Local drag queen talks drag brunch, importance of inspiring queer youth

Drag+performers+turn+up+a+performance+for+the+audience+at+a+previous+performance+at+the+Purim+Drag+Show+on+March+10.+A+brunch+event+will+be+held+on+Sunday+at+the+Holiday+Inn+which+will+feature+Drag%2C+food%2C+and+more.

Brigida Dockus

Drag performers turn up a performance for the audience at a previous performance at the Purim Drag Show on March 10. A brunch event will be held on Sunday at the Holiday Inn which will feature Drag, food, and more.

By Carolina Garibay, Staff Writer

Champaign-Urbana is no stranger to drag shows. It’s not too hard to find one taking place in the area, and you’ll often see familiar faces throughout the C-U drag scene.

But this weekend, MyPride365 is taking its drag show a step further with its SERVED! A drag brunch event.

Chris Rodriguez, owner of the gay merchandise company turned event and safe space planning company, said one of the motivations for this event was to help make up for the lack of LGBTQ+ spaces in C-U.

“There are plenty of gay friendly establishments, and we are truly grateful for the acceptance, however, there isn’t an actual gay bar anywhere close,” Rodriguez said.

He said when MyPride365 hosted a similar event in April, some people drove two hours just to attend the event since there aren’t many spaces in the area.

“It is quite shocking with the large queer population in the area,” he said. “Even if a business is gay friendly, it doesn’t mean all of their customers are. In an LGBTQ+ venue, you feel a little more freedom to be yourself.”

That’s the sort of safe environment Rodriguez says he and the performers want to create with the drag brunch.

Jacob Sanders is one of the queens performing this weekend. He’s also heavily involved with MyPride365, which he said allows him to be involved in the planning of experiences that are inclusive of all ages and gender identities and sexualities.

For Sanders, drag became a part of his life early on, specifically through RuPaul’s Drag Race when Sanders was a kid.

“It was a really affirming moment, for me as a queer kid growing up, who really didn’t have any representations or role models in my community that were, gender fluid, or nonbinary or queer,” he said.

Sanders, whose drag name is Just Sue, said he first started performing in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic and is now able to perform more often.

And to Sanders, performing is both an opportunity to do something fun and to express himself while also inspiring other queer people, especially young people.

“I think that if I was a kid and I was able to see drag queens in person being celebrated and being rewarded for their art form,” he said, “I think that would be even more influential than seeing them on TV.”

He said after Chester Street Bar (or C-Street), a former gay bar in Champaign, closed down, it was harder for a lot of LGBTQ+ people to find safe spaces.

“There wasn’t really opportunities for queer people to meet and celebrate just being queer, especially if you’re a child,” he said. “And you’re growing up in kind of the political climate nowadays, which is very volatile against queer students and children.”

He specifically cited the Parental Rights in Education bill (or what opponents have called the “Don’t Say Gay law”), which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in April.

The bill bans teachers from discussing or teaching about LGBTQ+ topics and issues from kindergarten through third grade.

Sanders said being able to participate in something like the drag brunch allows him to have some control over what’s going on in other places throughout the world.

“When I’m thinking about what can I do in this situation, the least that I can do is be a role model for other queer people, other queer children,” he said. “People, especially young people, need spaces where they can explore gender expression and gender identity and be told that it’s OK.”

That’s why he said it was important that this drag brunch was both kid friendly and accessible. This, he said, meant making the brunch a more elegant, fancy experience rather than a provocative, drinking-heavy one that he said is often associated with drag shows.

“We wanted to take what people kind of generally think of as a drag show, and really elevate it to be a luxurious experience,” he said. “We wanted to present durag in a way that made people feel elegant and excited.”

He said the inspiration is also drawn from Black and brown queer people in the 1960s who didn’t have access to the economic mobility and luxurious lifestyle straight, white, cisgender people did.

“They adopted drag personas to feel that elevated, luxurious fantasy,” Sanders said. “We want to bring that fantasy to not just the performers and what they wear, but the audience and what they get to experience.”

Sanders said that he hopes to share this experience with other communities as well and to eventually establish an LGBTQ+ bar in Champaign that could hopefully fill the hole that C-Street left when it closed down.

“I owe Champaign a lot of the reason why I’m so successful today as a local drag queen,” Sanders said. “We want to not only be able to take this experience all over the country, but also have a home bar in Champaign, where people can have family friendly activities in the day in the mornings, and then have nightlife activities in the evenings where people can feel safe.”

SERVED! A Drag Brunch takes place Sunday, June 12 at the Holiday Inn in Champaign at 11:15 a.m. Doors open at 10 a.m. followed by the buffet at 10:30. Tickets are available on the MyPride365 website.