Small town. Big turnout.

Rock Hill Business Hosts LGBTQ Youth Fundraiser

Upon retiring from her political career as a field director in Washington, Brittany Kelly began making efforts within her own local community. She is an avid LGBTQ advocate and ally and decided to utilize her and her husband’s business as a platform to promote love and acceptance by planning an event that she hoped would do just that.

Brittany and Michael Kelly, owners of the modern-day general store in downtown Rock Hill, S.C., The Mercantile, hosted a drag race and drag show LGBTQ-youth fundraiser on Feb. 29. The event had an estimated 550 attendees and raised $2,900 for Time Out Youth Center.

The drag race portion of the event kicked off at 3:30 p.m. A flock of local men from the community, all dressed in drag from head to toe, had the challenge of getting as many drag dollars (false bills exchanged dollar for dollar) as they could in 30 minutes.

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Facing the crowd wearing high-heels of at least two inches high (per the game requirement), this gaggle of guys sashayed around doing everything they could think of to wooingly inspire the audience to give more drag dollars for their displays of womanhood.

“They were begging, singing and doing whatever it took to collect the most money,” said Brittany Kelly.

Jacob Knoll (a participant whose drag name was Big Daddy) raked in the most with a total of $339 in drag dollars.

The Merchantile owners Michael and Brittany Kelly

Kelly said the participants ran their hearts out in one of the fastest sprints she had ever seen from men in high-heels.

As the horn sounded at 4 p.m. signaling the cutoff time for the race, the winner, Dane Cole (a participant whose drag name was Girl Boss) crossed the finish line in just under 19 seconds and with a broken high heel.

“We only needed one bandaid after the race, which was a success,” said Kelly.

The drag show portion of the event began at 6 p.m. with a group of 48 children performing “Fight for Me” by Gawvi and was followed by a number of the children reading statistics on bullying to the audience.

“Forty-eight children got signed permission slips from their parents to perform in a drag show,” Kelly said. “Can we just celebrate that for a second?” she added.

Following what Kelly described as “a heartwarming performance” came a panel of guest speakers consisting of Rock Hill School board member Helena Miller, Winthrop University Public Outreach and Community Organizer Tadean Page and Time Out Youth Executive Director Rodney Tucker.

Kelly said the speakers discussed the impact that bullying has had and continues to have, as well as the positive outcomes that the Rock Hill community is capable of accomplishing when they come together.

Miller talked on the Rock Hill school board’s zero-tolerance policy on bullying being implemented, while Tucker discussed Time Out Youth’s resources and how the organization supports LGBTQ youth. Page delivered a speech Kelly described as “motivational,” as well as conveying his passion for service to the audience.

What came after the panel of guest speakers was something that Kelly said was most important to her. David Rector, Reggie Hayes, Adam Michaels and The Mercantile’s very own Michael Kelly are all businessmen in their everyday lives. But, on that night they were to be four bombshells tasked with trading in their business suits for something a little more alluring.

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“These men were straight, some conservative and from all walks of life,” Kelly said. “Typically in the LGBTQ community, a straight guy is the first to bully, and I wanted to bridge that divide,” she added.

Paired with professional drag queens and put in full makeup and wardrobe, these leading ladies performed by lip-syncing to different songs while collecting drag dollars from the crowd.

The winning duo was Michael Kelly and Kristin Collins, raising $483 in just three minutes.

Throughout the night, people at the event participated in other games and activities, including a trio of dads being put in drag by volunteer children who had only one minute to complete these gentlemen’s ensembles.

For the event’s grand finale, came a showcase of performances by some of the South’s most notable drag queens; including Collins, DeVida, Malayia Chanel Iman, Carman iCandy and Buff Faye.

Kelly said the kids in the audience lit up with excitement and enthusiasm, dancing and singing along with the drag queens as they performed.

“These kids were dancing their hearts out, singing every word and reaching up on stage to touch the drag queens,” said Kelly.

“It was such a unique way to celebrate kindness, inclusiveness, tolerance and acceptance,” said Amy Applegate, an attendee of the event. “We enjoyed the kid-friendly aspect as we exposed them to a variety of people, cultures, religions and more to help inspire the kindness, tolerance and acceptance of others,” she added.

“We are thankful for the support for our organization but mostly for our youth in South Carolina,” said Tucker. “The event was fun, yet a meaningful way to highlight issues of LGBTQ youth,” he added.

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