By Alaysha Germaine
On the evening of Friday, May 14, Syre auditorium held a crowd cultivated of more than just Whatcom students and more than just your everyday entertainers.
A test run of “Black Velvet” played in the background as audience members laughed and anxiously awaited the start of the show. From behind large red velvet curtains, a woman in a suit emerged.
“Welcome everyone, thanks for coming! I just want to apologize for our late start, it seems our performers are running on drag time.”
A full auditorium laughs hysterically at the first gag of the evening. This is Whatcom’s annual Drag and Variety Show.
Whatcom’s Queer Straight Alliance Club and the college dedicated the week of May 10 to queer awareness, kicking off the information and entertainment with a health fair on Monday.
An array of brightly covered pamphlets and personalized poster boards marked the presence of Whatcom’s QSA, along with members from various health organizations for both straight and gay/lesbian students. Village Vida Center, Evergreen AIDS Foundation Services, and Planned Parenthood, to name just a few, came to inform about the health of the gay community and offer information about general health issues.
Queer Awareness Week is known by different titles throughout various colleges in the U.S., but the overall goal remains information and equality.
“For me, this week and its events are important because I see my gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender students facing challenges that their straight counterparts don’t understand,” said Susan Lonac, a QSA club advisor. “The club itself is a growing energetic source here on campus. I feel proud to be associated with them.”
Lonac’s association with the club was soon well known by all members of the drag show crowd, as members of the audience were auctioned off by friends and co-workers. Lonac became the target of interest. Nearly $100 was pooled together to get Lonac transformed.
“I had no idea I was going to be auctioned off to be put in drag,” She said. “But the drag king who transformed me was a real artist. Three or four people I know well walked right up to me backstage and had no idea who I was. Hilarious! Also, one of the performers told me that I make “a really hot dude,” so that was nice.”
The second day of queer awareness week held a film festival showing “The Celluloid Closet,” and Wednesday held a Q and A panel of QSA members to be questioned by anyone with curiosity. In the Syre auditorium, a line of eight members sat open to anything that came their way. A group of three students sitting at the front of the dimly lit room politely inquired about each individual’s coming-out stories. A silence sat over the panel as they decided who would go first and shortly after, an array of both amusing and nerve-racking stories emerged.
One student asked why the group puts on drag shows and a member volunteered her response. “We do drag shows to raise awareness, to raise money, to be fabulous, and to test the waters of transitioning,” she said.
The transitions of many individuals were apparent on Friday night, beginning with drag show veteran, drag queen Betty Desire. In a loose hanging black satin dress and a large curly auburn wig, she emerged. “Hit it beautiful sound man,” she said. “Black Velvet” began to play once again, but this time, Ms. Desire serenaded the crowd. Ruthlessly flirting with various members of the crowd, her task of entertaining was more than accomplished.
When the hoots and hollers of the audience ceased, Desire collected what she titled an accessory from the audience. His name was Max, and his new seat for the remainder of the show was right on Betty’s lap. “Every drag queen needs an accessory,” she announced.
The MC for the night was a drag queen by the name of Shanita Blough aka Nick Milhoan, one of the original members of QSA, who then announced to the crowd. “Just so you know, this is a drag show, no one is safe!” Chuckles once again emerged from all around the room.
Although the drag show itself was in fact produced to amuse, Queer Awareness Week stands for something more than just laughs which became apparent on Thursday, May 13. In the evening hours outside Syre, a candlelight vigil was held to honor members of the queer community who have been members of hate crimes.
“While the whole goal of this show/event is to have fun, it’s also about coming together as a community,” said Milhoan, “The health fair earlier this week was not just about queer issues, but had different aspects that pertained to the entire community. It’s important to become equal and have humanity be accepting.”
For John Gonzales, a second advisor for the QSA, this week is about not only information, but social justice. Growing up in a highly conservative and traditional family that Gonzales described as somewhat bigoted, he said, “This club has been an opportunity for me to make up for that background, to support social justice, and the spirit of community and fun.”
Gonzales’ “alter ego,” Norma LaNono, brought fun to a new level on stage as she sang accapella to a song comprised of comedy and risqué topics. Her fishnet stockings and sparkling silver shoes accented the French accent escaping from painted red lips.
Each act brought something new to the table, drag kings and queens, group dancers, singers and solo performers characterized the spirit of a group that still faces discrimination but pushes through it.
Gonzales noted that much of what the QSA does is acknowledge social and cultural disapproval, and openly saying, “We’re not going to accept that characteristic of us.”
“This show was our best so far,” he said. “The variety of the acts and the overall organization, pace, and energy just keep improving each year we do it.”
All the proceeds from the drag and variety show will go to PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The foundation is national; however, the drag and variety show will be donating only to the Bellingham branch. PFLAG provides education, activities, and even a pride festival to promote awareness which will take place in June.
“Drag Shows provide an avenue to entertain and educate without having to read off statistics or have someone get a pamphlet,” Said Blough. “It’s a way to do both and have some fun. Also everyone LOVES a good drag show and so we knew that bringing that in would help raise funds for some worthy causes.”
According to QSA’s club treasurer, the drag and variety show raised more than $700 for PFLAG this year.
Amber Smit, a front row audience member, said, “The event itself was amazing. It really did include a variety of people and the mix of performers was great,” she added that in her opinion it’s wonderful that so many people came forward to support this group. “It’s about time people realized that gay people are just that, people.”