One of the best stories to come out of this year’s Pride festivities is a magical proposal that happened during Flip Phone’s sold-out show. The host, trans beauty pageant queen and performer Tygra T. Slarii, was proposed to onstage by her boyfriend, Damon Kelsey, who is also trans.
Last Saturday night, just as Slarii had announced the next performer, a screen masking the stage was raised to reveal not the next act but five people holding signs spelling out her name.
At first, she didn’t know what was going on, and turned her back away from the stage. When she turned around, she saw her boyfriend, holding a microphone.
“I was like, ‘Why are you on stage, Damon?'” she remembers. “I was kind of freaking out. I was kind of panicking. I started crying, and I thought, 'This cannot be what I think it is.'”
The couple met a few years ago, when Slarii was visiting Minneapolis with a friend. They connected on Grindr and hit it off right away, discovering that they had great conversations.
Their relationship bumped a notch when Slarrii landed in the hospital in Omaha two years ago, and Kelsey drove all the way there to visit her. “When I woke up and saw him there—he had a teddy bear and a balloon—I knew that was the guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
While on vacation to the Dominican Republic several months ago for their friends’ wedding, Slarii thought it would be the perfect time to get engaged. “I brought up the conversation, but he didn’t seem all that keen,” she recalls. “I was like, 'Dude! I literally want to spend the rest of my life with you!'”
But Kelsey had already planned to propose to Slarii, which is why he had to change the subject every time she brought it up. “I had planned for months,” he says. Kelsey had cooked up with the scheme with Chad Kampe, producer of Flip Phone.
“We brainstormed how to make this happen,” Kampe says. “I knew it had to be quick, visual, and emotional.”
In a video of the proposal, posted to Facebook by Kampe, you can see the end of Kelsey’s speech, where he tells Slarii he loves her, showers her with compliments, and tells her that he’s been wanting to ask her something for a really long time.
Then, he brings up Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, the Stonewall-era trans rights activists who advocated for trans rights, especially for trans women of color.
“I was like, this cannot be what I think it is,” Slarii says. “But when he brought up Johnson and Rivera, I was like, ‘He is going to propose! He is going to propose!'” Slarii says.
Kelsey says it was tough keeping the secret for so long. “It was difficult because we are best friends and we tell each other everything,” he says. “I had to lie; there’s a Chipotle next to where the rings are. I said, 'I’m going to get some Chipotle.'”
Throughout the whole show everyone gave their congratulations and took pictures, and the good feelings continued the next day, when Slarii was in the Pride parade. “It was an abundance of people letting us know they loved us, and that they were so happy to see our love,” Slarii says. “The gay and trans community embraced us in that moment.”
Kelsey says it was intentional that the proposal would be during Pride. “That’s where we can be ourselves and hold hands without judgment,” he says.
“It was magical,” Slarii says.