Courtesy of Providence Monthly. Written by Hugh Minor

June means Pride season – a time to celebrate with the broad spectrum of friends, family, and neighbors who make up the LGBTQIA community, and no Pride festivity would be complete without the presence of Providence’s fantastic drag queens, who bring the fab and the fun – without them, events might have glitz, but certainly no glamor.

But more than performers, they also play a critical role in supporting nonprofit organizations by encouraging others to donate or get involved in a meaningful way. “When we started, it was all grassroots,” remembers local drag queen LaDiva Jonz. “People needed our help and we pitched in. A lot of our initial fundraisers were focused on people living with HIV and AIDS, but it grew from there, working with organizations that needed our support.”

“We get [stuff] done,” adds Haley Star. “Sometimes we make people feel a little uncomfortable, but we get the money donated and that’s what’s important.” A well-recognized dynamic duo, the queens are famous for hosting Drag Bingo to benefit AIDS Care Ocean State (ACOS), drawing sold-out crowds nine months out of the year (they take the summer off) at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston. They both studied the performing arts and it shows in everything they do.

“Haley and LaDiva have been instrumental in keeping our event alive and thriving,” shares Stephen Hogan, ACOS director of development and public relations. The organization relies on Drag Bingo for critical funding to deliver its programs and services.

Whether it’s rallying the crowd at PrideFest, hosting events for ACOS and other organizations like Adopt RI and Providence Animal Rescue League, or simply reading to kids at local libraries during story hour, the drag performers are extremely generous with their time and talent, making a huge impact not just on the gay community, but across all walks of life. “They never stop giving back and continue to connect and collaborate with so many organizations and groups in RI and surrounding areas,” says Hogan. “We are truly lucky to have such talent in our community. They are so selfless and make our home better and more inclusive for all.”

The life of a drag queen may seem like non-stop excitement, but both Star and Jonz hold down full-time day jobs as realtors. Star, AKA Stephen Gaskin, works with Residential Properties Ltd. and Jonz, AKA Gary Jacques, is with Williams and Stuart Real Estate.

When clients and customers learn that their realtors are also drag queens, both Star and Jonz say that it has always been a positive experience. “As a realtor, you’re performing,” shares Star. “I need to show up in much the same way, but my audience is my clients. They enjoy buying and selling with me because I do everything to make the transaction – which can be scary, especially for first-time buyers – fun. And they appreciate that.”

For Jonz, educating the public is part of a personal mission, explaining, “I’m very open with my clients about who I am and what I do. Many of them find it fascinating and want to know more about doing drag, and I’m happy to share my experiences with them. It’s a great way to educate people about what it means to do drag.”

“Plus, it’s like they get two realtors for the price of one,” cracks Haley, adding, more seriously, “This is the first time in my professional life that I feel like I can be myself. I’m thankful to Residential Properties and Sally for that,” referring to the company’s president and CEO Sally Lapides. One of the guiding principles of the real estate firm is that “diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice,” a message that resonated with Star and cemented the decision to work there.

The flexibility of a realtor’s schedule fits perfectly with the life of a drag queen, with events at clubs and bars often running late into the evening or even early morning. They can schedule their showings and closings later in the day and – maybe – sleep in when they have the chance, though there’s scarce moments to take a break for queens who are so active in the community.

Star also serves as Glambassador for the Providence-Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau (PWCVB). Together, she and Jonz traveled to Alexandria, Virginia to promote tourism in the Ocean State. “They are so great to work with,” says president and CEO of PWCVB Kristen Adamo. “Poised and professional. Everyone embraced them and they helped us create some of our best ad campaigns.”

Not all fun and games, the performance art form of drag is also business. Star and Jonz have a strategy for promoting their appearances via Drag in RI, a virtual platform that allows fans to keep up with their events like Drag Brunch and performances at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket or the Comedy Connection in East Providence. They even accept bookings for private parties.

“Everyone loves Drag Brunch,” declares Jonz. “Who doesn’t want to be entertained while enjoying a Bloody Mary or bottomless mimosas on a Sunday morning? Once people see a show, they keep coming back.” Despite its popularity, for the most part, drag doesn’t pay very well, and glamor doesn’t come cheap. The cost of costumes, makeup, and wigs adds up quickly. “I see so many young drag queens get started thinking they’ll make a career out of it. Honey, don’t quit your day job,” snaps Jonz. “Unless you’re RuPaul, you’re not making a living doing drag.”

Star shares that people are especially fascinated with her wardrobe and accouterments. “Whenever someone comes to visit my home, they want to see my basement – shelves and shelves of dresses and wigs. So many sequins. I think of it all as an investment in myself, in a career that has allowed me to travel the world and entertain countless people.”

And with a YouTube page that has more than 23,000 subscribers, Star’s reach is truly global.