by Jen Stevens.
The 2014 Triple Crown title holders are an exceptionally engaged, visible, congenial, mutually supportive, and talented trio. All three fulfilled their duties to Pride and our community with grace and minimal drama—a feat for any “crowned one.” We took the time to reflect on their year in the spotlight.
Options: What surprised you most about your reign?
Anthony Maselli (Mr. Gay): I was surprised by how deeply I felt affected by the Black Lives Matter movement that unfolded during my reign. I have always been interested in LGBTQ issues, but hadn’t given enough thought to race relations. As protesters organized around the nation, I felt compelled to be involved in some way, so I participated in several of the local rallies and then shared those experiences as well as my personal revelations on the issues with my followers. As an ally and concerned citizen, it is my first duty to educate myself by listening to the stories of people of color to cultivate understanding of the challenges they face. LGBTQ people are people of color, too. We cannot afford to marginalize ourselves by continuing to ignore race-specific challenges within our own community. I learned that silence equals complicity. Marching against police brutality in my Mr. Gay sash was something I would have never thought I would be doing, but it was one of the most moving moments of my reign. I am grateful for the education I received by being present and engaged at these events. Stepping out of my personal comfort zone in this way has made me a better person.
Betty Lebesian (Ms. Lesbian): The most surprising part of being Ms. Lesbian RI 2014 was the professional opportunities it has brought me. Through this title and exploring different areas within our community this year, I was able to build new business relationships and will be joining the Kiki Crew, putting on Southern New England’s weekly lesbian dance party, once my reign is up on April 12. Through this partnership, we will turn this dance party night into a socially responsible celebration. While I expected my visibility to increase in our community, I didn’t realize that the title could work as a tool outside of our world, as well. Including the title on my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, as well as my resume, was initially what sparked the owner of Patriot Subaru’s interest in me over 600 applicants. This position is a new passion that happens to pay the bills.
Nadia Starr (Miss Gay): Leading up to the pageant, I knew this title would be a commitment, I knew there would be work involved, and I knew I would make new friends. I knew I would do good things for the community (or at least try to) and I knew that I would do everything in my power to have a successful and meaningful reign. What I did not expect was how much I would grow as a person in only one year’s time. Winning the pageant gave me the confidence I never had in my drag, but my reign is what changed me. I discovered inner strength that inspires me to do more good and to help more people. I’ve never felt that in this way before.
Options: How have you impacted Rhode Island’s LGBTQ community?
Anthony: Several months prior to winning my title, I became public about my HIV status and about my recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. These are two issues that deeply affect the LGBTQ community, particularly young men. There are times when I feel like I haven’t done enough. It can be difficult to see people making the same mistakes I have made, knowing that they are not receptive to outside interventions. But since winning the title, I have had dozens of personal interactions with people who reached out to me for help or advice around these subjects. We don’t get to change the world in one year, but in my head is a list of people who my story has changed for the better, and for me that is enough.
Betty: I hope and would like to think that I have succeeded in creating an even more positive representation of Rhode Island Pride, the lesbian community, and the Triple Crown title holders, as well as spread awareness for our LGBTQ organizations, like SAGE-RI, that need our help the most.
Nadia: During my reign I have tried to do a lot of good in our community. Besides attending regular events and fundraisers and contributing what I could, being visible in the community was a goal of mine. I am bubbly and friendly, and I wanted to meet and get to know as many people as I could. I’m so happy with the friends I have made this year. I think my biggest accomplishment was my Holiday Food Drive. The community raised 600 pounds of food for the Rhode Island Food Bank. I was so impressed with how people chipped in to help the hungry, and it is a tradition that I would like to continue.
Options: The Triple Crown Pageant Committee is considering ways to be more inclusive of bisexuals and the trans* community. Do you feel it’s possible to represent all LGBTQs with these three titles?
Anthony: I started this conversation early in my reign, as I am sure many did before me. It is my personal feeling that the titles need to be broadened to the point where everyone in this community can run without feeling ostracized or forced into a classification that does not match their identity. My proposed solution did not please everybody. This is a historically sensitive subject for which I do not have a perfect answer, but I am confident that the answer will be found when we all lower our defenses and approach this from a place of understanding.
Betty: I am ecstatic to hear that the Pageant Committee is considering this move and fully support expanding the titles to represent everyone in this community. We are ever-evolving and that should be recognized. I know logistics can [extend the length] of the pageant, but I believe that the committee will find a way to be as fair and respectful as possible in adding these titles of recognition. I plan on lending my ideas and suggestions regarding this and I encourage all of you to do the same.
Nadia: Personally, the only person who I feel that I can represent is myself. At the same time, my wish was to be a voice for those who are soft spoken and to make my reign meaningful. It may seem like a cop out, but it was not my job to “represent” anyone other than myself and Rhode Island Pride. At the same time, all walks of life are meaningful to me. If a transgender or bisexual person approaches Pride and says, “I want to run for a title, represent your organization, and do good for the community,” it is my belief that Pride should welcome this person with open arms and allow them to compete in the pageant. This is 2015 and discrimination within an already discriminated community is unacceptable.
Options: What advice do you have for future Triple Crown title holders?
Anthony: The right thing to do is not always popular. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Use your platform to help as many people as possible.
Betty: Never stop being yourself. Support your fellow crown-holders. Give all the positive energy you can. Know it’s a lot of work but absolutely worth it.
Nadia: This title is not just a title, it is a job. It becomes a large part of your life and it must be taken seriously. In all essence, it is really a platform to do good for the community while representing Rhode Island Pride. It isn’t easy. Be prepared to attend a lot of events. Be prepared to spend a lot of your own money on new drag. Be prepared to agonize over the planning of your events. But when it is all said and done, and you can look back on your reign knowing that you have left an impression in the community and have even surprised yourself along the way, know that it was all worth it. I have no regrets about my reign and I will cherish this year for the rest of my life.