Matt Ramon, cofounder of the Tantrums & Tiaras drag extravaganza, an annual fundraiser supporting the San Diego LGBT Community Center, recently spilled the beans to The Advocate about which other drag show was the inspiration for an increasingly famous event that was actually the brainchild of his late partner, Danny Bodenmiller.
Best in Show, first launched in 1983 and now Southern California’s largest, arguably most famous drag fundraiser, held each year in Los Angeles to support the HIV, affordable-housing, and homeless-assistance services of the Alliance for Housing and Healing, was the muse for San Diego’s Tantrums event.
“Danny, my partner of 18 years, was really close to some of the guys who started Best in Show,” Ramon recalled during a recent interview held at insideOUT, the restaurant and lounge he owns in San Diego’s historically LGBTQ Hillcrest neighborhood.
To say Ramon was multitasking during our interview would be an understatement. Just days before the 2019 edition of Tantrums and Tiaras would hit the stage at San Diego’s Observatory Theater (formerly the North Park Theater, which first opened as a cinema in 1929 and was recently renovated as a lush concert and live-performance venue), Ramon was busy with staff preparing his rakish bar and eatery for the day’s early lunch crowd.
“I think he wanted Tantrums to have those same production values that Best in Show is known for, while still being its own thing,” Ramon said. “People always give me so much credit, but I want people to know this was Danny’s baby. And even now, it’s the youngsters who do all the hard work. All the bars in Hillcrest and all over town have staff volunteering and it builds community. That’s what Danny wanted.”
All Star Judges, Record Fundraiser for 2019
This year hosted by San Diego’s own, beloved drag diva, Babette Schwartz, the 2019 Tantrums and Tiaras show and contest was officiated by a panel of celebrity judges that included national radio personality, Shelly Dunn, plus award-winning filmmaker and journalist, Barbarella Fokos, as well as “Miss Gay U.S.ofA.,” Aurora Sexton, international drag superstar, Vicki Vox, performer-comedian and RuPaul’s Drag Race veteran, Pandora Boxx, joined by fellow Drag Race contestant, Brooke Lynn Hytes, holder of the “Miss Continental” title. Hytes is set to co-star in First Wives Fight Club, a new stage production debuting April 7 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.
Each year since 2009 Tantrums and Tiaras has grown by leaps and bounds — both in terms of its public profile and the number of attendees it draws. Likewise, Tantrums has grown in the amount of money it raises to support one of the country’s largest LGBTQ community centers. Nevertheless, says cofounder, Matt Ramon, dollars were never Tantrums’ main raison d’être.
“Danny had the idea that he wanted to do a fundraiser that was actually fun to go to,” he explains. “his passion to produce the event in a way that was fun for attendees and performers and to do it in a way that also raised enough money to help the [beneficiary] organization to do a lot of good in the community was intoxicating. You couldn’t help getting on board with him and want to be part of it.”
Tantrums and Tiaras 2019 raised over $70,000 — a record amount. However, Bodenmiller died unexpectedly at the young age of 49, not long after that first event—too soon even to lead a second incarnation of the drag show and community-service fundraiser that was born from a vision in his mind’s eye and a feeling deep within his heart.
“We called it a fun-raiser,” recalls Ramon, who has trouble continuing with The Advocate’s interview as he shares both the success and the one-year interruption in the annual event that came with Bodenmiller’s passing.
Providing Tens of Thousands of Needs
“We provided 82,000 services last year,” says Ian Johnson, vice president of development at The San Diego LGBT Community Center. “When you live, work and play inside of the LGBTQ bubble and see, first-hand all of the things we all do to support one-another other in our community, you can fall into a trap of taking it for granted. But it really is kind of extraordinary the way we can come together.”
Johnson says friends who are part of the LGBTQ community, but who work outside of the “bubble” are sometimes surprised when they visit him at work inside The Center. He says they’re blown away by the range of services and programs The Center offers.
“They aren’t aware that, for instance we’ve offered mental health services for the homeless for years, or that we’re working at the border to provide free legal services to LGBTQ asylum-seekers—or that our Latina-services programs are about to celebrate a 15th anniversary.”
Johnson tells The Advocate that for The Center, its thousands of clients and for San Diego County’s queer community, the night of laughs, lip syncing, dynamite-drag entertainment and all-around good times that take unfold at Tantrums and Tiaras belie the significance of raising awareness and raising funds to support a greater quality of life and support equality via The Center’s programs.
Check out how Tantrums and Tiaras 2019 went down recently by clicking through this slideshow.