Seen as a form of fun entertainment by many, drag shows have and continue to hold a much deeper meaning for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Drag performer Shane OnYou, who hosts all-ages drag events at the local LGBTQ+ club Twisted Element, says they’re especially important for younger members of the queer community.
“Speaking from my own experience, there was none of this when I was younger so of course I didn’t come out until I was late into adulthood,” OnYou says.
OnYou emphasizes that the safe spaces and representation these events provide are why they need to continue.
“It’s very important for visibility, just to see that they’re not alone,” he says. “And that there are many more avenues that they can go, even if home is not a safe place.”
However, OnYou says the biggest misconception about drag is that drag performers don’t know how to provide an accurate age rating for their shows.
“For whatever reason, they think we don’t know how to tone it down for an all-age cast,” Onyou says. “We tone it down, if it’s an all-ages show, it’s an all-ages show.”
OnYou says the ignorance and misinformation spread by the protests is unfortunate, but it’s something he’s familiar with after growing up during the 1980s AIDS epidemic.
The difference now is the protests are targeting performers of all ages, including children, which greatly affects their well-being and sense of safety, according to OnYou.
“It scares the kids,” OnYou says. “I’ve lost quite a few performers right now who are just fearful.”
Recently, an all-ages drag event for Calgary’s Chinook Blast, Drag On-Ice, was postponed due to safety concerns caused by the protests, further sparking conversation about their increased presence. The event later went ahead as part of a city-wide show of solidarity.
Karla Marx, co-producer of the show and drag performer, explains that protests against the LGBTQ+ community have been around for years, but were largely ignored by the wider public.
Attention was only brought to the issue after statements from high-profile individuals, like Mayor Jyoti Gondek, condemning demonstrators.
“Within the queer community, this has been escalating since the summer of last year,” Marx says.
“This has been going on for about three years and people have willfully ignored our calls for help.”
In response to the anti-queer protesters, members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community have started counter protesting to protect the events.
Marx says these counter protests are purely defensive and not preferable, emphasizing that the LGBTQ+ community is not political, but their existence is politicized by anti-queer activists.
“It’s time we taught politicians that human rights are not a campaign issue,” Marx says.
OnYou says he hopes that protesters will come to understand that their actions will not stop them from performing.
“I could care less what you believe. What I do hope is that you take it back into your backyards now,” OnYou says. “Because we are not going back into the closet.”