By Ryan Yuenger
A collection of popular Chicago drag queens is headed to southwest Michigan for the first time.
The Stay Dowagiac Collective of short-term rental properties is hosting the first-ever Drag Brunch in Dowagiac this Saturday afternoon. Due to unprecedented demand for tickets, the event was moved from Oak and Ash BBQ to The Wounded Minnow Saloon, 234 S. Front Street.
The holiday-themed brunch event, titled “Drag Me to the Wounded Minnow” begins at noon and will feature four popular drag queens from Chicago – O’laysia, Boy J, Khloé Coulee, and host Kimberly Summer. There also will be custom treats from Dowagiac bakery The Baker’s Rhapsody.
Zena Burns, co-owner of the 1870 House and member of the Stay Dowagiac Collective, said the event is an exciting opportunity for the city of Dowagiac.
“Nothing like this has ever taken place in Dowagiac before,” said Burns, adding there have been very successful drag brunch events in Chicago, Detroit, South Bend and even Saugatuck. “Just in talking with people around town, we saw there was a desire for this type of event. … There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what these types of events include. It’s really about fun, about joy, about inclusivity and love.”
Burns said the event also is a fundraising event for the Benton Harbor-based OutCenter of Southwest Michigan, a nonprofit supporting the LGBTQ community in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.
“Southwest Michigan has a large LGBTQ+ community and an even larger population of allies,” said Shannon Lyons, co-owner of The Altus Apartment and member of the Stay Dowagiac collective. “When my wife Cathy McBride and I started getting involved with OutCenter of Southwest Michigan in Benton Harbor last year, we were impressed by the good and important works they’re doing to serve this community. One of the things that makes OutCenter special is they are really redefining what it means to be an LGBTQ+ community center in a more rural area.”
The OutCenter works with area schools to promote inclusion and understanding, and has programs schools can sign up for to teach their staff how best to support LGBTQ+ students, Lyons said.
“Our Stay Dowagiac collective is all about raising awareness for the wonderful things going on in Dowagiac and why it’s a great tourist destination,” Lyons said. “So, when we had the idea to bring this unique programming to town, it made sense to help raise awareness for OutCenter and make them a beneficiary of the incredible demand.”
The Stay Dowagiac Collective is made up of three high-end, Airbnb-type rentals. Burns and husband Richard Jackson own the 1870 House, while Lyons and McBride own The Altus Apartment and Desmond Lathan owns The Hatch Street Manor. Stay Dowagiac aims to support the community and bring visibility to the many noteworthy and excellent things there are to do in the Dowagiac area, according to Burns.
“We came together as the Stay Dowagiac Collective a couple years ago … with the firm belief that there’s so much great stuff going on in Dowagiac,” she said. “We believe a rising tide lifts all boats, and we pooled our resources to to help grow the profile of Dowagiac from a tourism perspective and to promote our properties.”
Burns said she hopes this event will be a stepping stone to bringing more unique events to Dowagiac.
“We’ve always believed this is a special community that is of interest not only to those who live here, but for visitors as well,” Burns said. “Since [the 1870 House] opened, 60 to 70% of our bookings come from people who have no connection to the community. We get so many reviews about how great the city of Dowagiac is – the small-town charm, the fantastic shopping and the wonderful people.”
Tickets for the drag brunch are currently sold out, but people can join the wait list on the show’s website. Tickets are $50, and include a food buffet and two drink tickets. Only adults 21-years-old and up will be permitted to attend.
“I cannot understate the level of excitement we’ve gotten from people who have purchased tickets or wanted to,” Burns said. “It’s about time Dowagiac has this type of event available, and it really is going to be a great afternoon.”