Arkansan Competes for Miss Gay America Crown

Little Rock's Robinson Center hosts the 50th anniversary of the pageant Jan. 17-20.

Miss Gay Arkansas America Athena Sinclair in a red, black and yellow outfit wearing her crown and holding her scepter
Athena Sinclar was crowned Miss Gay Arkansas America in July 2021. Photo courtesy of E.L. Blevins.

While drag is about illusion and performance, authenticity is important to MD Hunter who’s competing in the 50th anniversary of the Miss Gay America pageant this week in Little Rock. As the reigning Miss Gay Arkansas America, Athena Sinclair, Hunter says winning the competition would be a big deal because it would show there’s beauty in embracing who you are.

“You don’t have to change, you don’t have to conform…you can be authentically yourself,” Hunter says. “You can come up here with Black kinky hair, you can come up here and do things that normally they wouldn’t do in pageantry and it still be beautiful and you made it your own.” 

Hunter qualified for the Miss Gay America pageant after being crowned Miss Gay Arkansas America in July 2021. It was the first time Hunter had competed in that pageant and he was doing so in honor of one of his best friends, a former pageant competitor who died from COVID-19 in 2020.  Being crowned Miss Gay Arkansas America is a moment Hunter will never forget.

“It was an amazing feeling,” he says. “If you see any videos of it, I just hit the floor. It was such a big deal for me.”

Hunter was studying graphic design and business as a student at Arkansas State University – Beebe, when one day he decided he needed a new medium. After that, he learned to style hair and today owns his own business, Hairwitch LLC, that makes custom wigs for drag queens and television shows.

Hunter credits Norman Jones, a.k.a. Norma Kristie, with getting him involved in pageants as a competitor. Norma Kristie was the inaugural Miss Gay Arkansas and the first man to be crowned Miss Gay America in 1972. Jones bought the pageant in 1975 and worked to grow the competition during the following decades. Jones continues to be involved in the drag scene in Little Rock and is Hunter’s promoter.

“She created, basically, the whole legacy of drag pageantry and helping make drag mainstream like it is,” Hunter says. “Norma Kristie is the owner of Discovery and Triniti [night clubs] here in Little Rock, so she’s a big legend in the community.”

Dominique Sanchez won Miss Gay America 2003 and is the only Miss Gay Arkansas America to win the title besides Norma Kristie. It’s also been more than 15 years since an Arkansas representative placed in the top 10, so Hunter says it would be a big deal to place in the top 10 or win.

MD Hunter, aka Athena Sinclair, wearing a tan jacket with words like BLM, empathy and vote written on it in black and red
MD Hunter poses for a photo during the first day of the 2022 Miss Gay America Pageant. Photo courtesy of MD Hunter.

A lot of people in pageantry like to create carbon copies of each other, but Hunter says he’s excited to show himself on stage during this week’s competition. Hunter is involved in politics and a “huge advocate” for Black Lives Matters, and these are aspects of himself he wants to showcase during the pageant.

Drag, politics and activism are similar and they don’t have to be separate, Hunter says. For example, one of the first things Hunter did as the reigning Miss Gay Arkansas America was going to court wearing a suit and his sash to support trans youth. In the next few years, Hunter hopes to expand his involvement in politics by running for office.

“I think that it’s really just opening up people to realize that you can bring your real life into the drag scene if you would like and you can advocate for those things that are very, very important for you and use the platform for good,” he says.

Athena Sinclair, Miss Gay Arkansas America 2021, will compete in the 50th anniversary of the Miss Gay America pageant Jan. 17-20 at the Robinson Center in Little Rock. Tickets and more information are available at www.missgayamerica.com.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.