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LGBTQIA+ activist grew up homosexual, non-binary in Youngstown

As Delight Month arrives to an conclusion, the LGBTQIA+ activist and proprietor of The Rust Belt Theater Enterprise has some feelings about developing up as a gay and nonbinary human being in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Robert Dennick Joki, Youngstown LGBTQIA+ activist and proprietor of The Rust Belt Theater Organization, was recently named grand marshal of Entire Spectrum Group Outreach’s Satisfaction in the Valley Pageant on July 31 in Courthouse Sq. in Warren. 

Plans call for Dennick Joki, whose choice is for a gender-neutral pronoun, to lead the parade and be component of opening ceremonies, as well as perform a kid-welcoming drag show in the afternoon with associates of The Rust Belt Theater Corporation. The team is also closing the competition with a general performance geared toward grown ups. 

“As an corporation, we choose representation that shows the beliefs that we maintain so expensive. Robert Dennick Joki is a gifted artist, compassionate humanitarian, and emphatic activist,” Whole Spectrum Delight in the Valley wrote on their Fb web site. “They have found a way to bring gentle to the Mahoning Valley above the years as a result of their operate with The Rust Belt Theater Enterprise, together with their drag career, and other ties to the place. Rob has served so several individuals in the regional LGBTQIA+ community and further than to not only showcase and mature their abilities, but to boost working with their voice for the increased good. They have often stood for social justice, human legal rights, and fairness for all without the need of wavering. For this, we are happy to announce Robert Dennick Joki as the Grand Marshal for Satisfaction in the Valley 2021.”

The family-helpful celebration is absolutely free to the public and will aspect reside amusement, food stuff vans, carnival game titles, health screenings, a beer back garden and far more. 

As the June 2021 Satisfaction Month wound to an close, Dennick Joki told Mahoning Issues that though grateful for the honor: “I generally sense a little bit uncomfortable when I get complimented on get the job done that I do, primarily about social change, for the reason that I feel like, it can be not some thing I definitely set out to do … I sense like I do matters that absolutely everyone ought to be accomplishing, or that a good deal of occasions that I suppose everybody is doing.”

Dennick Joki is a Youngstown native. Developing up in the Mahoning Valley all through the 1980’s as a gay and nonbinary man or woman was demanding. They ponder what lifetime would presently be like if there experienced been much more queer people today to glance up to as a kid. 

“I consider about how my existence would have changed if I experienced observed just a single Satisfaction Parade, or just just one beneficial purpose design that was not, like, a queer individual becoming made out as a joke on television, simply because that’s all that is all we noticed,” they reported. “I sense like I have carried out fairly perfectly with my daily life. But I am going to always wonder what it would have been like if I had occur to acceptance previously.” 

“Anything I can do to enable, especially youthful persons, know that it is Alright to be who they are … nearly anything I can do to enable with that, I will do. That is been my life’s do the job,” Dennick Joki added.

Dennick Joki has been most effective in the pursuit to assistance young people today with acceptance inside of the Youngstown theater group. 

Researching musical theater at Youngstown State College in the late 1990s ignited a love for theater and social change. Then, Dennick Joki labored 12 several years at the previous Oakland Center for the Arts in downtown Youngstown, at some point getting the director of the children’s theater software before creating The Rust Belt Theater Firm 11 several years back. 

“I understood in college or university that theater didn’t just have to be about currently being entertaining, that it could also be employed as a vessel [and a] car or truck for social transform,” Dennick Joki reported. “The Blackbox Theater at Youngstown State College was performing a perform referred to as ‘What Are Tuesday’s Like?’ and it was about the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic. As a younger homosexual guy, that genuinely hit household with me … recognizing that a little something can be entertaining and gorgeous, but also it can assist transform the entire world for the superior.” 

Dennick Joki said The Rust Belt Theater Corporation has a standing of getting the most numerous theater in the region and not often does reveals that are exclusively for “spectacle.”

“When we do displays, I have normally just [cast] whoever was the ideal man or woman for each and every purpose regardless of ethnicity, or like even on a lot of events we haven’t often stuck to regular gender roles in our displays.”

In addition to performing and directing community theater reveals, Dennick Joki has composed a handful of plays and musicals — the most prosperous remaining “How The Drag Queen Stole Christmas” in 2006 “… and that is variety of what manufactured me understand that there is a industry for domestically written shows with type of like neighborhood flavor.”

“It seems like it would be just a huge silly Xmas spectacle, but there is certainly a message underneath all of that. And that message is about acceptance and diversity and equality,” they added. 

Parallel to Dennick Joki’s career in musical theater is a two-ten years long profession in drag performance underneath the stage identify Starrlet O’Hara. 

In 2001 they begun competing in drag and enjoyment pageants to “help fork out the bills” and along the way won Mr. Ohio Allstar in 2001and gained the talent opposition for Miss out on Ohio Allstar. Dennick Joki said successful pageants intended they were being contracted to complete at venues throughout Ohio.

Even however it “opened up a lot of doors” for Dennick Joki at the time, executing at bars 5 evenings a week was tiring and they gave up full-time drag general performance indefinitely right up until the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“During the restrictions, we were nonetheless ready to complete in a bar, or a [restaurant] as long as you followed the social distancing suggestions. When the shutdown happened, I was doing the job at 3 distinctive sites, undertaking theater, and all those people work just disappeared right away. I was confronted with the challenge of making an attempt to nevertheless make a living, carrying out the only point that I’m experienced for and the only point I have done for the very last 20 a long time.” 

“Performing at gay bars was fascinating. I’m all of a sudden executing the exact factor I was accomplishing when I was 18 a long time outdated,” Dennick Joki extra. 

Dennick Joki’s “style” as a drag performer is untraditional, way too. Instead of lip-syncing with a aim on dancing, like many drag performers, Dennick Joki sings dwell and generates lavish costumes inspired by various era’s in art historical past. 

“I adore costumes that aim on intervals of extra in humankind,” they mentioned. “The Renaissance, Historic Egypt, The Victorian era, specifically. My aesthetic is a tiny little bit distinctive from other performers. I am a live singer and there usually are not a whole lot of are living singing drag queens. The field typical is lip-syncing.”

“I’m not lip-synching. I’m not dancing. I attempt to make positive that my costume is always primary and intriguing enough that it form of can make up for my lack of dancing, deficiency of splits and death drops. I [also like] performing comedy quantities that have a little little bit of a concept, for the reason that, if you make anyone snicker, I feel like they are far more probably to pay focus to what you’re saying,” Dennick Joki included. 

As Satisfaction Month comes to an finish, Dennick Joki shared an viewpoint on ‘“the corporatization of pride” with Mahoning Matters

“I have mixed inner thoughts about that, due to the fact all I can feel about is the minor child developing up in a smaller neighborhood who has in no way observed a rainbow flag traveling in their city, and how even if it is a T-shirt at Walmart, how that could change their whole lifestyle,” they explained. 

As far as LGBTQIA+ pride pertains to the theater group, Dennick Joki described remaining at the same time liked and hated in the course of their job.

“In the previous, people today have reported, for the reason that I am a homosexual person, that youngsters should not get the job done with me,” Dennick Joki claimed. “15 decades ago, people wouldn’t enable their children do kid’s theater with me, due to the fact they believed of me as some form of a risk. And now, individuals are inviting me to appear and do drag queen storytime at the library. That is these types of a big adjust, and it truly is a good detail.” 

Go in this article for information on Total Spectrum Group Outreach’s Delight in the Valley Festival.