By KJ Philp, November 2016 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2016 here.
Drag Queens have been at the forefront of our community’s entertainment, education and fundraising efforts for decades. Here in Arizona, we have a long history of amazing performers making a difference in the lives of individuals and in the missions of community groups and organizations. But behind the glitter and glamour is one man: Daniel Eckstrom.
– Tyra Marie
Echo: Congrats on a decade of promoting Miss Gay Arizona America (MGAA)! Describe how that feels and what makes this pageant system so important to you?
Eckstrom: When I first started promoting Miss Gay Arizona America I honestly didn’t think I would last longer than a year. It was hard to gain trust of so many people at first, not because of anything specific, but because I was fairly new to the community. Being the promoter for such a prestigious pageant makes me feel humbled, to say the least. I feel as though one part of my job is to ensure the legacy and the history of MGAA and to make sure that legacy is never lost. It is important for me to build this brand and to make the dreams of so many running for this title come true. In some ways I feel like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, making sure each titleholder is ready for the ball!
Echo: Miss Gay Arizona is an Echo Readers’ Choice finalist year after year – what is it about this pageant system that the community loves so much?
Eckstrom: There really isn’t a major event in Arizona where you don’t see that Symbol of Excellence (we call her Angelique here in Arizona) on the very recognizable gold crown. Each titleholder takes so much pride in wearing that crown. Because of that visibility, the community always gets to see the Miss Gay Arizona system in action. Our girls are always the first to sign up for a charity, community event or benefit and I think the community respects that. Pageantry is something that many people in the gay community can relate to. One of my first memories was watching the real girl Miss America pageant on TV and trying to perfect my swimsuit walk down the hallway of my parents’ house.
Echo: What is it about this pageant system that you love so much?
Eckstrom: How much time do we have? LOL. There is so much I love about this pageant system, but One of the main things I love is that we are one big family. We may be a dysfunctional family, but we all care for and love each other. I also love making dreams come true. Most of the people I’ve met are more than friends – they are family. I believe you can have more than one soul mate and that soul mates don’t have to be people. MGAA is like my soul mate, and that is something very special, something you don’t find every day.
Echo: You just started a blog to chronicle your MGAA journey throughout the years, what sparked that idea? Why is documenting this segment of the community so important, in your estimation?
Eckstrom: When I was a kid I loved to write short stories. My mom would save my stories and often ask me, “Mijo (which is ‘my son’ in Spanish), why don’t you write anymore?” I get so many people that ask me what it is like to be a promoter. I thought a blog to relive my last 10 years would be a good historical way for me to document my journey. I have so many stories, experiences and journeys that span the last 10 years, why not share them with the masses? I will not sugar coat the stories, but remember, they are my stories. It’s been a wild ride and quite fun reliving the past 10 years! Documenting this segment of the community is important to me because often times I feel like the drag community is not taken seriously. This blog will also show people just how important and relevant Miss Gay Arizona America and drag in general is!
Echo: From turnabout shows to pageant prelims, you stay very busy supporting your contestants and titleholders! Do you have any other upcoming projects, appearances or events you’d like to share with us?
Eckstrom: By the time this article is published, we would have just come back from Miss Gay America 2017. I have no doubt the crown could easily come back to Arizona this year. After Miss Gay America we have about a month before the start of our 2017 prelim season. Miss Gay Scottsdale America will kick things off on Dec. 9 at BS West. We will also be bringing back Miss Gay Western States America in the spring as well as supporting various events around Arizona. Being the promoter for Miss Gay Arizona America is really a fulltime job!
Echo: How many of these ideas are your and how many do you get coerced into doing?
Eckstrom: I actually don’t mind being involved in so many things. I think it is important to show support in various ways. I have slowed down on many things I feel I have to be at but I am always willing to do whatever I can to help different organizations or even my contestants. Occasionally they ask me to be in drag, and if they catch me at the right time (probably after a couple of Grey Goose and sodas) I will say yes. I recently did a contest with Savannah Stevens and Olivia Gardens where Olivia and I dueled to become the official Linda Davis to Savannah’s Reba. I am happy to announce I walked away as the winner that night! My alter-ego, Danyela Carrington Hall-Dubois is very similar to Daniel. She is sassy, well dressed and can be often times mistaken for a bitch but in general she is a loving, carefree sass-mouthed Latina!
