After a brief hiatus, Portland’s Mr/Miss HIV Awareness Pageant is coming back. The current titleholder Morgan Brooks, is relinquishing her crown, after two years in the role. The pageant was started in 2014, when Lulu Luscious first won the title. The pageant was reestablished by Allen Cole as a way to raise revenue for the Cascade AIDS Project (CAP).
"The pageant is going to be more exciting and have more interest in it than ever before. This is not a court title, it's a community title. We have had more interest in potential contenders this year than ever before," said Cole, himself a former Miss Gay Oregon, and a favorite designer for local drag performers. "We have nine Miss contenstants and several interested Misters."
In terms of local talent supporting the event, Cole has Summer Lynne Seasons as a co-Master of Ceremonies. Local KATU personality Helen Raptis, as well as a representative from CAP, will be judges. Since Cole wants to extend the crown to Washington State, a representative from across the Columbia will be a judge, as will a former titleholder from the pageant. He's even got a former Empress as a judge.
"So it's going to be a variety of different people involved," he added. "This will be every year, going forward. My hope is to bring it out of the bar scene and into larger venues to raise even more money for charity."
If there is a tie Cole, as owner, will break it based upon their scores. Pageant winners get their crowns, sash, and a ruby and diamond ring as their regalia. The crowned Mr and MIss will be appear during the 2018 gay pride parade of 2018. While Local Queen is sponsoring the winners to go on the Big Gay Boat Ride.
"My goal is to work with CAP and charities that need the money," Cole said of his philanthropic nature, which is well-regarded in the LGBT and non-profit community. "I don't need the crown to raise money for charity in Oregon."
In the two years that Brooks has held the title, he has earned about $5000 in support of CAP and other charities. On Sunday, April 8th, at CC Slaughter’s there is an open-call for people in the community to be interviewed as possible contestants to take home the title this year. There is both a Miss and Mr. crown to be taken away, this time.
“It’s exciting. We don’t know how many people we are going to receive,” Brooks said. “We want people who are creative, and natural about what they are bringing to the table, but also someone who is good about being able to raise money for charity.”
Before Brooks crowns the new winner he’ll be doing a few acts, but he doesn’t have a say in the new winner as per pageant rules.
“I have really enjoyed my time working with CAP, we got to meet a lot of fun people. It was incredible work,” Brooks said emphatically. He is not however giving up his involvement in philanthropy. “I’m going to continue working with local charities. I am moving to LA, and I am going to keep working with other non-profits there.”
In addition to CAP, Brooks has supported non-profits such as Camp KC, Peacock in the Park, and Pivot. It’s important anyone thinking of competing for the crown is comfortable getting their face out there to promote for CAP and other local charities.
Brooks shared a bit of his personal story, as it relates to his work as a drag performer. At 6’5” in flats, the addition of wigs and heels brings Brooks to nearly eight feet tall. He started just before he turned 16, in Mississippi, as a way to express himself in a safe and controlled environment, without hate or judgement.
“I started performing in Memphis, and then Atlanta, where I met my amazing drag family,” Brooks recounted. “From there drag evolved for me as a way of expressing myself and escaping the real world for a bit and also helping raise money for my community to build a stronger queer family. Growing up in a poor, Southern family I understand the struggles most people deal with day to day and I know I can use my art as a way to help ease that struggle at least a little bit.”
The LGBT community is certainly aware education, anti-retroviral drugs, and the success of PrEP has reduced the number of HIV infections. However, we also recognize this doesn't mean the charities who support people effected by it no longer need our support.
If you are a resident of Oregon or Washington, with a strong sense of philanthropy who wishes to give back to the local LGBTQ community, and you wish to enter the competition, get yourself to CC’s on Sunday, April 8th, starting at 5 PM. The pageant will take place on Sunday, May 27th, at the Darcelle XV Showplace with doors opening at 5 PM.