It's taken awhile to get here, but we've finally made it to the top of our BellinghamKOMO's Most Fascinating People list. Although the top two spots were pretty close (with Dr. Debra Akre and Jeanna King coming in second), one Bellingham icon took the cake as the most nominated person for our list.
While many people know Betty Desire from her shows at Rumors Cabaret and the Copper Hog, or as the herald of the Bellingham Pride Parade, or the driving force behind the Betty Pages, there's more to Betty than meets the eye. Much more.
Matt Endrizzi, 57, is a Western Washington native. Whatcom County has long been the family home, he said, although he graduated from Mt. Vernon High School.
Before Betty was an omnipresent part of Bellingham, Endrizzi was laying the roots for his own community in Ferndale. He opened "Matt's Place" in downtown Ferndale in the 90s, which became the coffee shop of choice for many, especially people who felt out of place.
The point of Matt's Place, Endrizzi said, was to take his mind off his own inner struggle and help others with theirs. Instead, it had almost the opposite effect, accelerating his coming-out process.
"They ended up being my sounding board," Endrizzi said.
Endrizzi was married with children when he came out. It wasn't an easy process. Growing up, he said he was taught that success was measured by getting married, having kids, and buying a house. Coming out as a gay man didn't exactly fit into that box.
"I did everything I possibly could to avoid coming out," Endrizzi said. "I spent 30 years of my life the guinea pig of every prayer group and Evangelist I could find."
Eventually, he said, cheered on by his friends at Matt's place, Endrizzi came out as a gay man--and his life hasn't been the same since.
"It was like getting a boulder off my chest when I finally realized I was going to be who I was," he said. "And if that meant I was going to fall in love with a man instead of a woman, so be it."
During his coming-out process, Endrizzi said, Rumors was one of the few places he felt safe and welcome. It was there that Betty Desire took root, growing from just a summer feature to a weekly event.
Endrizzi had always been interested in drama and theatre, and had acting experience. When he saw people sitting alone at the bar, he said there needed to be some sort of ice breaker--a friend for everyone, alone or not.
"Betty's job was to wander around and find someone sitting by themselves and start up a conversation," Endrizzi said. "The make-up helps. You've got the protection of the mask."
When the wig and make up go on, a different person emerges. Betty, as a character, Endrizzi said, is a lot more out-going than he is. Betty's the partier, the social butterfly, the star of the show.
"I really enjoy the freedom I have to be expressive and fun and vibrant as Betty," Endrizzi said. "I have a lot more leeway as Betty to just be crazy than I would if I was in my boy clothes as an eccentric 57-year-old gay man. And I use that, I enjoy it thoroughly."
Endrizzi, both as Betty and not, has made a huge impact on Bellingham's LGBT community. Being an active and visible part of the community, and a beacon of acceptance for people who maybe struggling with their own coming out process.
"The hardest part of coming out in general is how your family and friends handle it," Endrizzi said. "There are still people, even in 2012, who are ostracized from their families when they come out as gay, and that's really hard for me."
The Betty Pages, the Queer Family Picnic, and the Pride Parade are just a few of the community activities Endrizzi has been involved with to help Bellingham and it's resident support the LGBT community.
"No one ever thought we could have a Pride Parade in Bellingham. No one thought the City would go for it," Endrizzi said. "But then again, no one ever asked them either."
Having wrapped up its 7th year in July, the week-long Bellingham Pride festival could end up being one of Endrizzi's most lasting legacies. In 2011, then-Mayor Dan Pike, mayoral candidate Kelli Linville and Washington State Representative Kevin Ranker all participated in the parade, along with dozens of other residents and organizations.
The annual event couldn't happen without the support of the Pride Committee, Endrizzi said. The parade and the Betty Pages are two of the things he'll always be most proud of.
"I love it," he said. "I feel that I am making an impact in the community and as long as that's the case, I'll want to keep doing Betty."
Twenty years ago, if you'd asked him if he could see himself standing in a bar on a Monday night, wearing a wig, dress and makeup, and about to sing to a crowd of bar patrons, the answer, he said, is no, not at all.
"But that was then, and this is now," he said. "Life's too short to be miserable."
While Endrizzi himself said he's not quite sure what he's done to earn a spot on our list, the answer is clear to many.
In the words of one reader: "Betty and the people she introduces to the audience provide the opportunity to open minds and hearts to the fact that we are not as different as we seem, but all human, in fact, with much to offer one another."