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Organizers are moving gay pageant out of town

December 18, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Organizers of a national gay pageant are moving the event out of Hagerstown, citing comments by Mayor William M. Breichner.

"We really didn't think it would turn out to be a big hassle, but it turned out to be," said A.J. Makibbin of York, Pa., administrator of the Miss Gay American National 2004 pageant. "We don't need all that attention drawn to us."

The female impersonators' contest had been scheduled for Jan. 10 at the Clarion Hotel on Dual Highway.

But the event was postponed last month after problems arose during negotiations with the hotel.

Makibbin said Tuesday he and other organizers have decided to delay the pageant until 2005 and hold it in southcentral Pennsylvania instead of Hagerstown. Possible new locations include Harrisburg, Reading and York, he said.

Last month, Breichner offended pageant organizers when he likened the event to a hobo convention and a Ku Klux Klan rally, adding, "I don't know if that's what we need here."

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Breichner later softened his stance, saying he was worried about protesters and not the people who take part.

Nevertheless, Makibbin said his group will look elsewhere for a venue for the event, which he said could have attracted up to 1,800 people.

Breichner declined to comment Wednesday.

This is Makibbin's first effort at organizing a national pageant.

There are four other annual pageants for female impersonators that bill themselves as being national contests, according to impersonators' Web site CarrieFairfield.com.

Betsy DeVore, director of convention sales for the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, had offered to work with pageant organizers to find another venue when a contract dispute arose with the Clarion.

DeVore said Wednesday that no one from the pageant had contacted her.

Female impersonators are not new to Washington County.

Two Washington County bars, H2O and Deer Park Lodge, have been holding shows for years.

H2O, on North Potomac Street across from City Hall, closed its doors Nov. 30.

Owners Shane Kline and Jonathan Tart partly blamed city officials for the gay bar's failure.

Tart said the city failed to include them in events aimed at downtown revitalization and thwarted their attempts to improve business by serving breakfast food after bar hours.

"We could read between the lines. They want Hagerstown to be like Mayberry. If you're not what the city wants, you're not wanted," he said.

When asked to respond, Breichner said, "I don't think it's necessary."

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said the local community is made up mostly of conservative and religious people who might be offended by men dressing up as women.

"It doesn't mean the community is homophobic. It just means men dressing up in women's gowns is not a socially acceptable form of entertainment in Washington County," he said.

Tart said he tried to run a clean business and contribute to the community.

A September benefit show that included female impersonators raised $1,100 for the Washington County Department of Social Services, he said.

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