Monday, June 04, 2001

'Drag Races' raise money for AIDS

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Drag queens know their shoes. That's why the Maisonette team's initial choice of footwear caused a bit of a stir in Sunday's annual Drag Races relays that featured nine teams of men and women in bad drag.

        “There was some controversy over the Maisonette team's penny loafers. They weren't pumps, but, yes, they did have the regulation 2-inch heel,” said Bruce Preston, 28, an emcee for the AIDS awareness event on Court Street downtown, between Shooters and Plum Street Pipeline. “They did switch to pumps after the second heat.”

        The Maisonette team, attired in French maid outfits, strutted away with the “Golden Pump Award,” a rainbow-colored high heel given as the event's trophy. About 1,500 people cheered and laughed as the runners tried to hold on to their wigs — and sometimes ran right out of their shoes.

        The event might be fun, but it draws attention to a serious cause, organizers and spectators said. It also spices up a rather straight-laced city and unites diverse people in a community recently torn by racial strife, they noted.

        “We got a great mix of people: a lot of minorities, different ages, genders, sexual preferences — which is great to see in Cincinnati,” said Barbara Levine, volunteer coordinator for AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, which sponsored the races and other AIDS fund-raisers during the weekend.

        She noted AIDS affects an array of people, adding, “There's still a misperception that AIDS is a gay disease, but we're seeing more women and minorities.”

        Authorities estimate 4,000 to 6,000 people in Greater Cincinnati are infected with AIDS or the virus that causes it.

        The Drag Races, held for a number of years, hold special sig nificance this year as the AIDS epidemic moves into its third decade, said Todd Wentz of AVOC.

        “People are starting to kind of become lackadaisical and complacent about it,” he said.

        Although AIDS education isn't blatant at the event, donation jars and literature bear AVOC's name, “and when people give up their money, they know what it's going to,” said Rob Kibbey, 21, of Hyde Park.

        Said Steve Long, 26, of Clifton: “People think there's an AIDS crisis in Africa, but not in Cincinnati, and that's not true. We need events like this.”

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