Images courtesy of Anthony Castro Photography
Jenelle Evyn Hutcherson was the first known lesbian to compete in the Miss USA program, this year!
Besides my interest in our community, I hold a similar one for the pageant community. Yes, I am a pageant coach and have had the pleasure to train three Miss America’s along with a wonderful camaraderie of other titleholders. This year marked a milestone for me…along with the world, I saw the first two known lesbians compete in the Miss USA program. Mollie Thomas, a 19-year-old contestant, has never competed in a pageant before, but she represented West Hollywood in an effort to create more visibility for the LGBTQ community as she vied for the Miss California USA title in Indian Wells, CA earlier this year.
JEH: My message at both Miss Long Beach and Miss Ca USA was that I believe we as human beings have the choice to use our power and life for good and to help others or to not. Those are our two choices in life. We as adults have the power to set a better example as mentors to our youth by living love and teaching love. Love is a tool that will help them to grow and be more successful. The goal after all is to evolve and do better than before right? To provide a better future for our future generation? We need to work together to create this as a whole in our society. When we can do this we not only help end bullying in our youths lives but help end bullying in our adult society. We were Meant to be great, but greatness does not come from just one individual.
JEH: Nope. Still waiting! I won’t hold my breath though! 🙂
RR: Do you think a transgendered individual will become Miss USA in our lifetime?
JEH: think the rules in both Miss Long Beach and Miss Ca USA state that you must be of natural female gender. But who is to say that it cannot happen- there may have been already and we don’t even know! I believe there was a hermaphrodite that held a title in i want to say Arkansas? She was also in the Olympics. I will have to do a little research for names sake. I know I have a dream that a woman in a tuxedo CAN win a beauty pageant- if you have a
Dream, I say go for it!
RR: Did you change people’s opinions while competing in Indian Wells? Any personal stories of how you affected another contestant, pageant personnel, volunteer or audience member?
JEH: Well, with my Roomie I was assigned to at Miss California USA, which I was so worried about, but turns out she was sweet and we had a great time! Her family was in the audience to support her during the prelims sat nite and after wards we had an hour to visit our family. Well we went our desperate ways to find our supporters and she yelled for me and motioned for me to come over- when I did her father was so filled with excitement he could barely contain himself- he said he loved my purple tuxedo and asked if I could make him a navy blue one. Her family was so sweet. After our visits we headed to finally get some rest and Paige simply said “thank you” and i asked for what? And she expressed to me how when she walked over to them she did not expect her family to want to meet me. ESP her dad and that he is super conservative. For her to see his excitement when I walked over was amazing. I think her father, Paige herself and I all had learnt something from this. If i only had that one moment to make a difference, I’m glad it was well spent. I feel there were certainly many more touched by what I have done.
RR: Why the media attention? Did it make you feel singled out just because you were gay? Did you think there was validity to it? How did it make others feel?
JEH: I have grown so much over this last year preparing for the pageants. And I along the way have learned a lot about media and if putting “lesbian” in their catch phrase is what’s going to make it a story then so be it. I’m glad I was able to set a good example of a strong out woman. We still have a lot of growing to do as a Society when it comes to labels. I will continue to do my part when it comes to breaking stereotypes.
RR: Will you run again?
JEH: Yes! Miss Long Beach 2013 title! I will be there! Back to my roots! I hope to hold the title of Miss Long Beach 2013 and to continue to help my community by then creating a Scholarship Program for our local youth. ALL YOUTH. Either way, this program will happen, I just see how having the title could really push the expectations.
RR: What were your favorite questions (funny and serious) in the interview process?
JEH: The very first Miss Long Beach Carole White was one of my judges at the Miss Long Beach Pageant; she held her title 60 years ago. I was so worried about how I was going to connect with what I am trying to do and how proud she is for holding her title as the first. I wasn’t sure in what form our connection would come. It ended up being the piano. She played the piano as her talent when she took her title back in 1951. And for me, my father played the piano and inspired me to play when I was 8 or 9. I quit playing after he died, when I was 10 years old.
RR: As I said, there is so much more behind the crown and the press you received. You are intimate with AIDS, as am I. I’ve shared many of my stories with lgbtSr. Can you share with us the story of your father?
JEH: Yes, My father was diagnosed with AIDS when I was 6, he was told he would only live 2 years, he lived 4. My father was my hero like any other kid growing up. He was strong, liked to play and have fun with me and my brother, he made us a tree house and built things as well as a business he and my mother ran, Golden Empire Fire and Safety- a first aid, fire equipment and installation service. For him to have AIDS, it was never something any one saw forthcoming. He was very involved with church and all my friends were from church during this time. When people began to notice him become more sick, they began to judge. What they did not know is how he contracted the disease. It wasn’t drugs, or unprotected promiscuous sex, he was not gay or African American. It was not the way most had assumed naively at the time, it was the dentist office. Who would have thought the dentist office? We as a society didn’t know how many ways AIDS could spread and how easily the disease could still live on a crevice of a glove- from room to room with the same pair of gloves on. You would just assume- common sense says change them. I cannot blame any one person for this taking place, I know I would not be who I am today had it not. I was bullied in elementary school when some of the kids found out that went to my church. I watched my mother so bravely stand up for us and my father. I watched her pick up and try to keep a balanced home life for my brother and I, despite her own emotional and now physical struggle. My mother is also my hero. My father did not die in vain if I was meant to share this story with the world, and I believe I was. My dad was my biggest fan, he used to tell me that I could be whatever I want to be when I grow up and encouraged me to be myself and no one else. So when his last day came and I had my last words with him, it was this: “I will grow up and I will go to school and I will make something of myself”
RR: Tell us how you got your middle name? I love it. Any special meaning?
