Elio González organized Miss Gay Latina for the first time in 2008. He has a background in event planning but had never thought of creating a pageant.
“A friend told me there was a need for a LGBTQ pageant in Asheville since many people wanted to get recognized in the drag community and jumpstart their careers, and the only events for drag available were in clubs,” says González .
The first one was in a local church that sat only 200 people. By the end of the night, the church was full, and many were outside hoping to get in.
Today, Miss Gay Latina is hosted in an Asheville theater that holds approximately 500 people and is open to drag queens of all ethnicities.
Last year's winner, Malayia Chanel Iman, has won 99 pageantries in his career as a female drag impersonator, and says that Miss Gay Latina Asheville has been one of his biggest wins so far.
As a Black drag queen, he has definitely struggled with acceptance and recognition.
“You do have to go a little bit above and beyond to get that respect that you deserve," Iman says. "There were many times where I would go do a pageant and actually, you know, everybody knew I would win and they would change the scores so that I would not win, and that happens a lot.”
But today, Iman is seen as a mother figure, a “humble queen” he calls it. He explains that although he's not Latinx he has always been around brown communities, and works directly with Latinx queens. He is working to ensure the success of whom he calls his 20 “children” — drag queens that are fairly new in the community or that he's taken under his wing as a mentor.
González says that the event is not only open for people from Asheville, and that many travel from other states to participate.
Chanel Iman himself is from Greensboro. He explains that what has kept the event alive in such a small town has been the interest and community support.
“You can see other pageants that they do in the state, most of them are always done in a club, we've had so much support that we can do it in a theater,” he says.
When asked if he has ever received pushback from the community, he explained that there's never been complaints or protests.
The event happens every November and has several categories like folkloric outfits, five-minute talent show, and nightgown.
The competition's jury are people who have worked in pageants before. The pageant also accepts queens that don't speak Spanish, as the event provides them with a professional translator.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022