Sharon McNight once sang "Stand by Your Man" for 95 minutes while people threw money into AIDS Emergency Fund buckets, two decades later she’s still standing by them. Not only has she been on the frontlines with the battle against AIDS since it arose in the early eighties, she's embraced the GLBT population from the very beginning boasting "I was discovered by the gay community."
Sharon, who performed at the very first Gay Games in San Francisco in '82, returns this year for the Closing Ceremony. With her strong comic wit she personally recounts the rocky start of this grandiose event along with the heartbreaking old days of the AIDS epidemic.
JB: You performed at the original Gay Games in '82, how does it feel to be back?
SM: I didn’t know I was away! To be back means I would be in San Francisco singing with the wind blowing up my red dress.
JB: Take me back to '82, what were the Games like?
SM: Dr. Tom Waddell asked me to sing at the opening ceremony. I wanted to say I sang at the Kezar Stadium, former home of the 49ers. The San Francisco and LA Gay Bands were there. There were a couple of hundred people there. Many of the seats were missing so the crowd was spotty, but enthusiastic. The stadium is now condos.
JB: How have you grown as an artist since your last performance? What's changed since then?
SM: Well, if grown means weight gained, I've gained. I wish I could get into that red dress from '82. As far as artistic growth, it's been 24 years, gee, I hope so. But I'm still a country girl who loves to work, entertain, make em' laugh and cry. As to my performance at the games, I'm wearing pants this year.
JB: Is there anything about the Gay Games themselves that sticks out in your mind differently than say gay pride or any other gay event?
SM: Maybe it's the scope of the Games that makes it feel different from a Pride event. It’s the world, baby. The whole globe can get together and express themselves, meet others, and win by just being there. I feel like its 1968 and I'm in Golden Gate Park with a tambourine. We started out together.
JB: Why do you embrace the gay community besides the obvious mutual love for Broadway and cabaret?
SM: I was discovered by the gay community. I was there for the beginning and the "hey-day" of the Financial District gay clubs, and of course, the Castro. I was camp, witty, did impressions and we all loved to laugh. It was a celebration of achieving something, and living in a free city.
Coming to my show was many people’s first date or they would bring their parents to meet me. I used to joke that they pointed to me and said to their parents "see that woman, mom, that's why I'm gay!" I would point out and introduce the parents seated with their sons in the audience and everyone would clap. This was back in the late seventies when PFLAG was just getting going. It was a silent pride, an innocent time.
JB: What can we expect from your games performance?
SM: Besides show up and sing on pitch, I don't know.
I'm doing a song I did at the Gay Games in '82 and one that I'll keep secret. It was a request from a friend who had KS on his face; he wore it like a badge of courage. I hated the song because it was done into the ground, badly at that, but I am a man of my word and I promised.
JB: You've been involved in many AIDS benefits, where on your list does this epidemic stand? Is it a cause that's personal to you in any way?
SM: Of the issues I care about, it is the first and foremost, and has been for so long. I was in the middles of it from the very beginning. I would do my show and literally see the health fade from these guys who showed up every week. There was so much fear and I kept so many secrets. There were rumors about who had it and who didn't. You didn't want anyone to know about those spots on your leg. The fear of being ostracized by your lover, friends or family was just as toxic as the disease. We were all alone for a long time, too long. The bartenders and waiters alone that survived, I can count on one hand. It's painful to still think about.
JB: What was it like for you at that time?
SM: I was singing anywhere and everywhere to raise money. I was at every drag ball, dog show, political fundraiser, baseball game, and beer bust. I would leave the stage from doing "Nunsense" in my nun's habit and a car would be waiting for me to take me to the S.F. Eagle where people were donating they’re own personal things for the live auction to raise money.
In 1985, in New York City, Broadway producer John Glines started the "Stamp Out AIDS" stamp, to put on the outside of letters so the world would be more aware. He and his crew would pick me up following a performance and we’d drive to five piano bars and sing and work with whatever they had technically and they would sell stamps. I was in Randy Shilt's book "And the Band Played On" but I just couldn't read it, I watched it, I lived it. I haven't thought about it in a long time but I think about the people everyday.
That was a hard question, ask an easy one or I’ll hit you with my purse.
JB: You have several recordings including your current "Offensive, Too" anything in the works?
SM: My next project is to record "Ladies, Compose Yourselves," songs by a couple of broads who are alive and writing. The irony is that after obtaining a masters degree, doing a Broadway show, teaching at Yale, and producing several CD’s, my biggest seller is "Songs to Offend Almost Everyone." I had so much on there I had to make a follow-up "Offensive, Too."
Let’s hear it for smut!
JB: Besides the games what are you currently up to?
SM: After the Gay Games, I leave for New Haven to teach at Yale, it’s my third summer there. There are talks of a cruise in October with some "bears." Also booking my "Betty, Bette, Betty" show (the music of Grable, Davis, and Hutton) in conjunction with some retro-film festivals. I impersonate all three Betty’s.
I actually learned to do Bette Davis from Craig Russell, Charles Pierce, and Michael Greer, all who are gone now. It was also a way to smoke onstage since everyone in the audience was. There were some parts of the good old days I don’t miss. Thank you Justin this may have been therapeutic.
Sharon McNight will be performing at the Closing Ceremonies of the Gay Games. You can purchase an exclusive six song sampler at the Games with a portion of the proceeds going to the AIDS Emergency Fund of San Francisco. For more on Sharon check out sharonmcnight.com
For tickets to see Sharon McNight and more entertainers and legends at the Gay Games Closing Ceremonies, visit