VCU political science sophomore Brian Rutherford is no newcomer to the drag scene. He performs about twice a month in venues like Godfrey’s and Babes of Carytown since making his debut as Daisy Stockton at last year’s charity VCU Drag Ball.
The crowd downtown at Saturday’s Virginia PrideFest 2011, however, was bigger than his usual audience. With a substantial turnout of families with children, as well, Rutherford said his act became somewhat more “PG-rated.”
“It’s open to all ages, so … you bring it down a notch,” he said.
Despite an occasional light drizzle, the rainbow-bedecked Kanawha Plaza played host Saturday to a dense crowd of all conceivable ages, sizes, shapes, and flavors.
“I think that Pride is particularly special because you see here … people who understand all walks of life. The diversity here is amazing to see,” Rutherford said.
“There aren’t a lot of places this visibly queer for people to go,” Joe Blanton, senior VCU sociology major and PrideFest attendee, said. “If you go to a gay bar, you find it, or maybe the queer groups on campus, but otherwise it’s hard to find … any place that’s this comfortable to be queer.”
In addition to an array of busy tabling organizations and vendors, attendees enjoyed performances from local drag acts – Ms. Stockton included – and later in the evening, Martha Wash of the Weathergirls (“It’s Raining Men”).
A Mr. VA Pride 2011 pageant developed in segments throughout the day, including categories such as athletic- and swimwear. Ultimately, the rhinestone crown and pink silken sash were awarded to Brian Reach, formerly Mr. Gay Fairfax.
“I’m not really a pageant person,” the newly-coronated Mr. VA Pride 2011 said. “The only reason I entered into this is because it’s more than talent and beauty and all that. It’s really an almost political representation thing – I think that’s important.”
Before being called to pose with fans in a photo, Reach said his comfort in front of crowds came not from any former experience in pageants, but from many years of leading his church youth group.
Morgan Krug, first semester graduate student with VCU’s gender, sexuality and women’s studies program and LGBT/women’s services coordinator for VCU, assisted in handing out free information at the table where VCU’s Queer Action Committee had set up shop.
“While there’s individual pockets of pride (in Richmond), to see something that’s more citywide like this is really nice,” she said. “I’m always a little suspicious of the commodification of queer people within a consumer-capitalist economy, but you know.”
Krug said she saw PrideFest’s origins – “originally founded and organized by white gay men” – reflected in the event planning and choice of underwear models. Nonetheless, she said she was pleased with the number of VCU students that had stopped at her table and discovered that LGBTQ-friendly organizations and resources exist at their university.
“We’ve had a lot of VCU students come by and be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that we had these student orgs, or this office that we could come to,’” she said. “It’s nice to show ourselves as a school that is welcoming and diverse and has resources for the students.”
Photos by Glenn Jodun