BOYSTOWN — Before becoming an international superstar, "RuPaul's Drag Race" reigning winner Sasha Velour was just a kid growing up in Champaign-Urbana. And in fact, her first exposure to queer culture came during a trip to Boystown.
"I went to a theater summer camp, and they had a Boystown trip. I wasn't even identifying as gay or queer at the time, but for some reason I was drawn to take that excursion," she said. "That was my first time ever imagining what it would be like to be a queer adult out in the world."
Chicago has a special place in Velour's heart, so when Howard Brown Health invited her to headline the organization's annual benefit, the Big Orange Ball, she enthusiastically accepted.
"I love the drag in Chicago," she said. "It's some of the best drag in the entire world, so getting to be a part of that scene even just for the night is a huge honor."
The Big Orange Ball takes place from 8 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday at Carnivale, 702 W. Fulton Market in the West Loop. The event features food, drinks and dancing, and attendees are encouraged to dress up. DJ Megan Taylor and DJ Ted Eiel will provide music, and there will be a raffle and silent auction.
Tickets are $150 per person in advance and $175 per person at the door. "RIP" tickets are $300 and include access to the VIP premium bar, an exclusive lounge and other surprises.
The proceeds from the event benefit Howard Brown Health, 3245 N. Halsted St., which has been serving the LGBTQ community since 1974 in four major areas: clinical care, research, education and advocacy.
Velour said she believes access to health care is one of the most important LGBTQ issues today.
"Howard Brown is such an incredible organization, and I've personally felt like the areas in the LGBT community that we need to be focusing on are health care, social services for homeless LGBTQ, especially youth, and just general resources for the people in our community who have the most pressing, life or death needs."
As controversial as the health care conversation in general has become in America, Velour said it is even more dire for members of the LGBTQ community.
"We're at a point where basically every LGBTQ person I know is uninsured," she said. "So places like Howard Brown that provide healthcare services regardless of an individual's ability to pay or insurance status, it literally saves lives."
Howard Brown Health serves more than 26,000 adults and youths each year and is one of the country's largest LGBTQ organizations. Tickets and more information can be found online.