Diversity Thrift fashion show/drag extravaganza raises funds, extols compassion

Nick Bonadies

Spectrum editor

At the Gay Community Center of Richmond on Saturday, past the locally iconic rainbow wall on the back end of Diversity Thrift and under the rainbow disco ball, a runway had been built.

The “Don’t Hate, Celebrate!” fashion show, whose ticket sales raised funds for GCCR, featured original designs assembled from pieces found in Diversity Thrift, as well as performances by local drag celebrities.  Lindsay Ess, VCU Fashion alum and frequent guest lecturer, volunteered her services in designing and directing the show.

Several months after graduating in 2007, Ess underwent quadruple amputation after complications with an intestinal surgery developed into sepsis, a severe inflammatory disease.  Since then, she has spent much of her time putting her talents in fashion towards charitable causes.

Don’t Hate was her last show in Richmond before traveling to the University of Pennsylvania for a groundbreaking hand transplant surgery.

“When I was in need, people were there for me,” said Ess in an interview with the Commonwealth Times.  “So now it’s my turn to be there for people.”

Ess said she believed artists are in a unique position to motivate change in the world.  “We’re the weird thinkers of society. … People turn to us for innovation, for change and leadership.”

“Mistress of ceremonies” Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside, who describes herself as “the Southern Fried Socialite of Richmond,” echoed the sentiment.

“I always hope that we’re providing the audience a little bit of inspiration,” said Burnside, whose warm classy southern twang could rival Dolly Parton’s.  “Kind of opening and broadening people’s horizons.  … There’s so much beautiful color in this world – I find as many opportunities as possible to just make that color explode.”

Burnside was indeed explosive in her opening act as MC, emerging resplendent in a dazzling hot pink cocktail dress, matching gargantuan church hat and mind-blowing purple heels.  The audience, themselves dressed to party, cheered and whistled through Burnside’s performance of Shirley Bassey’s “Get This Party Started” cover.  (“Y’all look good,” she said to the crowd. “Not as good as me but you tried, bless your heart.”)

The show to follow was separated into aspects of a sufficiently colorful life: Family, Work, Chill, and Party.  Throughout, old secondhand Diversity Thrift items had been rendered timeless: expertly chosen and arranged to stunning effect.  Family, whose models worked in doubles, featured a pregnant mother with her young son and a gay couple holding hands.  Work showcased the chicest outfit ever to include a VCU School of Medicine resident’s coat.

An additional category, Legalize Gay, was sponsored by American Apparel’s campaign of the same name, and centered on the company’s line of garments bearing the same slogan.  At this point, Burnside reflected on being “raised by a lot of good Christian women,” and having attended Bible school and church every Sunday as a child.  “One thing I was always taught is that there is nothing wrong with love,” she said.  “There are only two emotions that exist in this world, love and fear. … Tonight, we’re encouraging you all to choose love.”

Other drag acts were interspersed between each category.  Performers included Mr. Xavier Drake, “the king of kings” and talented popper who lip-synched to T-Pain, and Tam’ra Tornei, who rocked a disco medley in peace-sign earrings and a glittering rainbow zebra-print jumper.  Millenium C. Snow performed an operatic aria entirely on her knees: her faux-reptile dress crawled twelve feet past her legs like a snake.

Candy Pantzzz won for tallest platform heels of the evening, as well as for most expansive hat.  Her coat was a bushy mass of raven feathers that, when flung aside, revealed an electric fuscia catsuit.  She also, in an interview with the Commonwealth Times, revealed her alter-ego as VCU Fashion professor Jonathon Bennett.

When asked what advice she would give to young people finding their place in the world, Pantzzz answered in a professorial Socratic fashion.  “What’s your passion? – Find your passion and serve that passion, whatever it is.  … Wherever it is, go find it and have fun.  Because it will pay off at some point in your life – whether it’s now or then, it will pay off.”

The Gay Community Center of Richmond is a 501 (c) 3 public charity who have given a total of more than $500,000 dollars to LGBT supportive organizations since 2000.  Visit GayRichmond.com for more information.

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