With makeup applied, boots laced and wigs pinned, seven contestants took a collective breath before walking the runway during the second annual drag show, hosted by the Allegheny Gender and Sexuality Alliance Friday, March 29, in the Henderson Campus Center lobby.
The prize for the queen: A Burger King crown with matching crown ring, as well as a $20 Walmart gift card.
“The drag show is all about pride and showing that,” said GSA President Ethan Smith, ’20. “(The LGBTQ community) is a sizeable minority on campus that exists, so it’s about being heard, being seen, and showing the fun side of it.”
About 200 Allegheny community members, who were mostly students, began arriving to the campus center runway shortly before 7 p.m. to watch students compete in a lip synching competition for the crown. With a full lobby and additional audience members leaning over the second floor rails, GSA Major Events Coordinator Stephanie Swarthout, ’19, made initial introductions. Any tips given to performers were to be donated to TransFamily of NWPA, a service and support organization for the region’s transgender community.
The competition was originally to be hosted by Bambi Deerest, Pittsburgh-based drag artist, but a last minute conflict prompted Swarthout to serve as host for the evening. In front of a t-shaped runway, a panel of three judges evaluated contestants in five categories: drag appearance and aesthetic, performance, lip sync ability, energy and audience response.
Smith and Noah Thompson, ’19, former GSA president, served as judges, with GSA President-elect Quinn Broussard, ’22, rounding out the panel.
Beginning with Meat Loaf’s “Hot Patootie/Bless My Soul” and closing with The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men,” the performance lineup included contemporary hits, 2000s Amy Winehouse and country sensations, “Jolene” and “Save a Horse.” Following the seven competitive performances, Swarthout performed as Fister Mantastic to “Sweet but Psycho” by Ava Max, as the judges deliberated.
With a solid decision about the first place recipient, the panel of judges did discuss the second and third place decisions in more depth, Thompson said. Ultimately, Chaztitty, portrayed by Danny Larson, ’19, took home the crown for the second year in a row, with first-year Bryce Burtnett’s Daisy Dukes placing second. GSA Vice President Sam Paul, ’21, as Dixie Normus, placed third.
“It felt just wild and exhilarating and ridiculous,” Burtnett said of his first-ever experience performing in drag. “The spirit of Dolly Parton was inside of me.”
Burtnett, who performed as Daisy Dukes to Parton’s “Jolene,” delivered an energetic interpretation of the country ballad and said he wanted to choose an emotionally-driven song rather than a more traditional, upbeat selection for the competition.
As the two-time queen, Larson said the opportunity to perform again for the Allegheny crowd was an honor.
“I’m just really happy with the turnout and the support for LGBTQ people from the community,” Larson said.
Such community support, according to both Smith and Swarthout, is at the heart of what GSA strives to provide on campus. Though drag events have been hosted at Allegheny in the past, Swarthout said, the GSA organization was not as well managed as it could have been, and membership has been low the past few years. To contribute to its rejuvenation process, GSA decided to rebrand the drag show last year as the “first annual.”
Over the course of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, the five-member GSA board has improved membership from four to five regular members to at least 20, according to Swarthout.
“(GSA) means expressing the inclusivity of all LGBTQ folks and allies, and that means everybody, whether they are a part of the LGBTQ community or not, we want to show respect and love to everyone,” Swarthout said. “I feel like we’ve accomplished at least part of that goal and would like to see more of that happen.”
With membership growth, the number of participants at the second annual drag show also increased — by two, Swarthout said.
By using this year to “rebuild the foundation” for future GSA members, Smith said, GSA will hopefully organize more major events in the upcoming year and continue to grow.
“GSA provides that community and connections with other LGBTQ people on campus,” Smith said. “I feel like that’s a big challenge with the LGBTQ community — you don’t know who is a part of it, unless they are telling you face to face, and that’s easier to do in a GSA setting.”