Does Pageantry Have a Place in a Modern Texas Beekeepers Assn?

If you believe that our young people hold the future in their hands, then you must also believe that we must empower them to take the reigns of industry and power and represent that future to the world around us. Our young people must demonstrate to the world that our industry is vibrant and productive. They must bring the message that beekeepers are open for business. They should be knowledgeable and competent. And they should have our full faith and support in carrying these messages for us.

With these things in mind, let’s start a marketing program. In this program, we will only allow young adult women to act as our spokesperson. But not just any women. These women mustn’t be married. You know how busy married women can be. That’s why she must also not be pregnant. Imagine how impossible it would be to work with a woman with a child, so she mustn’t have ever been pregnant either. As long as we’re at it, we don’t want young women who have been divorced. That shows a lack of commitment in a person, right? Of course, we don’t want any shacking up either. And by young women, we only mean between the ages of 17 and 24. We obviously want pretty women, not some old woman. Beekeeping is complicated, so we should also exclude young women who dropped out of high school. Again, lack of commitment, you know?

We should have a knowledgeable spokesperson, so we’ll quiz applicants about bees and beekeeping. After all, we don’t want our marketing programming to look like a beauty pageant, do we? Still, we should dress up the candidates in fancy dresses. And she should wear a sash, but again, we don’t want this to look like a beauty pageant, so we’ll call the sash a “banner” instead. And there has to be a tiara, since we will call her the Queen. Of course.

Welcome to 1955

While you may find the proposal above old-fashioned, out-dated, and absurd, the sad news is that these rules are real. I didn’t make up a single one of them. These are the largely unpublished rules behind the Texas Honey Queen Program, operated by the Texas Beekeepers Association.

Let’s count the ways this program discriminates.

  1. Young men are denied the opportunity to participate.
  2. Women older than 24 are excluded
  3. Married women are excluded
  4. Divorced women are excluded
  5. Pregnant women are excluded
  6. Women with children are excluded
  7. Women who have lost children are excluded
  8. Women who have co-habitated with a man are excluded
  9. High school drop outs are excluded

The question that we face now, in 2018, is what justification can we mount to excuse these discriminatory practices? The Honey Queen look-and-feel accomplishes a marketing purpose – the visibility is high and distinctive. But is the imagery of a pageant what our industry association needs in promoting beekeeping?

We should take a close and careful look at the core values of Texas Beekeepers Association. We should question why, even today, we lack a serious statement of equality and non-discrimination for our group. We must question whether it is our place to make judgements of how a young adult is to live their private life with regard to marriage, raising a family, etc.

Beekeeping is challenging, but it is also one of the few occupations that requires no formal education whatsoever. No license. No degree. No certificate. Nothing, not even a high school diploma. So shouldn’t we embrace the high school drop out who comes willing to learn and work? Is beekeeping not an excellent solution for that young person who has perhaps made mistakes in schooling? At our regional beekeeping association (Coastal Bend Beekeepers Association (Corpus Christi, TX)), I say bring on the high school drop outs! We will teach them our trade and make them productive!

If the young people are to carry our banner and speak for us, should they not reflect the membership in every manner? Of course they should.

The Texas Honey Queen Program

“The Texas Honey Queen acts as the official spokesperson for the Texas Beekeepers Association to promote all aspects of the Beekeeping Industry. The Texas Honey Queen is available for interviews, personal appearances, and is prepared to give presentations to local community groups.”

This official description of the Texas Honey Queen summarizes the purpose of the program. It is not a youth program at all. It is a marketing program, though the Queens and Princesses are selected from youth Honey Queen programs across the state. How are they selected? And who selects them? That’s much more difficult to answer. We know that TBA and other Queen program administrators preach again and again that the programs are not pageants. It’s clear why they must preach this, because of all the pageantry that is clearly part of the programs: the fancy dresses, the sash/”banner”, the tiara, etc. But in fact, they’re selected by their performance on knowledge based presentations and their skill in delivering them. The criteria are quite important to the program. It’s the pageantry that isn’t important at all.

And who selects the Queens? The Queen Committee selects queens, and that’s the limit of what we know. There is no list of committee members anywhere on the TBA web page. There are no minutes of committee meetings found on the web site. The meetings are not announced anywhere. Only the Chair of the committee is named in any way whatsoever. Nowhere is there a list of Queen activities, either past or planned.

