At Florida International University’s annual drag show this past Friday in the Graham Center Ballrooms, the pride flags were flying, the clapping was thunderous, and the use of “Yas queen” was abundant.
The show included quite a few not-so-subtle nods to a series of anti-LGBTQ+ laws being passed by the Florida legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of the most notable being the “Parental Rights Education Bill” also dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”
A bill that prohibits public school teachers in Florida from holding classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity for students in kindergarten through the third grade. And in March of this year, DeSantis proposed amending the bill to include fourth through twelfth grades.
More than 200 students attended the event, which included a talented line-up of drag performers from all over South Florida as well as host Athena Dion, who is not only an FIU alum, but a drag queen and host of the popular R House Wynwood Drag Brunches.
“It’s my fourth year doing the show, and for me to have graduated in 2011 and to now be back is definitely a full-circle moment,” says Dion. “If I was in school now and I saw me on stage, I would have been like, oh my God, this is amazing. But I didn’t see that. So for me to be able to do that for somebody else is really cool.”
The night was full of dancing, extravagant sequined and light-up outfits and even some acrobatics. The queens performed hits like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Ariana Grande’s “Break Free.” The cherries on top of their performances were the mid-song costume changes/ reveals.
Drag King Spikey Van Dykey performed a rock-inspired version of Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer” while wearing a feline bodysuit and face paint. Van Dykey ended the performance by placing a circular saw on a guitar, causing sparks to literally fly.
It’s hard to get a crowd’s undivided attention, but these kings and queens had everyone at the edge of their seats. In between numbers, the crowd was treated to Athena Dion’s improvised bits.
For Bad Papi, a non-binary drag king whose performance was riddled with political commentary, the actions of the state of Florida represent a troubling future for the LGBTQ community.
“It’s extremely dangerous what the state is doing,” says Bad Papi, “they’re basically promoting trans genocide.”
The annual drag show is the Pride Student Union’s biggest event of the year. It takes time, organization and careful planning. The union’s event organizer, David Taveras, emphasized the importance of hosting a drag show on a college campus at a time when educational freedoms are a central target for Florida politicians.
“Drag shows are the epitome of self love,” said Taveras. “And when the performers show that self love, they represent our community, what we want, and how we want to see ourselves as happy and loving people.”