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YAAAS KWEEN! Meet 2019 Pride Parade Grand Marshall Nina West

Laura Dachenbach

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What can we add to the cultural explosion that is Nina West? A homecoming Pride Parade to welcome home our queen from the RuPaul’s Drag Race runway and congratulate her on her new EP Drag is Magic for children. For 18 years, Andrew Levitt as Nina West has performed, entertained, encouraged, empowered, advocated, and given back in more ways than we can count. (Although one tangible place to start might be the $2 million that The Nina West Foundation has raised for local and national charities that provide services to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as children and family charities.) (614) is pleased to share the insights of this amazing performer at such a career-defining moment.

Thank you, your majesty, for everything you have done, and for everything we look forward to from you in the future.

Tell me about your background and how it has channeled
your activism. Correspondingly, how has drag created
opportunities for you?

I started becoming really involved in my community as a child, volunteering with my family. That continued when I began school at Denison University, as service is a pillar of the school. When I attended college, I had my own story of bullying—and I never wanted anyone else to have to feel that. So, wanting to give back and protect became my focus to help younger queer people like me. 

The art form of drag is where you get to create the world you want to live in. You have freedom to create characters that demonstrate what you really want to say. Along those lines, you also get to create your own opportunities. When I first started drag, no one wanted to book a queen at their event. I was forced to create opportunities for myself to be on stage. As pop culture has embraced drag, I have benefited from the swell of mainstream popularity; but I have never forgotten that in order to do specific projects I want, I have to create those opportunities for myself and collaborate with brilliant and open-minded folks who share a similar vision.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

You have a commitment to old-school camp. How has your experience on RuPaul’s Drag Race shaped you as a performer? Has it refined your act? Made you more experimental or competitive?

RPDR is the greatest stage for drag—it is also drag’s toughest bootcamp. I learned that it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks! At the end of this experience, I am reminded that someone like me—with years of experience and knowledge—brings a tremendous amount of worth to the competition. Drag Race has reminded me that you’re never too old to dream, and this opportunity has given me the ability to create things that 10 year-old Andrew would have never thought was possible. The show hasn’t refined my act; rather, it has reaffirmed my voice. I have always felt that I was an experimental artist, and have always seen myself as being competitive. But the show’s critiques allowed me to receive and apply feedback that I had not previously been in a position to take. 

The theme of Columbus Pride this year is “The Power of Pride.” How do you feel that you and your work embodies this theme?

I believe my career is a living example of the power of pride. Not to sound simplistic, but I feel like a phoenix that rose out of the ashes. I could have [gone] in a myriad of different directions after college—including dark places, like suicide. Rather, I chose to surround myself with other queer leaders and artists that helped me develop a strong sense of pride in myself and this community—and I hope I’m a part of that continuing legacy today.

In the excitement of the moment, have you thought about the future? Where do you see yourself going?

This is the most exciting time for my career. I am learning to quickly readjust and allow for the multiple dreams and priorities to shift. I’ve waited for these opportunities for so long, and all the doors are opening at once. It feels hard to keep up! It feels incredible for people to see me on TV, and then continue to help spread my message of pride and kindness in their own circles. It is astonishing to me this recent social media push to see me on SNL—and I would welcome that opportunity! I am passionate about working with children, and so continuing to create work around inclusive children’s music, books, and animation is a dream I’m currently getting to live out. I welcome any possibilities that allow me to continue to advocate for the silenced, while compelling real change through this art form. •

To learn more about the Nina West Foundation, visit ninawest.com. 

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Stonewall makes statement on CPD, Pride celebration in October

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Editors' Note: An earlier publication of this article referred to the cancellation of both the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade. The Festival will not take place in 2020.

Originally rescheduled for Sat., Oct. 3, the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade will not take place in 2020. According to a statement made by Densil R. Porteous—Stonewall Columbus interim executive director—Stonewall Columbus will focus its efforts on committing to the Black Lives Matter movement and better serving black trans allies during an untraditional celebration of Pride in October.

"We are not quite ready to discuss what will happen on that date as we are still sharing information and getting feedback from various constituents across the community,” said Porteous. “While October is not the traditional month of Pride it is LGBTQ+ history month and we plan to bring and encourage just as much pride in the celebration of LGBTQ+ history as we do in June celebrating our progress in motion to this point."

Along with bringing up the need for the Stonewall Columbus community to be a stronger voice for black transgender people, Porteous talked about the legend of black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was a firecracker at the Stonewall uprising of 1969. You can read about a (614) review of a documentary about her life and death here and catch it streaming on Netflix.

