By: Lynette Martinez
*Note: The Horizon editorial staff formally apologizes for the wrong inclusion and referal to ‘Betty Desire’ in the Article.*
Men in high heels with long lashes and elegant dresses were placed center stage when Whatcom Community College’s Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) presented its annual “Drag and Variety Show” May 30 in Heiner Theater.
“The importance of having events like this is to bring a sense of camaraderie,” said Whatcom student, QSA member and drag show performer who goes by the stage name Cassie O’Piah. “Drag is an art and it is nice to get together with others who view it as art rather than simply impersonating a woman.”
The show was co-emceed by Whatcom alum and original founder of QSA whose stage name is Shanita Blough, and reigning “Empress of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Evergreen Empire” (ISCEE), who uses the stage name Sydney Downunder.
Blough said “Empress” is the highest title that any member of the court can win. Both performed in the show as well.
“The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Evergreen Empire represents Whatcom County, Skagit County, San Juan Islands, and Bellingham and is part of the International Court System that has been running for 37 years,” Blough said.
The International Court System website said that it is an organization representing LGBTQ and heterosexual members in Canada, the US and Mexico that aims to promote awareness and education in their communities.
The show began at 7:30 p.m. and ran for two hours with a 15-minute intermission. The crowd of around 30 enjoyed several laughs throughout the night.
The only Whatcom student who performed in the show was O’Piah. During her first performance O’Piah danced and lip-synced to “Hang With Me” by Robyn while wearing a long light blue silk gown and blonde wig which was pulled back into a bun.
O’Piah let her hair down during her second performance. Wearing a black off-the-shoulder chiffon top and black leather leggings, she danced and lip-synced to “Buttons” by Sia.
Blough gave an energetic performance and had audience members clap along as she performed “It’s Raining Men” by former Spice Girls member Geri Halliwell. She wore white knee-high boots and used an umbrella in the performance.
Other performances were more emotional, such as one given by Bellingham’s iconic Betty Desire, who performed using the stage name Tina Rocker and danced and lip-synced to “Someone Like You” by Adele and “Listen” by Beyoncé, causing some audience members to tear up.
Rocker is also an empress in the ISCEE, said Blough. “Empress 17 to be exact. If Sydney Downunder is reigning Empress 33, Tina Rocker is an old b**ch,” said Blough playfully.
Rocker is a well-known Bellingham resident and member of the drag community who most frequently uses the stage name Betty Desire, and is known for creating “Betty Pages,” a local monthly alternative lifestyle newspaper.
“I joined QSA to help the club become more involved in the community,” said O’Piah. “Western Washington University offers LGBTQ students lots of resources in the community but Whatcom does not.”
O’Piah said that organizing the “Drag and Variety Show” this year was difficult because those who did it in the past graduated and left no instructions behind.
In an attempt to get community members involved with Whatcom’s QSA O’Piah said she competed in the “Queen of Seas” drag show, an annual drag show hosted by the ISCEE the same weekend as Bellingham’s annual Ski to Sea Festival.
O’Piah was crowned and is the reigning “Queen of Seas,” said Blough.
Winning this title just one week before the “Drag and Variety Show” was exciting, O’Piah said.
“I was able to make connections with the Evergreen Empire and because of this bringing other members of the Empire to Whatcom was easier,” said O’Piah. “Members of the Evergreen Empire told me that Whatcom’s QSA was not involved in the community whatsoever, so creating that connection was important to me.”
At the show there was a $5 entrance donation that audience members were invited to contribute. The proceeds of nearly $200 went to support funding for Bellingham’s Pride Festival, said Blough. “We put the ‘fun’ back in fundraising,” she said.
One focus of the ISCEE is to raise money to award a $500 scholarship to one student at Western each year. The Brentwood Slide Scholarship is exclusive to Western, said Blough.
The scholarship was established for students whose focus of studies included LGBTQ subjects, according to the scholarship description on Western’s website.
Another focus of the ISCEE is to raise money to provide free condoms to customers at local bars in the area, a program called “Safe for Free,” said Blough. “We raise money by hosting drag shows, and proceeds then help support these two programs.”
Whatcom’s QSA has 10 members this quarter, said O’Piah. Along with the “Drag and Variety Show” QSA also hosts an annual “Nerd Dance,” said QSA co-advisor Susan Lonac. She added that events hosted by QSA are aimed at creating “a low-pressure way for coming together.”
“Building bridges between QSA and the larger community in Bellingham will be a major focus for next year,” said O’Piah.