OUTspoken: Local groups set fundraisers to help drag performer seriously hurt in head-on crash

Event organizer: 'This is taking care of our family.'

Kelly Karaba performs as drag king Hugh Johnson. Fundraisers have been set to help pay for medical expenses incurred after a head-on crash in Oregon last week that caused serious injuries for Karaba. (Photo by Amber Ferriman)
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Local groups are planning multiple fundraisers to support an Arcata resident and local performer who was in a serious car accident in Oregon on state Route 199 last week.

Kelly Karaba, who performs locally as drag king Hugh Johnson, was traveling with fellow drag performer Elizabeth Real, of the United Kingdom — who performs under the name Max Ryder — on Nov. 23 near Selma, Oregon, according to an Oregon State Police news release. The head-on crash occurred around 7:30 p.m. and involved the 2018 Nissan Versa, driven by Real, and Briana Varela of Rogue River, Oregon, who was driving a 2005 Toyota Corolla. For unknown reasons, the Corolla crossed the center line and the two vehicles collided.

OSP stated Verela was “reported as a reckless driver approximately 16 miles prior to the crash scene.”

Varela was declared dead after being flown to a hospital in Seattle. Both Karaba and Real were flown to Oregon hospitals in different areas of the state. Karaba is in a Medford-area hospital, where she is expected to remain for some time. Real was taken to a hospital in Eugene.

A horrific photo from the crash site shows the wreckage of the car Karaba and Real were in, its front end obliterated.

Multiple fundraisers have been started on crowd-funding site GoFundMe. And at least two local groups are hoping to help raise money to help Karaba with hefty medical expenses.

Kara Randolph, who is known locally as Anya Valentine or DJ Anya, said she met Karaba a few years ago at a fundraiser for the Environmental Protection Information Center called Crab n’ Drag.

“It was a benefit for EPIC and really brought together the drag community and the environmental community, which she was really passionate about,” Randolph said. “We started performing in a drag boy band, Girls to Men.”

Randolph, who operates Club Triangle, is hosting a holiday-themed party at The Jam in Arcata on Dec. 8 that will feature a drag show, a queer holiday bazaar and holiday party. The proceeds from the event will go to both Karaba and Real’s medical expenses.

“It’s going to be like a holiday party vibe where we want to have a little more socializing going on,” she said. “It won’t be as focused on the show as much as interaction. There will be some crafts for people to do with a craft fair going on selling things for the holidays. We’re going to have a station to make cards for Hugh and Max.”

She said the two drag performers have found a lot of support from the drag community.

“They just got back from the Austin International Drag Festival,” Randolph said. “They had performed there and met a lot of kings there. There has been a huge amount of support from the international drag king community.”

She said it’s unlikely that Karaba will be able to return to the apartment Karaba has rented in Arcata for several years because of the extent of the injuries.

“She’s going to have to move because of all this,” Randolph said. “She is not going to be able to stay in her place. She is not going to be able to walk for maybe a year. She is going to need ’round the (clock) care support. Her sister said she will probably go stay with her folks for a while. She’ll be in Medford for the next six months.”

The event starts at 6 p.m. and before 9 p.m., the event has free admission.

“After that, we will be doing $5 with all the proceeds going to Hugh and Max’s recovery,” Randolph said. “We’ll be taking donations all night.”

Another event is set for Dec. 15 and is called “Humboldt for Hugh.” That event is organized by Va Va Voom and is set to take place at the North Coast Repertory Theatre.

“Hugh has been an official member of Va Va Voom since 2017,” said Va Va Voom treasurer Nicole Halvorsen. “We call each other glitter family. We call Hugh our brother. This is taking care of our family.”

Halvorsen said the doors will open at 7 p.m. for the event and it officially begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advances and $25 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Good Relations and Sangha Tattoo Studio as well as online at brownpapertickets.com.

“100 percent of the proceeds go to Hugh,” Halvorsen said. “NCRT is retaining the concessions. All of the ticket proceeds are going to go in a check directly to Hugh. We’re not paying performers. Everybody is choosing to perform just to help Hugh.”

The OUTspoken column runs regularly in the Times-Standard. Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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