Las Vegas may have its showgirls and New York, The Rockettes, but Dayton is loud and proud for their very own Rubi Girls.
“What?” you say. “Who are the Rubi Girls?” Well, I’m glad you asked because these girls are guys.
Meet Jonathan McNeal, who, by day, is the manager at the Neon Movies, but on special occasions he and other gay men turn into The Rubi Girls. They appear in drag to sold-out crowds and have helped raise over a million dollars for HIV/AIDS and other causes.
The group has been “out” and about since the late 1980s.
“The Rubi Girls started out as a few friends putting on performances for each other, just for laughs and as homage to their favorite singers,” McNeal said with a laugh. “They were broke college guys who were simply entertaining their friends as these gatherings grew into large parties that overflowed their living rooms and attics, and then grew into something else even bigger. What started with bedsheets and lampshades has evolved into full drag and sold-out venues, but we’ve never lost our attraction to a good thrift store excursion.”
By the way, the name Rubi comes from Dayton’s Rubicon Street – made up of a very diverse group from all walks of life.
“There is a core group of about six or seven performers who do most shows,” McNeal said. “That said, sometimes the Girls come out of the woodwork and we can put on a show with 11 or 12 performers. We have business owners, hairstylists, a counselor, school teachers – we represent portions of lots of different communities – all with different backgrounds, socioeconomic upbringings, etc.”
McNeal produced the documentary, “The Rubi Girls” and was so impressed by the troupe he signed on.
“So, I worked on the documentary for 3-plus years,” McNeal explained. “The final product, after sifting through 60-plus hours of material was a 28 minute film, and the response has been great. It hasn’t stopped playing – whether in film festivals or college campuses – for 11 years. After the movie premiered in San Francisco in 2003, it was immediately invited to screen at festivals across the country, and it garnered several awards along the way. It will even play at The Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs before our performance at Peaches on Saturday, June 28.”
Transforming into a Rubi Girl takes about an hour or so – and no two shows are the same.
“We want to keep it fresh – possibly bringing something from the headlines into each show,” McNeal said. “In addition to just commenting on pop culture, our shows can be a bit political. Regardless, it’s almost always funny material – perhaps a little naughty, perhaps a little thought-provoking, perhaps a little scandalous, sometime’s a little emotional – but comedy is our staple.”
But with all the fun, there is a big message.
“We’ve helped raise over 1 million dollars for some great causes that are dear to us,” McNeal continued. “At the very least, we want every show to contain some element or moment where HIV education is addressed. As we like to say, ‘We’re not going away until HIV does.’”
But there’s still a lot of work to do.
“HIV numbers are up again – especially in younger people (ages 18-25),” McNeal said. “The general public seems to have forgotten about AIDS. HIV is more treatable than ever – but it’s still life-changing and can be prevented. Abstinence education doesn’t work – do we need more evidence?”
So what does Gay Pride mean to these guys?
“People express their pride in a lot of different ways,” McNeal said. “I think I live a pretty ‘out’ life. I also think a lot of what I do is very much in the public eye – running The Neon, curating the Dayton LGBT Film Festival, being a part of The Rubi Girls. By living it honestly and openly and in the public eye, I think I’m my own little Pride Parade. That said, I’m my own worst critic, and I sometimes feel like I – or we – need to do more. But I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”
This bunch of guys having fun, educating, informing and raising money for great causes is a great bunch of gals in my book.
Rock on Rubi Girls, rock on.
For more information, please visit rubigirls.com or facebook.com/rubigirls.
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