The Texas Honey Queen Program operates quietly in closed door meetings (like much of TBA business). Who funds the program? TBA does. At the 2017 fall business meeting, the financial reports state that $5056.71 was spent on Honey Queen expenses from a fund that held $23,132.47 at the end of the report. This is roughly twice what the program reportedly generated in donations to the fund. The 2016 year-end report did not itemize the Queen program budget at all, but provided the fund balance.

Like many aspects of TBA, the membership is blissfully unaware of how and where their money is spent on the Queen program. Certainly, some is used to pay for travel for the program. And of course, the Queens are not volunteers. We do know they’re compensated, but exactly how is a mystery. A “Queen Scholarship” is mentioned in a few corners of official statements, but how much money is spent on this compensation is never mentioned. Are the Queens paid employees? Independent contractors? Or simply scholarship awardees? These numbers are not available to mere TBA members.

The Future is Within Our Sight

What does the future hold for the Texas Honey Queen Program? TBA seems set on continuing the program in its current form. TBA board member, and Publications Director, Chris Doggett explained at a local club meeting that the program is necessary in order to enable the young ladies to compete at the national level, called the National Honey Queen and operated by the American Beekeeping Federation. And certainly that is true, and an important component for the candidates. Without a state program, the young ladies would be ineligible to compete for the national titles. Is that good enough? That’s the question that TBA must answer.

At the same local meeting, Doggett acknowledged that the program does not offer equal opportunities for young men, but he pointed out that such programs do exist in the state (as youth programs only at this time). The East Texas Beekeepers Association (Tyler, TX) operates a Honey Queen/Ambassador program in which young men may compete for the title Honey Ambassador. Obviously, nobody advocates for the fellows to be called Honey Queen. The East Texas Beekeepers program nevertheless provides access to their program for young men to compete.

The Brazos Valley Beekeepers Association (Bryan, TX) considered the formation of a Honey Queen program and (at least as of this time) declined to begin a program. Instead, they propose to simply add “Honey Queen”-activities to their extremely successful and robust youth program. This has the benefit of pushing many young people into the community to carry our message. This increases the diversity of beekeepers that interact with the public, and sends the message that beekeeping is, indeed, for everyone.

Significantly, the Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association (Dallas, TX) has recently formed a Honey Ambassador Program, completely inclusive of all young people who wish to compete. Young men or young women will compete for a single title: Honey Bee Ambassador. Perfect equality.

There are other programs for young people to put beekeeping on display for all to see. In 2017, the Coastal Bend Beekeepers brought a 4H student to speak in Corpus Christi, TX. His story was about his very successful project in 4H that saw a couple of colonies turn into 40+ in just a couple of years. He came without any title whatsoever, but spoke with authority to a room of 140+ members of the community. 4H is a world-wide program with a clear and stated commitment to equality and equal opportunity for all young people. The program cultivates leaders. What better program could we possibly seek to mimic?

As the beekeeping industry moves into the future, the role of young people will determine the success of the industry in general. Historically, beekeeping enterprises are handed down inside a few families. But today, we’re seeing fantastic growth of new beekeepers. Many of those will wash out when they learn that beekeeping is WORK, but a few will stay. Some will build their own enterprise. And a few will carry our message to the world, that the beekeeping industry is strong and vibrant, that we’re open for business, and that beekeeping is for everyone.

Author: Dennis Gray

Small honey producer and pollination provider headquartered in the Coastal Bend of Texas. We provide service from Uvalde to the RGV and across the Texas coast to Sabine County. We sell honey and rent pollination bees. Our premium products include Ross Rounds and Guajillo and Cotton honey. We also provide hive rentals for the purpose of ag valuation for property owners.

3 thoughts on “Does Pageantry Have a Place in a Modern Texas Beekeepers Assn?”

  1. I know this is not the popular (PR) position, but I find myself pretty much in total agreement with Dennis on this issue. I find the program to be sexist, exclusionary, and very closed. I recognize that the Honey Queen does good (even great) things. But to me, that is not enough to make up for the problem of what the program IS.
    I know it’s not the popular position – but I don’t like it.

    I do have 1 kind of minor correction for the article: My club (Brazos Valley Beekeepers) has never considered starting a Honey Queen program. It has never come up at any club meeting or board meeting. I DO appreciate his recognition of what our youth program has turned into. 😀

    1. The consideration of a Queen program by BVBA evidently was not a formal board-level discussion. It was between a few board members or regular members and was never presented at a higher level. That it was a non-starter, supports your view that BVBA already has better options with the youth program. Thanks for clarifying that for us Chris.

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