By Sabrina Hornung
Last month, Chris Stoner, also known as Miss Janessa Jaye Champagne, a 20-year veteran of the North Dakota drag community, was targeted in a variety of posts from the anti-LGBTQ Facebook group Protect North Dakota Kids, prior to an all-ages drag show and brunch that was set for Capital Pride in Bismarck in the middle of June.
Stoner, known for their no-nonsense approach, is not one to easily back down from a fight. What started as a joke on one of Stoner’s live streams has become a fundraising effort to benefit LGBTQ youth using the very words meant to tear them down. They mused that despite the gravity of the situation, some of the insults hurled their way were well– pretty amusing.
“I thought this is actually stuff that could be on a merch line, and it would be something that, you know, would be the greatest irony. I think that this group is calling themselves ‘Protect North Dakota Kids,’ but we could use this negative experience and turn it into something where the proceeds from the sale of this merch line can actually protect some North Dakota kids.” Stoner said.
This led to a collaboration between Stoner, Bismarck-based URL radio owner and producer of the all ages drag brunch Stacy Sturm, and Bismarck-based artist Alyssa Christensen.
But this wasn’t their first collaboration. “I’ve worked with Janessa before,” said Christensen, “with some other art projects, so it’s always fun to see what project ideas they’ve conjured up. Janessa said they wanted a darker and more mysterious tone, and sent me a rough sketch of what they were thinking for the image. So Janessa came up with the idea and I drew it up for them.”
The artwork depicted a questionable van representing the group’s lack of transparency and overall secrecy. Stoner elaborated on the absurdity of the group’s postings directed toward Sturm and Stoner.
“There was a comment – I just pulled it up here – that said they had posted this picture of these garden hoes with angry faces on them. And the caption is ‘Spiritual Jezebel is calling for an attack on our page. Here is an artistic rendering of said army.’” They went on to say, “From there, we've kind of taken little pieces from this continuing conversation and turned them into products.”
This led to another collaboration between Sturm, Stoner, and artist Melissa Gordon. The project has been in the works for a few weeks, the shirts will be printed on demand through the company TeeSpring and the charities are yet to be determined. Though Stoner stresses the importance of keeping the charities local.
“I would like to see the (Protect North Dakota Kids) page get taken down just because I don't see it as a benefit to anybody, it's dangerous people that actually want to protect North Dakota's children. And I think the merch side is great because if people buy…