The road leading from a small farm in Idaho with 5,000 sheep to receiving the Dr. Kristen Reis Community Service Award on Gay Pride Day in Salt Lake City is fraught with danger and excitement.
This is not going to be my usual humor column. Please indulge me as I try to give proper and respectful thanks to the community which has seen fit to bestow such a great honor on this old has-been drag queen.
First of all, let me say that I am humbled beyond belief (No, that is not a strong enough word, I am mortified) at being given this award and having my name added to the list of the many great people who have preceded me. As they were reading off a list of things I have accomplished over the last 30 years in the LGBTQ community, I began to feel like Harry Potter, when Hermione and Ron were asking him to teach Dumbledore’s Army. Harry protested, “Wait… look, it all sounds *great* when you say it like that. But the truth is most of that was just luck. I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, and I nearly always had help.” And so it was with me also.
I’m so thankful to all the people who have come before me, preparing the road for a little frightened queen from Idaho, making that road a little less fraught with danger, and more filled with wonders and excitement. None of these accomplishments happen on their own, in a social vacuum.
I’m grateful that when I came out, and my family and religion rejected me, people like Norm Jenks and Judd West had already organized the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Cache Valley. That Bruce Barton, Bruce Harmon and my husband to be, Kelly Byrnes had already established the Metropolitan Community Church in Utah. These people and all of the other community organizers before created a foundation and an environment where I was able to feel safe and choose and form a new extended family that would be a place of loving acceptance. And helping me along the way with Weekly Coffee Klatches and movie nights, pot luck dinners, monthly Diner’s Clubs, annual river float trips and campouts, all these things were my dearest friends, Wayne Hansen, Bruce Allen and Tim Keller, not to mention the longsuffering Mr. Pap Smear.
I feel self serving and greedy accepting this award, because for the most part, all I did was to plan activities that I personally wanted to do, and then I invited the rest of the community along for the ride. For example, one time about 20 years ago, I was up Logan Canyon in the cruising area known as the “Fruit Loop,” lamenting that there was so much traffic coming and going but that everyone was so alone, plus I was hungry. I thought I could open up a hot-dog stand and actually drum up quite a business.
So the next week I showed up in the Fruit Loop with a folding table and chair, a grill and some hot dogs and I set up shop in a wide spot in the trails. Many guys passed me by, and gave me a look like “are you crazy man, the police will come and get you.” Before long, I invited one of the cruisers to stop and have a hot dog, but he just moved speedily away, as if I were some kind of trap. About a half hour later another guy came along and after much explaining and coaxing I gave him a hot dog. Then, slowly, hesitantly one by one, about three guys emerged from the trails and we had a nice little rendezvous.
The following week, the same scenario repeated, but there were about five participants. On the third week, one of the other guys also brought some chips to share and a chair of his own. It continued to build, week after week where we encouraged people on the trails to stop, have a hot dog, share a name and a story. Some weeks we would have up to 25 guys in attendance. We ended up naming our weekly cookouts, Weeny World. After several months we became bolder and we even encouraged HIV prevention by putting condom dispensers and safer sex information along the trails. There must have been a need because we ended up refilling the condom dispensers at least three times a week. Soon, dozens of lonely individuals made meaningful friendships and strengthen the community.
People often ask me why I spend so much time doing these kinds of community things? All I can do is share the following experience: As a member of the Cache Valley AIDS Council over 15 years I was able to teach HIV Prevention to tens of thousands of students in 16 high schools in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho. One day Judd West and I were in the Cache Valley Mall, and a young lady approached us and asked if we were the same people who had given an HIV presentation at Mountain Crest High School several years earlier. When we confirmed that indeed it had been us, she exclaimed that she was so glad to run into us to thank us. She said, “you literally saved my life that day.” That is all the reward I need. These kinds of things are why we do community service.
And now, as is my custom, this leaves us with these eternal questions:
1. Will Petunia Pap Smear’s beehive hair ever fit into a port-a-potty?
2. Do the police still buzz the Logan Canyon Fruit Loop looking for Weeny World?
3. When the young lady said “You saved my life that day,” did my eyeliner streak and run when I began to cry?