Denver drag queens say they’re on high alert after nationwide anti-drag rhetoric rises

DENVER — When Ms. Jessica glues on her eyelashes, ties up a pair of heels and carefully places her wig, her goal is to make a difference in someone’s life that day.

Jessica, a drag queen in Denver, knows that if she grew up with other drag queens or just LGBTQ+ people living authentically, she could have kissed a lot sooner.

Now an adult who performs at kid-friendly and adult-friendly events, Jessica hopes to be the person she wished she had as a child.

“If I had had more accepting parents who placed me in spaces or environments where queer people were more present, I probably could have saved a lot of time to find out who I was supposed to be in the first place,” said Jessica. “It probably would have saved me 10-15 years of trauma and self-hatred if I had had role models or even known about drag.”

A Denver drag performer, Jessica said she feels lucky to be in a state with progressive drag and LGBTQ+ laws, but has always faced vitriol during her performances, in especially when working with children.

Notably, after attending a literacy event at Rocky Top Middle School in Thornton, Jessica was met with backlash from parents who felt her presence was inappropriate for children. The school then changed the way it notified parents of guest speakers.

Yet Jessica’s kid-friendly events center around anti-bullying, self-acceptance and acceptance of those who are different from you, which she says is not only an appropriate lesson but an essential one. for kids.

“When kids see drag performers or any type of performer, they’re open to a discovery of possibilities, and if they’re meant to find that as a job, a hobby, or an identity, they’re going to find that no matter what. so be it,” Jessica said. “We are just role models helping to influence something that is going to happen anyway.”

Republican lawmakers in Texas, Florida and Arizona have bill to ban children from drag shows some lawmakers threatening to involve law enforcement when children are in the presence of drag performers.

Drag queens across the country also met protesters. In a recent incident in San Francisco, members of the far-right Proud Boys, interrupted a drag queen reading event.

Although Colorado is often portrayed as a progressive and tolerant state, Jessica said she frequently deals with protesters at her events, although she described them as “not as extreme as you might see in other places.” other states”. During Pride Month, the Denver Botanical Gardens abruptly canceled a drag queen storytime event. Supporters say it was due to the hateful comments and emails the Gardens received; the Denver Botanical Gardens did not respond to Colorado Newsline’s request for comment.

[Related: Colorado drag queen events face online hate and protests, leading to cancellations]

While drag performers have always ensured that family events include appropriate language and attire, Jessica said performers are now on extremely high alert to avoid harassment from those who are not. disagree with their expression.

“It’s not that we weren’t aware of it before, but I feel like we’re being watched with a microscope for every little thing that people can use as reason to support what’s going on,” he said. said Jessica.

Samora Kash said families who have come to her kid-friendly events have been nothing but supportive, which she considers a luxury when so many artists are harassed.

After Jessica’s show on Sunday at Hamburger Mary’s, several fans said the drag hatred was a distraction meant to divide people.

“There’s so many other things that people take advantage of, so they find a way to divide us and say ‘the fight is over,'” Denver resident Taylor Dobson said. “That’s all it is.”

Another fan, Meghan Nutting, said drag and other mediums are just that: a way for people who don’t fit traditional molds to express themselves without fear.

“You can be whoever you want, you can dress up or down, wear a wig or not, be straight or gay or in between,” Nutting said. “People are afraid of people who aren’t exactly like them, which is a shame, because people who aren’t exactly like you are interesting.”

Samora Kash, another drag queen on the Sunday show, said families who have come to her kid-friendly events have been nothing but supportive, which she considers a luxury when so many performers are harassed.

“I love that energy and I love being around kids, so it’s sad that’s the dynamic we live in,” Kash said of the negativity surrounding drag performers. “It’s ultimately about promoting love, peace and joy and giving it back, because I know there’s so much negativity in the world.”

Ultimately, Kash thinks the negativity comes from a place of misunderstanding.

“I think people have the wrong idea what it is or they’ve never been to a drag show, they only know what they see or what they hear,” said Cash. “I find that disheartening, because if people would come out and understand how hard we work and what an art form it is and everything that we put into what we do, I think it should have meaningful to everyone.”


Alison Berg is a multimedia reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at alisonberg@rmpbs.org.

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