October 28, 2015 at 4:06 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Academy drag group disbands after 54-year run
Members of the Academy joined Mame Dennis, center front, for the organization's 50th anniversary in 2011. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Members of the Academy joined Mame Dennis, center front, for the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2011. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Academy of Washington, D.C.’s oldest continuously operating LGBT organization known for its extravaganza drag pageants, including its annual Miss Gaye America and Mr. and Miss Gaye USA contests, announced on Tuesday that its board has voted to disband the group.

“As many of you have been aware, the Academy of Washington has been on life support for several years,” three of the group’s board members said in an email message addressed to Academy members and friends.

“We are unable to get contestants for contests such as Miss Gaye America (DC), Mr. and Miss Gaye USA (DC), and Zodiac,” the email says. “The audience is not there either for us. For the last two functions, we have lost money on the event and have operated at a loss of the 2015 calendar year,” it says.

Board member and treasurer Frank Taylor told the Washington Blade that Academy officials attribute diminishing interest in the group’s events, in part, to the changing interests of the LGBT community’s younger generation, whose preoccupation with social media and the Internet may have made them less likely to pay an admission fee for a drag event.

Taylor said the Academy’s longstanding role in making drag shows a popular part gay culture in Washington may ironically have been a factor in the group’s demise.

“The lack of attendance for our events may be because there are many more avenues for drag shows,” he said. “Now, every gay bar has a drag show.”

Mark Meinke, former president of D.C. Rainbow History Project, said the Academy was founded in the summer of 1961 by Alan Kress and was operated since 1973 by Carl Rizzi, who was known by his drag name Mame Dennis.

Rizzi died in February of this year. Taylor said the Academy recently held a celebration of life ceremony in Rizzi’s honor.

The email message sent to members this week says the vote by the board of directors to disband the group included an official resolution to dissolve the group’s corporate entity. Doing resulted in the cancellation of all its Washington functions.

The Washington Blade profiled the Academy of Washington on their 50th anniversary.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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