Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bad Blood in Belleville

Velvet Love, the reigning Queen of Metro East Pride, poured all she had into the Metro East Pride fundraiser at Club Escapade. She packed the venue with friends and family and bought $400 worth of shots for the audience. When she asked to say a few words MEPSI President Sarah Sowell said no, only the emcee could speak. Then, when the audience wanted an encore from Love, Sowell cut her off at the pass. "Nevermind. Lady Luscious has got it. We don't need you." 

With that Love removed her crown and handed it to Sowell. "Here. Take the crown. I don't want to be part of this anymore."   

To call Sarah Sowell polarizing would be an understatement. Past board members call her the biggest bully around, and point out the irony of her work with anti-bullying campaigns. 

Sowell stepped down as president during the 2012 Pride event where she took the stage and announced her retirement, but said she would remain the "executive board member," a position that doesn't exist in the bylaws. 

When her successor John Kreisel began his term he was met with Sowell's demands. "You need to include me on everything" she instructed. 

Kreisel and the board didn't acquiesce, and tensions continued to rise as the organization sought to grow the event beyond its roots as a block party for Club Escapade. Members sought to include other Metro East establishments including Bubby & Sissy's and Boxers, and to hold fundraisers, which turned out to quite lucrative, in St. Louis. 

Twice during Kreisel's term Sowell attempted to get back on the board. After the board unanimously rejected her first attempt she tried again at a meeting held in the dining room of Kriesel's classic Craftsman bungalow. Even though her own nephew was on the board, the vote was once again unanimous in opposing her return. The livid Sowell cried and things became personal when she confronted her nephew about his vote. 

The elegant John Kriesel was cautious about revisiting his time with the organization, but offered the following: 

"I really enjoyed my time there, mostly, but the actions of certain individuals and the need to be so closely associated with a for-profit business made me uncomfortable."

Tensions only escalated after Allen Irby took the helm, when Sowell and Club Escapade owners, livid at the organization's outreach efforts to other businesses, began a campaign of posting negative comments about the leadership. 

When the mayor offered to allow the festival to expand from three to five blocks, and move the stage to the fountain, which is the crown jewel of the town, Irby jumped on the opportunity. 

"[Escapade owner] Harold called me from his lake house, drunk as a skunk, yelling about us moving 'his' stage." Irby recalled, going on to equate his rant about the stage to Gollum's rants about the precious. 

"It's not his stage. He didn't pay for it!"

Former board member Bob Baker didn't mince words when it came to Sowell. 

"As a member of MEPSI's board of directors, I was able to watch Sarah Sowell quietly cause turmoil within the board, and one by one, members of the board left amidst the drama. This was her well calculated plan so that she could replace the board with her own followers. Those that held her up on a pedestal and worshipped the ground she walked on. For Sarah, it's all about power and control. Now because of her, MEPSI will never be the same until once again she is removed from the board, and never allowed to participate again. Then and only then can MEPSI regain the respect that this organization once had within the LGBT community."

Adam Kaemmerer/ Olivia DeMornay
The nightmare still isn't over for former president Adam Kaemmerer, who only months ago had to yet again address Sowell's accusations of forgery and embezzlement when they were made an issue for his mother at the local school district where she worked. 

Kaemmerer served as a volunteer for five years and received a community service award from the organization before being asked to join the board. After Irby left Kaemmerer was asked to take the reigns, but from day one Sowell was the elephant in the room. 

"We [the board] met with the owners of Escapade, trying to mend fences, and they said 'Before we go any farther, Sarah Sowell must be involved as an adviser." 

As a show of good faith the board agreed, and soon all meetings were being held at Sowell's home. 

"She put on a great mask" Kaemmerer begins. "She was always saying how much she liked me and how I was such an asset to the organization." 

The board decided to bring Sowell back as a voting member, and soon she began to question the use of petty cash as well as other ways in which the board handled money and banking. 

One Sunday in February Sowell called an emergency meeting during a time when everyone knew Kaemmerer was at work. Former VP Jason Lewis recalled Sowell making the case that Kaemmerer had to leave immediately. 

"I wasn't agreeing with what they were saying" Lewis begins. "She was saying he committed fraud and was forging checks, and I knew that wasn't true." 

Like the others, Lewis described Sowell as a bully, but said he wasn't having it. 

"I was the only drag queen on the board and I was going to speak my mind!"

In the end, though, one by one the board voted to remove Kaemmerer and replace him with Sowell. Lewis was the only dissenter with a "Fuck no!" vote that sealed his fate as well. 

Despite all the years of service, the owners of Escapade immediately blocked Kaemmerer on Facebook, effectively slamming the door in his face, and he still struggles with the rumors about his character. 

When the latest rumor hit his mother at work, Kaemmerer left a message on Sowell's cell phone threatening legal action if this continued. 

"I didn't do anything wrong, and haven't had so much as a police officer visit my house."

Sarah Sowell did not return my request for an interview. When I asked Kaemmerer how she'd likely respond to the airing of these accusations he said, "She's always the victim, despite the fact she's the source of all the turmoil. Publicly she's going to want to be rocked to sleep and comforted. Privately she's going to plot revenge." 

Despite everything, Kaemmerer would like to see the organization succeed, and would go back, on one condition: "They'd have to clear the whole board and start over." 

Any such resolution seems highly unlikely. There were discussions in the past about alternating the event between Belleville and Alton, but Sowell and Escapade wouldn't even accept the stage being moved around the corner, and moved it back to the bar at the first opportunity. 

"Despite the lofty name, Metro East Pride is really nothing more than a block party for Escapades" Allen Irby lamented. 


A Facebook group calling for a boycott of MEPSI and Club Escapade was created. 


  1. Please tell us who you are quoting and who you're credible sources are? Because this sounds like a day time tv drama story all because said drag queen didn't get her way.
    To call someone out so publicly as a reporter with out telling us your credible sources and who you are quoting is your self seem to be the biggest bully in this by reporting this story that will ruin other reputations with out fact checking your story.

  2. Three former MEPSI presidents, one former MEPSI VP and one former board member are named and quoted above.

  3. This is a great venue. I was here for a party and there was so much food and it was all done so well! The decor and food both were amazing. Personally, I think the space is laid out really well and the size of the venue NYC keeps pulling great parties.