Valentine’s Day — with its multitude of flowers, chocolates and diamonds, all apparently exulting romantic, heterosexual love — can seem a bit of a downer for the LGBT community. After all, when was the last time Hallmark stocked cards under: “For him — from him”?
That is why, a week after the flowers have wilted and the stomach aches have subsided, a group of high-spirited and hirsute men will take to the stage to spoof the day of love their own style: in drag.
“Love Is a D-R-A-G IV: Love Stinks” will feature members of the Bears Ventura in their fourth annual benefit drag show at Paddy’s Bar in Ventura on Feb. 22. Tickets are $10, with a complimentary drink provided. Proceeds from the performance, which in the past have supported the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance, will go to Let California Ring, an organization committed to securing the legal right of gays and lesbians to marry. A special dedication to recently slain Oxnard student Lawrence King will also take place before the show, and raffle tickets will be sold during intermission to raise money for a memorial fund.
According to Danny Floyd-Mitchell, the Bears’ Merchandise Director and “Resident Drag Diva,” the performance will feature five “extremely hairy men” who lip sync, dance and interact with the audience, along with live music by the singer Spanky. He expects the show, which was moved to the lower bar at Paddy’s to provide a “more intimate setting,” to attract 50-60 people.
According to their Web site, the Bears Ventura was started in 1994 by a group of friends as a men’s social organization. Now boasting over 150 members, the group holds weekly meetings and a monthly Bear Bust at Paddy’s, along with “Bears to the Beach” outings and a twice-yearly camping trip to Pine Mountain. In addition to their annual drag show, they have supported charities like the Alzheimer’s Association, Food Share and the Los Angeles AIDS Walk.
Floyd-Mitchell, who moved to California from the East Coast in 1984 and has been doing drag since his early 20s, first proposed the show when he joined the Bears five years ago. The idea met with immediate acceptance from the members, he says, and more importantly, from their first audience at Paddy’s. An instant success, they were invited back for an encore performance the next year, and then the next. The show, now in its fourth year, has become an annual Bears event.
The group, which Floyd-Mitchell says resembles many similar organizations both nationally and globally, nevertheless remains independent.
“We’re not the only ones out there,” he says. Still, he admits, “we’re probably the only ones that take it this far.”
Let California Ring is a project of the Equality California Institute (EQCAI), a division of the LGBT civil rights and advocacy organization Equality California. Founded in 1998, Equality California is currently involved in efforts with the ACLU, NCLR and Lambda Legal to overturn what it terms California’s discriminatory domestic partnership law, which it previously sponsored. Beginning March 4, the California Supreme Court will begin hearing cases regarding the constitutionality of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
The Equality California Institute seeks to educate the public about issues concerning the LGBT community. Its current public awareness campaign aims “to open hearts and minds about the freedom to marry and the respect, support, protections, and responsibilities that come with marriage,” according to its Web site. The initiative is supported by over 45 local, state, and national organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Santa Barbara’s Pacific Pride Foundation.
Lawrence King, a 15 year-old student at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, was fatally shot by another student Feb. 12. The #Los Angeles Times# has reported King wore makeup and jewelry to school in the days preceding his death and had proclaimed himself to be gay. King’s shooting, which is being branded as a hate crime, is the first of its kind in Ventura County.
Thom Finni, president of Bears Ventura, says the timing of this year’s show is especially important given recent events.
“You look at what groups like Let California Ring is doing and what we’re doing, and it’s about trying to make sure that things like [King’s death] don’t happen … People believe the gay and lesbian life is worth less than others. And until we prove that we’re all equal, we won’t be.”
With that tolerance in mind, Floyd-Mitchell stresses the Bears’ message of inclusion at “Love Is a D-R-A-G”: “The audience is whoever wants to come. We don’t discriminate. Gay, bi, straight, transgendered — whoever wants to be [there] is more than welcome. We are open to all.”
Love Is a D-R-A-G IV: Love Stinks takes place at Paddy’s on Feb. 22. 2 W. Main St., Ventura, 652-1071. For more information, visit http://www.paddysventura.com.