Drag queens go digital, with gay bars closed indefinitely due to COVID-19

The closure of bars and clubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left the LGBTQ+ community without spaces to congregate and build community, and drag queens without a stage to perform.

Queens are trying to find ways to keep expressing themselves and make a living remotely

Calgary drag queen Mona Moore is hosting a weekly Instagram live show to share facts about coronavirus and positive community stories. Performers are finding ways to move their art online as bars and clubs remain closed due to the pandemic. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Shantay you stay — at home, that is.

The closure of bars and clubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left the LGBTQ+ community without spaces to congregate and build community, and drag queens without a stage to perform.

For Mona Moore, a Calgary queen and winner of Miss Canada Continental 2020, that means instead of slaying the crowd at drag brunches she's hosting a weekly Instagram live session to share facts and information about coronavirus.

"OK, I'm going to use the term COVID-19, to be a little bit more businesswoman fish," she says in a recent video, brushing her hair out of her face before launching into the latest numbers and stories of people helping their neighbours, inspired by another strong woman — Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Moore supplements her performing income by working as a flight attendant with Sunwing. She was laid off April 1.

She's filling her time by working on sewing and rhinestoning her costumes and using her online shows to stay positive.

A 'means to express ourselves'

"Those bars and those event spaces, those are our means to express ourselves," she said. "It was very exciting to get into full drag and do a little show for everybody [on Instagram]."

She's not the only performer who's been forced to get creative. 

Glamorous Legends of Calgary, who host a weekly screening of RuPaul's Drag Race, have moved to hosting an online chat show to recap each episode after it airs on Fridays. They welcome tips through Paypal or e-transfer, which are split between the artists hosting. 

But others are struggling to find a way to shift their art online and with unknowns about just how long closures will last, its left them in a financially precarious position.

"There's quite a few entertainers, not just drag queens, we're all in a bind," said Terri Stevens, who has been a full-time drag queen for more than 35 years.

Terri Stevens has been a full-time drag performer for decades. She's lost all her upcoming gigs due to COVID-19. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Stevens has lost all of her upcoming private gigs, and her four-day-a-week stint at Calgary bar Twisted Element. She hasn't jumped into online performance, yet.

"I do know one person, and no names shall be named, they did it but their video got pulled almost immediately from Facebook for copyright infringement for the music," she said.

While superstar queens like Trixie Mattel and Katya have popularized the art, many queens make low wages and craft their costumes by hand, at their own expense.

Gemma Nye, the event organizer for Party Queens, an Edmonton drag talent agency, said pivoting to online shows has been easier for younger queens but harder for some founding members of the community who don't already have an online presence to rely on.

Nye said Edmonton's sole gay bar, Evolution, is the primary space LGBTQ+ people gather in the city.

"Having a space like that taken away due to the bar ban, it's really detrimental to people," she said.

Edmonton drag queen Gemma Nye says some younger performers have found it easier to move their art online, as they have already established a fan base on social media. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

An online fundraiser is raising money to support queens in the city without a space to perform, with a portion of the funds going to support the bar during its extended closure.

And in the meantime, Nye said she hopes queens are able to support each other and keep expressing themselves online.

"Doing shows like this will encourage people to stay in because it gives us something to do," she said.

"Obviously, it's nothing compared to the real thing … but we're just trying to keep people hopeful. We're not going to give up."


With files from Audrey Neveu


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