Echo: You’re known by your girls as ‘el jefe,’ describe how you earned that nickname and the story behind it.
Eckstrom: In 2009, TC Taylor (MGAA 2009) gave me the nickname of Bossman. Every time she would talk to me she would refer to me as Bossman, she still does! So that name stuck with me and in 2012, when Diva was crowned (MGAA 2012) she started calling me Jefe, which is boss in Spanish. I get a mixture of both. Tyra Marie (MGAA 2013) called me Bossman and Nevaeh McKenzie (MGAA 2015) calls me Jefe. I get a kick out of it because trust me, I have been called worse!
Echo: You’re originally from Tucson, was there a defining moment when you knew that Phoenix was your community? Or is Tucson still really “home”?
Eckstrom: I am one of the lucky few to be a true Arizona native! Believe it or not, I was only supposed to live in Phoenix for one year. I originally came here for an internship with Congressman Ed Pastor. That actually lasted three years and after that I decided to stay. I definitely feel Phoenix is my home and my community. I also feel the same about Tucson. I get to Tucson about twice a month, so I get the opportunity to keep my finger on both pulses. I feel really blessed to have the support of both communities, , it is really special. There is something about going home though. I am proud of where I come from and the community that molded me.
Echo: What does community mean to you?
Eckstrom: Both communities mean a great deal to me. A community allows you to grow and flourish. Without the Arizona community, I would not be able to do what I do. The community supports me and Miss Gay Arizona America in so many ways. That support is something I’ll never be able to pay back. There are moments when I get frustrated at our community, as I am sure a lot of people do, but then I remember so many acts of kindness and love that our community shares and it is all worth it. Arizona has a really extraordinary LGBTQ community, something I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!
Echo: Another thing readers may not know is that you’re an uncle to a gorgeous 18-month-old niece, Zoe. Tell us a little bit about your relationship to with her, why being an uncle is so important to you and what family means to you.
Eckstrom: I absolutely love and adore my niece Zoe Alice! I never knew I could love someone so purely and unconditionally. She calls me “B” and has gotten into a habit of asking for “B” each time my sister picks her up after work. She makes me smile and laugh! I get to see her every chance I can, which is really important to me because I want her to always know I’m there for her. As an uncle I’ll be the one that can teach her different things and spoil her even when her parents don’t want me to! I look at things so differently now because I want the world to be a better place for her. I want her to know the sky is the limit!
Family means so much to me. At the end of the day it is the only thing that we have. My immediately family – Nick; my father, Dan; sister, Jennifer; brother-in-law, Tony; niece, Zoe; and nephew, Aden – mean the world to me and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for any of them. I am a lucky man to have six amazing people in my life. They teach me so much and really push me to be a better person.
Echo: Tell us about your mother, Mary Alice Eckstrom. You’ve done a tremendous amount in her memory; can you put into words why this is so important to you?
Eckstrom: My mother was a strong, beautiful and caring woman. She taught me so much about life and love. She was a woman with strong faith and a strong opinion. In 2010, when she passed away, a big hole was left in my heart, a hole that really has never gone away. Each day I wake up I try to be the best son I can be. She did so much in her life, I only hope I can accomplish a fraction of what she did. I feel that every person wants to be remembered and not forgotten when they pass away. The night before she passed away I promised her I would never let her memory and legacy be forgotten. This is why, every chance I get, I celebrate her memory and her legacy. She is very much missed, but heaven gained one amazing angel.
Echo: Congratulations on raising more than $200,000 for the Mary Alice Eckstrom – Hispanic Women’s Corporation Memorial Scholarship. What else can you tell us about this effort?
