A legendary fundraiser in Houston’s LGBTQ community will be honored on April 20 as part of—what else?—a fundraiser for causes near and dear to the LGBTQ community.
Rusty Mueller, who performs in drag as Crystal Rae Lee Love, will be just the sixth honoree of a “Roast ‘n Toast” benefitting PWA Holiday Charities, says Don Gill, the 1996 honoree. This year, beneficiaries also include Legacy Community Health Services and The ERSICSS Jonathan Smith Emergency Fund.
“Rusty has worked tirelessly for numerous causes and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars with his event organization and entertaining skills,” Gill says.
The tribute will be Mueller’s first time in heels since a cancer scare last fall that required chemotherapy.
“I will [decide] that night what number I will perform. It will be a slow number,” he says.
Mueller, who lives in Montrose, graduated in 1975 from Cy-Fair High School, where he played Marcellus Washburn, a former con man, in The Music Man. (Buddy Hackett was Marcellus in the 1962 movie.) Then in Fiddler on the Roof at Sam Houston State University, Mueller portrayed Motel Kamzoil, who tells Tevye, “Even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness.”
Mueller says his “first taste of drag” was being wowed by Naomi Sims, Hot Chocolate, and Ernestine at the Old Plantation nightclub.
“I was an instant fan,” he says, “and I ended up working there as a bartender. I dabbled in drag for a year or two” before his other half, the late Jerel McNeil, said no.
It would be 15 years before Crystal Rae was born.
“I told Jerel, ‘Look, I gotta try this—I’m not going to be happy if I don’t,’” says Mueller.
After winning several talent-night prizes, Crystal was hired as a regular entertainer at Outlaw’s before moving to Cousin’s, which was the home of the Royal Sovereign and Imperial Court of the Single Star, whose mission is “to sponsor, support, and promote community charitable and educational programs and efforts; to promote and recognize community leaders; and to promote harmony among the people in the community.”
At first, Crystal wanted no part of “the court.”
“I felt that the queens who were a part of it were way too pretentious for my taste,” she says. “I didn’t want to be up there with all that bowing and curtsying.”
However, in 1992, when Crystal agreed to run lights and sound for the court’s show in a hotel ballroom, she says. “I fell in love with it. Sure, there was pretense. We all have egos—I wouldn’t be on stage if I had no ego—but when you see the whole thing, well, I started eating it up.”
A month later, Crystal joined the court, and was given the surname “Lee Love” by her mentor, the late Laura Lee Love, who founded the Houston court.
“Laura was my mama,” says Crystal, who reigned as Empress XI in 1995.
Outside of the court, Crystal counts two of her many honors as most precious: Honorary Miss Mint Julep 2013, at an annual event that raised some $85,000 for HIV-specific needs at Legacy, and Mother of Montrose 2015, a “camp title” that she competed for and won. For the talent category, Crystal dressed as Cruella de Vil and performed “How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?” by Patti Paige.
For more than 28 years, Crystal has championed such causes as HIV/AIDS care, breast cancer and breast-health awareness, and the security and safety of LGBTQ seniors and youth. The Montrose Center, the Krewe of Olympus, and the Texas Gay Rodeo Association are among the groups that have benefitted from her work.
What: Roast’nToast of Crystal Rae Lee Love
When: April 20, 3 PM
Where: Neon Boots Dancehall & Salon
This article appears in the April 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.