Though new to the job, the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association’s Southeast coordinator, James Hoagland, is particularly well suited to plan this year’s Femme Fatale drag show fund-raiser: he spent more than 10 years traveling the country as a professional drag artist under his stage name, Gigi Monroe. For him, it’s all about sharing positive energy.
“Art in general is very powerful but I think there’s something special, almost indescribable, about drag and how it affects people,” he said. “You feel that incredible energy coming at you and you’re able to give it back and bring smiles to people’s faces. In this case it’s also about raising money for a great cause and organization, so it’s just a good feeling all around.”
In addition to planning this year’s Femme Fatale show, which takes place Friday and Saturday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, Hoagland is also gearing up to take part in the Femme Fatale locals night at the Rendezvous on Thursday, along with other community members, both male and female. Femme Fatale is the major fund-raiser for the Four A’s, which provides services for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families — a fun event organized for a serious purpose.
“We try to create another world for people to come and play in for a little while,” Hoagland said. “And I think that’s really magical. As adults we don’t have a lot of those spaces to go into.”
Femme Fatale has been held annually in Juneau since 1988. Hoagland, who took over for former Southeast coordinator Phoebe Rohrbacher in March, said that this year, the funds raised through the event are more important than ever due to changes in federal funding for AIDS assistance through the Ryan White CARE Act.
All of the money raised at the Femme Fatale event goes to support client services in Southeast, which are offered in two core areas. The first is supportive services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and their families, including assistance with medications and doctors visits, as well as food boxes, transportation and other needs. Hoagland said there are about 75 known cases of HIV/AIDS in Southeast.
“People can live healthy, productive and happy lives and be HIV positive, and that’s the reality for a lot of people now, which is fantastic,” he said. “But it does cost a lot of money to keep them on meds. The meds are still prohibitively expensive for most people to pay for themselves.”
The second area of services offered by Four A’s focuses on HIV prevention and education, including quick HIV testing in the office and at other locations in town, as well as education classes and an active syringe exchange program. Hoagland said in March alone, more than 1,200 dirty needles were brought in to the office, an unknown percentage of the total number in town. Because of this program, Hoagland sometimes ends up talking to people about their drug use and other issues. He said in general he tries to provide a nonjudgmental, safe place for people to get answers to their questions. He also stays connected with other local social service agencies so that clients can get the help they need for dealing with addiction, homelessness, or mental health issues.
“I treat everybody as an individual with their own specific set of circumstances,” he said.
Hoagland said the statistics for HIV/AIDS in Southeast are encouraging — zero new cases of HIV were reported in Southeast last year – but that statewide the numbers highlight the importance of getting tested.
“Thirty-eight percent of all new diagnoses in Alaska in 2013 were not just HIV, they were also AIDS, which means that those folks were potentially carrying that disease for a long time before symptoms showed up,” he said. ”That really underscores the importance of testing as far as we’re concerned.”
In some cases, people can live with HIV without symptoms for 10 to 15 years, Hoagland said, unknowingly spreading it to others.
“Testing is really the only way to prevent the further spread (of the disease).”
Hoagland moved to Juneau in October, after spending six months on a cruise ship as a wardrobe supervisor in charge of costumes for all of the acts that performed on the ship. He got to know Juneau as a port of call.
“I came to Juneau every Tuesday for 19 weeks last summer,” he said. “That was my first introduction to Alaska and to the community here.”
One member of our community in particular held interest for him and eventually Hoagland stepped off the ship for good.
“I fell in love with Juneau and in Juneau," he said with a laugh. “After my contract was up I was looking for a new home and thought I’d give it a shot.”
In addition to taking the job at Four A’s in March, Hoagland runs his own business, Gigi Monroe Designs, designing and styling wigs for drag queens all over the world — “really theatrical, fun stuff.” He first got involved in drag while going to college in Atlanta, becoming intrigued by watching others perform. After learning the ropes from other drag queens, he began performing on his own in casinos and theaters, eventually taking on character illusions including Liza Minnelli, Madonna and Reba McEntire.
Hoagland’s appearance at Thursday night’s Femme Fatale show will be his first as Gigi Monroe, but Juneau audiences may have already seen him in this year’s Wearable Art show. Hoagland won second place in the Sunday show for his piece, “Pure Imagination,” which he modeled himself in drag.
Hoagland said he was really looking forward to taking part in Femme Fatale, and to channeling some of that creative energy toward raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
“We get to put on this fabulous show, and it’s really fun and exciting for people to watch,” he said. “But I think there’s a lot of power in being a drag queen with a microphone on stage. You can use that as a platform for anything you want. And in this case, Four A’s has been able to use it as another way for people to stay up to date on what’s going on in this world, to know what we do and what we offer in the community, as well as how important it is to just take responsibility for your own heath — and, ultimately, your own life.”
The Four A’s Femme Fatale drag show, featuring drag queens from Anchorage’s Mad Myrna’s nightclub, will be held April 25 and 26 at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Thursday there will be a locals’ night Femme Fatale drag show at the Rendezvous.
Four A’s is located at 174 S Franklin St, Suite 207. For more information, call 586-6089 or visit http://www.alaskanaids.org.
Know and go
What: Four A’s Femme Fatale drag show
When: April 24 at the Rendezvous Bar (locals night) and April 25 and 26 at the JACC
Details: Donations only for the Rendezvous show. JACC show tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and $30 VIP tables. Tickets at the JAHC, Hearthside Books and Rainy Retreat.