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Manila Luzon: Triumphing over tragedy
by David-Elijah Nahmod

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On Oct. 1, Manila Luzon faced one of the greatest shocks of her life. On that day, boyfriend Sahara Davenport (nee Antoine Ashley) died of heart failure at age 27. Both had been contestants on RuPaul's Drag Race, Luzon having been featured on the reality series' third season.

Six weeks later, a cheerful sounding Luzon spoke with Windy City Times. She's picking up the pieces and continuing with her life. "I'm doing OK," she said. "I'm getting great support from my family and I have great friends. I have my drag sisters. I'm living to get what I want out of life. I'm living each day as though it's my last."

Born Karl Westerberg in Minnesota in 1984, Luzon took her drag name from the Philippines, the country of her mother's birth. Manila is the country's capital, while Luzon is it's largest island. While she didn't take home the grand prize on "Drag Race," Luzon received praise for her work on the competition. She is now pursuing a career in music, and doing personal appearances at many LGBT events. She's also involved in AIDS activism, determined to remind young LGBT people that the virus is still around. She recently appeared with several other "Drag Race" alumni in Red Ribbon Runway, an AIDS-testing PSA that airs on Logo.

"It was a huge pleasure to do that PSA," Luzon stated. "I was happy they asked me. People think that AIDS is over. It's not. I don't have much money to donate, but I can use my celebrity to raise awareness. We still don't have a cure, or a vaccine. Because of RuPaul, I have a voice, and people will listen to it."

The iconic RuPaul is, in fact, one of Luzon's primary role models. "RuPaul is an ideal in the gay community," Luzon said. "My family and I once ate at the Fashion Cafe in New York, where I saw one of RuPaul's dresses on display. It was the coolest thing to be sitting under it, being in all of RuPaul's blonde haired glory. She's fabulous. She works really hard and makes me want to work harder."

Although she didn't win, Luzon returned for RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, a follow-up series in which former contestants got another chance to compete for the crown. She said she was "surprised" by the callback.

Luzon parlayed her Drag Race appearances into an Oct. 12 guest stint on the MTV reality series Made. The self-improvement series follows teens who wish to achieve a goal of being "made" into things like singers, dancers, etc. Luzon appeared as a Made coach, and tutored a young man in the art of drag. Luzon's student was exploring his drag alter ego as he prepared for New York City's Pride Parade.

She's also a huge supporter of President Obama and of marriage equality. "This issue is huge and very important," she stated. "Part of me wants to shout it from the rooftops, while part of me thinks it's stupid. What is this, the 1920s? Everyone should get equal rights. If you deny it, then you're an a—hole! It's going to take time, but it's going to happen. Which gives me more time to save up for my wedding."

At the moment, Luzon is promoting "The Chop," a music single in which she performs with "Drag Race" co-star Latrice Royale. "I don't know if I have a style of music," said Luzon. "I want my music to be fun. I realize that I'm a man in drag. Everything in drag is visual. I'm kind of like a lady, but not really. I'm a drag queen who sings about being pretty, wearing make-up, and high heel shoes. I don't take myself or my music too seriously, but I'm lucky to be partnered with Latrice. We formed a close friendship that will last for years."

As she moves on from her recent tragedy, Luzon offered a little insight into her personal philosophy. "You're going to fall down more often than not. Just keep getting up and keep doing what you do."

To follow Luzon's career, which includes updates on appearances, visit .

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