A rainbow of Utah LGBTQ+ experience, all featured on a vodka label

Ogden’s Own Distillery chooses five role models for its annual Five Husbands Vodka label.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Five LGBTQ+ heroes have been selected for the 2022 label for Five Husbands Vodka, from left: Madazon Can-Can, Bryce Jackson, Matt Easton, Chef Bryan Woolley and Christian Harvey aka "Hoe Shi Minh" , on Monday, May 16, 2022.

The five people selected for the 2022 label of Ogden’s Own Distillery’s Five Husbands Vodka said they were a bit apprehensive about meeting for the first time.

It didn’t take long before they were finishing each other’s sentences.

As Bryce Jackson, co-founder of the nonprofit LGBTQ+ sports league Stonewall Sports described it, “we were all getting ready for the photo shoot at the distillery,” Jackson said, “and we just …”

“Vibed!” interrupted Madazon Can-Can, a burlesque performer and drag king who bills themself as “a nonbinary transmasculine human.”

The other three “husbands” on this year’s label — chosen as role models for advancing LGBTQ+ equality and visibility — are Matt Easton, who in 2019 made headlines when he came out during his valedictorian speech at Brigham Young University; Bryan Woolley, better known as Chef Bryan on KUTV and KMYU; and Christian Harvey, also known as drag performer Hoe Shi Minh.

The distillery has been a longtime supporter of Utah Pride, said CEO Mark Fine, and used to have a float in the Utah Pride Parade. “Many times we dressed up guys as the five wives in those retro 1890s costumes,” Fine said. “And then someone said, ‘Why don’t you do a five husbands label?’ And we said, ‘Oh! That’s a cool idea!’”

Ogden’s Own started the Five Husbands label in 2019, a variation on their Five Wives Vodka, whose name is a comedic riff on Utah’s polygamist history. Five Wives was introduced in 2011, and made national headlines in 2012 when the state of Idaho refused to sell the product because they deemed the label offensive. (The Five Wives label features an image of the Barrison sisters, a 19th-century vaudeville act from Copenhagen known as “the wickedest girls in the world”; the photo showed the sisters lifting their skirts to reveal their bloomers — and the kittens they were holding over their private areas.)

The first Five Husbands’ label, in 2019, featured images of Ogden’s Own employees — including founder Steve Conlin. “We Photoshopped their face onto a sexy, muscular, almost naked body,” Fine said, “and then we took a play off the wives’ label, where instead of kittens, they would have a rooster.”

The idea of celebrating LGBTQ+ community heroes started in 2021.

“We were trying to drive some people to apply, but we wanted to keep it open, and let it be organic,” said Manny Garcia, the distillery’s marketing manager. “We were just excited to start using real people.”

The husbands picked for the 2022 label said they were a bit nervous to meet one another at first.

Easton, who now is working toward his doctorate at the University of California-Berkeley, said he grew up watching Chef Bryan on TV with his mom. “My mom might be more excited than I am about this,” he said. “And I’m really excited!”

Jackson said he looked up everyone on social media before the first photo shoot, but he knew there can be a huge gap between an Instagram account and the person who posts to it, and didn’t know what to expect.

Woolley said his anxious moment came when he had to approach his employer, KUTV, about being on the label, since he is contractually bound with them — and KUTV’s corporate owner, Sinclair Broadcasting, has a national reputation for being politically conservative.

“But it was awesome. They were so excited,” he said. “The news director, when he found out, said, ‘We’re doing a story on this — get me back room photos from the shoot.’”

Harvey’s reaction was: “Oh, my God. So I guess I am doing something right! And it was honoring. We need more representation, especially for a Utah brand.”

Harvey has been suspicious about corporations’ efforts to wrap themselves in rainbows every June. “During Pride, everyone puts on a rainbow flag, and it’s like ‘Congrats — we did it,’ and then it’s over, and everyone’s like change it back, right?,” Harvey said. “[Ogden’s Own’s] slogan is ‘Celebrate Pride all year long.’ And I’m glad to be part of that. Because I’m not just gay in June.”

Can-Can said they didn’t initially apply to be one of the husbands — they emailed Joseph Cancilla, who does media and photography for Ogden’s Own, about making sure the label truly represented the LGBTQ+ community.

“I reached out and said, ‘You need to include non-binary and trans people, or you’re doing a disservice to the community,’” they said. “He responded, ‘I don’t know whose ear you’ve been in, but we’ve been talking about you, and we’d love for you to apply.’”

When Can-Can found out they had been chosen as one of the husbands, “I was super emotional. I really strive to be seen in my trans masculinity … it was really gratifying, and when I got the call. I was just so moved, because I don’t know if there’s ever been a trans-human on liquor bottles.”

They added that people from the trans community have reached out after finding out about the bottle, an experience that the other husbands have had, too.

“People have seen us on the bottle, and have said, ‘How can we support this?’ My friend [is] throwing a party this weekend, and she’s like, ‘I just want to give out bottles to everyone,’” Jackson said.

“Yeah. I have a long list of people that said that I will be in trouble if I don’t sign their bottles,” Harvey said. “So I’ll be carrying a Sharpie with me, always.”

The 2022 Five Husbands Vodka will be available in state liquor stores beginning in June, and will be available all year long, of course — not just during Pride. The back label features a QR code that links to videos of each husband telling their life story.

The five husbands have become fast friends, Jackson said.

“We just connected,” Jackson said. “We have a group chat. Madazon has helped out with Stonewall, at our ceremony for dodgeball, and that was amazing. I always see Hoe Chi Minh performing at Why Kiki, as well. And Bryan’s going to cook dinner for us one of these days.”

Easton, who will be in Utah through the end of June before returning to Berkeley, added: “We’re definitely gonna have to play a lot. Because we’re husbands now. Husbands are family.”

Woolley said the label is a way for these five LGBTQ+ champions to tell their story, “to let others know that you’re not alone.”

“You are important, and you are loved,” Woolley said. “Regardless of what people around you say, it doesn’t matter because there are others in your exact same shoes who have succeeded in life, and who have moved forward and are happy and want you to be happy,” Woolley said. “Every story that I listened to, there was truly an echo in there that you’re OK, you’re here, you’re just fine, and move forward, be happy.”

Meet the husbands

A launch of the 2022 Five Husbands Vodka — with all five of the people on the label appearing in person.

Where • Ogden’s Own Distillery, 615 Stockton Way, Ogden.

When • Friday, June 10, 4 to 9 p.m.

Appearances • All five “husbands” will be available for photos and bottle signings. Madazon Can-Can and Ho Shi Minh will perform at the distillery’s Side Bar from 7 to 9 p.m.

Drinks • Special cocktails will be served at Side Bar, starting at 4 p.m.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.