By Mark Schulte, June 2018 Issue.
Anyone lucky enough to have seen Hamilton – or who is just obsessed with the soundtrack – knows the oft-repeated mantra “I’m not throwing away my shot.” It’s not only appropriate for a founding father that ended up on the losing side of a duel, it’s also perfect for two pride contestants who ended up on the winning side of this year’s competitions for pride royalty.
Daniel Eckstrom and Chris Bebee are long-time friends. In fact, Eckstrom’s first home in Phoenix was renting out Bebee’s guest house more than a decade ago. Since that time, Bebee, who was already performing as Mya McKenzie, further established his alter-ego as one of the Valley’s best-known drag queens, performing at such bars as BS West and Club Volt. Eckstrom became just as successful behind the scenes, owning and managing two preliminary competitions for the prestigious Miss Gay America pageant system.
“When I went to my first Miss Gay America pageant, I was just blown away by the production of it all,” Eckstrom said, explaining how he first got hooked.
Today, he owns Miss Gay Arizona America and Miss Gay Western States America. He is responsible for the promotion and integrity of the competition, which has drawn a sizable number of talented participants through preliminary competitions held at bars and other venues throughout Arizona. His contributions to the pageant scene and its impact on the LGBTQ community in Phoenix are major reasons for his induction into Echo’s Hall of Fame in 2016. Somehow, he still finds time for his career at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and married home life.
Bebee’s career has also been full of accolades, including being named Miss Gay Phoenix America in 2007 which led to victory at Miss Gay Arizona America and a chance to compete at that year’s Miss Gay America pageant, the biggest organization of its kind in the country. Out of Drag, Bebee works full-time at United Pet Care, is married and has three dogs. He chose Mya based on his favorite singer and, when told that his last name should start with the same letter, had an epiphany when he visited a friend who lived on McKenzie Drive. He’s recently added Hall to his last name as a tribute to his late drag mother, the renowned and greatly missed Tajma Hall.
Eckstrom, on the other hand, had never competed in this type of contest before, but he used the experience her garnered behind the scenes to make a major impact on the stage. He quickly settled into his new role of male entertainer, taking on the stage name of Carrington-Hall Dubois. The name was created as a tribute to the Dynasty television series, Tajma Hall and former Miss Gay America Nicole Dubois.
So, it turns out that Bebee’s years of experience culminated with a victory as Miss Phoenix Pride in the same year that Eckstrom’s introduction into male performance resulted in his being named Mr. Phoenix Pride. It was a case of two friends getting two shots and definitely not throwing either one away.
The fact that two friends were able to share this experience together made it even more special. As Bebee said in a message to his Facebook followers just after Pride, “I couldn’t have imagined being on the journey with anyone else.”
Mike Fornelli, interim executive director of Phoenix Pride, praises both winners, “I have known them both for over 10 years. They are both icons and pillars in the Phoenix LGBTQ community. I have the highest confidence that they will do amazing things this year.”
Their victories at the sold-out March 19 pageant, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Phoenix-Tempe, meant their upcoming year would be a very busy one. Just three weeks later, the two Arizona natives were leading this year’s Pride Parade on a float, waving and smiling to 13,000 observers, the largest ever for what is consistently the state’s biggest LGBTQ weekend.
“The moment was absolutely surreal,” Bebee recalls. “I saw so many beautiful people in our world come together and it was magical.”
Eckstrom agrees, “10 years ago, I never could have imagined myself being here and doing this.”
The Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride Pageant isn’t just about wearing a crown. It’s a community event supported by local organizations, community bars and numerous performers and illusionists. As a recipient of the title Miss or Mister Phoenix Pride, the winners become the faces of the organization during their reigns.
“The winners should have the passion, grace, dedication and loyalty to represent our diverse community here in Arizona,” Fornelli adds from the perspective of the Pride organization. “They should be able to articulate and educate Phoenix about the great work being done in our community.”
As a titleholder, they have a sizable list of duties, including the encouragement and promotion of pride in the community, Arizona and even across the country; portraying role-model qualities with integrity and dignity; and raising awareness of the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Program, which has provided awarded $207,500 to LGBTQ students since its inception in 2008.
Last year, the pageant contestants raised more than $35,000 for the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Program. For this year, Bebee and Eckstrom will work together and individually to try and top that amount. The money can come from appearances at local bars and other events, but this royal duo has already started their own list of fundraisers they’d like to take a shot at, including some ways that they promise will be any thing but traditional.
