When you hear the phrase “drag show,” charity work and volunteer hours are not usually the first things that come to mind. Often you might think of glamour, performance, and the queen that open doors for so many, RuPaul. If you look at the whole picture, though, you might realize that a lot more is involved in the world of drag.
Every year, right here in Edmonton, several drag shows are held in the name of raising money for charity. In the process, fun is had, charities are helped, and countless hours of volunteer work are done. One such show is the Night of 1,000 RuPauls. This event was first held in August 2019 and was met with so much enthusiasm it sold out. After the incredible success of the first show, a second was organized for Feb. 15 titled “Night of 1,000 RuPauls, Season 2.” The show was put on for the benefit of two local organizations here in Edmonton: The Community Health Empowerment & Wellness (C.H.E.W) Project’s outpost youth support centre and The Old Strathcona Youth Society.
The C.H.E.W. Project offers assistance to LG- BTQ2SA+ between the ages of 14 and 29. According to their site, A few of the services offered by The C.H.E.W Project are no-cost counselling, crisis intervention, Indigenous Peer Support, and a drop-in office for basic needs and support. Similarly, The Old Strathcona Youth Society serves to provide a safe space and resources for youth at risk. They offer multiple services, including but not limited to housing referrals, harm reduction, and student legal services. The Old Strathcona Youth Society has been providing services to youth in the community since 1998. The funds raised through the Night of 1,000 RuPauls events go to help both organizations as they continue to help vulnerable youth through their many programs and services.
What makes someone want to volunteer their time to help an organization anyway? Well, for Connor Sims, who designed, organized, and hosted the show, and Carl Busch, who worked behind the scenes on the business end of the event, this was an easy choice.
“Having accessed services at these organizations when I was younger, I knew the importance of having places to go that were safe and offered things needed like clothes and food and people to listen when I was struggling,” Sims, who also goes by Chanelle Couture when in drag stated in an email.
For Busch, the choice was a little different, but still as personal. “My employment with these or- ganizations made them logical choices … I saw the need and the benefit these services our fundraising events provide for every day,” he explained in an email.
Sims, who first performed as Chanelle Couture in 2012, said the need for safe and welcoming opportunities to perform was a big reason for starting this event, along with knowing that they needed to get creative about how programming is funded with the current government in power. Sims was especially concerned about programs supporting queer and gender minority youth, adding to his desire to hold this charitable event.
Busch explained, “Connor was really wanting more opportunities to perform in drag that were safe and welcoming after a few negative experiences in the greater community. After speaking with many of his fellow drag performers, Connor saw a need to create new places where they were safe from judgement and bullying to perform, while at the same time supporting organizations that helped Connor in difficult moments in his life.”
The increase in popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and changes in how people perceive gender norms has opened up a world of new possibilities for drag events. In turn, this opens up new opportunities for fundraising that can help charities near and dear to the hearts of drag queens and kings everywhere. Because these charities are often so crucial to the LGBTQ2SA+ community, finding volunteers to help never seems very hard.
“With approximately 40 per cent of youth on Edmonton’s streets being part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, the need is there, and we are fortunate to have such terrific support from Edmontonians and Albertans,” Busch said. “The public knows about the need thanks to the advocacy done by organizations like the C.H.E.W. Project and the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services and Homeward Trust. We work hard to help the public understand the importance of harm reduction services in keeping young people safe and helping them work through their traumas.” Busch went on, adding to the reasons to get involved in events such as this one. After all, who doesn’t like to have fun while raising funds for a great cause?
Regardless of the organizations chosen, giving one’s time to help another is nothing short of honourable, and there are several charity drag shows that happen each year right here in Edmonton. You can find some drag events, both charity and non-charity, including the Night of 1,000 RuPauls on eventbrite.ca. As for the Night of 1,000 RuPauls, Busch and Sims are happy to continue organizing more events as long as there is a need and an audience.
“I LOVE drag. It gives me hope and makes me happy and makes me feel like I belong,” Sims relayed.
With people as passionate as Busch and Sims about the art of drag and their causes, it’s no surprise that so many are willing to band together in the name of charity to volunteer alongside them. The world can take a page from those giving back to their community and remember the importance of caring for and helping one another, especially when there is fun to be had in the process. For additional info on coming events, follow the C.H.E.W. Project YEG on Facebook.