I woke up to sad news a couple of weeks ago – my friend Randy aka Kelli Randell passed away. Kelli was the first drag queen I ever saw in person. I told her I loved her sweater and she said, “of course you do, bitch.” I was 19 and my dear friend had just come out to me. He wasn’t the first that year. Sebastian, Florida in the 90s was a hard place to be a gay teenager. These friends trusting me and including me as they spread their wings will forever be a highlight of my life.
I saw so many young gay men relax as we watched Kelli perform. She was safety. So of course, I started bringing the next generation to see her perform. She was the first drag queen my daughters and many of their friends saw in person, too. Twenty years had passed since I first encountered Kelli Randell, but again, I saw teens from conservative families who were struggling with their truth relax in her presence.
She was a safe space for me, too. During times I was barely keeping myself together I’d tuck away in the corner of the bar at Drago. Several different nights the bartender would put a shot of Goldschläger
in front of me and say, “That’s from Kelli.” They don’t even serve liquor at that establishment – just beer and wine. I was there when I needed an escape because my child was so sick I wasn’t sure she’d make it. I was there as I went through an ugly divorce. I was there when I was overwhelmed by putting the pieces of my life back together.
Randy and his husband Danny took me out for drinks to celebrate my divorce. They were out of Goldschläger so he settled for Jägermeister. He stuck a Ken doll in my cleavage and said, “Drink, bitch.” Later in the evening he answered my ringing phone and shouted into it, “She’s free! She never has to see that tiny dick again!” My caller hung up.
I’ve invited everyone around to drag queen brunch or bingo because I wanted them to feel the magic of Kelli Randell and squad. My friends Nicole and I recently scored dresses when Randy was cleaning out his drag closet. I will cherish my dress even more now. Nicole called me the morning after his death to check on me. The news was all over Facebook. Kelli was an icon and trailblazer in the LGBTQ+ community in our area for almost 30 years.
My heart hurts for his daughter Dominique Taylor and, of course, for his beloved husband, who was always by his side. Randy spent his life helping people in and out of drag. He served others in the healthcare field at his “boy job” and raised money endlessly in drag. His face lit up when he talked about the annual fashion show he hosted as Kelli Randell featuring (and benefiting) transgender kids. The world has lost some sparkle.
There’s a mural painted of Kelli Randell in downtown Vero Beach, Florida. Being gay was still taboo in the area in the late 90s when my friends were working through coming out. Now there’s a mural of a drag queen. The artist added a halo to it recently. It’s beautiful.