TV & Radio
With Bush at His Ranch, Drag Queens Reign in Waco
The proximity of the president doesn't stop a service group from its fundraising, festivities.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 18, 2006
WACO, Texas — On Saturday night, as President Bush prepared to celebrate Father's Day on his ranch in nearby Crawford, members of the Royal, Sovereign and Imperial Court of the Central Texas Empire gathered in downtown Waco for their annual drag queen coronation.
In its 13th year, the event was part pageant — with choreographed show tune numbers — and part fundraiser for gay and lesbian and other causes. Guests in beaded gowns, wedding dresses and nuns' habits blew bubbles, preened and speculated about who would win the vote at night's end to succeed the Crystal Dragonfly Diva Fairy, empress of them all.
The Empress of Dallas was there, a Judy Garland brunet in a gold-and-black beaded gown, as was the Reigning Empress of Austin, a redhead called Topaz with a signature faux topaz medallion.
"We really do it big in Texas," said Topaz, a.k.a. Michael Hill.
The International Imperial Court System is a community service organization with 72 chapters, seven in Texas. About 150 members turned out for the event, including 27 people from Waco, converging on the same Hilton hotel where the president's staff holed up while he was on his ranch.
Bush, who has spoken out against same-sex marriage in recent months, was fundraising for Republican congressional candidates Friday before he arrived in the area. He raised $375,000 at a stop in New Mexico — but didn't leave with a crown.
The drag queens of Waco raised $15,000 this year for abused women, HIV and AIDS patients, and groups such as Planned Parenthood and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Often, they raise money for charities that fall victim to Bush administration budget cuts, said Parker Wilson, who holds the title of "emperor" of the Waco chapter.
"They're not going to let us get married, but we're still here," said Wilson, wearing a rhinestone crown and pendant advertising his titles. "My goal is to change people's minds one person at a time."
Bush was not invited to the coronation. He spent the weekend at home with his wife, Laura, on Prairie Chapel Ranch, about 20 miles west of Waco, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. He was briefed by staff Saturday morning and spent the rest of his time visiting friends and tending the ranch, Perino said. The Bush daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were not expected to visit for Father's Day today, Perino said. Secret Service agents blocked the road two miles away from the ranch.
Although the president has not adopted Waco (population 113,000) the way he has Crawford, (population 705) Perino cited a few visits last year — for the Little League Baseball World Series and a summit with Mexican President Vicente Fox at Baylor University.
"The president loves everything about Texas," she said.
Even the drag queens?
Perino, who was staying at the Hilton, said she noticed the drag queen gathering, but was not sure whether the president was aware of it.
"I doubt it," she said.
Perino downplayed the significance of seeing the Imperial Court members parading in front of the Waco Chamber of Commerce in tiaras and stilettos.
"Every time we come here there's a convention — dog shows, tae kwon do … " Perino said. "There's other conventions at the hotel — some church group."
But the "empresses" stand out in Waco, a town painted in Texas browns and grays that exudes the traditional family values Bush so often trumpets. Baylor University, a Baptist school, anchors the skyline. Asked to name the biggest festival in town, many young people cite the Heart O'Texas Fair & Rodeo.
There is one gay bar in town, Trix, but Waco remains, as Tampa, Fla., resident turned Waco local Tracy Friedman, 37, said, "the opposite of Key West."
Jim Smith, 63, a retired glass plant worker, has lived in the Waco area all his life. He was standing outside Waco's Richland Mall on Saturday in worn black cowboy boots and jeans, waiting to buy tires when asked whether he knew what a drag show was.
"Like with cars?" he asked. After a brief explanation, Smith laughed.
"I've never seen one, and I don't care to," he said.
On her way to lunch at George's, a Waco restaurant that caters White House events in Crawford and is decorated with pictures of the president and his associates, Mindy Rendon, 22, said some residents and students would probably be shocked by the drag queens.
Probably the same residents who caused an uproar recently when a Hooters restaurant opened and blocked Marilyn Manson from stopping on his tour, she said.
Also on his way into lunch, John Pack, 56, a Republican who voted twice for Bush, said Waco was not as conservative as it might seem. Pack, a photographer, said he was hired about 10 years ago to photograph a ball held for gay couples.
Pack said he didn't think Bush would necessarily oppose the charity event.
"I know he's not for gay marriage, but I don't think he's against anyone expressing themselves," he said.
Some past coronation attendees have dressed up as the president. But no one has appeared as Laura Bush, Dr. Robert Jacobson of Dallas said Saturday, dressed as a nun with fake eyelashes and ruby-tone slippers and calling himself Sister Anita Donation.
There have been Barbara Bush impersonators, and Jacobson has just the look: white curly wig, smart suit, pearls and low, uncomfortable shoes.
"I got the outfit this weekend," he said.
It's for his new number, by a drag group from San Francisco called the Kinsey Sicks. The title? "I Wanna Be a Republican."