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Sugar House Journal

Salt Lake City part of the global renaissance of drag

Jan 23, 2020 14h25 ● By Drew Crawford

All of the drag queens posing on the stage after the winner is crowned. (Drew Crawford/City Journals)

By Drew Crawford | [email protected]

On Sunday evening, Jan. 19, three drag queens danced under the stage light of Metro Music Hall for the third annual Miss Great Beehive State Drag Pageant. For four hours, 100 people in attendance watched live performances of lip-syncing, fashion, and enjoyed socializing with friends. 

The show, which was hosted by Salt Lake City drag star Gia Bianca Stephens, featured a contest between Cody Rose, Morgana Rhea and Eva Channel Stephens. 

The judges ranged from a panel of former drag artists to Troy Williams, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Utah. They evaluated the performance of the queens in various categories including creative performance, talent, and a Q&A portion. 

“This is my second year of judging,” Williams said. “We’re really in this amazing drag renaissance right now. This is the height of drag globally. We’re seeing drag queens upping their game on a phenomenal level. The art form is just expanding and growing and allowing greater self-expression. The more artistic we are, the more creative we get, the more we celebrate what’s beautiful about life.”

According to Williams, drag is a punk rock approach to gender. The playful style seeks to challenge and provide a system of commentary on the systems of oppression that exist in our culture. 

“When queens and gay boys especially embody these powerful women who have been oppressed by our culture for generations it says something about who we are and who we can become,” Williams said. 

“The idea that women have been oppressed for ages and yet these divas have complete command and control of their lives. So the classic queens that we’ve celebrated whether Judy Garland or Liza Minnelli. These are women who despite insurmountable odds rose to power and prominence. And so we celebrate them by sending them up by exaggerating performances and features and costumes. It’s just part of our culture.”

Notable moments of the pageant included performances of famous popular music, flashy dresses lined with sequins, and dancing that ran the gamut from pop to electronic. 

In between the performances the audience had a chance to watch performances of David Lorence and Savannah VanCartier, the previous winners of the show. Attendees would file up to the stage with dollar bills in their hands giving them to the divas as a reward for their hard work. 

The show ended with an awards ceremony where all the divas took the stage and Cody Rose was crowned winner with a bedazzled foot-tall crown.

As a hostess Gia Bianca Stephens was grateful and appreciative of all of the work that the queens showcased often having to make many personal sacrifices in her own life. 

“I just have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the craft. Drag is one of the biggest investments I’ve taken in my life because people are watching me, my community is watching, and I don’t want to disappoint,” said Stephens who uses she/her pronouns while impersonating women. 

“I love hosting, I love being on the microphone and managing the room. I think with the most part audiences respond positively to positivity. That’s the message I try to carry is that drag is glamorous and fun and can be entertaining, but we’re real people under all these costumes and wigs and makeup and we have genuine fears and passions and desires and dreams. In this setting we get a chance to share that with anyone that’s willing to listen.”

Drag had its beginnings in Utah with the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire. It has been the club, bar, and charitable culture that has allowed the LGTBQ community to be themselves before it was socially acceptable. 

If you want to attend a drag event in Salt Lake City, Stephens hosts themed events at Metro Music Hall and Quorom of the Queens at Tabernacle Social Hall one Sunday a month where she impersonates famous icons such as Pat Benatar.