When it comes to the drag queen community, there is a preconceived notion that on the most base of levels an omnipresent cattiness exists. From haircut hate-ons to clothing disses, the fur appears to fly from queen to queen.
Take a closer look, though, and behind the bawdy behaviour you’ll find an abundance of love and compassion. They’ll deny it, of course, but the truth is the amount of fundraising and community building the average drag queen does puts many other parts of the queer community to shame.
Vivian Von BrokenHymen (aka Cameron Miller), Conni Smudge (Chris Bolton) and Willie Taylor are no exception to that rule.
True to form, the three have gathered together today–barely six hours after each has gone to bed–to promote an HIV/AIDS fundraiser they are involved with called Fit for a Queen.
The one-night-a-year gala–produced by the Shooting Stars Foundation’s director Kendra Sprinkling–is set to offer its fifth year of delicious diva-ocity at the Stanley Theatre on May 29. The event is steeped in noteworthy history.
Now celebrating its 20th year, the show (formerly known as the Starry Night Foundation) was founded by David Harrison, an out gay may who himself succumbed to AIDS during the 11th season of the event.
After years of working alongside Harrison on the variety-show fundraiser, Sprinkling realized that the energy, emotion and enthusiastic audience response to the queens of Starry Night was worth exploring as its own event.
“I think drag is a wonderful art,” enthuses Sprinkling. “They are wonderful actors and it was really sad that the rest of the city didn’t see them.”
Besides, she says, if a few drag numbers in Starry Night could generate such a tremendous e-mail response from straight people in their 50s, what would a whole drag show produce?
“I thought, ‘What an opportunity to showcase this talent and give performers a demographic that hasn’t had a chance to see them,'” says Sprinkling.
To date, the Shooting Stars Foundation’s related fundraisers–from Fit for a Queen to a Motown review to a Wine Tasting night–have collectively raised more than $830,000 for a host of HIV-positive and AIDS-related charities. The allocation of funds raised is not queer-exclusive, divided amongst a host of places from the Dr Peter AIDS Foundation to ASIA (the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS) to the Prison Outreach Program and beyond. But according to the performers, that diverse outreach is just the way they like it.
“For me,” says Taylor, “being gay isn’t all about doing everything for our own community; it is about helping out other communities as well.”
“I like to give back to charities that don’t get government funding,” adds Von BrokenHymen. “We have to look out for the little guy. The Heart of Richmond AIDS Society is a group that I’ve been a part of for many years. I grew up there; they brought in an AIDS wing to the Richmond hospital. They don’t get any money from the government. This year I was told that Kendra was going to give them some money from our fundraiser so that is so nice.”
Not only does Fit for a Queen offer its performers a warm, fuzzy feeling, its location at the magnificent Stanley Theatre allows the divas to spread their wings in a glamorous, Las Vegas-style cabaret.
“Fit for a Queen is an easy choice for me,” says Taylor. “I get to do a great fundraiser that generates a lot of cash. At the same time, I get to be onstage in a fabulously produced show in a professional setting.”
Asking the queens to talk a little about this year’s show yields this prediction from Taylor: “I have a feeling that this year is going to be my best performance yet. I’m so excited about it!”
This prompts an ear piercing “YOU BITCH!” from Smudge.
The trademark cattiness continues as the ladies are asked if–even in this altruistic context–they aim to trump the competition and be the unofficial Queen of the night.
“That depends on everybody else,” drawls Taylor. “I’ll be the best I can; if the other queens are lazy, then yes, I will definitely be the best!”
The room erupts in laughter and tittering.
“I hope she trips!” howls Smudge. “Honey, I’m putting some baby oil on the bottom of your shoes!”
Sassing aside, the ladies admit that the real reason everyone participates in the show comes down to one word: legacy. Honouring great performers, wanting to leave a great legacy of their own and, most importantly, commemorating the people that they have loved and lost to AIDS.
“When I have a quiet moment while putting my makeup on, I try and think of the 39 funerals that I’ve been to,” says Smudge. “I’m 36 years old and I’ve been to 39 funerals. Friends, relatives of friends, it is a terrible disease and we’ve got to make it stop.”