Persephone as Clean air at the NAP Fashion Condom Show

Persephone as Clean AirPersephone, Ricky Sheridan during the day, is this year’s Smokeless Diva.  Eddiy Hilliard, Dustin Moorehead, and Ariss Mendoza who all co-designed her dress helped Persephone  reach the runway at this year’s Nebraska Aids Project Fashion Condom Show.
At the start of the year, University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities (UNMC CRHD) and Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition (MOTAC) start looking for community volunteers and sponsorship.  By June, volunteers successfully put together a dress that assists with HIV/AIDS prevention, additionally we tie in tobacco awareness as an associated big issue.Persephone and Ariss Mendoza

As you may have read me mention in previous blogs, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the US, causing 1 out of 5 deaths each year. However, something that might be new to hear is that smoking is even more of a concern for people living with HIV, who tend to smoke more than the general population.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking rates are 2-3 times higher among adults who are HIV positive. An article in Clinical Infectious Diseases, pointed out that HIV positive smokers compared to non HIV positive smokers lost a mortality rate ratio of 5 years.
In order to fight the incidence of smoking in the LGBT community, MOTAC, UNMC CRHD, and community volunteers find value in coming together to design a symbolic piece that speaks against tobacco.
Last year’s design was about respecting mother nature. This year, we slammed our heels through the runway declaringPersephone and Alex Mendoza that “everyone has the right to breathe clean air.” Persephone appeared as the natural clean air we should all be able to breathe.
Congratulations Persephone, volunteers, and sponsors, for making the design a success. This year’s sponsor was Samantha Pagano, a long time supporter of HIV/AIDS prevention. Volunteers included: Eddiy Hilliard; Dustin Moorehead from Creating Atmosphere; Ariss Rogel Mendoza from UNMC CRHD and MOTAC; Liz Brown from the Indian Center Youth Suicide Prevention Program, Alex Mendoza, and of course Ricky Sheridan as the beautiful Smokeless Diva 2014-Persephone.
proud girlIf you missed this year’s condom show, don’t worry! You can expect Persephone in other events and performances. Next weekend, Smokeless Diva will be performing at the Heartland Pride Stonewall Stage Drag Queen Show at 2pm. So please join us on June 28ath at Stintson Park to see Persephone take the stage.

Tygra Says Goodbye and Welcomes Smokeless Diva 2014

Tygra Slarii Smokeless Diva 2013

Tygra Slarii
Smokeless Diva 2013

Smokeless Diva is here to stay.  The title has made it into her second year.  We saw an amazing performer and advocate come make her mark, and now go into the abyss that is the retirement of normal non-draghood.   No, but really if you have Tygra tell it, she’ll tell you that she is welcoming the break.  But if you ask me, I would say she itches to come back whenever she is needed and that’s what she did this past week.

When our new diva had to undergo a

knee surgery (yeah, ouch), Tygra stepped in those amazing heels during the Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition (MOTAC) annual luncheon.  She helped recognize other advocates doing the work against tobacco in all other pockets of the community.  Tygra demonstrated grace and appreciation for having undergone the Smokeless Diva experience; a title she worked hard to build up and have respected. If you know Tygra as well as I do, she will tell you that tobacco education is close to her heart because of the effects it has had for the people she loves. Furthermore, tobacco education has become a counter tool she utilizes to shed light on the negative things she has seen going on in her community.  Things people don’t talk about:

  • LGBT persons smoke more than any other population in the US
  • Killing at least 30,000 gay and lesbian people each year
  • Sadly, it is the #1 most preventable cause of death and disease in the nation
  • Every year tobacco kills more people in the US than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, murder, illegal drugs and fire- combined
  • Direct and indirect advertisement from tobacco companies target LGBT audiences, especially youth
  • Sponsorships from tobacco companies are received in support of LGBT issues and organizations
  • Since the 90’s BIG tobacco have made themselves ‘seem’ like a friend rather than a killer

Among all the information we have about tobacco health risks, and the manipulative tactics of tobacco companies, tobacco prevention/awareness continues to be an upward battle.

When asked what has been the most difficult challenge for Smokeless Diva during her reign, Tygra will tell you, it has been others unwillingness to look at tobacco as a problem.

Persephone Smokeless Diva 2014

Smokeless Diva 2014

Today Persephone, our princess from the REZ, Omaha tribe to be specific, has a challenge ahead of her. Thanks to Tygra she has some paved road that she can build on.

Persephone, when not in drag specializes in youth suicide prevention, something she is very passionate about.  She comes to us from a short, maybe long distance, I guess it depends who’s driving and at what type of night! Bancroft, Nebraska. While she lives and works there, Persephone has built a desire to make a difference for her people and for her friends.  As a person of color, a person whose cultural history has been severely disadvantaged, she knows that she has a mission ahead of her.  To be effective and to be real, she knows shaking it on the stage is the best and most awesome way to get people aware and motivated to make steps towards the right direction, however small or painful it may be.

American Cancer Society. Tobacco and the GLBT Community. 2003.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annual Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses-United States 2000-2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report; 57 (45): 1226-8
American Lung Association. The LGBT Community: A Priority Population for the Tobacco Control, 2009.

