Linze Serrell, left, and Sable Alexander —queens of giving. (Sable photo courtesy of John Comstock)
The Miss Gay Texas State pageant system and the drag that keeps on giving
Brandi Amara Skyy | Contributing Writer
One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
I first found JFK’s infamous words when I was in college, in the unlikeliest of places — on a t-shirt. I bought that shirt, cut it up, and it quickly became my favorite dance shirt — and my lifelong personal mission statement.
As the holidays approach, many of us feel the yearning to give thanks for our blessings by giving back to our community. We volunteer at soup kitchens and for nonprofit organizations, serving Thanksgiving and other holiday meals. We try to do whatever we can to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
And as a community, we in the LGBT community have always risen when we’ve seen the need.
When the Pulse shooting in Orlando happened, we rallied together to raise funds for the victims’ families. We brought the Pulse cast into our own shows and did everything we could to show the world we were one united rainbow front.
When hurricanes affected our South Texas neighbors and our Puerto Rican family, all around the United States we laced up our stiletto boots and put on benefit shows and again did everything in our power to do something.
But as individuals in a marginalized group, we sometimes forget that our numbers don’t dictate our power and our ability to create change — our vision and our action do.
Frank Martinez and Butch Compton saw a need for people who didn’t have families or a place to go on Thanksgiving Day, so they took action and filled it by creating the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, now in its sixth year.
Rodd Gray, aka Patti La Plae Safe, didn’t wait for permission to do something when he saw that people living with HIV/AIDS didn’t have the means to travel back home for the holidays. He and his best friend, John Gordon, created a nonprofit called Home for the Holidays to raise the money necessary to send those people home.
And while Bill Lindsey and Michael Champion’s — aka Linze Serell and Sable Alexander — names may not be immediately recognizable, their spirit, generosity and dedication to charitable work for local LGBTQ communities can be felt statewide.
Bill and Michael have been together as a couple for 29 years, and they are the co-founders of The Miss Gay Texas State pageant system, a professional drag pageant system where, instead “of owners keeping the money, everything raised after expenses is given back to the community, to selected charities that apply to our organization” to be designated as beneficiaries, Bill said.
Bill is originally from Detroit, and he began entertaining there as Linze Serell at age 19. He started one of the first AIDS charities in Detroit when the AIDS epidemic was at its height. Michael began performing as Sable Alexander at age 30 to raise funds for various athletic charities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He explained, “Raising money was key to the health and well being of so many,” adding that our community should “never give up the fight, no matter what it is — AIDS, breast cancer, medications, education, transportation or end-of-life issues.”
The two of them have been raising money together for charity since they met. For many years, starting in the early 1990s, they headed up an organization called Glitz and Glitter, full of entertainers — male and female, drag and live — who donated their time, talents and money in monthly shows to raise funds for a variety of charitable efforts.
They started The Miss Gay Texas State pageant in 2008 because they felt it was important to not only give back to the community but also “that entertainers know that you could be yourself, be competitive and still make a difference in peoples lives,” Michael explained.
In its inaugural year, the pageant system had six prelims ending with 12 contestants competing at the state contest. Three years later, they added the Miss Gay Texas State at Large division, and the first year saw eight queens compete for the new title.
Today, the pageant has grown to include 12 active prelims in Longview, Waco, Fort Worth and Dallas, with three new prelims slated to come into the system later this year.
When they first started donating their profits to local charities, Bill said, “We were excited to give a check for a $1,000. But as our pageant has grown, we have given $15,000 to three charities this year.”
From Gun Barrel City’s Humane Society, to Patti’s aforementioned Home for The Holidays, to AIDS Outreach Center of Fort Worth, to the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund and the LGBTQ Coalition on Aging — their beneficiaries list covers the entire spectrum of our LGBTQ community, proving these two queens will continue the fight for however long it takes.
When I asked Bill for a ballpark figure of how much they have given back to the community in the 10 years of Miss Gay Texas State, the number was a staggering $55,000.
Fifty-five thousand dollars funneled back into our community — all because Bill and Michael saw a need, believed they could make a difference, and, most importantly, tried.
They tried; therefore, they did.
And in a social-political climate when most of us feel powerless under Trump’s thumb, people like Bill and Michael remind us that there is always something we can do. We just have to rise up and do it.
Bill and Michael didn’t reinvent the wheel. They used what they had, what they knew and what they loved — drag — to make a difference.
What an amazing impact they are making, year after year. And what an inspiration their story, their heart and their gift of giving are to me, to all of us. Because the truth is, we all have the same power to create change, not just during the holiday season, but all year long.
And we owe it to ourselves and to our community to try.