Slanted background image with a microphone and silhouette of a person.
Logo: More Change
Home | Episode #1
Glitter Beard
September 12, 2018 | Student Producers:

Meagan Wilkinson and Kelsie Currie
Episode logo
Glitter Beard
Pride advisor and Pride president explain the emergence and experience of the dragshow at USD. (19 minutes)
Dr. Kirkley

Okay, so what the hell is a glitter beard and what does that have anything to do with gender expression, especially on a Catholic campus? 

Meagan: 00:09 Sparkly facial hair might seem a little bit flashy and maybe irrelevant, but what it represents for the LGBTQ+ community at USD is huge. Glitter beard actually has something to do with how far we've come as well.

Kelsie: 00:27 I think it would be best to start at the beginning. 

Meagan: 00:31 Okay. Maybe not the very beginning, but let's time hop back to 1995 when Dr. Evelyn Kirkley the current advisor of Pride first came to USD. 

Dr. Kirkley: 00:41 I came to USD having recently come out as a lesbian. I had no idea if I could be out at this university. I took this job really not knowing what the climate would be like and I got here and one of my mentors in my department was one of the first out gay faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and he turned out to be a wonderful mentor for me. He was the advisor for Pride at the time and so he kind of introduced me to the group and within a couple of years he sort of wanted to phase out of being the advisor and I was interested in being the advisor, so I kind of phased in and so it was in 1997 that I became the advisor for pride. And at that time very few students were out. Uh, it was not uncommon for students to be harassed both in residence halls. We had students who received death threats on their answering machines. We didn't publish the location of Pride meetings. You had to call a number to find out where Pride was going to be meeting, so we can kind of vet you first. We met in classrooms in the nursing school where every classroom on the first floor has two doors. And so our thinking was, if someone was trying to sort of get us from one door, we always had an escape route. It was really hard to find people to serve as Pride president because that was pretty much outing yourself. So we had many years where our membership included Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse because we needed to be able to indicate who, you know, how many members we had, but we also needed to protect the confidentiality of members.

Kelsie: 02:42 Wow. That's insane. I can't imagine being a student and also worrying about safety and security, especially in classes or meeting with students that I'm just friends with. Even though the odds were against them, Dr. Kirkley says that the students persisted anyway. 

Dr. Kirkley: 03:00 And what I became really impressed with was the courage and the resiliency of these students. They are putting up with harassment, bullshit, homophobia in their classes, real misunderstanding from faculty and peers, issues around sexuality not being addressed in their classes at all and here they are, still here. They're still finding their voices. They're still wanting to be out and I found them really courageous and inspiring and because of their courage, they inspired me to want to provide as many resources for this community of students as I could. And my reasoning was if these students are paying the same tuition as every other student, unless they get a discount for the harassment and the bullshit that they put up with, they should have the same opportunities as every other student. And because USD is a Roman Catholic university, it does not provide the same kinds of resources and particularly the same institutional resources as other universities. Kelsie: 04:26 Alright 

Meagan, so what does a glitter beard have to do with any of this? 

Meagan: 04:29 The glitter beard. I promise Kelsey, we're getting to it. The glitter beard is actually just a small part of a large scale event put on by USD's Pride Club for the past seven years called Supreme Drag Superstar. Kelsie: 04:41 Wait a second. A drag show on a Catholic campus? How does that happen? How did that even start? 

Dr. Kirkley: 04:48 It really emerged out of a California state law that stipulated that discrimination was not allowed on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity and the president of Associated Students (AS) that year was the first out gay man elected as the president of AS. His name is Anthony Pevlovic. He works for Google now. He's doing great in the Bay area, has a really cute dog, and Anthony had the idea that a great way to bring education and awareness about this change in the anti-discrimination laws was to have a drag show that that would be a way to bring attention to this issue because it was implemented in state law, immediately gender identity and expression had to be and was added to all of USD's nondiscrimination and non-harassment policies, so it was really Anthony's idea and it kind of grew from there. Anthony and Carmen Vasquez, the Vice President for Student Affairs, and I met and we immediately talked about what the potential issues might be for having a drag show at a Roman Catholic University. The only one that we had heard of at that time was at Santa Clara and Santa Clara's drag show had attracted a lot of negative publicity. There were clips online that claimed to be from one of their shows that showed like men not even in drag, but like thrusting on the floor and it, it had really created a lot of furor in the Catholic diocese where Santa Clara is located. 

Meagan: 06:42 So if you know about the controversy that it stirred up, why move forward with the event? 

