Drag show raises awareness, scholarship funds

Navajo Times | Arlyssa Becenti
Paige Smith performs during the Diné Pride drag show benefit at the Navajo Nation Museum last weekend.

WINDOW ROCK

Paige Smith slowly sashayed out to the stage lip-synching to the Weather Girls’ “Dear Santa (Bring me a Man this Christmas).” She wore a large black frilly outfit embellished with ornaments and, removing this frock, revealed her glittery, body-hugging dress.

She was the third performer behind the Blackout Group ABQ and Chanel Ticey during Saturday night’s Diné Pride Red and Turquoise Drag Show held at the Navajo Nation Museum. The show was the first time that Smith’s mom and sister saw her perform.

“This event opens everyone’s eyes,” said Smith. “Whether it’s good or bad … I just want everyone to know we (LGBTQ Diné) are here and we aren’t going anywhere.”

Smith, who recently moved home to Sawmill after living in Phoenix for a few years, remembers a time when a drag show happening on Navajo was inconceivable.

But times have changed since then, and the Diné Pride festival, which takes place the last week of June, has become the largest Indigenous Pride celebration in the country, according to executive director Alray Nelson.

“This is the first time this type of drag show has been brought to the museum and to Window Rock,” said Nelson. “Our organization, Diné Pride, we are happy to bring it back to Window Rock. This is our home. We could’ve easily taken the show to Gallup or Farmington, but we wanted to do this on Navajo.”

Nelson said the Red and Turquoise show was held for fundraising purposes and proceeds from the night went toward LGBTQ youth scholarships.

He said that he hopes they will be able to award a $5,000 scholarship to two LGBTQ students. Last year they awarded a student a $1,000 scholarship.

Smith, along with other performers, volunteered their time and talents for the good cause.
“We are raising money for our LGBTQ scholarship fund,” said Nelson. “That’s what started this. All the proceeds from our silent auction, Navajo Taco sale and the show are going to our scholarship.”

A large crowd filled the auditorium at the Navajo Nation Museum, and there wasn’t a lack of enthusiasm from either the audience or the performers.

Blackout ABQ started the night out with a high-energy dance performance, followed by Chanel Ticey performing to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”

Leslie Lewinsky, who is San Carlos Apache, travelled to Dinétah in order to lend her support to the cause by showcasing her own talents. She said she was the first recipient of the Miss Apache Diva title, which represents the LGBTQ community in the San Carlos community.

“I’m very excited to be here, it’s such a good opportunity,” said Lewinsky minutes before she took to the stage. “Growing up I never saw anything like this for the LGBTQ community and to be part of something like this is a dream come true, honestly.”

Before the Dine Pride organization was established, Nelson and Brennen Yonnie founded the Coalition for Diné Equality in 2013. The coalition works toward a more inclusive Navajo Nation.

The coalition worked along with Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown to get a bill approved, U.S. Senate Bill 788, the “Equality Act.” The act would amend the Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity, thereby making it illegal to discriminate against people who identify as LGBTQ.

Brown was one of the individuals who helped sponsor the event. According to Nelson, he and Council Delegate Charlaine Tso are some of the LGBTQ community’s biggest supporters on Navajo.
“The legislation has impacted just how our LGBTQ young people talk about the Navajo Nation and how they feel more accepted,” said Nelson. “We still have a long way to go and we all recognize that. The first thing we need to do is pass a Diné Equality Act of our own. We are in the process with working on that.”

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About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @abecenti

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