S.C. Pride’s annual President’s Ball fundraiser is all about glitter, glitz and glam – so it’s a no-brainer they invited Carson Kressley to headline this year’s event, on Saturday, Aug. 12.
The Emmy-winning TV star, celebrity stylist, author and fashion designer is no stranger to South Carolina. The breakout star of “Queer Eye for The Straight Guy” would stop with his family at South of the Border – at Carson’s request – as they traveled every winter to Florida from his native Pennsylvania.
“That’s when I knew we were in the South,” he said.
Go Columbia spoke with the stylish star on what it was like coming out, the importance of Pride festivals and of course, fashion.
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Q: How old were you when you discovered you were gay?
A: I was shockingly older than you think. I remember when I sat my mom and dad down, and I was like, “Listen, I’m gay,” and there was an uncomfortable pause. Then my mom said, “Well let’s see how second grade goes. Maybe it’s just a phase?” I think like so many little kids, I knew that I was different from a very early age. I remember sitting in the first grade and “The Six Million Dollar Man” was a hit on TV, and all the boys were super into it. And I would talk to them and say, “He’s really hot right?” … So I always knew I had a different perspective. And then as you get older you learn what “gay” is, and I was like, “Oh, that’s me,” and that probably happened when I was approaching my teenage years. And then I moved to New York City after college, and then I came out and was really living my life as a gay man!
Q: How old were you attended your first Pride?
A: I probably was 21, and it was in New York City.
Q: Do you think Prides are still important for the gay community?
A: I think Pride is so valuable and wonderful for anybody in the LGBTQ community. You realize there are thousands of people just like you and that you have a community, and most importantly, that you’re not alone. And the second prong is that there’s reason to celebrate. Even though there’s a lot of oppression and prejudice, there’s still a reason to celebrate because we have a fabulous community that is diverse and rich and supportive.
Q: Did you ever think being gay would hinder your plans for your career? Your life?
A: I think like so many young people we’re told by society and sometimes our family members or our friends ... people very close to us, that being gay is a flaw or is something that is not a good thing. So you internalize that, and you think, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I can’t get married.” Or, “I can’t have kids.” Or, “I can’t be in the Army.” And I think as we get older, I’ve always been a believer in opportunity and possibilities, and I really never felt that anything could stop me. And that might not be realistic, but that’s why we have Prides and organizations like South Carolina Pride, especially for our young people to show them that, while we still have a lot of work to do and a lot of fighting for our rights, we’ve come a long way. And being gay is just one part of a person’s identity. And there’s lots of other things that make up a person. You can really do anything you want to do. And we have to continue as a community to work for that legally to be anything you want – to serve in the Army and adopt and get married. Those are things we had to fight for and still have to fight for … unfortunately.
Q: So you’ve been to South Carolina?
A: I love South Carolina! Growing up, my family had a beach house in Pawleys Island. I did my senior week in college at Myrtle Beach. And one of my hobbies is showing saddlebred horses, so I have lots of friends here that ride. There are some fabulous horse shows in Greenville. So I know it pretty well. I’ve never been to Columbia, though, so I’m excited!
Q: How did you hear about the S.C. Pride President’s Ball?
A: I do a lot of different Pride events, and one of my close friends was approached by the organizers and asked if I’d be interested in hosting, and I said I would love it. So that’s how it happened, and here I come! It’s going to be amazing and it’s actually a great fundraiser. All of the proceeds go to S.C. Pride and help the LGBTQ residents of South Carolina live authentically and love authentically and be themselves.
Q: Let’s talk about your breakout role in “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” How did that all come together?
A: I never thought about being on television, I was always told I had a face for radio! But it was really quite serendipitous. I was working for Ralph Lauren, and I had a fabulous job as creative director there, but one of my coworkers said they had heard about this show called ‘Queer Eye’ and they’re in town casting and you should reach out to them. So I did and I called Bravo – which, at that point, I thought was a nonstick cooking spray – and I saw them and they liked me. So they told me we were going to make a pilot and we did that in Boston in 2002. I told my boss nothing was going to happen and I’d be back to work on Monday. And nothing did happen, and I was back on Monday. And then a year later, the producers called and said they got the green light to make the show and if I was ready to quit my job. And I was like, “Do you guys have dental insurance? This is a big decision.” But I took the leap of faith and here I am!
Q: Playing to your strengths of fashion advice, what’s one item you would suggest every man and or woman should invest or splurge in?
A: The thing that makes the most sense is great denim. Because we all live in denim. Even if you don’t wear denim to work, your weekends, you’re wearing jeans. And there’s no sadder situation than a hot guy in dad jeans. Even women, too, with the mom jean scenario. So one thing you’re going to get a lot of bang for your buck, even if they seem expensive, buy a really high-quality pair of jeans. They will be worth the money because you’re going to wear them all the time.
Q: What are you wearing to the President’s Ball?
A: … I feel like I’ve heard that question before from a movie. I’m going to wear something sparkly, something fun and something celebratory, because I think that’s what one should wear to any kind of Pride event. You should really gay it up and be out there, be proud and be unapologetic about it. So something in that vein.
Dwaun Sellers, email@example.com
If you go
S.C. Pride’s President’s Ball fundraiser
WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12
WHERE: 1208 Washington Place, 1208 Washington St.