Dr. Kirkley: 06:46 We knew what some of the potential dangers were and we started from the outset because we wanted this to educate our community about gender identity and gender expression. It always had the kind of both aims of education and entertainment or, as Carmen has said, edu-tainment, Kelsie: 07:14 And that is exactly what the drag show provides. The show has been gaining steam each year, often selling-out in the first couple of days, filling Shiley Theater, our largest on campus venue. It's pretty amazing. 

Meagan: 07:26 The event continues to stir up trouble with some alumni, some of which have even been very active in voicing their disapproval about what they call a scandal that clashes with USD's Catholic values. NBC 7 News: 07:36 In our other top story tonight a campus controversy that's having a polarizing effect on students and the community. It's all because of a drag queen show at the University of San Diego, which is a Catholic school NBC 7's Tony Shin is there with the exclusive story, and Tony, I know you said that this is really dividing students there. It certainly has... Kelsie: 07:55 I guess the real question here is does it actually clash with USD's values? How exactly does this event fit in to a Catholic University? 

Meagan: 08:10 Michael Lovette-Colyer, better known as MLC, is the Vice President of University Ministry (UM). He shed some light on the issue for us. MLC: 08:12 So the big question is how does a Catholic university reconcile, you know, who we are as a Catholic university with our support of LGBTQ students and actually I think USD has done a pretty good job of emphasizing that even though not all of our alums are really happy that we do it, that we support and celebrate and love all of our students, including those who identify as LGBTQ because we're Catholic, not in spite of our Catholic identity, but because we're Catholic, we value, we love, we recognize they were created in the image and likeness of God. You have a responsibility to care for them, help them be successful here, just like any other student should be successful. 

Meagan: 08:49 You know, that's kind of interesting because a lot of the opposition surrounding this event, kind of, I would say unfairly pits university ministry against the event as if the two couldn't happen on the same campus and as if one threatens the other. Kelsie: 09:03 Even when student telefunders get on the phone with alums, voicing their displeasure about the show, which I might add does not happen as often as we think, the students are trained to kind of hype-up, in a way, our University Ministry program. Take a listen to Tyler as he gives us a little mock conversation with one of these alumni. Mock Alumni: 09:20 Oh, I'm so sorry. I don't think the university is a place for this kind of expression since it is a Catholic university. Tyler: 09:26 Yeah. Like, so sorry to hear that. USD actually has a lot of really great, um, religious programs on campus. I'm actually really fortunate to be a part of two, um, you know, every Sunday and the community at Founders Chapel for the mass there is an incredible community of students and really sharing our faith on campus. And even within our resident communities we have faith-sharing groups there as well. So UM does a really great job of, you know, making that faith presence known on campus. 

Meagan: 09:56 While student telefunders aren't told to pit the two against each other. They make it sound kind of like UM's efforts are meant to combat the effects of the show when really they don't. MLC: 10:03 That's where a lot of the controversy comes in that telefunding might hear, that we have heard through alumni, especially when Pride's events first got started, the drag show. A lot of people said this directly contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church, the institution, and I was a part of the conversations that thought about it carefully, considered the teachings of the church and it's been our position that it doesn't, that the Catholic Church doesn't have explicit teaching about gender expression, but the Catholic Church definitely does have teaching, very clear foundational teachings, about the dignity of the human person. And so all people have human dignity. And so if there's a male who wants to express himself in a way that's not quite as traditionally male as our society says, that's great, and we've got to celebrate that. And that's the kind of thing you know that the drag show I think was intended to highlight and make known on campus. Kelsie: 10:54 I love that. The human dignity of a person in any way they choose to express themselves. Maybe these alumni need to hear that our mission statement actually really does support this event. MLC: 11:07 Our mission statement reflects the fact that we're a Catholic university, so we have an obligation and responsibility. We have to be both Catholic and a university and there's tension inherent to that and there's no way we're ever going to get away from that tension. I think the healthiest, most positive approach is to embrace that tension as creative tension that will help us move forward rather than become stagnant or become sort of stuck in a previous model of what it means to be a university. So there's tension there. So as a Catholic University, we have to make sure that what we do is in alignment with the teachings of the Catholic Church or at the very least, that nothing that we do directly contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

Meagan: 11:48 I think what's important about all of this is sometimes forgotten: the education and entertainment, or as Dr Kirkley likes to call it edu-tainment, is an amazing opportunity for our campus to come together. But there's one important thing we are missing: the performers, the students who get to express their gender in different and creative ways in a space where they feel safe doing it. I think that's the part that is integral for the show and really ties back into the human dignity aspect that MLC was talking about. MLC: 12:13 I remember thinking that if only those critics could see this and if only those critics who get so passionate that we shouldn't have this could know this student the way that I know him, there'd be an opportunity I think for change. And that's maybe that's a reflection I'd have too, you know. It looks different when, when you know the students performing and can hear from them of why they do it, why it's important to them, when compared to when you're outside and just have the, all these kinds of biases, misconceptions or prejudices about a community, "the other." But you know, the students who perform in the show are not "the other" to me. They're our students. You know, I literally know them well, some of them anyways, and have gotten to know a lot of other ones. And as soon as that happens, then the experience of the show changes. Chris: 12:13 It's Dee Zastrous. 

