Can a Pageant Queen make a difference?

As one of Play Dance Bar’s playmates, Aurora Sexton is one of Nashville’s most well-known drag performers. She’s been performing coast-to-coast for a decade, but most Nashville audiences know her for the dark comedy and elaborate costumes she brings to the stage, often pushing “the envelope of morality, decency and taste”—and that’s from Play’s own bio!

What many may not know is that she spent a lot of her early career competing in national pageants. “I used to do pageants a lot when I was in my early 20s,” Aurora said. “The pageant circuit was a great place to network, especially for entertainers in my position…” She has been Miss Renaissance, National Entertainer Of The Year, and a top 5 finalist at Miss Continental, among many others.

Recently, she took one more foray into the pageant world, and won big. Aurora has now been crowned 2016 Miss Gay USofA! “I got dragged kicking and screaming back into it,” she said, joking.

There are many pageants and pageant circuits, but the USofA Pageants are one of the oldest and most respected. “There are three or four large competitions,” Aurora explained, “and Miss Gay USofA has been in existence for 31 years! Back in the 80s it wouldn’t have been unheard of for them to have over 70 contestants. The last time it was in Nashville was when Diane Hutton won, I think….”

In order to compete in the national pageant, one has to qualify through a preliminary contest. “I flew to Key West and won Miss Gay Southernmost of USofA,” Aurora said. “During the four months that followed, I was traveling all over, getting fittings and meeting with dancers. I documented the travel and the rehearsal all the way up to the pageant, and I am turning it into a documentary called Pageant Queen. It’s not just you. It’s you and a team of fifty people.”

Aurora and her team seem to have done a fantastic job: she won every category in the competition and finished with a lead of over thirty points over the second place contestant. Now what?

“As I’ve gotten older,” Aurora said, “I’ve also gotten more politically sound and have wanted to get more involved in activist work, and being a titleholder gives me a vehicle for some of what I want to do.”

Among other things, Aurora has a project in mind that brings together a number of her skills and interests, particularly performing, telling stories, and using social media to get a message out. “I have this idea to do a social media campaign I’m calling ‘On the Road with Miss Gay USofA’,”she explained.

In a way, the idea is similar to her documenting the road to the pageant. “As I’m traveling around the country for the prelims,” Aurora said, “while I’m there I want to highlight whatever is going on in the local community, whether it’s fighting homelessness or working on slowing the HIV epidemic. I want to use my platform to shine a light on local LGBT communities.”

She hopes that, by capitalizing on the prominence of her crown and using the social media skills she’s developed, she can help make a difference. “I want to tell stories that will be meaningful to our community. One of my biggest dreams was to be an actress, but I really think my calling is to be a storyteller, and I’m passionate about helping shape our story.”

Using the platform this way isn’t something she’s seen anyone else do. “I’ve seen a lot of people in the pageant community support fundraising for organizations and causes, which is great,” she said. “But I think with these really underused tools of social media, we can really use the attention paid to titleholders to wield real change and bring more attention to our community.”

Since the attack on Pulse in Orlando, Aurora has been working both in Nashville and with friends in Orlando to help however she can. “I have a lot of friends there… Todd and I and all of us were there ‘til 5am getting live updates, and I can’t even describe the feelings. Everyone I knew personally got out, but for days after I was watching my friends wail at the loss of so many of their friends.”

On Tuesday, Aurora traveled to Orlando with the support of Play and the USofA Pageants. “Everyone down there is broken… I had friends who lost up to twenty close friends, and people were going to 2-3 daily,” she said.

While in Orlando, Aurora participated in two benefit shows. “The line to get into the fundraiser at Southern Lights went on for blocks,” she said. That evening, the show raised $77,000, and the next evening the show at Parliament House raised an additional $5,000.

“It was really amazing to see the community come together. I had no idea how to perform for that, but I decided to take Joan Rivers, because I figured people needed to laugh. There were other times during the evening when people were all in complete tears, so they needed to smile. I’ll never be the same after that night.”

“We really live in a bubble,” Aurora reflected upon her return from Orlando. "So many of us who live and work in the gay community, we go to gay bars, we go on gay cruises, and so many of us don’t step outside of is. It’s too easy to forget how many in the world feel about us in the safety of these places. This really exposes us to how many people still feel about us.”

When she was in Orlando, Aurora said, people would come up to her for a hug in tears. “It wasn’t about me but about what I’m representing—it showed me a lot about what I can do with this… I hope I can work towards a lot of change while I have the crown.”





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