What does a drag show mean to Tyler’s LBGTQ community?

Drag queen Acadia Nicole Davenport entertains spectators at a drag show in Tyler July 31 at Mosaic Venues. 📷 all photos by Jess Hale

East Texas LBGTQ organized a drag show Saturday, July 31, at Mosaic Venues in downtown Tyler. The event hosted four drag queens and a hoop dancer. With a full room, East Texas locals displayed the support and enthusiasm they hold for LGBTQ art forms. 

Nineteen year old Layne Dollar, a newcomer to the Tyler area, spearheaded the event organizing drag performers from across the south to attend.

Leading up the event, Dollar explained why he wanted to see the event come to fruition.

“I really just wanted to get something started out here. I’ve never hosted a show before. Trying to find queens as a baby queen [a drag queen just beginning their career] is kind of hard. Overall, we don’t know the outcome of the show or how many people will attend.”

With the help of his drag mother [a drag queen who is a mentor to individuals joining the drag scene], Dollar organized the drag queens by connecting with them through social media. 

Dollar would like to see more events similar to the drag show in Tyler’s future. He credits the elder LGBTQ members of Tyler for their hard work in organizing and retaining a sense of community.

“Where there’s a root, there’s growth. People have already pioneered the way for us to take more steps forward. The Tyler LGBT community does have growing to do, but I am excited to see the younger generations be a part of that.”

Chloe Jacobs was among the drag queens featured at the July 31 show at Mosaic Venues in downtown Tyler.

Dollar said younger LGBTQ members can attribute much to their older mentors. “They’re the ones who have created these support groups that we have now. They’re the ones who have established a solidified nonprofit here, like the Tyler Area Gays.

“I think the younger generations are not afraid. Growing up in this culture, we have a lot more acceptance and we also have the resources. The older LGBTQ community here in Tyler is the reason we have those resources.”

Dollar says the way to further growth is through events like the drag show. “We can grow from being out and being bold. Identity is in our culture and our community,” he said. 

Dollar describes drag as an LGBTQ art form, creating acceptance for even non-LGBTQ members to participate. 

Recalling a favorite quote from RuPaul, Dollar said, “‘We are all born naked and the rest is drag.’ Everyday people put on makeup, jewelry and it’s just self-expression. Drag is self-expression and it is an act of defiance.”

Dollar said drag culture is expanding to include a wider audience of interested people. “We have trans people and even cisgender, straight men who are beginning to participate in drag culture,” he said. 

To Dollar, being a drag queen has helped him gain self confidence and solidify his identity. “As an individual, it’s made me not care as much. I was very sheltered growing up. I was kicked out two months after my 18th birthday.”

After that, Dollar continued to experiment while hiding his feelings. “My mom took me in and it was a struggle with her for me to even wear makeup. She asked me, ‘Are you going to do drag?’ I told her, ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’ even when I had every intention of doing it. 

Drag queen Savvy Savant Duvall performs at the July 31 drag show in Tyler. “Drag has made me not care about what people say as much,” said Layne Dollar, the event organizer.

“It had been drilled into my head that being gay is wrong, in the biblical sense. I was very much within myself, I wasn’t fond of expressing my queerness in any way. I was very ashamed of it at first.”

Dollar said drag has been an important part of letting go of others’ scrutiny. “Drag has made me not care about what people say as much. You know, we don’t question Van Gogh or Picasso as to why they painted what they painted. I feel like I shouldn’t be questioned as to why I perform and do the art that I do.” 

East Texan Courtney Boaz said the drag show created a sense of community. She sees a shift from homophobic culture to more acceptance in Tyler. 

“In the past couple of years, people have moved into the area that are more open-minded. I think that events like these really are needed so that we do feel safe and that we feel like we do have a community that surrounds us.

Eyza Lashay Duvall dances for an attentive crowd at a drag show in Tyler July 31. “I think the schools and community at large don’t have a lot of safe spaces for the queer community,” said participant Courtney Boaz.

“There’s a lot of stigma around the LGBTQ community, and I think that this is just a really cool way to celebrate and for us to have a safe space. Religion condemns homosexuality and I think that it’s really difficult for us to find safety here. 

“We face discrimination in every area. I think that for a long time there have been people that have power and money that kept us from being able to have community.”

According to Boaz, support for Tyler’s LGBTQ youth is necessary for future generations. 

“I think the schools and community at large don’t have a lot of safe spaces for the queer community. I really want to see more outreach for queer youth letting them know that they’re normal, loved and valid,” she said. 

Jess Hale is a lifelong East Texan born in Nacogdoches and graduated from Waskom High School in 2016. She is also an alumnus of Kilgore College and currently a senior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. In the past, Jess has been involved with community events such as Longview LGBT Pride Festival, UNSCENE Shreveport, and efforts to organize community involvement around pro-choice issues. Jess hopes to share reproductive health options and access to people in East Texas, as well as the importance of sex education.

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