Inviting awareness in style with OUT in Drag
The Council of Ethnic Organizations and Substance Use, Mental Health and HIV/AIDS Risk Assessment and Testing Cougars hosted OUT in Drag on Tuesday in the Houston Room of the Student Center South. The event included a drag show with complimentary HIV testing services.
The event’s emcee and Texas’ only drag queen D.J., Aracely Monterola, said this event is as colorful as it is helpful.
“What everybody can expect is the grandest of the grand, a big ol’ show,” Monterola said. “Just imagine raining feathers and rhinestones.”
Besides Monterola, the SMART Cougars’ Facebook page listed a cast of performers including Paulina Phiffer, Nilaya Milan Raven, Leilani Ghalichi, Tahty Daniels and Ginger Minj, a finalist from Season 7 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Esmeralda Sotelo, a health promotion specialist for SMART Cougars and the Graduate College of Social Work, said the idea and planning for OUT in Drag began in the summer.
“We were just talking about what we can do in the time of Halloween,” Sotelo said. “National Coming Out Day is Oct. 11, and it’s also LGBT History Month, so LGBT and drag go hand in hand. We (wondered), ‘What can we do that’s different, never really been done on campus? What’s gonna attract people’s attention and wow students while educating them?’”
Two community partners, Change Happens and Houston Area Community Services, provided free rapid-HIV testing to both attendees and passersby before and after the show.
“We don’t use any needles, it’s a quick swab around the mouth,” Oscar Perez, HACS’s health program coordinator and promotion manager said. “You wait 20 minutes, and the results are ready.”
A second swab will follow should the first test returned positive, Perez said. He said testing for HIV in a college setting like UH is crucial.
“We have seen, just nationally and in Houston as well, that the rates of HIV has increased within the Hispanic and African American population within the ages of 18 to 29,” Perez said. “The whole purpose of having to offer testing here on campus is because that’s where we see the general population within that age range, and we see the stats show that that population has a higher percentage of HIV infections. We want to make (getting tested) as easy and accessible as we can.”
Sotelo believes the show will enlighten attendees, in particular UH students, on sensitive topics including sexuality and the disease.
“We pretty much focus on education about HIV, STDs, substances and mental health,” Sotelo said. “We can open people’s minds up a little bit about what it means to be part of the drag community and the LGBT community.”
Besides the light and sound showcase, Sotelo hopes the audience took in the messages communicated at the event.
“Be comfortable with who you are,” Sotelo said. “That’s what coming out is all about. If you’re not ready, that’s fine, but just know that you have a community that supports you. Also, be safe, and know your status.”