Buckaroo Holiday

Is that a six-shooter in your pocket, or are you happy about Gay West?

"We're queer, we're here, there's nothing we can do about it so let's live together," says female impersonator Veronica Lake about the prevailing attitude at Gay West, held at Old Tucson Studios June 29 from 6 p.m. to midnight. Lake likens the fundraiser's atmosphere to "Gay night at Disneyland. ... It allows you to go and if you're with your partner it allows you to feel comfortable--to hold hands and show affection."

But beyond that, says Lake, Gay West is also a family environment. "There's a lot of people in the [gay-lesbian-bisexual-transsexual (GLBT)] community who have children from previous marriages and have 'come out' later in life or have adopted, so they bring their children to be part of [Gay West]. ... It's a bigger variety than at IBT's [a local GLBT bar], which is 21 and older. ... It brings more of our [GLBT] family in Tucson together."

Veronica Lake will be making her second appearance in the variety show Lipstick and Lashes, which Gay West organizer Stephanie Archie says "is one of the most popular things about [Gay West]." Producer Larry Moore, she says, "has probably the best impersonators in town out there."

Moore (aka Lucinda Holliday) describes his cast of character impersonators as "a lot of happy, peppy people" performing comedy and dancing. Attendees can expect to see look-alikes of Dolly Parton, Cher, Christina Aguilera and Tina Turner, who will be performing from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Grand Palace Theater in a dinner theater environment.

"We bring the art of theater, dance, female impersonation and professional look-alike all into one," says Lake, who will be performing as Liza Minnelli with professionally trained dancers Londearl T. Elbert and Mitchell Laine Edwards. "It's not just a drag show. It's actually a variety cabaret show," says Lake.

But if cabaret is not your taste, you might be interested in doing a little dancing yourself to a "Hi-NRG" dance mix at the Carousel Theater or country dance at Big Jake's, both of which will go from 8 to midnight.

And headlining the event will be Thelma Houston, performing her Grammy award-winning song from the disco era "Don't Leave Me This Way" as well as others starting at 10 p.m. in the gazebo in the town square.

The rest of Old Tucson Studios will also be in operation, including a stunt show that Gay West organizer Bruce Corey says will have a gay twist. "Instead of the cowboy rescuing the girl he'll be rescuing the guy, I guess," laughs Corey, who, along with Theresa Barnabei, founded Gay West in an attempt to raise funds for Wingspan and Tucson Pride, Inc. in 1997.

"Old Tucson Studios was very receptive," remembers Corey, who had worked for the amusement park. "The president of Old Tucson Studios ... said, 'Let's go for it.' So it was just a matter of working out the logistics. ... It was a win for the community, it brought funds to all these organizations, and it was a win for Old Tucson as well."

This year Gay West is looking to benefit 13 organizations, all but one of which are in Southern Arizona; the exception is in San Diego. Archie explains that any nonprofit organization that sells tickets to Gay West gets a portion of the profits, but "for the most part the money stays local." And to date Gay West has been able to raise and donate over $46,000 for non-profit organizations over the past five years that range from the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation to the Reveille Gay Men's Chorus.

In this way Gay West offers an opportunity for Tucson's GLBT community to raise money and celebrate the culmination of Pride Week without having to march in the street. Whereas other cities across the U.S. "offer their Pride parades and big gatherings during Pride Week, in Tucson, it's just too hot," explains Archie.

Further good news regarding the heat is that since the Grand Palace Theater has been secured for Lipstick and Lashes, the show will now have adequate air conditioning, unlike previous years when it was held in a tent. "It was hot, hot last year" in the tent, says Lake. "It was 109 degrees in the tent in the dressing room alone." But how the divas hold up is part of the attraction, says Lake. "People go to Gay West to see if we're going to do the same thing as we did last year, if our costumes are different, how fresh we're going to look in the heat." And with the theater now well cooled, freshness should not be a problem.