Gary LeRoy Allinger and Onofre Duran, who is known as JR, first spotted each other during a bus tour of bars in Las Vegas that each had taken in December 2007.
“I was smitten immediately,” Mr. Allinger said, after their eyes had locked. “He looked up at me from under his Stetson cowboy hat with the most amazing smile and brown and hazel eyes.”
Each was in Vegas with his own chapter of the Imperial Court System, a nonprofit fund-raising organization that supports L.G.B.T. communities, for an annual coronation event. The two men were introduced by a mutual friend but didn’t interact past the introduction. It would be nearly a year, on Nov. 2, 2008, that they would see each other again. This time they were in Dallas, where Mr. Duran lived.
“We met the old-fashioned way — in a bar,” said Mr. Allinger, a professional drag queen with the stage name Penny Cilyn, who was living in Omaha.
Mr. Allinger was in Dallas to attend Mr. Duran’s stepping down as the reigning emperor of the United Court of the Lone-Star Empire, a chapter of the Imperial Court System, a charity organization that includes among its membership drag queens and drag performances. The group elects an emperor and an empress who serve as fund-raising chairs.
“We were celebrating their year of fund-raising for their community,” Mr. Allinger said.
The day after the event, both attended a party at the Dallas Eagle, a gay bar. “We finally spoke to each other and explored our interest in each other,” Mr. Allinger said.
“We kept making eye contact from across the bar and finally summoned up the courage to speak,” added Mr. Duran. “There were immediate sparks and a connection.”
But they lost contact after returning home — not for lack of interest, but for lack of a correct email. “I thought I had found JR’s email address from an email that was sent from the Dallas chapter to the I.C.S. email group,” Mr. Allinger said. “Turns out it was the wrong one. It was a friend of JR’s instead, but they didn’t know who I was so never forwarded it.”
In March 2009, they ran into each other again in Tulsa, Okla., at another Imperial Court coronation.
“We reignited that spark we found when we first met in Dallas,” Mr. Allinger said. “It was an intense connection.” This time they exchanged phone numbers and correct emails.
After returning home, they spoke daily and visited each other almost every weekend, despite the 10-hour drive.
“We also coordinated to meet at other coronations around the country for other chapters of our organization,” Mr. Allinger said. “We found every way possible to see each other as much as possible while dating long distance.”
After 10 months, “We finally had ‘that talk,’ and I decided to move from Omaha to Dallas so we could be together and explore this relationship full speed,” Mr. Allinger said.
Mr. Allinger, 50, originally from Le Claire, Iowa, works remotely in sales and marketing for a health care company. He has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Northern Iowa and a master’s degree in education from the University of Nebraska.
Mr. Duran, originally from Albuquerque, is the accounts payable manager for the property management company Westdale Investment Properties, which is based in Dallas.
On March 12, 2022, the 13th anniversary of making their relationship official, Mr. Duran proposed. Mr. Allinger and his best friend Billy Thompson, appearing as their drag personas Penny Cilyn and Italy Nicole Jenkins, respectively, were guest M.C.’s for a drag event in Austin, Texas. Mr. Duran was a surprise performer.
Mr. Allinger was asked onstage when Mr. Duran was to lip-sync, as part of the night’s drag show. Midway through the song, Mr. Duran presented Mr. Allinger with two dozen long-stem, red roses. “I still had not caught on,” Mr. Allinger said. “I am in full drag and it is not uncommon for a queen to get flowers, after all.”
When the song ended, Mr. Allinger said, “I was crying and so in love with how sweet he had just been, this is when my bestie hands him the microphone and he goes to one knee and presents the engagement ring.”
The two were wed on New Year’s Eve at the Doubletree Campbell Center in Dallas by the Rev. Royal D. Bush, a friend of the couple and a chaplain formerly of Inclusive Life in Omaha, with 300 guests attending from across the country.
“New Year’s Eve has always been very special for us,” Mr. Allinger said. “We love the energy behind celebrating the year and bringing in a New Year with those we love.”
During the ceremony, Mr. Allinger surprised Mr. Duran by serenading him with “It’s Your Song,” by Garth Brooks. Wedding rings were presented to each family to bless before being exchanged. The couple also brought unity candles to their mothers to light before joining the flames.
“This was the first time in our 13-year relationship that our mothers had met each other and were in the same room along with each of our brothers and sisters-in-laws,” Mr. Duran said. His nephew and cousins where also there to celebrate.
Mr. Allinger was surprised by friends with performances of “We Are Family” and “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” which he then performed with them.
Some of the groomsman surprised Mr. Duran with “I Will Survive,” which he also then took part in performing.
At midnight, more than 1,000 balloons dropped from the ceiling and guests popped them on the dance floor. “It sounded just like fireworks,” Mr. Allinger said. “Our friends dubbed it ‘the wedding of the century.’”