Monday, May 27, 2024

‘We’re here to stay’: Why drag is critical in the US and sometimes safer abroad

Must read

To say that eight drag queens standing in front of the White House in full glam on May 6 was a momentous occasion for LGBTQ+ rights is an understatement given the climate for queer representation in 2024. 

Of the 25 anti-drag performance bills proposed across the states, 14 were defeated, eight were introduced and two are advancing this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union

Two states, Tennessee and Montana, have already banned drag performances.

“Drag is like being a superhero. You know what I mean? We’re changing lives,” Jorgeous, who is raising funds for the National Alliance of Mental Illness this season, told USA TODAY. “I know without drag, I probably wouldn’t be here today, literally. Drag saved my life and it could do the same thing for others.”

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9 – Angeria Paris VanMicheals, Gottmik, Jorgeous, Nina West, Plastique Tiara, Roxxxy Andrews, Shannel and Vanessa Vanjie – stopped in Washington, D.C., for a premiere screening of the season’s first episode and a conversation with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. 

“Pay attention,” Jean-Pierre told the group at The Little Gay Pub in Washington. “Pay attention to what’s going on because our freedoms will be taken away.” This season’s theme of “queens save the world,” aims to showcase the power of drag with the queens competing on behalf of their chosen charity. 

‘You guys are not afraid of this?’: Why some travelers are skipping the US

Shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Dragula” and “We’re Here” have shone a light on the world of drag in the U.S. But increased attention can beget hate and sometimes it’s safer to be a drag queen abroad than at home.  

“When I did a tour a couple of years ago, Christmas tour, at every stop we made there were bomb threats, Proud Boys were showing up at every single stop and it made me just kind of go like I can’t believe this is where I live. I can’t believe this is my country,” Nina West, who is raising funds for The Trevor Project, said.

Is it safer to be a drag queen and perform abroad than in the US? 

Traveling for work looks different when there are congressional efforts to ban your art form and profession. The vitriol espoused against drag queens by politicians, extremist groups and extremist right-wing media have real-life consequences for performers. 

For Shannel, who’s been doing drag for 29 years and raising funds for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, safety and staffing now play a part in the bookings she accepts. 

A fellow performer recounted to her the verbal abuse he received during a Tennessee booking where protesters verbally assaulted Shannel’s friend to the point that “he said he was not doing this again, and had I had, you know, more people behind me keeping me safe, it would have been a different situation.”

Vanessa Vanjie, who is raising funds for the ASPCA, mentioned things didn’t quite feel right in Tennessee either when rideshare requests were consistently canceled and she “started to feel like, you know, for the first time like I’m not safe … and we can’t leave that hotel without people looking at us crazy.”

It becomes even more daunting when not only what you do is criminalized but who you are is also persecuted. 

“We’re super lucky to be able to live in a country where we’re like fighting every single day for our rights and to be who we are. But at the same time, strong community that’s ready to fight and stand up for who we are every day. And no matter who’s in office, no matter what happens, we are not going anywhere, and we’re gonna continue to be us. But worldwide it’s crazy,” said Gottmik, the first out transgender man to compete on Drag Race.

A report by IGLA World found there are 13 countries with laws where trans people are essentially criminalized. Furthermore, 64 countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality.

“As a trans person, I can’t even go to some of the places in the world that some of my friends will go because it’s literally illegal for me to get booked there – like I can’t even go. My friends have gotten held at security for going there for being trans,” Gottmik, who is raising funds for Trans Lifeline, added. “It’s really important for us, in America to stand up and fight legislation that’s against drag Queens and gay people or, you know, like literally anyone that’s just trying to be themselves.” 

Even so, some places might even offer a haven from American anti-drag sentiment. 

“I feel like a lot of times when I go places, a lot of places kind of feel a lot safer, honestly, than even the U.S. I remember going to Australia and New Zealand and it was so safe there,” Angeria Paris Vanmichael, who is raising funds for National Black Justice Coalition, said. 

Roxxxy Andrews, who is raising funds for Miracle of Love, explained that it often takes work on the backend from their management teams to ensure their safety and wellbeing. “We’re usually very well taken care of where we’re going and you know there’s precautions and stuff like that, so people wouldn’t put us in danger,” she said.

Whether it’s abroad or at home, the queens expressed a sense of duty to meet the moment when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Gathered around Jean-Pierre, the cast wanted to know how they could effectively use their platforms to fight against political attacks on their community.

“There’s a responsibility specifically right now,” Nina West said of the importance of traveling and supporting the local drag shows. “Think about the girls who have the shows (in places like Tennessee) … I think it’s really important that girls like us get to show up and support them.”

Making a difference through civic action

This season, the contestants will compete for a prize of $200,000 for their chose charity, in addition to $10,000 for each week’s challenge winner. The grand prize will be provided by The Palette Fund, a private foundation dedicated to advancing change in under-resourced.

During the season premiere screening in Washington, the cast opened up about each of their charities – some of which had representatives from the organizations in the audience – explaining the importance of supporting their work in order to have a strong and civically engaged LGBTQ community. 

“I believe that drag queens and trans people have been in the front lines for many protests throughout the years for the LGBTQIA+ community, so I think that’s why, they think that if they take drag things down, then the rest of the kingdom community will fall, too. And that’s not the case. We’re here to stay and we’re here to inspire,” Plastique Tiara, who is raising funds for The Asian American Foundation, said.

Season 9 of “All Stars” will begin on May 17 on Paramount+ with a two-episode season premiere.

Latest article