LGBTQ issues take center stage during Westminster's pride week

From left to right: Butch Cassidy, Emerald Ella, guest Kery Sahylee, Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire Empress and guest judge Krystyna Shaylee, 2015 Mized Westminster Queen Azula Sapphire, Jessie Hellraiser and previous Mized Westminster Queen Tanner all pose after the second annual Mized Westminster drag show on Oct. 28. The drag show was a part of Westminster pride week and helped put LGBTQ issues on center stage for the night. Photos by Blake Bekken

From left to right: Butch Cassidy, Emerald Ella, guest Kery Sahylee, Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire Empress and guest judge Krystyna Shaylee, 2015 Mized Westminster Queen Azula Sapphire, Jessie Hellraiser and previous Mized Westminster Queen Tanner all pose after the second annual Mized Westminster drag show on Oct. 28. The drag show was a part of Westminster pride week and helped put LGBTQ issues on center stage for the night. Photos by Blake Bekken

Ranked as the gayest city in the United States by "The Advocate"—the oldest bi-monthly LGBTQ publication published in New York—Salt Lake City is making a name for itself in the LGBTQ community, and Westminster is involved with this claim.

The week of Oct. 26–29 marked the second annual Pride Week at Westminster College: a week filled with movie screenings, a transgender panel and a drag show. While the week promoted acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, organizer Kaley Hunt said they wanted to talk about transgender issues this year. Hunt is a senior psychology major and president of the Westminster LGBTQ group Alphabet Soup.

“Our goal this year is to bring light to transgender issues and how important they are to talk about and how they aren’t being talked about,” Hunt said.

Working closely with Hunt, Westminster Pride adviser Rodney Glore, senior communication major, helped organize and choose what events were going to be part of Westminster Pride Week. He was also master of ceremonies for the drag show, a highlight of the week for many.

“The first time the event was held was two years ago, and the whole concert hall was full,” Glore said. “It was on a hiatus last year, but we are excited to bring it back this year.”

As a way to expand and encourage open discussion of LGBTQ issues, Pride Week hosted a drag show on Wednesday, Oct. 28 to put the issues on center stage. The second annual Mizer Westminster Pride Drag Show was comprised of two events—talent and evening wear—and had four student participants with the stage names Jessie Hellraiser, Butch Cassidy, Emerald Ella and Azula Sapphire. A three-person panel familiar with LGBTQ issues kept tallies of points.

The audience was encouraged to help the Utah LGBTQ community and provide cash tips to help performers interact with the audience. All tips went to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ equality in Utah.

While the participants gave their all in the talent portion and strutted their evening wear on the runway, Azula Sapphire won the hearts of the judges. Every participant besides Azula Sapphire sang a song of their choice for their talent. Sapphire took a more vulnerable approach and read a heartfelt poem she had written, which helped her win the 2015 Mizer Westminster Pride crown.

For Vanessa Vega, senior vocal performance major with the stage name Butch Cassidy, this was her first time as a participant in a drag show, and she said she enjoyed the atmosphere the show brought.

“It was fun to be able to do something different for a change,” Vega said. “It is something I would have never thought of doing before, and it is just a cool opportunity.”

Vega is a transfer student from Columbia Basin Community College located in Pasco, Washington. At her last school, she said LGBTQ issues were not talked about since an LGBTQ community had already been established, and there was not a big focus on issues associated with the group. One aspect she said she likes about Westminster is how students are willing to talk about these issues.

“I think that it has been good in a lot of ways,” Vega said. “I think that it has been very opening and welcoming, especially among the people who are in the community, where most of the support comes from.”

Glore, Westminster Pride adviser, said that, since he has been at Westminster, he has seen the school’s progression in acceptance. He said Westminster’s tolerance is higher than some other colleges in Utah.

“I think Westminster has been more progressive on LGBTQ issues than any other school that I know,” he said. "It is kind of a hush-hush thing at other schools.”

One way Westminster students and faculty are progressing is a push toward gender-neutral bathrooms. Some campus bathrooms have already been deemed neutral and others are in the process of being changed.

“[Westminster] is a lot better than when I first started,” said Hunt, Alphabet Soup president. “Especially with the gender-neutral and transgender-neutral bathrooms.”