UI raises awareness for World AIDS Day and sexual health at The Mirage

Focusing LGBTQ inclusivity, The Mirage celebrated identity by combining education and entertainment.


Braden Ernst

Spooky Santos performs for the crowd on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. An amateur drag competition took place before the main oven on Friday night. The event was held to promote safe sex and the self-expression of students through drag.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

The Iowa Memorial Union ballroom was completely transformed Friday night for a drag show and condom casino, The Mirage, as university and city organizations collaborated to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic. Fairy lights, flowers and butterflies were draped around the room to align with this year’s theme of blossoming botanical paradise.

With help from the University of Iowa Center for Diversity and Enrichment, Planned Parenthood, the LGBTQ Counseling Clinic and queer student organizations, among others, the community came together to host a transformative event.

Rebecca Don, Senior Behavioral Health Consultant at the UI, was a crucial member in planning The Mirage. What makes the annual celebration unique is its element of collaboration between an abundance of parties.

“That’s the cool thing about the event – it’s campus and community,” Don said. “It’s not all students, it’s not all staff and employees, it’s not all university. It’s really a coming together of all of them.”

While multipurposed, education was a priority at The Mirage. The beginning of the event was an infostravaganza, where various organizations ran booths and tables that gave out goods and shared information to spread awareness of sexual health.

IC RED, a campus organization that focuses on raising public awareness of HIV and AIDS, has been hosting events to commemorate World AIDS Day. Sarah Luke, president of IC RED, collaborated with The Mirage to spread awareness.

“It’s about educating the masses,” Luke said. “The more people are educated about the history of HIV and AIDS, how it is caused and how to prevent it, the less people are going to get sick with it. They’ll be able to manage it better and they won’t transmit it if they’re educated.”

The Mirage also hosted a condom casino, offering a variety of games including Texas Hold’em, Black Jack and Roulette. Gamblers bet chips that could be turned in for condoms, dental dams and other related prizes. The tables were crammed with UI students building friendly rapport with the dealers and each other.

After gambling finished, several performers took the stage. The Iowa Dance Club presented a routine and the audience watched an amateur drag contest. Other professional drag queens and kings performed later in the night.

Emma Welch, coordinator at the UI Pride Alliance Center, helped organize the event. Welch wanted to aid in the creation of an inclusive environment for members of the LGBTQ community, and The Mirage was a cultivation of those efforts.

“For the LGBTQ community, it’s really nice to know that there is this event that is inclusive of everybody and very intentionally inclusive of the LGBTQ community,” Welch said. “Folks can come in and know that, more so than other spaces on campus, they are going to be in a space that is populated with peers who are queer and trans.”

With inclusivity at the forefront, the event recognized the women of color who sparked advocacy for LGBTQ rights. Portraits of activists Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major, and Gladys Bentley were spread around the ballroom.

The Mirage is a culmination of the efforts of many groups and individuals in Iowa City. Representative recognition is a key aspect, as well as ensuring that the community has something to gain from attending, Welch said.

“The resources and organizations that we invite to be a part of this event is partly in response to resources that we know would be beneficial to students,” Welch said. “We always anchor back to what do students need more of, what are students going to be interested in, and what is going to best serve the communities that we are intending to serve with this event.”

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