"I believe (the presence of police) causes ‘triggers’ of what has happened in the past, causes them to think of what can happen in that moment, and that makes people feel unease at times when their thoughts and experiences should be full of celebration and pride," said Porteous.

In the statement posted on Facebook, Porteous also mentioned that Stonewall Columbus would “no longer contract with or engage the CPD for security during Columbus PRIDE and other Stonewall events.” The Columbus Pride Festival and Parade's safety and security have been provided by volunteers, including some off-duty CPD.

https://www.facebook.com/stonewallcolumbus/posts/10160036609179899

"Like any vendor with which we contract, we have to ensure our constituents are satisfied with the service the vendor provides," Porteous said.

For a brief overview of where Stonewall Columbus got its namesake from, check out this (614) article here.

Porteous is hopeful for a future, though, where police and citizens can co-exist peacefully.

"We have a firm belief that Columbus has the opportunity to be an exemplar for what community, government, and police can do when we all come together and think intentionally about the work that needs to be done to move us forward," Porteous said.

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Pride Movie Month: How to Survive a Plague

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Tolls on the number of people infected and killed by a disease have been an unavoidable modern-day nightmare that has plagued screens across the world. Intermittently throughout the 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague, the number of those taken by the AIDS epidemic that spiked in the late 1980s starts at just over half-a-million in 1987 and climbs to 1.2 million by 1989.

The numbers are catastrophic, and they really put into perspective what a deadly pandemic looks like. Or what it looks like when the government ignores your faction of life. 

Every faction of the gay community has its own battle. At times they’ve been divided over their different fights, but fighting back against authority has always been in the DNA of any LGBTQ+ movement. While the disease was “mysteriously” killing gay men, thousands took to the streets pleading for a cure. 

The loudest of these voices came from Act Up, a grassroots group that took it upon themselves to end the AIDS epidemic. The epicenter of this epidemic was Greenwich Village, New York City. This is where leaders of the LGBTQ+ community, like Larry Kramer and Peter Staley, fought word-for-word with New York politicians, demanding equality and progress toward a disease that was 100 percent fatal without a cure.

So much like today, in a time when people aren’t asking for ridiculous demands, peaceful protestors during the AIDS crisis would be dragged away by police into vans. While police brutality has continued under the eye of America, in the 1980s, the LGBTQ+ community was losing two wars: the one against the police and the one against AIDS.

With no one coming to their aid, gays became their own doctors, drug smugglers, physicians, drug dealers— a product of a society ignoring their needs.

The eerie score of cellist Arthur Russell throws the viewer into a helpless abyss. The most haunting example of this comes when protestors throw the ashes of their friends and AIDs victims over the fence guarding the White House. It has to be one of the most dynamic images of the neverending LGBTQ+ struggle.

Act Up does end up making a difference in the long battle against AIDS, but it’s not before the disease has taken over 8.2 million lives worldwide. 

These are the numbers you see when a government doesn’t step in.

How to Survive a Plague is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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Photo Gallery: Juneteenth march from police headquarters to Maroon Arts Group complex

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Photo by Rebecca Tien.
Friday—the day that would have kicked off Pride weekend—was instead the day that a few hundred residents joined the LGBTQ community and its Black Lives Matters counterparts at 6 p.m. and marched the nearly two-mile stretch from the Columbus Police Department to the Maroon Arts Group complex to peacefully protest and make their voices heard.Libations followed by a resounding, Ashay, from the crowd. Messages of solidarity. The persistent beating of drums. A liberating walk through a historically black neighborhood. All done to celebrate these three things on Juneteenth 2020: heritage, Pride, and blackness.The Pride March to Commemorate Juneteenth, organized by Black, Out, & Proud, peacefully and powerfully exhibited the strength of the LGBTQ+ and black communities in Columbus and their continued fight against systematic racism.During a weekend that is typically dedicated to Pride, the LGBTQ and black communities came together to further amplify black voices at the frontline of protests.These voices of Black, Out, & Proud community leaders, including co-founder of Bake Me Happy Letha Pugh and local artist Charles Smith, addressed the needs of black LGBTQ members, radical change within the city’s police department, and an urgency to continue to push forward the cause for equality. After almost 30 minutes, protesters then assembled to begin a march to MPACC on Mount Vernon. For nearly an hour, protesters filled the streets, following a truck with a chorus of uplifting drumming and calls for peace, justice, and equality.Below is a gallery of images captured by (614) freelance photographer Rebecca Tien.Previous Next
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