I remember when To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar started showing in cinemas. For a young man from Tennessee, it was the first time I had seen anything close to a mainstream portrayal of drag queens, if a poorly done one (sorry, Wesley Snipes). My friends and family ignored it. If other conservative Southerners were forced to acknowledge the film, they likely scoffed at it.
Seventeen years later, PJ Sedillo and I are talking kings and queens in a changed world. "I don't think drag is a taboo anymore," he says. "It's become sort of mainstream with 'RuPaul's Drag Race.' "
Since long before To Wong Foo—for at least 25 years—Sedillo has been a leader in the LGBTQ community. He was president of Albuquerque Pride for more than two decades. He also worked tirelessly to change the wording of APS contracts so they don’t discriminate against same-sex couples.
Sedillo’s Sinatra-DeVine Productions will be presenting Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are, the largest local variety and benefit show of its kind in honor of National Coming Out Day.
Sinatra-DeVine Productions is a nonprofit organization that has staged this event every year since 1999. The show’s predecessors started in bars but quickly grew and moved to venues that were family-friendly. All of the work that goes into it and all of the acts are strictly volunteer.
There were so many requests from performers wanting to be involved this year, auditions had to be held. More than 100 performers will take to the stage for 2012’s iteration: “A Star Is Born.” Acts include New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus, illusionists All The Kings Men and theatrical troupe The Dolls, among others.
Local celebrities lend their talents and voices to the variety show. Chaz Malibu hosts with Sedillo but will also be performing with his barbershop quartet. (You heard it here first: Barbershop is back in a big way.) Carlos and Kiki, morning show hosts for 93.3 KOB-FM, will both be in drag for the first time to raise funds for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Each act lasts six minutes, the pace fast and the energy from the performers infectious. The 796-seat room sells out almost every year.
Sedillo is quick to remind me about the reason for the show. All profits will be donated to the Anita Salas Memorial Fund, as requested by late board member JoAnne Ramponi, who lost her battle to breast cancer two years ago. The fund helps underserved women get treatment for breast and cervical cancer.
During “A Star is Born,” awards will be presented to those who have supported the LBGTQ community in Albuquerque. The JoAnne Ramponi award is for singers and entertainers. The Into the Light Award goes to those helping out on the other side of the curtain. "You need the people on stage and behind stage to make a show," Sedillo says.
Since my days in The Volunteer State, I've found the same is true for making a community whole. We're all in this together.