Nothing screams “Eugene” like the colorful, quirky, creatively costumed people known as the SLUG queens. And that’s just how they want it.
The Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod (SLUG) will crown its 40th queen at the downtown Park Blocks 6 pm Friday, August 12. The family friendly event will bring entertainment from the One More Time Marching Band along with Dangerously Old Queen Accordionna and an interactive SLUG Queen trivia game. Enthusiastically Old Queen Bananita Sluginsky will be your emcee for the evening.
Per usual, the competition for the crown has three categories: costume, talent and witty retort to funny questions. The final decision is made by Old Queens together with celebrity judges. This year the celebrity judges include Val Hoyle, Oregon labor commissioner and Democratic nominee for U.S. House of Representatives; Bethany Grace Howe, of the Oregon Department of Human Services and board member of Planned Parenthood of Southern Oregon; and Kyle Rodriguez-Hudson, executive director of TransPonder.
This year the SLUG queens received a grant from the Lane Arts Council and the city of Eugene’s Cultural Services allowing the event to be live streamed and have a sign language interpreter, as well as have application materials in Spanish.
As Old Queen Holly GoSlugly, also known as Debbie Williamson Smith, says, the SLUG queen is Eugene’s unofficial ambassador. The queens are meant to embody the strange, quirky city we live in, while also expressing themselves as individuals. For the competition, each contestant creates a persona and outlandish costume to embody what the role is to them. Raining Queen Galaxia Cosmos, or Helen Being, calls it a “silliness pageant.”
“I think everybody who competes has a commitment to silliness, and a commitment to the community,” Being says. Williamson Smith says that the queens are all invested in their community in different ways.
“We’re a queen community, and we’re all making ripples in the larger community,” Williamson Smith says. “I think the 40th coronation is going to be a wonderful celebration of that.” Queens usually support causes or charities in their “rains.” SLUG Queens also help with food drives, read stories to children at libraries and schools, organize public events and more, according to the website.
“Something that we really want to remind the community is that we are not just up here being silly, then wearing costumes throughout the year and having people fawn over us,” says Old Queen Slugasana, or Jerril Nilson. “We really do have a purpose to bring joy and bring awareness to different parts of our community.”
For those who need to brush up on SLUG Queen history, the pageant was created in 1983 as a part of the Eugene Celebration festival. Festival organizers wanted a tongue-in-cheek, Eugene-centered version of the Portland Rose Festival, Nilson says. In rainy Eugene, slugs were a constant presence — so organizers thought a slug-themed festival would best capture Eugene.
But organizers tossed out the name “Slug Fest” for the big event, Nilson says, and the pageant creators decided to take on the theme, creating the Society for the Ubiquitous Gastropods and choosing a queen.
“It’ll be a hysterical pageant, it will be funny, and there will be no rules,” Nilson says of the mindset of the SLUG Queen pageant founders when they created the event. This mindset has not wavered through the years, as today the only requirements for entering the pageant are being over the age of 21 and living in or around Eugene.
The Eugene Celebration hasn’t been around since 2015, but the SLUG queen competition has carried on — and the dedicated volunteers that run it have no intention of stopping. It’s worth mentioning that none of the Queens or even the main producer, known as the First Lady in Waiting, Kim Still, are paid for the event.
“The 40th is the stepping stone to our 50th,” Nilson says. “We have grand plans for after the 40th to add some wonderful components to our event.” In the future, Nilson hopes to bring back the grand parade that used to accompany the Eugene Celebration, and with it rebuild a giant parade slug that used to be in the parade, too. Nilson also wants to create a mural honoring the SLUG queens, and have a portable backdrop for the pageant.
You will find the SLUG queens at various public events throughout the year, or even just walking around town. But to truly understand the quirky passion and joy that is found in the SLUG queens, you have to attend the pageant and coronation.
“It’s really special, this group of people that get together and are so fully themselves by being someone else,” Williamson Smith says. “I think people in Eugene love and respect that.” ν
The 40th SLUG Queen Competition and Coronation is Friday, August 12 at the Park Blocks in downtown Eugene. A live stream can be found on the SLUG queen Facebook page. Music begins at 6 pm and the event at 6:30 pm. Bring your own chair. Masks are optional but not required. Free.