“I want to reach people who don›t necessarily go to the bars,” Eckstrom says. “We have some ideas for this year that I can’t talk about quite yet, but we’re already discussing them with the promoters of Phoenix Pride. They will definitely be unique and really fun.”
Bebee agrees, “We have some amazing fundraising ideas coming to light soon. I would also like to bring back the Junior Pride Pageant,” he adds, referring to the Mister & Miss Junior Phoenix Pride Pageant, which was created to encourage youth, ages 14 to 20, to take a more active leadership role in LGBTQ community. “I feel it is so important that our youth know, learn and give back to a community that supports them wholeheartedly.”
These promises may sound like they’ll require a lot of hard work, but hard work is something this king and queen are no strangers to. After all, their journey to the crowns did not come easily. Both won at preliminary contests at BS West in Scottsdale before moving on to the main competition in March where Eckstrom defeated seven contestants and Bebee had to prove himself worthy against 11 strong competitors, each of whom had won at their own local competitions. Contestants were also required to each raise $2,000, a goal Chris and Daniel met by using traditional and out-of-the-box fundraising methods. (Think: Christmas wreaths, auctions and tamales, just for starters.)
When asked about his competitors, Bebee has nothing but praise to offer.
“They have been some of the most amazing and talented people I have ever competed with,” he says, a statement that is even more of a complement when you remember that he’s been in competitions since 2006. “They all had such diversity and drive.”
While this was Eckstrom ‘s first competition, he knew he had to step up his game to compete, which is why he chose, appropriately, “My Shot” from Hamilton.
“The first time I heard that song, I knew that – if I ever did any kind of performance – it would be to that song. I had four dancers on stage with me, playing three of Hamilton’s friends and Aaron Burr in the number,” Eckstrom says. “It was a lot of hard work.”
Because of their heavy involvement in the community, both Eckstrom and Bebee are aware not only of the pageants’ great past that they’re building on, but the future they’re helping to create, as well.
“Brandon Packer was the first Mister Phoenix Pride that I saw. He was super visible, at almost every event with his sash and his crown,” Eckstrom recalls, adding that he credits Packer for bringing Mister Phoenix Pride back from a several-year hiatus.
“Of all the duties for a Miss Phoenix Pride, the one I’m most excited about is overseeing this year’s prelims,” Bebee says. “Watching so many amazing, talented members of our community perform and show their talents on stage.”
Phoenix Pride has steadily grown, especially throughout the past few years. What was once a small, unassuming event has evolved into an all-encompassing event attracting 40,000 attendees. The event has corporate sponsors, support from straight allies, 150 entertainment performances on six stages, dozens of food trucks and 250 exhibitors selling products that you would never have imagined seeing at an early version of the event.
Maybe it’s because of their long-term friendship or maybe they just always think alike. No matter what the reason, the two give similar answers when asked what they would like to change about Phoenix Pride.
“I’d like to include more diverse headliners,” Daniel says. “We need to be sure we keep embracing the African-American and Hispanic communities, even more than we do now. I want to make sure that, for everyone, this is a year of brotherhood.”
Chris agrees, “During my reign, I want to encourage tolerance and diversity back into our community. I’d love to see the organization grow and Phoenix Pride be as large as LA Pride or Miami Pride.”
Well, guys, here’s your shot. Don’t throw it away!
For more information on Phoenix Pride, the Pride Pageant or the Pride Scholarship Program, visit phoenixpride.org.
Former Miss Phoenix Pride Titleholders
2017: Eva Angelica Stratton
2016: Naomi St James
2015: Trixxie Deluxxe
2014: Barbra Seville
2013: Khloe V Monroe
2012: Grecia Montes D’Occa
2011: Olivia Gardens
2010: Diamond Dallas
2009: Chane’ Jordan (decrowned)
2008: Afeelya Bunz
2007: Claudia B.
2004: Paula Sha’
2003: Anita Champagne Pride
2002: Aurora Gayheart
2000: Mimi Rae Rose
1999: Paula Sha’
1998: Pussy Lahoot
1997: Diane Daniels
1995: Felicia Fahr
1994: Roxy Blue
Former Mister Phoenix Pride Titleholders
2015: Kristofer V. Lee
2016: Geo Johnson
2015: Dee Jae Galaxy-Broadway
2014: Eddie Broadway
2012-2013: Jensen Dean
2011: Freddy Prinze Charming
2010: Nikki Kidd
2009: Brandon Packer
2004: Tomi Boi