There’s no doubt drag queens are unique entertainers. My first encounter was back in 2003 when my family rang up a massive phone bill trying to get Courtney Act into the top 12 for Australian Idol.

It wasn’t until several years later, as the entertainment reporter for this very paper, that my eyes opened up to this world of glamour, politics and ball-busting work.

From the ins and outs of tucking to how to hide your ingrown hairs on stage, there’s nothing a drag queen won’t share.

But there’s consensus that the Drag Industry Variety Awards is the most talked-about topic and highlight of any showgirl’s calendar.

In recent times the awards fell into financial trouble but this year Avid Events Limited took over and changed the event’s name to DIVA.

DIVA co-chair Dejay Toborek said the name was created to continue the legacy of a ceremony that rewards, recognises and celebrates the achievements of the drag community.

“DIVA is one of the Sydney GLBT’s best-loved community events and the very thought of the institution disappearing from the annual events calendar altogether was upsetting for many who have been supporters of the event in the past,” Toborek said.

“Earlier this year, the Avid Events team banded together to secure the event and to keep it going in a not-for-profit community organisation’s hands, rather than letting it die or be taken over by a commercial entity.”

Founded in 1991 by David Wilkins, Penny Clifford and Ian Jopson, the Drag Industry Variety Awards was created to celebrate the work of Sydney drag queens and the many talents of the people who make up the local gay entertainment industry. The first awards were held at DCM nightclub.

“Drag at the time was getting overlooked as an art form and we wanted to honour the hard-working drags as well as celebrate them,” Clifford said.

“Even today some parts of the community are still [prejudiced] against drag. As an older performer now, the DIVAs mean a way to remember past showgirls, and watch new upcoming drags become fabulous.”

While the very first awards were a big success, the founders discovered the event was too big for a small group of people to handle, and as a result created a not-for-profit company with a committee structure to help organise the annual night.

“Setting up a not-for-profit, membership-based company allowed for new talent and energy to feed into the main event,” Wilkins said.

From the first ceremony, the awards travelled to a variety of venues including the Shangri-la Hotel, the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney Town Hall, Paddington Town Hall and the Showroom at Star City Casino.

“DIVA has always been a moveable feast and the event has been held in many different venues over the years. The moveable nature of the awards reflects on the changing face of drag in Sydney and beyond,” Toborek said.

While DIVA continues to move forward, the awards will be held this year at The Bourbon on Monday, October 26. Comedian Julia Morris will host.

“DIVA 2009 has an exciting new format, along with the new exciting venue,” DIVA co-chair Greg Steele said.

“The Bourbon is not as far removed from the drag community as some might think, as it has a strong link to drag in the past with Les Girls having been just up the road.

“Most importantly, the feedback we received from the showgirls was that they wanted a more social night, where they can catch up with their friends and mingle freely.

“They also commented that DIVA should be ‘for’ the drag community, rather than ‘by’ the drag community, so a major change in format this year has been to bring in outside talent for the hosts and shows at the awards ceremony.”

In the awards tradition, the DIVA Public Voting Day is on Saturday, October 24 at Stonewall Hotel from noon. It’s the public’s chance to vote for their favourite drag queen.

“Everyone is encouraged to come along and vote for their favourite venue, male performer, show, drag personality and bitch of the year,” Steele said.

“Also this year one of the most important core awards, the Hall of Fame, has been opened up for nominations to the public and we look forward to announcing the inductee soon.”

While there has been a name change, Steele promises that the essence of the night will be the same.

“After the scare we had this year of potentially losing DIVA, we want to make sure that from here on we create a legacy of DIVA in Sydney,” Steele said.

“It’s still a fabulously camp awards ceremony to honour the wonderful drag personalities in our community.”

This year there are fewer awards, with a number of previous awards combined to reflect the changing nature of drag in Sydney. In a departure from previous years, this year the infamous Bitch or Boast after-party will be held at the same venue as the awards.

Learning from past mistakes, DIVA is back on track with a bright and sequined future ahead.

“Drag is not about safety and precautions, it is about getting out there and giving it your all, regardless of consequences,” Steele said.

“We feel comfortable in our position given that we have consulted several times with the showgirls at large, and taken on board their questions, concerns, and suggestions.

“We are watching the budget closely and making sure this new not-for-profit company will be around to host many more DIVAs to come.”

Love or pretend to hate it, drag has not only made an impact on the entertainment industry but helps shape a proud and diverse community.

Whenever it’s a drunken night out on the town or putting on a dress yourself or even watching your ex-boyfriend turn into a showgirl, there’s no doubting drag has touched us in many ways. It’s vital we join forces to help celebrate this art form.

info: The DIVA Awards are on Monday, October 26, at The Bourbon in Kings Cross. Free drinks and canapés for the first four hours. A Bitch or Boast after-party will kick off at the venue from midnight. Tickets are $100 + BF from www.divaawardsaustralia.com.au

DIVA Hall of Fame recipients

2008 Mitzi Macintosh
2007 Maude Boate
2006 Penny Clifford
2005 Dawn O’Donnell
2004 Mogadonna
2003 David Wilkins
2002 Monique Kelly
2001 Miss 3-D
2000 Simone Troy
1999 Polly Petrie
1998 Miss Rose Leaf
1997 Carlotta
1996 Carmen
1995 Cindy Pastel
1994 Leigh Jennings
1993 Fanny Farquhar & Leggs Galore
1992 Tallulah Brite
1991 Robyn Lee
1990 Rose Jackson

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