The buzz of men and women preparing for the Scarlet Fever Drag Show felt as electric in a large dressing room on the third floor of UNC Charlotte’s Student Union, as the glittery eye shadows, shimmering evening gowns and neon stilettos scattered on the racks and tables.
Hip hop dancers rehearsed their high-energy routines, then stood in front of the 4-foot-tall fan that gusted from the entrance. Others around them busily slipped and poured themselves into dresses or traced their lips with liner and gloss.
In its fifth year now, the charity event sponsored by UNC Charlotte PRIDE (People Recognizing Individual Diversity & Equality) has raised thousands of dollars for AIDS Walk Charlotte. The 2-mile journey through the city’s Fourth Ward supports and advocates for those living with the disease and honors those whose suffering from it has ended.
All proceeds from the AIDS Walk, set to begin its 17th year in May, benefit RAIN, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network in Charlotte.
RAIN was launched in the 1990s by a group of volunteers who wanted to enlist the faith community to help quell the stigmas associated with AIDS and ensure that AIDS patients didn’t die alone.
Scarlet Fever – lively, outrageous and raucous at times – has underlying roots as a coping mechanism.
“When HIV and AIDS was hitting the gay community, one of the only ways that we had to laugh was often times through the drag community,” said Shane Windmeyer, a well-known Charlotte drag queen. “It was a very difficult time to not lose hope.”
Windmeyer is founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a national organization based in Charlotte that strives to create a safe environment for the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community on college campuses.
He’s also made a career as Buff Faye, one of Charlotte’s most endeared drag-queen characters, and he performs regularly to raise money for causes from cystic fibrosis to heart disease. Windmeyer’s wardrobe is said to be so large, his drag closet is actually a barn behind his home.
In the corner of the dressing room, Windmeyer sat quietly in front of a small makeup mirror and gradually slipped into the persona of Buff Faye.
With each brush of rouge across the cheekbones and every tease of her blond wig, the serious tone drifted further and further away until it was replaced entirely by the raucous sass of a sharp-tongued queen.
She sifted intently through a gallon-size Ziploc bag of jewelry, fished out an oversized emerald-green ring and slid the bauble onto the only remaining finger still left undecorated.
“Are you about ready?” asked a soft-spoken but pressing stagehand. The last in the long line of people that had snaked outside the auditorium had paid their admission and found their seats.
“Just a minute, honey,” Buff Faye said, reaching for a can of olive oil sheen and spraying her wig generously. “Nothing dries a wig out like a barn.”
By night’s end, Scarlet Fever 2013 had raised a little more than $1,500. The dollar bills thrown on the floor during the show came from all parts of the college community: lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and straight. Buff Faye had taken a poll during the night.
It’s a sign of changing times and attitudes of acceptance.
“Young people today can express themselves across the gender spectrum of diversity. That is really appealing,” said Buff Faye. “Drag is a part of that. It’s a celebration.”