SIOUX CITY -- Joe McCulley says that SUX Pride isn't pronounced phonetically as "Sucks" Pride anymore. It's pronounced "Sioux" Pride, because that sounds nicer for a family- and community-oriented event.
"SUX works, but we always say Sioux," said McCulley, a talkative man who's the executive director of SUX Pride and performs in drag under the name Martina Shakers. "Like around the kids, we've started saying 'Sioux.'"
SUX Pride, now in its fifth year, was held at the Sioux City Convention Center Saturday afternoon and into the night. The main draw was, of course, the drag performers, several of whom are award-winners on the national and state level.
"We have (drag performers from) Sioux Falls, Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, Sioux City, Minneapolis, pretty much the Tri-state, Midwest area," said Brian Meland, talent director of SUX Pride. "We have a few national titleholders."
One of the prizewinners who performed Saturday was Matthew Steele (a stage name, his legal name is Matthew Armistad), who won the "All American Gent" title for 2020.
Steele, who comes from Omaha, began performing "burlesque" shows in Lincoln years ago, when he was about 19. (He joked that he didn't want to publicize any hints of his current age.)
"When I grew up as a kid, I didn't have the opportunity to do things like theater, I didn't have the opportunity to just kind of explore me and do the things that were fun and wild. I lived in an environment when I was a kid that -- homosexuality wasn't exactly the most accepted," he said.
Tony Pier, the technical director of the SUX Pride performances, was on vacation from his job in Washington, D.C., and came to Sioux City to work on the shows. The festival, he said, has historically required a lot from the people who make it happen -- he joked that this was the first year he and Meland didn't get into a fight during the festival.
"In our old location, I would show up at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, but then I wouldn't leave until 5 a.m. on Sunday morning," Pier said.
A very scaled-down version of Sioux City's LGBTQ+ event was held at the Convention Center last August; this year's event was essentially back to normal.
"We scaled down, everybody had to wear masks, we had gallons and gallons and gallons of sanitizer" at last summer's Pride, McCulley said.
Last year was also the first time SUX Pride had been held in the Convention Center.
McCulley and several other people associated with the event said having it in the air-conditioned Convention Center is for the best -- temperatures climbed to around 95 degrees Saturday afternoon, so the outdoors would have been unpleasant for all involved. Particularly the drag queens, who usually wear heavy makeup, tight-fitting gowns, nylon stockings and layers of padding.
"I'm a drag queen, so having my makeup run down my face is not all that much fun," McCulley said.
"Dealing with families, and younger people and sometimes pets, service animals -- having it out on the street, it gets overwhelming, heat-wise," Pier said. "Pride Month is in June. It's so warm some of these weekends that it's exhaustion, and dehydration that we worry about. So it's great to have air conditioning."
The Sioux City Police Department provided some plainclothes officers for security during the daytime, and uniformed officers in the evening. At some other Pride events this year -- notably, New York City's Pride parade -- officers were discouraged from attending due to the nationwide controversy surrounding police since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"Even with everything that's gone on with our law enforcement this last year, the Sioux City law enforcement is amazing, we actually have police officers who volunteer to work for us, and give their time to the community," Pier said.
SUX Pride looked somewhat different in the daytime than at night. There were a lot of family-friendly activities during the daylight hours, including rock painting and an event where drag queens read storybooks to kids. In the evening, attendance was limited to those 21 and up, and admission was $10, due in part to the more-risqué performances.
"Some of the people like to show a little more skin, but it's still respectful," McCulley said of the nighttime entertainment. "The jokes are a little more racy, they're a little more, drag queen fun."