Eckstrom: This effort was a collaboration between the Eckstrom family and the Hispanic Women’s Corporation. My mother was a strong advocate for education and public health and so that is where these scholarships were born. We raise money for scholarships at Pima Community College and through the Mel and Enid Zuckerman School of Public Health at the University of Arizona. My mom was the nurse at my elementary school and so she had the unique opportunity to heal and shape lives and young people every day. As a family, we wanted to do something that would benefit both women and education. It was a logical joining of forces with the Hispanic Women’s Corporation. Every year we get to meet some of the students that benefit from these sponsorships, which is a real special moment. Again, my mother’s legacy living today and forward into the future!
Echo: You are also participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk in San Diego Nov. 18-20. What have the preparation and fundraising been like for this event?
Eckstrom: This will be my third time participating in this event. My mother was a 25-year survivor of breast cancer and loved and supported everything pink, so this is another tribute to her! Over the last three years, I have raised almost $12,000! Fundraising for this event has been pretty easy. Many people know someone that has been affected by this disease so many people feel inclined to donate to a cause like this. Walking 60 miles in three days is not as easy as it sounds. The first year Afeelya Bunz participated with me and the second year my sister participated with me. This year, I will travel to San Diego and be walking solo. My family will be there and I know the Arizona community will be cheering me on, which will be a huge help! I walk for my mother but also in hopes that my niece will grow up in a world without breast cancer.
Echo: What would you consider your greatest feat?
Eckstrom: I think my greatest feat was competing for Dancing With The Bars in 2014. It was something I did that made me go completely outside of my comfort zone. Not only do you have to dedicate yourself to the process, I was working full-time and also preparing for Miss Gay Arizona America. It was stressful, fun, emotional and eye opening all at the same time! In the process I fell in love with dancing! I am semi-competitive, so that was appealing as well. And course raising money for charity! I had the pleasure of raising $6,700 for HERO [Human and Equal Rights Organizers] that year, which was the most money raised by a contestant until this year (thanks Mark Howard! LOL). I made Top 5 and really had a new found respect for those who get on stage and entertain. I have some unfinished business when it comes to DWTB, All-Stars anyone?
Echo: Who are some of your role models/inspirations and why?
Eckstrom: Nick Ray. Nick has been through a lot in the name of community. The one thing that I dislike about the community is they have a tendency to build someone up to see them fall. I admire Nick not only for his commitment to the community but his ability to adapt, to pick up and to move forward.
My sister, Jennifer. I wish I were as strong as she is! She is a no-nonsense woman that doesn’t apologize for anything. She will tell it like it is and I admire her for that. Sometimes I bite my tongue too much.
Barbra Seville. Her position in this community is inspiring!
Hillary Clinton. Talk about resiliency! She inspires me to never stop fighting the good fight.
My dad, Dan Eckstrom. The OG Junkyard Dog! If I can be half the man he is, I’ll be all right!
The entire Miss Gay Arizona America family. I wasn’t the choice everyone wanted at first, but through determination and dedication I proved myself and in the process learned so much about so many people. Each person – formers, promoters, contestants and audience members – inspires me and really make me strive to be a better person.
Echo: Do you consider yourself a role model? Why/why not?
Eckstrom: I don’t consider myself a role model. My parents raised me right and in the process I treat people the way I want to be treated. I live by this phrase said by Mother Teresa, “Spread love everywhere you go: first in your own home. Give love to your children, to your husband or wife, to your next door neighbor. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”
Echo: What advice do you have for up-and-coming entertainers?
Eckstrom: Be humble, listen and go into everything with an open mind!
Echo: If you could summarize your efforts and experiences in 2016, what would you say?
Eckstrom: It has been quite a ride! We go into a new year full of hope and we marvel at what is to come. I have been very busy and it will not stop, it never does. I would have to say my top accomplishments are competing and raising money for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk and Miss Gay Arizona America. Both of those things are my shining moments this year and of course being named to the Echo Hall of Fame … I still am pinching myself!
Echo: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Eckstrom: In the next five years I think it will be time for me to branch out and try something new. I’ve always had my eyes set on being Mr. Phoenix Pride, maybe one day! I hope to be an uncle again or maybe have a child of my own – so many things to look forward to!