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Queens of the Deseret head to Baker, Nev.

Allies come in all shapes and sizes. The small town of Baker, Nev., shares a unique connection with a group of gay men, lesbians, transgender people, and drag queens. In 2003, Salt Lake City resident, John Apel was approached to participate in Mardi Gras involving the whole Snake Valley community in Eastern Nevada and Western Utah. Apel, driving his Mazda Miata, escorted grand marshal Dean Baker while Catherine Balka drove Baker’s Mardi Gras King, Gene Skinner, and Queen, Gen Richardson, in the parade.

Mardi Gras – Baker Style received extensive coverage from The Salt Lake Tribune. The event and parade were planned by U.S. veteran David Cochrane and included a five-piece band from Eskdale High School and entries from the Parks, Fisheries and Fire Departments, and others. The parade wound through the streets and alleys of Baker to engage the entire community. T&D Restaurant and Bar served New Orleans-style food, accompanied by jazz music. Outside, residents found games for children and adults.

Baker is home to the Great Basin National Park which includes Lehmann Caves. Apel describes the caves as “the best caves around.” The town sits over the aquifers that Las Vegas wants to ease its water needs. With a population of 200, Baker shares the Snake Valley with Eskdale and Garrison.

Apel was joined on this adventure by Scott Stites, Emperor X of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire. The success of Mardi Gras inspired Cochrane, Stites and Apel to begin planning the annual event currently known as Diversity Days Baker Style.

Cochrane approached Border Inn owner Denys Koyle to host a barbecue if Stites and Apel brought drag queens and other performers from Salt Lake City to perform.

“If you can bring your gay community to us, we will have a party for you and enjoy your company. We would love to see your talent,” Cochrane stated.

In the spirit of the RCGSE to raise money to help those in need, Apel and Stites began raising money to help the Baker schools and, eventually, the Eskdale High School Choir fund for biannual trips that have included San Francisco; Branson, Mo., Washington, DC; and New York City. Over the last decade, the group has raised over $33,000.

Apel describes the success of the event, “We have been doing this fundraising for 14 years and, besides not making the bus trip last year, we still were able to raise $1035 from our 2nd Prom for the kids which principal Nomi Sheperd came to Salt Lake City to retrieve last October at the home of Geri Mendoza and David Cochrane.”

Apel wants to thank so many people. He doesn’t view the success of the event as a personal or even group success, but as one of the whole of both communities working together. He appreciates all of those who have joined him. For the first five years, Stites and Apel led the trip. Over the next five years, Stites and Apel were joined by Michael Bennion, Emperor XXXVII of the RCGSE, and Michael Tragakis and all are known as the Fabulous Baker Boys. In recent years, the group has evolved into The Baker Boyz and Girlz.

Apel attributes much of the success of Baker’s Diversity days to the RCGSE. He speaks fondly of many members, and points out a select few standouts. “The first person so valuable to the Baker Experience is Emperor XXXIII Tim Hile who has given us this free bus this year so more money would go to the kids. So much food, money and support has come from this extraordinary man.” Apel wanted to thank more people than we could include.

Want to join the adventure to Baker this year?

This October 22nd and 23rd, the Baker Bates Motel bash will definitely go down in history. Bus tickets are $40 with rooms ranging from $65 to $85. For $20, an all-you-can-eat steak fry is presented by the residents of Baker. Please contact John Apel, about ticket sales. If want to visit the Lehmann Cave, the cost is $10 additional for the morning before returning to Salt Lake City. Q

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