HOQUIAM — In 2015, Ceasar Hart and his partner were sitting at Simpson Avenue Bar and Grill in Hoquiam when two men began making hateful comments about them. The owner, Shelly Dixon, confronted the men.
“Word got out that we were gay-friendly,” recalls Dixon, and soon more members of the LGBTQIA community began patronizing the bar. LGBTQIA is an inclusive term standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Asexual or Allied. When one of these new patrons suggested that Dixon host drag shows at the bar, she reached out to Hart.
Hart, who was already performing as a drag king in shows around the region, jumped at the opportunity to host his own show. The first show was packed. Eventually, Dixon had several walls taken down and a stage built to better accommodate the performances.
Now, the “Small Town, Big Hart’s Drag Revue” is three years old and thriving in this coastal county, one of more than 20 counties in Washington to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The drag shows draw talent from all over the Pacific Northwest and are a main event at the town’s annual August pride festival.
But it hasn’t been all sequins and rainbows. Some in this former logging town aren’t happy about the shows and Dixon says she has received criticism for hosting them. Last year, a City Council member tried to block funding for the annual Pride festival.
Hart has also been criticized for staging all-ages drag shows.
But Dixon and Hart are not shaken by the push back.
“Our community should make sure that these kids know that there’s nothing wrong with them. I caught a lot of flack, but I kept my head up … This is important to me, just to make sure these kids feel safe,” says Dixon.
Ean Lavallee was 5 years old when he attended his first drag show. After the show, recalled his mom, Beth Lavallee, he began telling both of his mothers that he wanted to perform drag. They encouraged him to talk to Hart
A few months later, in Hoquiam’s first all-ages drag show, Lavalle hit the stage as Stormy Skies, his first performance as a bio-king — a biological male performing as male. A month after that, he donned a silky blond wig and Aurea Sunshine was born, making her debut as a drag queen at a benefit for Beyond Survival, a local non-profit that supports sexual abuse survivors.
“My favorite things are it helps people and some people don’t like it though, but it’s the best thing in the world. I love drag,” says Lavallee, who is now 7.
Now, Hart hosts regular all-ages shows called “Hart’s of the Community” at Events on Emerson, an event venue in Hoquiam, and occasionally at Simpson Avenue Bar and Grill. Hart says that the shows have received a lot of criticism.
“Locals are calling me a pedophile and I’m just like, ‘Are you serious? Well then you come to this show and you tell these little kids that are crying on the microphone to everybody telling you how important these shows are to them. You tell me to stop doing it then.’ There’s no way,” says Hart.
For performers like 12-year-old Carly Rain, the performances are about taking a stand. She debuted as a bio-queen after drag king Parker Perry was attacked in Olympia in 2016.
“The first song she ever performed to was actually for Parker, because of how much he inspired her to not sit back and just take bullying and it was ‘Boomerang’ by Jojo Siwa, and she just rocked it,” says KC Rain, a drag king who performs in Long View and Carly Rain’s “dad-mom,” as she calls him.
Carly Rain is also part of the LGTBQ and Allies group at her middle school and recently stood up for a boy at her school who was being bullied for being gay. She smiles shyly when addressed, but speaks firmly. “It’s just standing up for what our community stands for, and it just feels good to do it,” she says.
‘I don’t support it and I hope it goes away’
Some Grays Harbor residents have taken issue with the increased visibility of the LGBTQIA community.
In 2016, Hoquiam City Council Member Dave Wilson unsuccessfully attempted to block the fourth annual Grays Harbor Pride from receiving part of a lodging tax tourism grant that would fund promotion and advertising for the festival, citing his Christian-based beliefs. No other council members seconded his motion.
“I don’t support it, and I hope it goes away,” Wilson says of Pride.
Despite his views, Wilson says he has a great relationship with his lesbian sister and his gay brother-in-law.
“I love the people,” he says, “But I don’t love the actions. I don’t approve of lesbians. I don’t approve of gay, just because of my faith in God.”
Last year, tensions erupted between the LGBTQIA community and the former owners of Cappy Rick’s Black Pearl Tavern, when each accused the other of making physical threats at the bar.
Months later, the owners sold the Black Pearl, and Drew Paradisco, a drag performer who led efforts online to expose the bar for alleged discrimination, became known in LGTBQIA communities in the region as “The Kraken.”
This year Pride organizers held an after-party at the newly reopened bar, which new owners Penny Eubanks and William “Ugh” Hughes have renamed ‘The Place to Be.’
“And it was the place to be. We had a great time. The new owners there are amazing. They’re friendly. They invite everybody,” says KC Rain.
Nonetheless, this year’s Pride festival was moved from the 7th Street Theater in downtown Hoquiam to the less centrally-located Olympic Stadium. Out & Proud co-founder Jen Gillies admits that safety was one of the reasons for the change.
Gillies says the events last year made some people worry about attending Pride this year. “It rocked us,” she says.
“I think it’s hard. We live in a predominantly white, cis-gendered, male society here, and we definitely live in the era of pro-Trump and that’s really hard, and as a queer woman that’s married to another woman, I worry about the safety of my kids and the safety of myself,” says Gillies.
However, Gillies also feels that the drag shows and Pride have drawn together a supportive community. “The people that are here that support us, support us. We have some amazing human beings that live here,” says Gillies.
That support includes strong attendance at the shows. Dixon and Hart have raised an estimated $8,000 for local nonprofits and community organizations from ticket sales and from performers donating their tips.
Gillies smiles and holds back tears as she relates a story about two men who had met at Hoquiam High School several decades ago. Now in their 70s, they returned to Hoquiam for the first ever Grays Harbor Pride in 2013.
“Never ever in their lifetime did they think that they’d be able to walk the streets of their town holding hands during a pride,” says Gillies “That was worth everything,” she says, “How beautiful is that?”
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