Drag queens are the very heart of our vibrant queer community. They, along with our transgender sisters and gay brothers—with tribal lesbians, homeless youth and people of color—led the charge at Stonewall to breathe new life into the modern day LGBT rights movement.
What’s more—generations of female impersonators perfected the iconic art form entertaining, empowering and uplifting their community in the face of frequent bar raids and oppressive laws. Here in St. Louis, “Masquerading Laws” would remain on the books until drag legend Michelle McCausland and an area trans woman successfully challenged the city statute in 1986 with the help of the ACLU.
The Drag community has also been among the first to enlist when LGBTers need to raise money in a hurry—and this proves doubly true for The Gateway City.
“Drag queens were the go to community for fundraising early on,” recalls Daniel Flier—better known as Miss Gay Missouri 1982 Vanessa Vincent. “We
Daniel started doing drag in 1976, after discovering that his Chess King co-worker (John) was none other than the coquettish vixen Valerie Vincent. Flash forward to a turn on the dance floor at Miss Trash’s Thursday Night Amateur Show at The Red Bull in East St. Louis, and the second Vincent sister was born (Vicki would complete the trio).
“Laura was one of my favorite female friends at the time and I became Laura Vincent—but a cowboy at Helen Schrader’s tipped me $100 to change my name to Vanessa Vincent,” he quips.
Now I first met Daniel—or rather, Vanessa in 1989. I was 18 and snuck into Angles right in the middle of an AIDS benefit show. The place was packed and above the din was this glorious siren in a bright red wig shouting for everyone to shut the hell up. And they did—quickly.
“I was never president of Pride or served on the board, but I did a lot of fundraising from them,” he says. “I guess I knew then that I wasn’t embarrassed about getting on a microphone and saying, hey—you need to give your money to this because it behooves the gay community.”
In 1986, bar owner Monte Holmes handed Daniel a check saying, this ought to get you started. And with that, “The Safe Sex Queen” co-founded St. Louis Effort for AIDS with Monte’s Manager John Allen.
“John Allen was very quiet but he was my rock through starting that whole thing,” explains the fundraising powerhouse and first Vice President of the fledgling AIDS Service Organization. “He used to always say to me, I don’t know why the hell you picked me to do this. And I always said to him, because I can trust you.”
But Vanessa Vincent was just one of scores of St. Louis female impersonators who stepped up when our community needed it most.
“Like I said at the 25th anniversary of EFA in the park last year—I made everyone give a round of applause for the drag queens who were no longer with us,” he says. “Because it would not have been if it weren’t for the drag queens stepping up to the plate and donating their time—and each and every entertainer of that era—every one of them did AIDS benefits without a question.”
What’s more—many of them did so while quietly suffering from the very illness. This fact speaks volumes.
“It’s personalized for me,” says Daniel. “I don’t think any of us realized impact-fully what we were doing—we just knew that it was the right thing and that
On April 26-28 Daniel (and Vanessa) will mark the 30th anniversary of his crowning at the 2012 Miss Gay Missouri America pageant at Columbia’s SoCo Club.
“Being Miss Gay Missouri is one of the most important things to anybody who is a female impersonator and takes it seriously,” he explains. “It was amazing to me to realize during my year as MGM how people really do hunger to hear what you have to say, if you have the substance to say it. I had a lot of people believe in me and I was able to reach a lot of heads and hearts.”
Three of those believers were the legendary comedy drag trio, Sex, Inc. who operated MGM throughout the 1970s and 80s. The winner of the 2011 Lisa Wagaman Lifetime Achievement Award and the very first Felton T. Day Award—both given by Pride St. Louis—credits the three entertainers with helping shape Vanessa Vincent.
“One thing Michael, Dean and Chuck taught me was to be honest—to do things correctly, have some integrity and have a blast,” Daniel concludes. “I had some of the best years of my life traveling around the country with Sex, Inc. and learning from those three men.”
And for that—your community says, Thank You!
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