CINCINNATI — Michael Cotrell can't tell you how much money he's raised for charity in the 20-some years he's lived in Cincinnati, but he knows he's helped one organization reach $1.4 million.
That's just one organization.
Cotrell is the board president of Cincinnati Pride. He's the walk chair for Cincinnati's Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention, and he's an active member and former Empress of the Imperial Sovereign Queen City Court of the Buckeye Empire, the fundraising organization that's closing in on one-and-a-half million dollars raised.
"We'll do whatever it takes to raise money, honestly," Cotrell said. "We might have small shows, we might have big shows, we'll have contests, raffles, jello shots, whatever."
Cotrell's name may not be familiar to you, but the name Brooklyn Steele-Tate may be. Brooklyn, Cotrell's drag persona, is a show emcee at The Cabaret in Over-the-Rhine and the driving force behind much of his fundraising.
"Brooklyn is probably the key element to all of it, which is kind of crazy," he laughs.
Brooklyn started performing drag in Lima, Ohio, before moving to Cincinnati. He went by Brooklyn Steele at the now-closed bar where he was a show director.
"I was doing a show back home Friday night, coming here Saturday morning and doing two shows Saturday and Sunday and driving back home to go to work," he said.
So, what's in a name? Cotrell started as Bruklin, an homage to Bruklin Harris, whom he loved in the 1995 film "Dangerous Minds." He said he doesn't know where Steele came from, but he added Tate when he moved, paying tribute to a friend from Cincinnati.
Cotrell quips that Brooklyn is more famous than Michael.
"I think the name sticks with you," he said. "My friends — out in the world — they call me Bruklin all the time because that's how they met me or that's what they call me at work."
Cotrell has a non-drag job, too, in sales. For a long time, performing drag was either more of a hobby or just for charity.
"I didn't expect this in the beginning; I expected I was going to do a show a month and be done. Now I'm doing shows every weekend," he said. "This was never a goal of mine; it just happened."
Brooklyn nearly never made it out of Lima, when Cotrell said he almost quit drag shortly after starting.
"Would I have changed it? I don't know. Would I have liked [where I am now, back then]? I don't know. Do I like it now? I love it," he said. "I never said, 'This is where I want to be.' It just kind of happened."
Brooklyn has performed all around Cincinnati. Cotrell said it takes between an hour and 90 minutes now to transform into Brooklyn.
He's watched how drag has changed as an art form — how the audience has changed from mainly gay men to more mainstream. And he's watched drag become a recent focus of political rage.
"I think the biggest misconception is that we all wanted to be women," he said. "Even within the LGBTQ community, some gay men say, 'Well, I don't want to date a woman,' and I tell them I'm not one. I do this for entertainment only or for charity."
Just don't call Brooklyn a local celebrity.
"I'm just someone who does all this work," Cotrell said. "At the very end of the day, when you go home and you're exhausted and your feet hurt and eyeballs hurt, but it's rewarding. It's like: I did good today."
Proving that entertainment can be used to make change and better our community makes Michael Cotrell, Brooklyn Steele-Tate, one of the Tri-State Points of Pride.
WCPO is committed to telling the stories of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Tri-State year-round. If you know someone who should be recognized as a Point of Pride, send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org