An Avon Lake hair salon and spa might seem an odd venue for a Christmas-themed professional drag queen performance to raise AIDS awareness among women. But that is exactly what Mona Hirst, owner of Mona Lisa Eco Spa’Lon on Lake Road, has in mind for Dec. 18.
“I’m not marketing it as technically a fundraiser,” said Hirst, 46. “But when people come to it, I would like to kind of communicate an educational segment.”
Hirst only recently announced her show via Facebook. Days earlier, on Oct. 26, Avon Lake City Council adopted a resolution condemning all forms of discrimination from racism to homophobia.
Both Mayor Greg Zilka and council President Martin O'Donnell said they saw no relationship between passage of the ordinance and the announcement of the drag show. The city would not have barred the show previously and will not do so now, Zilka said, but added the recent resolution has nothing to do with the lack of city action. He added Avon Lake previously hosted shows featuring “skimpy costumes.”
“Some people enjoyed it, some people didn’t,” Zilka said.
While he expressed no reservations regarding the nature of the show, Zilka did express concerns over the program as it relates to the spread of the coronavirus. He noted Ohio is restricting gatherings of 10 or more people.
"I wish them all the luck in the world," Ward 4 Councilman David Kos said regarding the show. Kos authored the anti-discrimination resolution.
Hirst says her charitable efforts are still in their infancy, but she has launched a nonprofit for which she is seeking official charitable status. The name of the fledgling organization, A Voice for Flori, hints at why Hirst speaks out about AIDS.
Flori Hirst, Mona Hirst’s mother, died from AIDS in 1999 at the age of 47. Her mother was not gay, which is a big piece of her daughter’s story. Hirst herself also is not a member of the LGBTQ community, though she supports gay rights. Nevertheless, her main mission is to raise AIDS awareness among straight women.
A Voice for Flori is aimed at women, though people of any gender are more than welcome to take in Hirst’s message.
“I have a nearly 3,000-square-foot salon and I thought this would be a good way to utilize that space, not just for cutting hair but to raise awareness and educate,” she said.
Hirst has owned the salon for seven years.
On her nonprofit’s website, Hirst points out there is still no cure for HIV. Treatment can cost between $14,000 and $20,000 a year.
“Which is why it is our mission to educate women on how important prevention of HIV/AIDS is and to get tested early before HIV becomes AIDS,” she said.
The charity’s website, avoiceforFlori.com, states that about 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV and 14% of them don’t know it. Among those infected, approximately 258,000 are women and one in nine are unaware they have HIV.
“The bottom line is, if you have unprotected sex, get tested,” Hirst said.
Why bring in a drag show?
"It's just something I like," Hirst said. "I like all types of art and that's what this is — art."
In speaking about the show, Hirst mentioned a thriving burlesque community on Cleveland’s East Side. She said she wanted to bring a taste of that community home to Avon Lake.
Hirst several times mentioned her support of the LGBTQ community, though she believes that community may now be less affected by HIV/AIDS because members are far more aware of the problem.
Hirst said she has received no blowback against the show.
“I have something behind me that’s bigger and stronger than any backlash or pushback… I have something so much more important to let the world know about that I am willing to take any criticism I get,” she said.
On one of the recent unseasonably warm days, numerous people gathered to watch the sunset at Veterans Memorial Park. When asked, none knew of plans for a Christmas drag queen show. But upon hearing about it, one woman, who declined to give her name, stated strong objections.
“This is a family town,” she said. “No one should have the right to bring something like that here… It should be illegal. Our children shouldn’t even have to hear about that kind of thing.”
When told of the woman’s comments, Paul Kuznik, a Clevelander who performs in drag under the name Kaydence Jane and will be a big part of the show, said, “She’s not invited. This show’s not for her.” While much of the show will consist of lip-synching, Kuznik does his own singing.
“We just do this to entertain people, to make them feel good,” said Kuznik, who liked the idea of Avon Lake’s anti-discrimination resolution.
“I think it’s great anytime we can move the world toward more acceptance of human beings and that’s what we all are, human beings.”
Kuznik said the show will go on despite the coronavirus pandemic. Masks are required and the audience will sit at socially-distanced tables. Hirst is hoping for about 25 attendees, noting her salon easily can accommodate that number.
The Drag Queen Christmas Songbird will be performed by the Cleveland-based Delusional Divas of Drag, of which Kuznik is a member. The show begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 18 at Hirst’s salon, 33487 Lake Road. All music will be holiday-themed. Tickets are $20 to $30 and available on Eventbrite.com.
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