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arts community events

Queer and here: Behind the scenes with the drag queens

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Drag queens tend to be the face of queer pride events, local drag artist Santana Sword said. That statement perfectly sums up the perception of Bloomington’s queer pride event this Saturday. Pridefest took over Kirkwood Avenue, pride flags lining the street and adorning people’s faces and clothing. 

Pridefest acts as the largest community gathering for LGBTQ+ individuals in and around Bloomington, with guests ranging from children to college students to grandparents. For three hour-long blocks during the celebrations, the main stage is taken over by drag artists from throughout the Midwest. Attendees swarm the surrounding area to catch a glimpse of their stunning performances. 

“I think Pride[fest] is really important,” Santana Sword said. “It’s one of those events that transcends regular shows.” 

The event is a special occasion for drag performers in particular, giving them a larger audience to showcase themselves and their art. Instead of performing at a gay bar or similar venue, these queens and kings are given a larger space for teenagers and college students to see the art of drag. 

“I prefer Bloomington pride because of this [college aged] crowd,” Sword said. “Who knows what kids at IU couldn’t do this in their hometown for whatever reason. I think that’s very special and important.” 

[RELATED: Through glitter and sweat, Bloomington Pridefest celebrates the LGBTQ+ community]

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A collection of flags decorates the street Aug. 26, 2023, on Kirkwood Avenue. The festival ended with a Grand Finale Show at 9 p.m., featuring drag performer Jasmine Kennedie at Poindexter. Audrey Engel

A couple of drag artists decided to spread messages about the history of pride through their performances, especially for folks who may not have had the opportunity to learn about it before. Sword used her performance to discuss the history of queer pride. 

“I chose to do pride this year to remind everyone where pride came from,” she said. “It was a riot and it was anti-cop.” 

She infused her first performance with those sentiments, holding up a pig mask while lip-syncing to “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. 

Drag king BeezleBabe lip-synced to a mix about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to a public office in California. He performed key moments from Milk’s speeches about the importance of coming out, encouraging the audience to live out and proud. 

In order to create complex pieces like BeezleBabe’s tribute, drag artists must spend countless hours curating their act. Universe DeLa Crusis, an Indiana drag queen, recognized the weeks of preparation that go into planning her performances for the Pridefest stage.  

“Regardless of where you go, each gig is special,” DeLa Crusis said. “You have to think about how to please a crowd and you have to know your crowd.” 

Their craft takes effort and care to perfect, oftentimes all by themselves. 

“My favorite part about my specific drag is bringing my ideas to life,” DeLa Crusis said. “95 percent of the costumes I wear, I make, without any knowledge on how to sew.”  

She attributes her ability to create these garments to YouTube tutorials. Nevertheless, her outfits were stunning, from a Little Mermaid-inspired gown to a silver, sparkly bodysuit. 

[RELATED: COLUMN: Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’ is a beautifully dark trek through Heaven and Hell]

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Carla Jackson is photographed Aug. 26, 2023, at PrideFest on Kirkwood Avenue. Jackson wore several pride bracelets, rainbow earrings, and pins in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.  Audrey Engel

With the audience growing larger each year, it’s easy to feel the pressure to give everything they have to create an outstanding experience for attendees. Six years ago, Pat Yo Weave, a local drag queen, began hosting Bloomington Pridefest after her best friend, Argenta Perón, couldn’t make it. 

“I don’t think I was quite ready for it,” Pat said. “The costume changes, the hair changes, the amount of people, it’s a lot.” 

Pat emphasized the joy she infuses into every performance she gives.  

“With there being so much negativity in the world, I have a moment where I can throw out joy to everybody,” she said. “I love that I can just give you all the love that I have and just allow you to give it to somebody else.” 

Queer pride, until it is fully protected for all letters of the LGBTQ+ community, will always be a protest. With a rise in anti-trans and anti-drag legislation, drag performers and drag supporters alike are pushed to protect this beautiful art form.  

“I just want to remind everybody that what we’re doing is not a crime,” Pat said. “When it’s done, this [makeup] gets all washed off and I become just a normal person you see walking down the street.” 

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