Some time ago, I received a partial recording of the 1999 Tennessee EOY pageant from a friend. This was to be my last pageant competition, because on that night my boyfriend, Barry Winchell, was murdered in his sleep by soldiers in his unti who were motivated by anti-gay and anti-trans sentiment. The lives of Barry’s family and loved ones were changed forever after that night, and I soon left my entertainment career to do my part legally and as an activist.
The murder and its aftermath have been discussed at length in the media, and our relationship was portrayed beautifully in the movie “Soldier’s Girl“. Though the story is often mentioned alongside mentions of me, keeping it top-of-mind for many, I actually do not personally discuss it very often any more. Over ten years have passed, and I have worked hard to nurture my soul through the arts and entertaining rather than live frozen in public grief.
From my earliest days as an awkward and plain child, up to this last pageant where I continued to reach for whatever beauty and expression I could attain, I saw the performing arts as a way to connect with the world and share my hopes, dreams and vision. I was never the prettiest, the best dancer or the best musician, but I never gave up reaching for a way to realize the dreams of who I wanted to be. It was this artist, this performer, that Barry met and cared for in those last days. In the years after the legal trial and media coverage, I have returned to my art with the strength he gave me, and the powerful support of the GLBT community and empathetic people in every community. I continue to appreciate that more than words can say.
I was inspired to take a second look at that “last pageant” by the recent acquisition of more pageant footage (from the 1998 National Entertainer of the Year pageant), and by my involvement with the first-ever California Entertainer of the Year pageant as a judge. I hope to receive the full video of TN EOY 1999 sometime this Summer, which includes the talent and final crowning segments, at which time I hope to make a longer film about that night. The original tape is currently misplaced, so everyone please send a prayer that it can be found.
I wrote two new songs for this video, “The Last Pageant Theme” and “Faith and Understanding”. They are background music at the moment, but I hope to develop them into full songs for the final project. You can download these preview versions for free on my Free Music Download Page.
Very special thanks to Cal-pal Cleve H. for sending me the videos from his private collection, and to those who helped me so much in those early days of my career.