Meagan: 13:12 And how did you come up with that? Chris: 13:13 Honestly, I looked up different like drag name generators online and kept on looking until I found something that kind of spoke to me and I figured that my first time in drag was going to be pretty disastrous. So, it just felt pretty fitting. Kelsie: 13:30 Meet Dee Zastrous, otherwise known as Chris Harrop, a senior here at USD, part of the Ultimate Frisbee club and Pride president. Chris: 13:37 I'm not really that kind of extroverted, loud, out, out and about like personality. But, so I actually went to my first drag show my freshman year and just watched it and I was just kind of amazed by the feeling of the, the feeling of Shiley Theater and how much it transformed that night. Uh, it's just such a, it's so hard to describe just how, like, it's a warm sense of community there and how even for acts that might not be as strong in the drag show, even they were supported and like everyone was super excited for everyone who was doing everything that they're doing at the drag show. Um, so that's what kind of gave me... I remember sitting in the audience and thinking like, wait, I could, I could actually do this. Like if I'm ever gonna do drag, this is going to be the time that I want to do it. Like it's a no risk kind of thing. People are gonna support me and cheer me on regardless. Uh, so for my first year, my sophomore year, I ended up talking to one of my really good friends who was also in Pride because I wasn't quite ready to do it all by myself on the stage, but talking to him, we kind of formed our idea of a performance together. And that's when we decided to do, do it my sophomore year. 

Meagan: 14:45 Chris has starred in two drag shows, the third one pending. He wouldn't tell us about his act, but he promised it would be one to remember. He did, however, tell us about last year's performance where he did his routine to ABBA and sported the one, the only, the infamous: glitter beard. Chris: 14:59 So last year I did an all ABBA performance, um, kind of went with the seventies aesthetic, the Gogo boots, the kind of flowery dress. Um, I did a glitter beard last year for the show. I actually dyed my beard, I bleached my beard first and then dyed it blue and then put glitter in it, which I now realize I don't have to do that. I can just literally paint glitter on top of it instead of trying to actually dye it. So that was fun last year watching as that grew out. Its just kind of a gender fuck kind of thing of like, ABBA is so like, there are the pretty women and then the kind of scruffy guys with the... So I was kind of trying to combine all the ABBA performers or ABBA singers into one. Kelsie: 15:36 But to him it isn't all about the fun outfits, the glitter beard and the makeup. It's much, much more. He says that it's a safe place for him to shine. To claim the space even if it's just for one night. Chris: 15:50 It really was a sense of community that I felt like walking out onto the stage for the first time and actually even more than that in our performance we took some of those colorful ribbon twirling things and ran, like actually got off the stage and ran and walked up and down the aisles and I remember seeing my friends in the audience and how excited they were to just be there. And I would twirl the ribbons over people's heads and it just, it was just that kind of connection, that sense of connection to the USD community that I felt through participating in the drag show. I felt more welcomed here. I was in a fraternity my sophomore year and a bunch of my fraternity brothers came to cheer me on, like almost the entire Frisbee team came, both sophomore year and last year too. Faculty. Staff. I remember I had a Spanish professor who I told I had to miss class that day to get ready for the show and then as I was kind of walking out of the theater, I saw her kind of sneak out the back and just waved and said you did a great job. And again, that just kind of brought the USD community closer to me. 

Meagan: 16:57 Not only is it great to see the support from teachers and students, but also administration, the people that make the big calls and allow the show to keep going, knowing what it means to our community and our students. 

Dr. Kirkley: 17:08 What I sometimes say is that the drag show is the queerest night of the year at USD, and I want the audience to come away with a similar sense of community, of love, of joyfulness in really being yourself, in taking off the masks that we wear in the roles that we have to play every day and, for even if it's just for an hour or two in Shiley Theater, to take off those masks and to be willing to be vulnerable with who you are, with all of your imperfections, with all of the things that you are ashamed of, with all the ways that you don't measure up to the person that you think you ought to be. For those couple of hours. If we can create an experience where both our performers and our students can have that sense of closeness and intimacy, that taking the risk to be vulnerable really means, that is a successful event for me.