Style to substance: SMART Cougars spotlights HIV with drag show
It’s a grand event with a grander cause as SMART Cougars held its second annual OUT in Drag on Tuesday at F Bar.
The show’s focus was to reduce LGBTQ and HIV-related stigmas, raise awareness of HIV in Houston and highlight the importance of regular HIV testing. SMART Cougars changed this year’s venue to off-campus to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s so exciting to be here,” said SMART Cougars Health Promotion Specialist Esmeralda Sotelo. “Last year, it was on campus and there were around 300 students, but this year is so fun because it’s so fancy and out in the community.”
SMART Cougars staff stood outside the bar quizzing students and guests on STI facts. They handed out items such as candy, condoms and dental dams and educated everyone within earshot.
As attendees entered the bar, they were greeted by smiling faces and handed a raffle ticket.
Hotel and restaurant management freshman Allison Mahlstedt brought a friend along to the event. It was her first time seeing a drag show.
“I was tested by SMART Cougars about a month ago on campus and it’s just so cool how chill it is,” Mahlstedt said. “It’s so cool that they are out here, just chilling, talking about STDs like it’s not a big deal. They truly take away the stigma that it’s awkward and make it fun to learn.”
Clinical project director Maria Wilson was on site helping students get signed up for HIV testing.
“One of the things that SMART Cougars prides itself on is making sure students know that we are there on campus but also that we are a mobile program that will go to where they are,” Wilson said. “We will go to the community, dorms and to student organization events just to make sure students know that these services are available.”
The bar filled up as soon as word spread that the queens were in the house. Multiple queens gathered from all over Houston to perform for the event including Miss Gay Texas USofA 2017 Amanda Nicole. Queen Aracely, who doubled as the DJ for the night, was a crowd-favorite as she took the stage by storm.
After each performance, the queens were ask to briefly describe their coming out stories.
“I loved that each queen was asked that,” said Natalie Churney, a patron in F Bar. “It was a cool way to celebrate National Coming Out Day.”
The tickets for the raffle were drawn midway through the evening and various gifts were given to three lucky winners. OUT in Drag wrapped up around 9 p.m., but since F Bar holds its own drag show every Tuesday night the party continued well into the evening.
SMART Cougars urges UH students to get free testing every few months. Their office is in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center and is open every weekday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.