Queer conference at UNCA finishes with performance bazaar

by Cory Thompson – [email protected] – Contributing Writer
High on the third floor of Asheville’s Masonic Temple, UNC Asheville’s Queering Spaces/Queering Borders conference participants found home in an evening of queer expression and performance. Greeting the audience with high energy rave beats, Appalachian psych-pop trio Grammar School instigated a dance party before host Griffin Payne began the event in earnest.
“LGBTQ people lose home, whether literally or figuratively, at a younger age and a higher rate,” said the teaching poet. “May this evening be an exploration of what home means to you, what it means to be at home in your body, in your mind, in your family, your community, what it means to be at home and belong to this Earth.”
Home is the stage for drag queen and vocalist Odette Dynasty O’Hara. The audience wailed in delight through her fierce yet sensual burlesque set. Drag king Jack Starr offered O’Hara a hard earned tip before wowing the audience with his drop crotch gymnastics. Payne collected the money that littered the venue between drag performances, UNCA’s own Flash Mob Improv Company and Latina queen Lupita Vega’s whirling dance recital.
“Spend your money wisely,” joked Payne, a post-baccalaureate second degree student at UNCA. “All ticket proceeds go directly to youth empowerment.”
Ticket sales raised funds for Youth OUTright. The youth advocacy organization holds weekly meetings in WNC designed to be fun, educational and supportive for teens ages 14-23. Nonprofit group Just Us For All provides similar support and education for LGBTQ individuals after they age out of Youth OUTright.
“Youth OUTRight and Just Us For all provide much more than support and educational programming for the LGBTQ community, but they also provide a much needed sense of home,” Payne said.
Just Us For All is currently raising funds in hopes of securing a space for future meetings. Youth OUTright is planning a prom style event for LGBTQ youth and their straight allies for May 11. New Hope ICCC and Our Voice also buoyed the event with volunteers and information.
Art mirrored life after the intermission, where ballet, verse and song ruled the stage.
“There’s a lot of love here, and good community energy,” said UNCA sociology lecturer Keith Bramlett.
Youth composers from slam-sensation Poetry Slam Asheville performed alongside established poet Theresa Davis and Emmy nominated vocalist Kat Williams.  All three acts received standing ovations.
“There’s no division between art and education,” said Davis, 2011 Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion.
For the performers, there was also no difference between art and activism.
“If events like this would happen more frequently, people would be less intimidated to express themselves and fully realize their passions,” said dancer Toff Ylanan.
Ylanan’s sentiments echo in the observations of the audience.
“Activism is strongest through art, especially considering the emotional nature of the civil rights components of LGBTQ issues,” said UNCA freshman Kira Leander.
Organizers said they were overwhelmed by energy and success of the event.
“We raised $500 dollars for Youth OUTRight. The performers were lifted to new levels by the love and enthusiasm of the audience. And most of all, I think we connected people and communities in the process through the power of art,” Payne said.