Venus O’Hara, reigning 2018 Queen of Pride, entered the world of drag performers almost a decade ago to express a part of herself that was off limits in her “boy life.”
“Drag is fighting for the right to be who you want to be,” O’Hara said.
That fight continues Friday as O’Hara and other members of the drag community gather to celebrate the Mid-Missouri PrideFest Pageant at Yin Yang Night Club and to crown the 2019 king, queen and regent of pride.
Drag is a form of entertainment where people perform and dress in a highly stylized manner, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s website.
The theme of this year’s PrideFest, “Persist with Pride,” commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It is considered the kickoff of the modern gay rights movement, according to the organization’s website.
The spark that lit the queer rights movement began with a police raid on a popular gay establishment, the Stonewall Inn. The Greenwich Village bar, like most queer bars in 1969, was familiar with police raids, and patrons often experienced harassment and brutality at the hands of law enforcement, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
On June 28, 1969, at about 2 a.m., the people of Stonewall took a stand and refused to cooperate with the raid. Sylvia Rivera, a leader at Stonewall, described the lead up to the riots to reporter Eric Manus in 1989.
“The police came in. They came in to get their payoff as usual,” Rivera said to the Making Gay History reporter. “It was like, I don’t know if it was the customers or it was the police. Everything just clicked.”
When the protesters resisted, the police responded with violence. Demonstrations ensued for the next five nights, and a year later, on the anniversary of this event, the first pride parade took place.
Locally, a more inclusive PrideFest
Earlier this month, Mid-Missouri PrideFest organized gatherings including a taco party and “Gayest Pet Contest.” The pageant is the final event before the daylong PrideFest, which is set to take place from noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 24 at Rose Music Hall.
Organizer Amanda Lay said the Columbia pageant is intended not only to commemorate Stonewall but also trans women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who led the resistance both during the riots and in the later protests.
Monica Beverly Hillz will headline PrideFest in August. Hillz was a contestant on the Emmy-winning show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and one of the first openly trans women to compete. Lay said she asked Hillz to perform to honor the trans women of color who led the modern gay rights movement.
In 2018, the pageant added regent to existing titles of king and queen of pride. Lay said the regent title was included to welcome performers who “don’t fall in the lines of the king and queen titles.”
Although the regent category existed last year, the title went unclaimed because no one competed for it. This year, Hannibal Lickter, 24, is a part of the first group to compete in the category.
Lickter, who uses the pronoun “they,” identifies as gender-fluid — meaning identifying outside of male-female binary and flowing between and beyond the two.
Friday’s pageant will be the first competition for Lickter, who fell in love with drag from the moment they stepped onstage 2½ years ago to perform a lip-sync rendition of Panic! at the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor.”
“It makes me feel more myself,” Lickter said. “I feel like I’m able to flaunt who I am when I’m onstage.”
Since being named Queen of Pride a year ago, O’Hara has attended every PrideFest-sanctioned event. She said she’s most enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the kids and families in the mid-Missouri LGBTQ community.
“One of my favorite things was that I got to just meet all these great children,” O’Hara said. “I got to be their Disney princess for a day.”
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.