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Love, understanding & a whole lotta dancing: GRCC drag show highlights city's growing talent

For Beau Laine Vansolkema, the president at the Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) StandOut! LGBTQ+ Student Club, the upcoming drag show he is organizing at GRCC is not only a chance to meet new people, hear some incredible music and, of course, see a dizzying array of intricately made costumes — it’s putting love and understanding center stage.

“That’s the most positive thing about the drag show — it will raise more awareness [about the transgender community] for the faculty and students,” Vansolkema says of the show that will be held April 6 at 7pm at The Raider Grille in GRCC’s Student Center. “We are all created equal — I would certainly hope with the drag show, we’re sending the message that we are human too."

[Of course, it's important to note that being a drag queen is not the same thing as being transgender. There are drag queens who identify as transgender, but there are drag queens who also identify as cis men. Want to learn more? Here's a helpful explanation.]

While understanding and support of the transgender community is, slowly, coming, with such shows as “Transparent,” and "Orange is the New Black" featuring main characters who are transgender and high profile athletes, including Caitlyn Jenner, shedding light on being transgender, the transgender community still faces high rates of violence, depression, and more. In 2015, there were more transgender homicide victims than any other year recorded, and, faced with extreme discrimination, people who are transgender battle high rates of depression. Forty-one percent of individuals who are transgender have attempted suicide at some point in their life — nine times the national average, a statistic that Vansolkema notes was pointed out at Grand Valley State University’s recent speaker series event that focused on major health and health care disparities that transgender people face.

Such alarming statistics highlight the importance of creating a cohesive community where people who are transgender and those who are not come together to form a supportive environment, Vansolkema says.

“Recognize [a transgender community member] as a person and be loving and compassionate,” Vansolkema says, referring to ways individuals can be supportive of the transgender community. “Acknowledge they exist, and respect them just as much as you would your own mother, brother.”

This is where the GRCC drag show comes into play and can connect the general public with the idea that 'identity' is an ocean of possibilities. Seven drag queens — Jasinya Sanchez, Tequila Sanchez, Madison Sanchez, Vaz Defranzia, Siren, Cyber Larose, all of whom perform at Rumors Nightclub, and, making her stage debut, Dizzy Spellz — will treat the audience to a show that also features DJ Monica Parker, also from Rumors. Plus, the evening will include some seriously drool-worthy baked goods that are being donated by Cakabakery and Field & Fire.

“The whole point of drag is to have fun — that’s all we want from an audience, fun,” says Madison Sanchez, who has been performing in Grand Rapids’ drag scene for about two years. “I’m really excited for the show.”

Plus, the GRCC event will highlight drag as another artform that Sanchez is hoping will become more mainstream in a city that prides itself on its creative landscape.

“I think that Grand Rapids, especially in the last couple years, has been shifting towards a more art-driven direction, but drag isn’t mainstream,” Sanchez says. “We spend hours making costumes; learning how to paint with makeup takes years. It’s not a picture you hang up on the wall; your face is the canvas.”

And drag provides an important outlet for the queens.

“When I was a little boy, I used to love to play with Barbies — I’ve always admired blond, powerful women,” Sanchez says. “I call Madison the New Wave Barbie because that’s what I feel like. It gives me a way to be creative with the things I already love. It’s very good for self expression. It allows you to put it out there in a very creative, therapeutic way.”

Both Sanchez and Vansolkema note that the Grand Rapids community is becoming increasingly supportive of gender nonconforming residents.

“The people who are downtown have become younger; when you get that younger crowd, it does tend to be more progressive,” Sanchez says. “Our generation is about equality and love, so I think that’s helped Grand Rapids significantly.”

At GRCC, college leaders have reached out repeatedly to transgender students, including Vansolkema, to gain insight as to how they can better support them.

“The college has done a really good job with how they handle things,” Vansolkema says, noting they now have easy-to-use forms for transgender students who want to notify the college of a name change. “They’ve come to me and asked how they can make this better. They’ve been great. They’re good listeners; they’re pretty with it.”

The GRCC StandOut! Drag Show will take place at The Raider Grille (the second floor of the GRCC Student Center) on April 6, beginning at 7pm. Following the show, there will be a dance from 9:30-10:30pm. The event is open to the public. Tickets purchased prior to the show cost $5 for regular admission and $10 for VIP. Tickets are being sold in the Student Life office on campus. On the day of the show, tickets will cost $7 for regular admission and $12 for VIP. For more information, please go here.

By Anna Gustafson, Managing Editor
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