Eight years ago, Briceson Ducharme was a 22-year-old gay man in Denver when his friend, Blake, passed away.
Ducharme was a transplant from the tiny plains town of Eaton, followed by a few years in Fort Collins. Ducharme had been living on his own in Denver for five years when his friend died.
Blake, who Ducharme said died in his late 30s, had been deeply involved in LGBT community.
“He was a great man who always gave of himself for charity,” Ducharme said of his friend. “It was a devastating loss for the community, and for his partner.”
Blake had also been open about being HIV-positive.
“He wanted to make sure people realized they knew at least one person who was positive,” Ducharme said.
Just 11 months later, Ducharme got devastating news of his own. He, himself, tested positive for HIV.
“It was definitely a shock; I thought I had been more careful than other people thought they were,” Ducharme said.
“I believe that people who find out they have HIV go through a grieving period, similar to after a death,” he said.
But Ducharme, unlike many from an earlier generation, had the fortune of knowing other HIV-positive people — people who had lived for years with the disease. HIV still isn’t something to take lightly, but the sheer terror of the early crisis had faded; Ducharme knew, by his friend’s example, that life can go on after testing positive.
It was the very night after Ducharme found out he had HIV that he called his family to tell them. His mother and sister drove down from Fort Collins right away to be with him as he — a young man of 23 — began an undesired, but survivable, phase of his life.
“My sister, being the crazy investigative person she is, started searching right away for information,” Ducharme said.
They had to understand the HIV myths and facts for themselves and their worried mother, and find out how to stay alive and healthy with the virus.
“Thank God for the Internet,” he said.
And soon after, Ducharme was taking up his friend’s example by getting in front of an issue that, for many people, seems like the end of the world.
Now Ducharme is well-known in Denver’s LGBT community, but not by his given name. It’s his other persona — Ginger Sexton — that most find has a familiar ring to it.
Sexton has embraced life as an HIV-positive drag performer and fund raiser for HIV-related causes. Eventually, she was becoming a popular figure in local shows, and narrowly losing to Denver’s Nina Flowers to become a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
And Ginger Sexton started raising money.
“I started using whatever celebrity-ish I had to start doing some good,” Sexton said.
A year and a half ago, Sexton thought of a new idea to raise funds for HIV/AIDS. With friends, she threw together an event she named the Apocalyptic Ball, a night of music and performances that in 2010 raised about $20,000 for Colorado AIDS Walk. She hopes it can be repeated: this year’s Apocalyptic Ball — cruising on last year’s success, and even more name recognition and a larger number of performers and volunteers —has an ambitious goal of raising $25 thousand for the organization.
On Friday, July 22, doors open at 8 p.m. at Denver’s Gothic Theater. The show starts at 9, and will include drag performances, a fashion show, and a silent auction.
“I’m excited. It’s definitely a really awesome night,” Sexton said.
Tim Schuetz, Colorado AIDS Project spokesman, said the Apocalyptic Ball is one of the top fundraisers for AIDS Walk Colorado. “We’re very thankful for her and her efforts,” he said.
Schuetz encouraged all to get their tickets before the event sells out. He called it “a night that does not disappoint.”
Sexton, meanwhile, said it is “a night that’s not to be missed.”
“The lucky charms all come together in the pot of gold with a rainbow,” she said.
Tickets to the upcoming ball can be purchased from The Gothic Theater at $15 for admission, or $200 for a VIP seat.