Editor’s note: This post contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know has experienced suicidal ideation, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or reach the Student Health Center at 202-994-5300 and ask to speak to a counselor.
The members of Delta Lambda Phi took to the spotlit runway in the University Student Center’s Grand Ballroom Saturday night in their fourth annual drag show, honoring their late brother and transgender rights advocate, Henry Berg-Brousseau.
The queens strutted out in corsets, glamorous makeup and heels higher than the heavens, lip syncing and dancing to songs from the likes of Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse to raise money for the Trevor Project – a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. The Henry Berg-Brousseau Memorial Drag Show celebrated the legacy of Berg-Brousseau, an alumnus who died of suicide in December following a long struggle with mental illness and “difficulty finding acceptance,” according to a release his mother issued after his death.
Graduate student Jeffrey Fralick, the philanthropy chair for DLP and the executive producer for this year’s show, said the fraternity sent proceeds from the event to the Trevor Project. Fralick said the nonprofit was “near and dear” to Berg-Brousseau, who was the deputy press secretary for politics for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, and his family chose the Trevor Project for donations in his memory following his death. Fralick said Berg-Brousseau, one of the founders of the rechartering of DLP’s Alpha chapter at GW, performed at the inaugural show in 2018 as his drag persona, Anita Richman.
“Henry had participated originally as a performer, and now, five years later, we’re now honoring him with this iteration of the drag show,” Fralick said. “So it’s a full circle moment.”
Partnering with WRGW – GW’s student-run radio station – to put on the drag show, DLP gathered more than 200 attendees at the fraternity’s biggest philanthropy event of the year.
The drag show follows a recent series of pieces of legislation Republicans have introduced across the country attempting to limit public drag events, largely in the presence of children, and targeting LGBTQ+ individuals. Closer to campus, locals feared the neo-fascist Proud Boys group would infiltrate a drag story-time brunch in a Capitol Hill restaurant last month, like the group did at similar drag events for children and families around the country. Hundreds of residents gathered to defend the story time, holding up rainbow umbrellas and playing Disney songs in solidarity.
Fralick said the recent attacks are “frightening” and “disheartening” to see, but DLP did not want to let hate get in the way of their performance.
“Carrying on with the show as we had planned and just honoring Henry – which is the ultimate goal of that – I think it’s an attempt to kind of rebuke a lot of the hatred out there about drag shows and just the LGBTQ community, generally speaking,” he said.
Fralick said to prepare for the show, the consecutive 2018 and 2019 crowned winner, Anna the Hole Smith, portrayed by Jonathan Kvilhaug, gave the queens dance lessons to help enhance their performances. He said he hopes the event introduces newcomers to drag and inspires attendees to support drag queens and LGBTQ+ businesses around the District.
“It’s great – if there’s anybody out there struggling with their own identity – that they can kind of look to DLP as this brother community or also just introduce them to a broader concept that drag is here, it’s in the District and that it is an open and accepting community for anybody who is willing to put themselves out there or just say hello,” he said.
Sophomore David Rangel, the president of DLP who performed as one of the queens in the show, said the event is for anyone who loves drag and wants to give back to the community. He said the show, which spotlights a mix of performers of various experience levels in drag, provides a space for both audience members and queens to “be themselves” and not feel judged.
“Last year I helped to co-run the drag show because I didn’t really have the confidence yet to do it, but now I do,” Rangel said. “And I’m just excited and ready and can’t wait to feel beautiful on that stage.”
Junior Nolan Phillips, the emcee of the event who has performed as his drag persona Patricia Diamond at shows in both D.C. and around his home state of South Carolina, said the event helps bring drag to people who haven’t had the opportunity to seek it out for themselves.
“I always think it’s a really good thing mainly for exposure because there’s a lot of young people, especially who see stuff on TV and they want to go to drag shows but they don’t know where they are,” he said.
Patricia Diamond was the first to grace the stage Saturday night in a stunning, handcrafted black and red patterned dress and fascinator dangling with fringe, warming up the crowd with Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and “Rehab.” She explained the plan for the competition – each of the five queens would perform their own arrangement, after which the judges awarded them points based on four qualities: charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, an acronym not lost on many.
The judge’s table consisted of Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Colette Coleman, champion of last year’s drag show Blood Mistress and WRGW’s events director, Emma Westcott.
Mia Gooner, portrayed by sophomore Kai Nilsen, was up next. Dressed in a leotard with sky-high heels, Mia Gooner gave an expressive, heartfelt performance to Lady Gaga’s “You and I” as she rode a stick unicorn. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” started up as the next queen – Stank, portrayed by sophomore Max Cohen – teased the audience under a pink spotlight before a dramatic ending as she stretched out across the very front of the runway.
A sensual performance from sophomore Dalton Juan’s drag persona, Sarah Jessica, surprised the crowd with explosive cartwheels off the stage to the tune of Spears’ “Toxic.”
Patricia Diamond picked up with a Reba McEntire mix, paying homage to the old-school country artist in a sparkly full-length gown and red wig. A few minutes into the song, she ripped off the dress to reveal a sparkly, tight-red midi, much to the audience’s excitement.
Emerging with a leopard-print coat and strappy platform heels, Mary A. Richman – portrayed by senior Cameron Cayer who honored Berg-Brousseau’s drag persona, Anita Richman, with his drag name – jolted across the stage with an American flag to Bonnie McKee’s “American Girl.” Ophelia Myoats, portrayed by Rangel, strutted to Ariana Grande’s “Into You” with a black corset and red boa before throwing her sleeves stuffed with condoms to the audience.
A face-off between the judge’s top two candidates – Stank and Ophelia Myoats – spared no energy nor charisma. After the two riled up the entire room, Patricia Diamond capped off the show with a song from French singer Louane while the judges deliberated on their top pick for the evening. Ophelia Myoats walked away victorious, crowned the ultimate queen of the show.
By the end of the night, the queens delighted and exhilarated their audience – all while raising upward of $2,000 for suicide prevention efforts in the process.
This article appeared in the March 6, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.