s loads of traffic anyway,” said Rosenstein. “And the other thing is he can come in by helicopter. He can land at the Rehoboth elementary school or at Cape Henlopen State Park,” Rosenstein noted, which is located just outside Rehoboth.

Combs said he believes the Biden motorcade can take some alternate routes to avoid traffic backups in Rehoboth itself. He also appears to share the view of many Rehoboth residents who say they are willing to put up with additional traffic caused by the Bidens.

“I am totally fine with any inconvenience his presence in Rehoboth Beach creates to have a more hopeful future for LGBTQ Americans and for all those who have been disenfranchised during the Trump administration,” Combs said.

Gay activist Peter Schott, a Rehoboth area resident who serves as president of Delaware Stonewall PAC, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said Rehoboth could soon have the distinction of being the only known presidential retreat that’s also known as a LGBTQ destination.

Longtime Rehoboth residents and visitors say Rehoboth became known as a vacation and summer home destination for LGBTQ people in the mid-Atlantic region at least since the 1970s if not earlier. Sources familiar with Rehoboth say the large number of LGBTQ D.C.-area residents who have vacationed in Rehoboth in the summer months contributed to Rehoboth’s reputation as the “Nation’s Summer Capital.”

There currently are six gay bars in Rehoboth, most of which also operate as restaurants. Activists say many other bars and restaurants are LGBTQ friendly and draw a significant LGBTQ clientele. For close to 20 years, at least one lesbian or gay man has won election and served on the Rehoboth City Commission, which acts as the city’s legislative governing body.

The famous presidential retreats of Presidents John F. Kennedy in Hyannis Port, Mass.; George H.W. Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine; and Barack Obama in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. are not known as gay destinations.

Schott said the only possible comparison to Rehoboth’s role as a presidential retreat could be the former home of President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty Ford in Rancho Mirage, Calif., which is in the vicinity of Palm Springs, a well-known vacation and residential destination for LGBTQ people. But the Fords did not move into their Rancho Mirage house until 1977, shortly after Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter.

According to Vogue magazine, a gay male couple bought the house from Gerald and Betty Ford’s heirs in 2012 after the Fords had passed away.

Biden, who has a longtime record of support on LGBTQ issues, has enjoyed strong political support in Rehoboth and nearby Lewes, Del. But the two small cities stand out as progressive exceptions in Sussex County, where they are located and which President Donald Trump won in the Nov. 3 election, although Trump lost the statewide race to Biden.

Rehoboth homeowner Jeffrey Slavin, the mayor of Somerset, Md. near D.C. who’s gay, said Biden’s longstanding support for LGBTQ equality is likely to result in there not being much of a “gay angle” to his presence in Rehoboth.

“They’re so open to gay people and everybody knows how much better Biden and the Democrats are for gay people,” said Slavin. “I think there is no question there will be gay people all over his administration and they will do everything possible to right the wrongs of the past four years,” he said.

“So I just think it’s so much of a non-issue for him. We’re in a whole new era,” said Slavin. “We’re already post-Trump the way I look at it. Let’s stop talking about it and move on.”

Kline of Lori’s Café said she was moved that Jill Biden took the time to respond to an email Kline sent her after it was announced that Biden won the election.

“When Jill Biden orders she orders with a personal email,” Kline said referring to Jill Biden’s food carryout orders submitted to Lori’s Café. “And I will never use it except when it was announced that they won,” Kline recounted. “And I emailed her to congratulate her from the café. We were all behind them and they were now going to the White House,” said Kline.

“That was on Saturday night when they said Biden won. And she actually emailed me back that night and said love hearing from you,” Kline continued. “They’re just remarkable people. They’re friendly. They’re real. What you see is what you get.”

Joe Biden with Joe Mack, owner of Double Dippers ice cream shop in Rehoboth. (Photo courtesy of Mack)

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