Public Media Arts Hub

LGBTQ community works to bring acceptance and joy amid increasing threats


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: This has been a year of increasing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the United States, threats and attacks on drag events and queer spaces, including the deadly attack in Colorado Springs last month, all of this while new data from The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that aims to prevent LGBTQ suicide, found more than 50 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth in the U.S. seriously considered suicide this year.

Amna Nawaz has our look at how many in the queer community are working to bring acceptance and joy, despite the pain.

Amna Nawaz: States proposed a record number of anti-LGBTQ legislation this year, with more already planned for 2023.

A few of those bills have specifically targeted drag events, most recently in Texas, where a second bill introduced in the state legislature aims to ban minors from attending drag shows and restrict drag artists and transgender people from public performances.

But despite conservatives and far right attempts to shut down drag, those within the LGBTQ community are keeping it alive and visible.

Eureka O'Hara is a drag star doing just that, a former contestant on "RuPaul's Drag Race" and co-host of the HBO series "We're Here."

Eureka O'Hara joins us now. Welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for joining us.

Eureka O'Hara, Co-Host, "We're Here": Yes, thank you for having me.

Amna Nawaz: So the show "We're Here" basically goes into small towns across the country to put on a drag show.

For anyone who hasn't had a chance to see it yet, Eureka, just explained to us a little bit, what is the mission you and your co-hosts are on?

Eureka O'Hara: Yes, I mean, I think the mission mostly is to put a spotlight on small-town queer existence and support.

The biggest part of our show is that we tell stories of either these queer people or their allies and their experiences in these situations and living in this space. And what we do is, we put on a one-time drag show that we put a performance on around their story.

We invite that town and the people living there to come and support. And what we do is, we show those people maybe how much support they have that they don't realize. Sometimes, we do get pushback, so people get to see what the real pushback and discrimination is that's happening in these towns for these people as well.

So, we get to kind of live a little bit of their life and see what it is like to exist queer in their communities.

Amna Nawaz: So, this third season starts off in Texas. And before you even got there, you faced a huge backlash.

There were anti-LGBTQ messages and homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, threats of violence online. Has that always been there, or was this response something different?

Eureka O'Hara: You know, we have always gotten a little pushback, because I think that, when you come into such a non-liberal area and a place that is not used to having something so out there and visibly queer, that we do get a little pushback.

But I do feel like, recently, more than ever, due to political support and outward-speaking people have power against LGBT people, that people are being more vocal and more visibly discriminatory.

Amna Nawaz: When you go into these spaces, what does that mean for you and your safety?

Eureka O'Hara: Well, honestly, it just makes us take more precaution for our safety. We had to have security more than ever.

But, also, it gives us more of a drive to exist and more of a drive to do what we're doing. At the end of the day, like, without us becoming more visible, and without us pushing past all of this negative rhetoric, we are only hurting ourselves if we don't push even harder.

So, all it does is give me more strength and more will to continue the work that we're doing and continue to show positive visibility for not just queer people, trans people, but, of course, also drag entertainment.

At the end of the day, that's what we are. And I realize that drag is becoming more visible, but I also feel like they're using drag and that legislation to not necessarily target drag people, but more so shadow-target trans people, which are the people that are going to be more directly affected by some of the imagery or the presenting yourself as the opposite sex of your cis-born gender, which is really the biggest issue, I think, because, at the end of the day, drag has existed even before it was legal.

It's kind of that rebellious act is what drag is all about. It's about the standing up and representing a part of yourself that you're always told to hide.

Amna Nawaz: There are a number of Republicans, self-described conservatives, who argue that drag is something to be feared.

We have heard this before for some far right voices. They say that it indoctrinates and sexualizes children. What do you say to people for whom that message resonates?

Eureka O'Hara: Well, I think that people automatically are being brainwashed with fear tactic.

And that's often what happens when it comes to people trying to get people on their side when they have an opposing opinion from the norm, right? To say that you should fear drag, it makes no sense. I mean, most drag queens don't necessarily want to work or perform for children. Not all drag queens want to do that.

There are some situations where we do drag story our or we allow all ages to come to a drag brunch show during a daytime event. But it's all within legal standing. And, of course, again, that's a parental right whether or not they allow that child to attend. And if you have a queer child that doesn't get exposed to difference and LGBT parts of their community, I feel like it's a parent's right to give them an opportunity to be around people that are more like them, to learn from that environment.

It's not something that we're petitioning or going on missions for to, like, convince and teach children the differences in queer existence and heteronormative existence. That's not our agenda.

Amna Nawaz: Eureka, before I let you go, I have to ask. You are -- you yourself are from a small town in Tennessee, which is not unlike many of the towns that you go into now on this show on HBO.

What has drag meant for you? What place does it hold in your life?

Eureka O'Hara: I mean, for me, it taught me how to be my authentic self.

It gave me confidence to exist in a world where, as a 6'4'', overly flamboyant, young, queer male at the time, growing up, I didn't understand who I was or where I existed or belonged in the world. And drag gave me a reason to belong, and it gave me a reason to exist. And it gave me a platform for myself to be that person for other people to learn who they can be and fight for who they are and their confidence in existing can do for them emotionally, spiritually.

I'm just like anyone else. I believe in God. I pay my taxes. I take care of my family. I have a niece and nephew that don't have their parents. So, me and my twin sister take care of them. I make sure that they go to school, that they have everything they need, school supplies. My niece is actually recognizing herself as bisexual. And these laws could potentially affect her in the future.

So that's putting me at fear. Are my children -- because they are my children in my heart, even though they're my niece and nephew -- are they at risk because of your opposing opinion and the laws that you're trying to push? That's my fear.

Amna Nawaz: That is Eureka O'Hara, co-host of the HBO series "We're Here."

Thank you so much for your time.

Eureka O'Hara: Thank you.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.