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The fight for the tiara: Donald Trump, who owns the Miss Universe pageant, stands in the way of a new drag pageant, Miss Gay Universe.

Donald Trump is in trouble with another big-haired blond. Like all the other buxom blonds who land Trump in the news, this one's also a fox, namely drag performer Lauren Fox. When not in costume, Fox is Ben Kuhns, a 44-year-old interior designer from Buffalo, N.Y. But it's Lauren Fox who is butting heads with Trump's lawyers.

To hear Kuhns tell it, this is a David and Goliath story about greed and intimidation, hinging largely on the outrageously campy question of whether straight people can tell the difference between drag queens and beauty pageant contestants.

Trump is an owner of the trademark for the Miss Universe pageant. But figuring their pageant was a whole different kettle of fish, Kuhns and two business partners have for the past three years been working to secure the trademark for a drag contest they want to call Miss Gay Universe. The idea came to them four years ago, when a young drag starlet won all the gold tiaras on her eligible drag show circuit and didn't have anywhere left to strut her stuff. "This friend of ours was still young, in her early 30s," kuhns says. "We thought it was a shame to waste her talent."

Kuhns and his business partners envisioned sponsoring the mother of all drag shows: Miss Gay Universe. To be eligible, contestants would have to have won a major drag title within the past five years. The group hoped to woo up to 60 contestants for what Kuhns says would be the biggest drag competition in the world. They even scheduled a date for the first pageant, slating it for November 2002, to come at the end of the pageant cycle and thus act as the circuit's big finale.

But then the "threats and intimidation," as Kuhns calls them, started arriving in the mail.

The repeated letters came from Andrea Calvaruso, an attorney with the New York City law firm Donovan and Yee LLP. She wrote that Kuhns's application for a Miss Gay Universe trademark "constitutes trademark infringement and dilution... unfair competition, and falsely suggests... that our client [Trump] has sponsored, authorized, or was otherwise connected" with Miss Gay Universe. Calls by The Advocate to Calvaruso were not returned. The letters demanded that Kuhns immediately stop his application for a trademark or face legal action.

While Kuhns and his partners had to cancel last year's hoped-for mega drag event, Kuhns continued to pursue a trademark, and he has confidently rescheduled the pageant for the first weekend in November of this year. In a partial victory for Kuhns, his application wound its way through the final stages at the federal Patent and Trade-mark Office, completing what the office calls "final review" June 5. It has been scheduled to be published for public comment, which could include opposition to the trademark, July 15.

A call by The Advocate to Jeffrey Fosdick, the representative at the trademark office who helped Kuhns through the process, was not returned, and a spokesperson for the Patent and Trademark Office says the agency would not comment on the matter.

Kuhns says that during the long review process for his application, the red flags raised were not with respect to infringement on the Miss Universe trademark. Instead, he says, the agency asked him to provide documentation that Miss Gay Universe would not be confused with other drag pageants.

Susan Hollander, who heads the trademarks department at the Palo Alto, Calif., branch of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips, says that once a trademark application has completed final review, "it means the [Patent and Trademark Office] has reviewed all other trademarks and found no confusingly similar registered marks. So when the trademark office was reviewing this, if they didn't think there was a problem between the two marks [Miss Universe and Miss Gay Universe], that's a big point in [Kuhns's] favor." She also says that if other pageant and drag shows coexist--such as Miss USA and Miss Gay USA--that too could help Kuhns.

Once the final review is published, however, the public has 30 to 60 days to comment on the proposed trademark and oppose it. If that happens--and there seems no doubt that lawyers for the Miss Universe trademark will do so--then the case goes to a judge within the Patent and Trademark Office, says Justin Hughes, a professor at New York City's Cardozo School of Law and a former attorney with the federal trademark office. There, it will be incumbent on the owners of the Miss Universe trademark to prove that the Miss Gay Universe mark is confusingly similar. Even if Kuhns loses the case, his mark can be used "in commerce," whereupon Trump would have to sue again. If the situation is not settled before the November pageant date, Hughes says, the lawyers for Miss Universe will have to seek a court injunction if they want to stop the show.

That notion stirs fury in the defiant Kuhns. "Doesn't Donald Trump have enough money and power?" he says. "Does he have to come after some poor drag queens just looking to have a little fun?"

Neither Hollander nor Hughes would speculate on the outcome of the case. Hollander points to how the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1987 successfully blocked the use of the name "Gay Olympics" for what is now called the Gay Games. But Hughes points to the success of Mrs. Fields, the cookie baker, when that trademark was opposed by Marshall Field's department stores. "This is a real tough case," he says. "It could go either way. I think it's too close to call."

But Kuhns just doesn't see how he can lose. For him, there's incredible irony in the notion that the average person wouldn't be able to tell the difference between contestants for Miss Gay Universe and Miss Universe. As he puts it, "We'll be the ones with bigger hair, bigger boobs, and three times bigger shoes."

Dahir also writes for Redbook.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Culture
Author:Dahir, Mubarak
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 22, 2003
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