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UWM sees a full house for ninth annual LGBT Drag Show

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All tips given to performers were donated to Project Q, the youth branch of Milwaukee's LGBT Community Center.

Lady Gaga may have a voice that can sell millions of records, but her trademark costumes can’t even begin to compare to those of hyper-feminine dancer Lady Gia.

This Milwaukee show-stopper was just one of the 22 entertainers to perform at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s annual Drag Show Saturday, Feb. 27. Now in its ninth year, the show, hosted by the school’s LGBT Resource Center, raised funds for Project Q — the youth branch of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.

Warren Scherer, program coordinator for UW-Milwaukee’s LGBT Resource Center, said the drag show works to illuminate three different facets of LGBT society: cultural, social and educational. As the LGBT Resource Center’s largest event, it advances the mission of the center, raising awareness and visibility of LGBT students’ needs and their identity across campus.

The Drag Show, which sparks interest well beyond the walls of the university, began in 1999 under the sole direction of students. With the founding of the LGBT Resource Center in 2001, however, the organization process changed, with the LGBT Center running the program for the past nine years.

Scherer was one of the show’s hosts, dressing in drag as “Isis,” along with drag king “Joe Mama.”

Scherer describes a drag show as a unique part of the LGBT culture that falls within the transgender arena. Whether lip syncing or singing live, drag queens and kings create their own individual personalities and accent them with eccentric costumes and makeup.

“It challenges the rigid concepts of masculinity and the rigid concepts of femininity,” Scherer said.

Over the years, drag has moved from what Scherer describes as “dark, sometimes seedy, Cabaret shows and dens” to more mainstream entertainment. In addition, drag has further evolved from centering exclusively on drag queens to now include drag kings, women who impersonate men, as well as hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine performers, who portray extreme examples of their own genders.

“It allows people to step outside of themselves if they’re performing,” Scherer said.

He said it also allows audience members to step outside themselves and gives them an opportunity to cut loose and have fun. This year, the drag show tallied a record crowd of 900 UWM students, faculty, alumni and the general public. A decade ago, the ballrooms were not even half full. Now they are overflowing.

“A lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten from the community has been very supportive and students seem really excited,” Scherer said.

However, he acknowledged the fact that not everyone extends such strong support for the event.

Regardless, the LGBT Resource Center put on the show for a good cause. While the event was free, all tips for the performers and donations went directly to Project Q.  The amount collected has yet to be determined, although in years past the event’s efforts have raised an average of $1,600.

“All of the drag queens are volunteering their time and energy,” Scherer said.

While drag queens from across the country have performed in previous shows, most of Saturday’s entertainment traced back to UWM.

“This year, I’m particularly proud of the fact that a lot of the performers are UWM students or UWM alum,” Scherer said.  “All of the performers are from the greater Milwaukee area.”

Lady Gia, who directs drag shows at Triangle Bar every Thursday night, has been involved with UWM’s Drag Show since its first year and has become a definite crowd favorite. One of the hyper-feminine performers at the Drag Show, Lady Gia said she has always been interested in performing.

“I always loved being on the stage and being a dancer,” Lady Gia said.

This year, she brought nearly every audience member to their feet with her finale rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Year after year, she has returned to support the LGBT Center’s mission and has watched attendance expand.

“It makes people realize there’s nothing wrong with gay people,” Lady Gia said.

UWM sophomore Cameron Sproul, who had a friend in the show, said he came for that exact reason.

“It shows the diversity and shows how open our campus is to all people,” Sproul said.

There’s always the entertainment factor as well.

As Scherer put it, “To quote a famous drag queen, ‘Who doesn’t love a drag show?’”

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