By Summer Seasons
I met Jonathan Reitan (AKA Jonny Woof Foxx) when he ran for the position of Mr. Gay Salem 11 years ago. 10 years ago he started the Red Ribbon Show, which went on to become a massive success. Here we are 10 years later, and he’s prepared to wrap up for the final one. We sat down for an interview to talk about his journey with this event.
Give me a little background about you.
I come from a slightly conservative and religious family where I was taught about working hard for what you want in life, strong morals and giving back to your community. I grew up in Woodburn Oregon and started working at a young age at my family business, the local newspaper, where I worked for over 10 years in advertising, writing and graphic design. I moved to Salem at the age of 20, where I became involved in the local LGBTQ community and then later in the state-wide community.
How did you get involved in the community?
I first became involved in the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS community in high school by forming the Woodburn High School GSA and planning events as a teenager, as well as being a member of the then Basic Rights Oregon youth action team during the Measure 36 anti-gay campaign. Before I got involved with the Imperial Court System I joined the Salem Rainbow Youth and Capitol Pride Board of Directors, where I served as President and producer of Salem’s 30th Annual Capitol Pride Fest.
I struggled with fear, shame and denial in my diagnosis so I wanted to create something to help combat that, and in doing so I was able to help the very community and organizations that were there for me in the beginning of my own journey with this disease.
What inspired you to start the Red Ribbon Show?
It was created after I tested HIV positive. I struggled with fear, shame and denial in my diagnosis so I wanted to create something to help combat that, and in doing so I was able to help the very community and organizations that were there for me in the beginning of my own journey with this disease. My fundraising efforts and producing of the Red Ribbon Show were what ultimately saved my life and gave me purpose to keep going.
Who has helped you achieve success with the show?
Over the years there have been thousands of individual donors, business and community sponsors, venues, volunteers and performers—too many to list, but I hope each and every one knows that every dollar they helped raise has led to our success in touching thousands of lives.
How much money has been raised?
In the last ten years we’ve raised over $125,000 for nine different HIV/AIDS organizations in Oregon, which include HIV Alliance, Valley AIDS Info Network, Camp Starlight, Our House, Marion County Health Department, Coastal AIDS Network, Oregon AIDS Memorial, HIV Day Center, and the Tijuana AIDS Fund. Our charities for 2017 include Partnership Project, HIV Alliance, Camp Starlight and Valley AIDS Info Network. We take pride in knowing that our money has gone to benefit people all over Oregon, including most of its rural communities.
Seeing survivors walk up with the crowd cheering gives me chills and tears.
What is your favorite memory of the Red Ribbon Show?
My favorite memory is when we ask the survivors in the audience to come to the stage for a special honor. Seeing survivors walk up with the crowd cheering gives me chills and tears. A lot of the people are doing it for the first time—“coming out” as HIV positive—and this one act has greatly strengthened some of their lives. This again teaches the audience we a strong force together in ending this disease, and we are not living in fear and shame for being HIV positive. We are standing on a large stage in the spotlight, together as one. Over the years, we’ve lost some of those who have come to the stage, so we also honor them each year with a moment of silence, as well as the millions across the world who we’ve lost.
What kind of entertainment and prizes can people expect from the show?
This year’s entertainment will be top notch drag performers from across the Northwest, Seattle, San Francisco, and more. Our silent and live auction will see donations from many area hotels, restaurants, wineries, breweries, and artists; as well as drag queen jewelry, vacation packages, and many themed gift baskets.
What’s next for you?
After the Red Ribbon Show is done, I will continue to serve the community as the 40th elected Emperor of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Willamette Empire, where I’ll raise money for our chosen charities: HIV Alliance, Mano A Mano, St. Francis Shelter and Salem Rainbow Youth. After I’m completed in March, I just might find some warmer weather for a change of pace and focus on my health and enjoy “retirement.”
Any final thoughts?
I’m honored and proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last 10 years, but I’m also happy knowing that we are going to be able to end on a very high note and we’re ending in the way it needs to end. We grew from a bar to a ballroom, and now we say goodbye in a grand theater where we’ll thank and honor the hundreds of people who have been a part of our organization while welcoming the future, whatever it may hold. This event has changed the lives of hundreds who have benefited from its money and its message of hope, strength and courage. I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, every single volunteer, donor, performer and supporter who have been a part of shaping this event into what it is today.
I look forward to celebrating 10 years on September 30 in downtown Salem as we do it all one last time. People can buy tickets online at www.redribbonshow.brownpapertickets.com, or help by making a donation of any amount on our online fundraising site at www.tinyurl.com/redribbon2017, where we’ve already raised over $15,000 for this year’s charities.