One Man’s Perspective: His Love and Hate for Tobacco

Eddiy Hilliard         and  Ariss Rogel Mendoza

Eddiy Hilliard
Ariss Rogel Mendoza

Eddiy Hilliard came to me as a volunteer designer during the Nebraska Aids Project (NAP) Fashion Condom Show.  I had a newly crowned Smokeless Diva and a desire to flaunt her in all her elegance on the NAP runway.  Eddiy readily agreed to be a designer when a mutual friend recommended him. He was direct from the start, “I am a smoker”, he said, “ but I want to help because I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not good for you and that, if possible, they shouldn’t even start .”

True to his word, Eddiy put in long hours and made a beautiful design that represented Mother Nature’s beauty being destroyed by tobacco.  He helped with the concept and made a dying, yet beautiful, tree out of Tygra, our Smokeless Diva 2013.

Eddiy admiring his design

Eddiy admiring his design

You see, I love Eddiy Hilliard to pieces for two reasons.  First, he’s honest.  There is not one mean bone on his body.  Second, he shares his gifts by committing his volunteer time to tobacco awareness in this project. Tobacco has been a villain and an active player throughout Eddiy’s life. His advocacy work is commendable because of his struggle with tobacco, which has shaped his perspective and a lifestyle that works for him. Here is his story:

Growing up, everyone smoked, chewed, or both.  My parents and grandparents smoked.  Everywhere you went there was smoke, and there was no escaping it. I thought it was gross and I wanted nothing to do with it.  Then I moved out…

It turns out; I was an addicted “secondhand smoker”.  When away from home, I craved nicotine at age 21.  I lived alone and there was no one around me to puff smoke on my face.  The only place I didn’t have a problem finding it was at bars.  Everywhere you went someone had a drink on one hand and a cigarette on the other, that is where I got my fix.

I still missed having the smoke at home.  One day I had a craving and just went for it.  I went to a store planning to buy something to eat.  I found myself having a choice between eating or smoking.  I only had money to choose one.  The craving for nicotine was higher.

You see, when you are inhaling secondhand smoke you are smoking just as much,  if not more of the nicotine than the person smoking. Smokers have the filter at the end of the cigarette, while secondhand smokers don’t.  Secondhand smokers can inhale smoke 2 -3 cigarettes at a time, depending on how many people are smoking around you.

Economically, I always found a way to buy my cigarettes and cut corners to afford smoking. I became a vegetarian for 3 years in order to afford smoking- it wasn’t a bad choice, becoming vegetarian, but it was greatly influenced by the control tobacco had over me.

It’s true, I’ve had a love-hate with my cigarettes.  I feel like I can take it or leave it now. I have worked to adapt a frame of mind where I don’t have to have it.  I have gone months without one at times.  I have, like with anything, an occasional craving.

The way I think of it is this: I try to stay away from cigarettes that have too much additives.  In a way, I rationalize smoking because I am consciously staying away from heavily produced, chemically enhanced, tobacco products; having picked, what I think, the better alternative.

I feel I have worked away from the control tobacco had on me.  For example, I love the first couple of drags when I smoke, and by the time I am reaching the end of the cigarette, I get sick of it. At times, I throw away half a pack just having lost the craving or need. I have come a long way by training myself to stay away from smoking as long as I can.

Just because I still smoke, does not mean I think it’s okay for anyone to begin. If you never had it, keep it that way and stay away; that includes secondhand smoke.

If I am around other smokers, I am going to smoke, especially if there is alcohol. If I don’t have a cigarette, it’s as if there is something missing when I drink.  Those old triggers are still there.

I stopped smoking heavily because I have seen what tobacco has done to my family and I don’t want to have to go through the same things.  I didn’t want to be controlled, so I rather control it-my cigarettes.

I had an uncle that died of emphysema, my great grandfather from complications of being a pipe smoker; great grandma died, likely from secondhand smoke, even though she wasn’t a smoker. My dad’s mother also died of emphysema.

My family plays a part in my decision to volunteer in tobacco awareness work.  I feel people should be informed and make their own decision not to smoke.

These days everyone knows what the dangers are.  The way I see it, people have the right to control their decisions and environments.  So, why let tobacco control your life if no one else should? I think this: simply stop or smoke-less in order to control ‘it’.

I desire a healthier life. If I got sick, I don’t have an immediate person that I feel would be there constantly.  And no one should.  If you choose to be destructive with your health,  it’s bull s*^# to have someone take care of you when you are making those bad decisions.  Why ruin someone else’s life?

I feel like I am in a better place because I feel like I have more control.Condom Dress

Having a part in designing a dress for MOTAC during the condom fashion show was a good experience.  I had a part in forming consciousness with my design, reaching my community. Really, I prefer this type of advocacy, it beats handing out paper (information) that will just end up in the trash.

I feel good about my contribution in designing a dress; it’s worthwhile and not hypocritical, since I knew I was still going to have an occasional cigarette as it’s been such a big part of my life.

Now I smoke in moderation. I smoke like a pack every 5 weeks.  People shouldn’t feel like if they aren’t adhering right away to cessation, they are a failure.

It’s better to know the behaviors behind smoking, and work on those as you make steps in smoking-less and maybe one day completely.