JEH: My father gave me my first name, and my mother’s name is Yvonne, they didn’t want to give me her name as my middle name as they did James for my brothers middle (my Dad’s name). Instead they took a few letters out, moved them around and came up with Evyn (E-veen) For the longest time I thought my middle name was pronounced as Evan- until my 21st birthday I made a joke with my mom about why I am gay- she gave me a boy’s name! Evan! and she sat there for a second and slowly replied, Your middle name is not Evan… I paused and I’m sure looked confused, She said it is Evyn.. (Eveeeeeeeeeeen) hahahaha! I had a moment of Who am I? This changes everything! haha! I love my name as well, it’s so French!
RR: Do you think it is far easier to be out/come out in certain states over other states? Is CA the be all and end all when it comes to equal rights?
JEH: I know coming out in a town like Bakersfield was difficult because of the Agricultural, farmer-like mentality that is still very present there. As far as state to state goes, I say yes it be more difficult for some, because of this same mentality. If you are gay and don’t want to deal with ignorance you do have to relocate sometimes, that’s not why I relocated, but I could see someone in a state that the state has tried to pass or has passed a law that even the use of the word “gay” is illegal may have a hard time being themselves. I think although California is not to marriage equality yet, I have good feeling more and more people in our state are starting to understand. They realize how we really are not that different and that goes for all groups of people and cultures.
RR: Do you think the top issues a lesbian faces and a gay man faces are more equal or more different?
JEH: I’d say it’s all the same, I know in the LGBT past we have had a clear line drawn between gay men and lesbian communities and that needs to be thrown out the window- that mentality will get us no where but in a hateful miserable place. We need to show everyone how it’s done- the gay community is in every culture out there and if we can all get along and work together to better our future- so can everyone else and every one of our extensions of our cultures. World Peace! or my understanding is “Equality within a diverse community!”
RR: Who inspires you the most, living or dead; gay, straight, bi or transgendered?
JEH: I find myself able to identify and be inspired with every one of these categories of people. My mentors are people like My father, Justin Rudd, Keith Lewis, my Mother, Ellen, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, Chaz, his mother Cher, my Grandmother, these women that have participated in pageants for years, all the way to my everyday people- my clients and my kids.
RR: You are one of the most positive people I know, can you share the number one item that keeps you on track and how can you encourage others to have it?
JEH: My advice would be is that the number one thing to remember is that it has already all been solved, all you can control is you and do your part. You cannot force change on anyone’s mind, but you can inspire those like you and those that are open to change. I think of the things that motivate me like the last words to my father, i picture my kids smiling faces, I think of how proud my mother is. That is who I am and who I strive to be every day. Someone cuts you off in traffic, don’t curse and swear- why work myself up? They must have somewhere they really need to be and I bet they are having a rough day. Dont let their negative energy fill your heart and soul. Take responsibility for your energy you have every day. (I think Oprah may have said something to that effect) Worst case scenario if you are having a freak out moment- communicate that softly with people by simply saying I need 10 minutes. And take your ten to get your head right. You are human after all…
RR: Do you look forward to being 50 plus?
JEH: YES! I have thought to myself- how will i wear my hair? And I wear contacts/glasses now that my eye sight is bad- but I wonder will I be blind?! How am I going to cut hair?! Im more looking forward to turning 30- so finally the age thing is out of the way- I can finally get a little respect! It is amazing how quickly people will write off a 26 year old, until I start talking, then they realize I may not actually be too bad. I love being proven wrong and being the one to prove someone else wrong. It does not matter your age, we all still have a lot we can learn.
RR: You are in the world of style, are you enjoying the process of getting older? How do you motivate your clients to embrace age and celebrate it vs. fight it?
RR: And as we say in the pageant judging world: is there anything we haven’t touched on here that you really want to talk about, share, express?
JEH: “The Original” tuxedo from the Miss Long Beach Pageant will be donated to the USC Gay and Lesbian archives ONE. I was asked if I would like to donate by the Board of Directors which was my sponsoring LGBTQ organization, the Center of Downtown Long Beach. I feel that throughout all of my pageant experience I really have a unique perspective on life and different worlds between society. I want to share my knowledge and perspective with anyone who wants to listen. I have a film crew working on a documentary surrounding the pageants and my participation called “Vote for Jenelle” which was the name of my campaign for Miss Long Beach. I will talk about How it all came about, what it meant to me, how I have changed, how defining who you are for such an event is more difficult than many could imagine, and how the world heard this message of Love, Beauty and Acceptance for oneself and others.
RR: THANKS JENELLE!
JEH: Thank you, Rick!
You can find Jenelle and find out more about “Vote for Jenelle” on FB at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vote-for-Jenelle-Miss-Long-Beach-2012/162935817098589