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Drag queen planting seeds of growth in Idaho community

by Associated Press /

MOSCOW, Idaho — Gordon Mellott lives a crazy busy life. And that is just the way he loves it.

From his work with local LGBTQ group Inland Oasis, his “day job” at Essence Salon, acting, directing and lending every helping hand he can with the Moscow Community Theater and his longheld role of Aquasha DeLusty with Tabikat Productions, it’s a wonder he ever finds time to rest.

 Gordon Mellott as "Aquasha DeLusty" Courtesy Aquasha DeLusty

But with his partner of 14 years — husband since 2014 — Rob Rhodes, he is able to keep it all together and bring something unique to the community.

“Everything I do is with the hope to plant a seed that will grow into something beautiful,” Mellott said.

From styling his customer’s hair to inspire a new self-confidence, to helping empower his fellow drag queens and LGBTQ community members, to hoping he can reach someone through a play, Mellott is always working toward a bigger goal.

The 35-year-old Moscow resident moved to the area 14 years ago. An Ellensburg native, he was in Spokane for beauty school, when he was introduced to the Moscow community.

Mellott recalls a friend knew he was interested in and had been dabbling in drag shows, but being under the age of 21, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for him. So his friend introduced him to Tabitha Simmons and Kathy Sprague, owners of Safari Pearl and founders of Tabikat Productions.

 Gordon Mellott, right, and husband Rob Rhodes in front of the Kenworthy Theater in Moscow, Idaho, on Nov. 4, 2017. Kai Eiselein / Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP

Simmons and Sprague let Mellott perform in their show, and from there he became a regular. Fast-forward 14 years, Aquasha DeLusty is sort of the “drag mother” of Tabikat Productions.

“I’d always been more on the fringe,” he said. “I definitely found my sanctuary in theater. When I discovered drag, it was like ‘Oh!’ ”

It is live theater, he said, but it is also a way for a marginalized group to vent or let off steam, or to lift each other up. When it came to picking his own character, Mellott said he and a friend picked the name based on the band Aqua, which he loved, and his favorite genre of “B-class, trashy movies.”

“We are expressing something within us that society deems wrong,” he said. “We are taking things in us and celebrating it.”

“They (drag shows) may take you off guard, which is good because you either grow or stay the same,” he said. “Drag queens are performers. It is fun to dress up, but we aren’t living that way every day. We are human beings who live everyday lives.”

Mellott said the other common misconception about drag queens is that they are all transgender.

“We work together, but are totally separate,” he said.

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Mellott said there are some blind eyes in Moscow when it comes to accepting and understanding the LGBTQ community, and many that are purposefully blind.

“They want to pretend all is good here, but not all is good,” he said. “Saying it and working toward it are two different things.”

In efforts to help open more eyes and bring support in the meantime, Mellott has played an active role in Inland Oasis since its “rebirth” 10 years ago. Currently serving as bingo coordinator, he has been all over when it comes to roles, from serving on the board to entertainment chair for the annual Pride festival.

Mellott coordinates and hosts Drag Bingo, recently relocated to the 1912 Center, the second Monday of every month. Over the years he has also helped coordinate the Reading With Drag Royalty at the Latah County libraries and helped establish the newly created Rainbow Families program, a group featuring a potluck and activities for LGBTQ+ families and their allies, that will meet the second Saturday of each month at the 1912 Center.

On top of his Inland Oasis duties, he also served on the Moscow Community Theater board for two years, and both directs and acts in productions these days.

“In community shows, you do it all,” he said, from building every set by hand, and tearing it all down at the end, to selecting plays that are going to bring something unique and different to town.

“There are so many great plays that really dive into the human element, and I missed being able to have that effect for people,” Mellott said.

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Looking back over his years in Moscow, Mellott said he has come to realize how well everything he does fits together.

“Without the shows (Tabikat Productions), I would’ve never been here,” he said. “It’s crazy how things work out.”

Tabikat Productions and Inland Oasis’ annual Pride Festival are also what led Mellott to meeting Rhodes. He was in town to perform in a drag show when he saw Rhodes across the festival, and knew he had to talk to him, he said.

Fourteen years later, Mellott and Rhodes were the second same-sex couple to be married in Latah County, following none other than Simmons and Sprague.

“Wherever I’m at, he’s at. He’s very supportive,” Mellott said.

He said from Inland Oasis work to community theater plays, Rhodes is by his side helping build sets, coordinate the logistics and keep things running smoothly.

“He’s very good at helping shine the light on the right people,” he said. “It’s a crazy life, but I love it.”

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