SLC drag troupe raises funds, morale

by AMANDA CHAMBERLAIN

Forty-five-year-old Don Steward says he’s about as mainstream as it gets. The West Valley City resident has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in public administration, owns a small business and attends church every week.

“If I was an ice cream flavor I would be vanilla – probably sugar free,” Steward said. “I’m that dull.”

Perhaps it’s Steward’s dull home life that makes his charity work seem even more intriguing. He makes it a priority to stay active doing volunteer work, and has traveled across Utah and Wyoming mentoring nonprofit organizations. But it’s when he stuffs his 6-foot, 230-pound frame into a curve-hugging, polyester dress and 5-inch heels that his charity work appears the most vibrant.

Meet Ruby Ridge, Steward’s alter ego. He transitions into this bearded drag queen – brazenly outfitted with loud makeup, fluorescent hair and a sassy attitude – when he appears with the fundraising performance troupe, the Utah Cyber Sluts. As one of the about 10 rotating members in the troupe, Ridge performs improvisational comedy and lends herself to charitable events within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, such as Pride and WinterFest.

Most recently, the Cyber Sluts kicked off University of Utah’s Pride Week on Oct. 15, 2007, performing a colorful show for attendees free of charge. On Nov. 29, the troupe will doll themselves up in the finest Deseret Industries dresses and attend The Red Party at the Hotel Monaco to raise money for AIDS awareness. Just one night later, they will unveil their Christmas performance “Cyber Night, Slutty Night, What’s in Your Stocking?” at the Paper Moon.

But perhaps the Cyber Sluts’ most famous fundraising effort is Cyber Slut Bingo. Each month, the merry bunch hosts a different-themed game night in order to raise money for the Utah Pride Center.

“The Pride Center has had a partnership with them for couple of years now, and one amazing thing about the Cyber Sluts is how much they do for charity,” said Jennifer Nuttall, the Center’s adult-program director. “Initially, the Center was having difficulty raising funds, and it was their idea to come and do the Bingo nights to help out the center. Now that we’ve gotten to a much better place financially, we’re able to split the proceeds to go to both the Pride Center and the Cyber Sluts’ other charities throughout the community.”

In September, the Cyber Sluts collected more than $2,000 from Bingo night alone. And according to Nuttall, who attends Bingo night to direct “the Pride Center side of things,” the number will only continue to grow. She said the game night fundraiser is attracting a bigger and “more diverse crowd,” and at $5 admission per person, that can add up.

Nuttall also noted that the Cyber Sluts plan to take the event “on the road,” hosting Bingo night starting Dec. 14, 2007, at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (6876 S. Highland Dr., Salt Lake City) for the next few months, then moving it to another part of the valley.

The Cyber Sluts experience no shortage of Bingo, AIDS benefits and Pride weeks, but just how does one find himself performing in drag for charity? Steward’s story starts with the formation of the troupe itself, which was inspired by the Denver Cycle Sluts, a similar fundraising outfit. Two inquisitive Utahns, Rand Bodily and Chris Trujillo, caught a Cycle Slut performance nearly 17 years ago and felt inspired to mimic their antics and generosity, according to an article published in the November 2007 issue of QSaltLake.

Taking their concept back to Utah’s salty turf, Bodily adopted the name Lucky Charms, and Trujillo became Andromeda Strange. As they acquired more volunteers, the twosome blossomed into a full-fledged performance troupe, which they named the Utah Cyber Sluts — tweaking the moniker to slightly differ from the Denver group’s.

As one of their first charitable efforts, they started Camp Pinecliff Weekend, an annual camping retreat for people with HIV/AIDS, their family and their caregivers. And while the camp acts to bring hope to those with the disease, it also serves as the birthplace of Ruby Ridge, who now is one of the event’s main coordinators.

“I knew Rand and Chris, and we just got to talking one night in the lodge and boom! Ruby was born,” Steward explained. “They are great performers and sort of dragged me along by my boot straps until I learned the basics.”

Though founders Bodily and Trujillo have passed the leadership torch on to other Sluts, such as Ida Slapter, the current “Madame,” Ridge and the rest of the troupe continue to reach out to the LGBT community, and beyond.

“They really promote a sense of community,” Nuttall said, “and they’re a great and fun social outlet for both our community and the community at large.”

Just like the Sluts aren’t limited to raising funds for just one demographic of the community, Steward isn’t limited to playing Ridge only under the Cyber Slut name. He also flexes Ridge’s sharp-tongued wit as a columnist for the local LGBT news and entertainment newspaper, QSaltLake. Her column, in which she touches on current events amid a bounty of endearment terms (calling readers “muffins,” “petals,” etc.), has gained a steady following. According to Assistant Editor JoSelle Vanderhooft, Ridge’s column, “Rocky Meadows Mascara,” is one of the paper’s most popular features.

“I’m really surprised at how many people actually read my column,” Ridge said. “I always did it as a joke, but people really respond to it.”

In many ways, the same sentiment applies to the Utah Cyber Sluts. Though they joke with funny names, bad fashion sense and diva attitudes, they get the attention of many in the community at large, and it’s due to their unique and entertaining take on charity work.