Motortion / Getty images

Allegations of bullying, racism, and insensitive language within Oregon’s longest-running LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization have prompted the Portland-based International Sovereign Rose Court (ISRC) to examine its own inclusivity efforts amid the ongoing national uprising against racism.

Tajh Patterson, best known as the drag queen Flawless Shade, told the Mercury she felt discriminated against from before the start of her current reign as Miss Gay Oregon—a title earned at ISRC’s annual drag pageant—and how ISRC’s missteps led to her resignation and reinstatement. Patterson is one of just a handful of Black people to hold ISRC’s Miss Gay Oregon title.

“I’m a brand new, fresh face to the organization, so I thought it would be a way to give back to my community,” Patterson, who uses he/she/they pronouns, told the Mercury. “I learned it was not really all that.”

Casey Ipock, best known by the drag name Monica Boulevard and current president of ISRC’s board of directors, confirmed Patterson’s allegations, and said the organization plans to use her feedback as it heads into a new court year.

ISRC was founded in 1958, and has grown as drag culture evolved from a drag culture just for cisgender men into the vibrant, boundary-free performance art it is today. Darcelle XV, Poison Waters, and “The Lovely Suzanne” Hale (owner of landmark downtown Portland diner The Roxy) are just a few notable alumni of the organization’s annual drag pageant.

IRSC also has a long history of fundraising for LGBTQ+ organizations. Many past alumni serve on the boards for local LGBTQ+ nonprofits.

“I think people get involved in the Rose Court, they get known, they get to know the community, and they find other avenues for what they can do,” Ipock said of ISRC’s overlap with other nonprofits.

Patterson got involved with ISRC for similar reasons. As Flawless Shade, Patterson was featured in Adidas’ 2019 Pride ad campaign, and has hosted karaoke, bingo, and drag revues everywhere from gay clubs to sports bars before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I wanted to impact the state of Oregon and make a difference with my influence, which is a little bit newer,” Patterson said about getting involved with ISRC.

Patterson said she faced microagressions, including being talked down to by board members, and not having fundraising efforts counted toward her title’s overall legacy.

“When I go up to the board, I have been met with hostility, put down, made to feel stupid,” Patterson said. “I’ve had to talk to the board three different times about how I feel bullied and don’t like being talked down to.”

During her Miss Gay Oregon reign, Patterson has helped rename an ISRC title from the White Knight to the Knight of Portland. The “white knight” is a classic literary trope character, but Patterson and other Black ISRC titleholders felt there was too close an association to the KKK, and was especially problematic given Oregon’s Black-exclusionary founding history.

Patterson also said ISRC members have been dismissive of genderfluid pronouns and other modern terms for trans and non-binary community members. Instead, Patterson said, members have used outdated terms like “tranny” and “he/she,” which are now widely considered slurs, to refer to two trans titleholders.

“[ISRC]’s biggest thing is people ‘airing out their dirty laundry,’” Patterson said, “Whether that’s these allegations, the image of how it looks, or me sharing my story, is making them look bad, but they don’t realize they looked bad before I shared my story.”

When asked about members’ use of potentially offensive language, Ipock chalked it up to the “catty” talk one can traditionally expect from drag queens.

“Putting the ‘reading glasses’ on and all that is part of the culture of drag queens people expect and makes people laugh, that culture has carried on for a long, long time—long before we knew the word ‘bullying,’ really,” Ipock said, “Now we’ve moved into a culture where people are saying ‘That’s not okay with me, I need you to have boundaries in place when you talk to me and I need these things to be in place.’ I don’t know that there’s any person that intentionally meant to be harmful, but in the end, we were harmful. Facing that, and acknowledging those very real feelings and finding a new way to address issues, is where we’re at right now. We’re doing the hard work, and it’s difficult, but it’s worth doing.”

Another ISRC titleholder—who asked to be identified only by their court name, Red First Gentlemen to the Nobility of the Rose—said they had a different experience with ISRC than what Patterson described.

"I have been a part of the ISRC court community off and on since 2007, and I experienced my gender transition in this court community," Red said. "In all that time, I never felt discriminated against. I felt appreciated and supported even in moments of misunderstanding."

Red added that Patterson's reference to ISRC members using the term "he/she" was misleading.

"I am the person about whom those remarks were made," Red said. "But I don’t see the event that way. The situation was addressed immediately, and from it, a beautiful conversation took place, in the form of education."

Patterson resigned her Miss Gay Oregon title in March due problems she had with the organization, and interpersonal conflicts she had with former IRSC Rose Emperor Daniel Surreal Foxx, aka Daniel Barrows. Not wanting to be silenced by bullying, Patterson went through a formal process to get her title back. Patterson clarified her conflict with Barrows doesn’t stem from racism, but confided to Barrows that their conflicts were damaging to her mental health. Patterson says Barrows shared this information with Ipock instead of keeping it between them, betraying her trust in the ISRC. However, Patterson was recently reinstated to her Miss Gay Oregon title.

“We have been, like many organizations, facing a number of reviews: reviewing the way we handle things, reviewing the way we look at things,” Ipock said, addressing Patterson’s case. “We have had complaints from some titleholders, especially titleholders of color, who felt they weren’t properly heard or listened to, and we have had literally hours of conversation around that, trying to find ways to be better, to hear differently, and to value feelings and not put someone’s feelings in a place where it’s not our place to put them.”

This year’s ISRC new coronation has been cancelled due to the coronavirus, but current titleholders may extend their reigns into 2021. Ipock said ISRC will use the next year to improve how it communicates standards and expectations for prospective titleholders.

Ipock and Barrows both issued apologies to Patterson through the ISRC’s official Facebook group, and said ISRC plans to offer free race and gender awareness training to members this summer. But Patterson said she does not feel a public statement was enough action from the ISRC. Since Ipock spoke with Mercury, ISRC members organized a Juneteenth livestream drag revue, shared pronoun awareness training resources, and boosted statements and personal fundraisers from Black IRSC alumni.

For all of this, Patterson said she’s not finished with ISRC, and plans to run for other titles in the future.

Support The Portland Mercury

“I want to make sure this never happens again, [and[ that I represent the community in the best possible way I can," she said. “I want to be out marching with signs and taking action, not staying quiet online.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that Flawless Shade is the first Black person to hold the title of Miss Gay Oregon, which is incorrect. The Mercury regrets the error.

This article has been updated to reflect other members' experiences with ISRC.