A signature UW-Eau Claire event showcasing area and national talent returns for its ninth incarnation, and it's stacking up to be yet another must-see celebration.
The Fire Ball 2020: "Pride Is a Riot" will begin at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 28-29 in the Ojibwe Grand Ballroom of Davies Center with a pride theme meant to elevate important topics and voices in the LGBTQ+ community.
With a lineup of performers that includes headliners each night from "RuPaul's Drag Race," attendees are guaranteed a night of amazing entertainment. In addition, Christopher Jorgenson, director of UW-Eau Claire's Gender & Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), has once again put a tremendous amount of thought into the event theme and preparation. This event goes well beyond simple entertainment.
"Each year, we select a theme that reflects the national climate and concerns for LGBTQ+ people," Jorgenson says. "While there are certainly consistencies between themes, The Fire Ball seeks to voice those themes via entertainment, education and activism. As this year is a presidential election year, we wanted The Fire Ball to be an opportunity to celebrate queer communities, recognize the current administration’s concerted efforts to roll back hard-won queer rights, and highlight the myriad ways we continue to fight back."
This sentiment is echoed on The Fire Ball website, which states in part:
"People are exhausted. Angry. Afraid. LGBTQIA+ communities are in the cross hairs of a political battle — for dignity, for equal rights under the law, for survival. We here at The Fire Ball are feeling anxiety, frustration, numbness … and hope. 2020 is an election year, after all. Perhaps THE election year. What better way to stake our claim to survival, self-realization, and love than to galvanize our energy with a pride celebration!"
As in previous years, ticket proceeds from this event will go to direct financial support for GSRC programming and outreach. From ongoing social justice work supporting students, to events like freaQweek, the Civil Rights Pilgrimage and educational conferences for interns, The Fire Ball is an essential element of the nationally recognized advocacy and support work of the office.
One event funded for students by the proceeds of The Fire Ball is the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference (MGLGTACC), an annual conference held to "connect, educate and empower queer and trans+ college students, faculty and staff." This event, the largest of its kind in the country, allows participants to come together and learn from the experiences of others.
An event of this scale requires significant volunteer assistance, along with the hard work and diligence of the campus event services crews, and GSRC staff and interns. Jorgenson estimates that about 150 students work the two-day event, in a wide variety of roles. He is also proud of the overall input his interns offer to the ongoing success of this event.
"GSRC student interns are always plumbed for their insight and feedback into The Fire Ball. They provide critical first impressions of thematic content and program design," he says, emphasizing the need for student insight in shaping this major event.
Kallie Friede, associate student services coordinator for the GSRC, sums up the importance of this annual event.
"The Fire Ball is always a celebration," Friede says. "But, much like Pride, it’s much more than that. It’s a call to action to do something about injustice and to think critically about how to do social justice in an intersectional way. Pride comes from queer and trans people of color, and it’s important for all of us to know that history. The advocacy work we do wouldn’t be possible without people like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major. There is still more work to be done and while Pride and this show are certainly about celebration, it’s a reminder for all of us to do our part to advocate for all LGBTQIA+ folx and other marginalized people."
For a full list and bios of the weekend's entertainers and performers, see The Fire Ball 2020: "Pride Is a Riot" website.
For more information about the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center and their award-winning programming, see the GSRC website.