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Drag artists in Louisville celebrate their Black and LGBTQ identities

Parade participants walk down Preston Street toward the Big Four Lawn on Friday, June 15.
Parade participants walk down Preston Street toward the Big Four Lawn on Friday, June 15.

Representation for Black LGTBQ people is often lacking in media, despite the community’s cultural impact.

Black LGTBQ people from the underground ballroom scene have helped usher in many trends in fashion, music and dance. They’ve also played important roles in social justice efforts — Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, was a prominent figure in the gay rights movement, and Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man, was a leader in the fight for Civil Rights.

One reason the community struggles to get proper recognition and representation stems from the complexity of existing within different marginalized identities. 

“As a queer, Black group, like, we’re already in a weird box,” “said Sapphire Rose, a drag performer in Louisville. “You go outside and get what you get as a Black person, and then you add on top I’m queer, as well, and you have to deal with both those struggles.”

Elijah V. Halston, a local drag king, wanted to help fill that void in representation.

Earlier this month, he hosted a special Juneteenth show at Play Louisville, a local LGBTQ and drag venue. It featured all Black drag performers.

“This has to be done because sometimes we’re pushed to the back and we forget who we are,” Halston said

Performers, like Diana Ellis, said the event created a space where Black members of the LGBTQ community could feel safe and showcase their art.

“The vibe in the back with all the entertainers was like one big family,” said Ellis, who regularly performs at Play Louisville.

Ellis said she hopes productions like the Juneteenth show can help to ensure Black artists get the praise they deserve.

The erasure faced by the community throughout history continues to this day, Ellis said, noting how white people are often awarded for work that was pioneered by Black people and other people of color.

“My whole thing is why is society so quick to basically applaud something that is watered down and whitewashed, versus the truth or what is right there in front of you?” Ellis said. 

ShaLyric Monae, who’s been doing drag for almost a year, said when she first started attending shows, it was rare to see one that featured so many Black drag artists.

Attendees shared positive messages with performers after the Juneteenth show, saying how much they appreciated its representation.

“Being able to have the younger youth underneath me see stuff I didn’t see a couple of years ago, it feels like it's already changing for the community,” Monae said.

Despite the difficulties associated with being both Black and part of the LGBTQ community, the Juneteenth performers said it’s important to celebrate their identities.

Sapphire Rose, who performed at the show, said Pride and Juneteenth can help connect people and relieve feelings of isolation. 

“If you don’t sit there and celebrate and use your art and express yourself in different ways, then you just kind of get caught up in being a part of the system and just being oppressed in every single way,” she said.

When Halston originally pitched the Juneteenth show, he wanted to highlight the talent of local Black drag artists so others could recognize it.

He hopes the positive response he’s gotten from performers and attendees alike is evidence that he achieved that goal.

“A lot of people said that it needs to happen on more than just on Juneteenth, because Black excellence should be shown more often,” Halston said.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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