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DRAGSTRAVAGANZA: THE DRAG BALL 2015

Never one to let the sniff of a party pass by unnoticed, Gaylife was so excited to hear about The George House Trust’s 30th Anniversary Drag Ball fundraiser – that a little bit of wee came out! We spoke to co-organiser Cheddar Gorgeous about the roots behind the event, and what we can expect on the big night…. 

So you may have heard about an exciting event happening in Manchester this summer. Ady at Gaylife asked me to say a few words about GHT’S upcoming DRAGSTRAVAGANZA : THE DRAG BALL 2015, what’s behind it and what the event team has in store for you!

This year George House Trust commemorates 30 years of supporting people living with HIV. They were the first organisation to do so in the North West and have continued to be at the forefront of campaigning for prevention, early diagnosis, effective treatment and combating stigma for the last three decades. However their primary objective has always been to cater directly for the wellbeing of men and women living with the virus. Every day men and women living with HIV struggle to cope with physical symptoms of the virus and its associated medications. The advent of increasingly effective and available treatment here in the UK has meant many will experience a more normal life expectancy, an achievement that should be celebrated. Yet for people living with the virus living a normal life is too often impeded by feelings of shame and fears of rejection by their own communities. The stigma, ignorance and hate that positive people experience can be just as potent a killer as the virus itself.

The occasion of the Pearl Anniversary is a time to celebrate the tremendous work that has been done, the progress made and the people who are still here today because of it. It is also a time to remember those who are no longer with us and focus on the goal ahead of working towards a world free of the virus, and the ignorance and fear that fuels stigma. It is an occasion that requires a bold gesture, and you don’t get much bolder than A GRAND BALL!

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In 1985 six gay HIV activists set up Manchester AIDS-Line, a service which would become George House Trust over the course of the following decade. As the spread of the virus began to affect people beyond the gay community, so their service expanded to support all people living with HIV in the region. In recent years this has included a particularly active involvement in Manchester’s African communities. However the gay community and its variety of colourful drag personalities have continued to be a critical source of funding, solidarity and support. George House Trust already recognises this in its use of a number of ambassadors in the gay community, including four of Manchester’s drags, myself – Cheddar Gorgeous, Misty Chance, Billie Jean and Anna Phylactic. We have been working with Susie Baines from GHT to bring this ambitious event to life.

The Drag Ball will be GHT’s way of continuing to recognise the role of the gay community in its work, but also drawing attention to the importance of feeling good about being who you are. As the infamous mantra of popular US TV-show Ru-Pauls drag race pronounces, drag involves CHARISMA, UNIQUENESS, NERVE and talent. It is an art of empowerment and a celebration of the diversity of life. Drag provides a powerful metaphor for everyone’s right to feel good about who they are.

This is also important for those living with HIV. When chatting to Susie earlier this year about the event she described to me the importance make-up had for one client in allowing her to face the hostility she faced as a positive woman in her community. Being able to present to others as healthy, beautiful even, gave her the strength to carry on day to day. Other service users, male, female and transgendered, described similar strategies they used to ‘look well’. Of course this wasn’t only about make-up or appearance. It was about feeling normal, showing those around you that you were more than an illness and being accepted.

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The event is a chance for GHT to pull together the diversity of communities it works with, in one colourful party, and nobody knows how to throw a good party like a drag! The event will be a forward looking take on the Drag balls of old and another Manchester first. We’ll be supplying a mix of canopies, performances, dancing and speeches, featuring well-known drag personalities that representing the variety of drag genres that make Manchester such a vibrant place to play. Expect red carpet excess, formal introductions and dressing to impress (whatever that may mean all in the beautiful surroundings of Manchester’s Freemasons hall Ballroom. In addition to being a chance to show off your best party look to the assembled press and check out the performing talent we’ll have music from Drunk at Vogue and Cha Cha Boudoir, and I hear a rumour that there are several fundraising after parties occurring at across the village into the early hours.

The event itself will of course also be raising money for GHT’s welfare fund. The Welfare fund provides grants to people living with the virus for essential items and services that help them maintain a good level of physical and mental health. This might be a replacement cooker, a new bed or travel expenses to assist with getting essential services. Maintaining this fund during increasing financial pressures on charities and the people they support is a testament to the tireless work of GHT staff and supporters, but it is important to keep in mind the importance of donations in ensuring this work can continue. The ball will also be the launch party for a new anti-stigma campaign GHT will be championing this year.

We hope to see as many of you as possible turning out in your finery to support what will be a unique and utterly fabulous affair! It’s a chance to come together show this city how to throw a party and do some important awareness raising and fundraising at the same time!

Kisses from Chedz XXXXX

The ball will be taking place at the Freemasons Hall on the July 18th. You can book your place at  http://www.ght.org.uk/dragball Tickets are very limited so get in early to avoid disappointment! 

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