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Student-hosted drag showcase shines spotlight on self-expression, LGBTQ+ advocacy

Third-year public affairs student Flora Decor (June Paniouchkine), alumnus DIVOS and alumnus LØRELEI (left to right) perform a drag showcase in the Royce Rehearsal Room. The charity event was hosted by Bimbos Theatre Co. and the Student Committee for the Arts at UCLA on Tuesday evening. (Courtesy of Nicole Tacher)

By Maya Vibhakar

Nov. 29, 2023 3:41 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 30 at 7:52 p.m. 

Sequins and self-expression were on display as drag queens strutted in Royce Hall.

Bimbos Theatre Co. and the Student Committee for the Arts at UCLA hosted a drag showcase for charity Tuesday evening in the Royce Rehearsal Room. Three Bruin drag queens took the spotlight: alumnus DIVOS, alumnus LØRELEI and third-year public affairs student Flora Decor (June Paniouchkine).

After the first performance from all three drag queens, set to Troye Sivan’s “One Of Your Girls,” the stage was filled with a stream of thigh-high stilettos, vibrant wigs and even glittery UCLA apparel. Flora Decor arrived in a pink tutu and corset, while LØRELEI donned a black leather slit skirt. DIVOS introduced her outfit as a redesigned Alexander McQueen runway piece that had been airbrushed and fitted with rhinestones.

[Related: ‘We can be powerful’: Bimbos Theatre Co. creates female-led space in theater]

Under the blue-tinted lights, Flora Decor did the first solo lip-sync – a dramatic rendition of the “Victorious” hit “Take a Hint” that had the audience cheering. LØRELEI followed with two original rock ballads and a leap off the audience bleachers into the splits. DIVOS’ performances included a lip-sync to a Lady Gaga medley and a comedic parody of anti-drag criticism.

Between performances, audience members were invited onstage to participate in various competitions, including racing to see who could name the “gayest establishments in West Hollywood” and guessing how many cosmetic products were on DIVOS’ face. The answer: 28! Kaity Cairo, a third-year theater student and co-founder of Bimbos, and Cole Sitilides, a third-year theater student and the Bimbos’ development manager, performed a lip-sync battle to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” while the drag queens changed outfits.

When it came to organizing the show, third-year theater student and Bimbos co-founder Trystan Forson said putting on a drag showcase aligned perfectly with the theater company’s mission of promoting femininity and self-confidence.

“Bimbos was created on the foundation that we can be girly and empowered,” Forson said. “And I think that’s important to uphold within all spaces of self-expression (and) performance. … That’s our aim, and I think we’ve done it tonight.”

Along with cultivating an inclusive space for performers, the showcase also aimed to introduce drag to the UCLA community, Sitilides said. For the people on campus who haven’t experienced a drag performance before, he said he hopes the showcase will allow them to experience and embrace an art form they are unfamiliar with.

Second-year psychology student Jennifer Garcia, who was in the audience, said she heard about the showcase on Bruin Walk and decided to come, since growing up in a small town, she’d never seen a drag show. Fellow attendee Rista White, a second-year cognitive science student, said she also had never attended a drag show but expressed her excitement about the performances.

“A lot of people probably are like me that have never seen anything like this before,” White said. “It’s good to just broaden our worldviews. There’s so many talented UCLA students, so it’s cool to see everyone’s distinct hobbies and passions.”

The drag showcase also functioned as a fundraiser with a goal to raise $1,000 in support of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drag Defense Fund. In addition to combating the nationwide censorship of drag queens, the ACLU Drag Defense Fund helps fund courtroom battles, advocate for state-level legislation and fight LGBTQ+ suppression in classrooms. Sitilides said he believes this fund is crucial because LGBTQ+ spaces have been facing more negative pressure with the recent overturning of progressive legislation.

“At this point in America, drag is being restricted across a lot of states,” Sitilides said. “Historically, and even now today, the LGBTQ community has been an easy scapegoat and an easy target. … The ACLU Drag Defense Fund was created out of an understanding that protecting drag is protecting the gateway to self-expression for all LGBTQ individuals.”

[Related: Act III Theatre Ensemble discusses representing the queer experience on stage]

Onstage, DIVOS also highlighted the ACLU Drag Defense Fund and the importance of fighting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. While the drag community has been facing recent attacks, DIVOS said it is necessary to acknowledge how the trans community has been disproportionately affected by anti-trans hate. Though drag queens like herself get to take off their personas, DIVOS said it is important to remember that not everyone who does drag gets to take it off. Highlighting the LGBTQ+ community, she said advocacy for trans individuals and individuals who don’t conform to the gender they were assigned at birth is critical.

As pop music blared and outfits sparked, donations to the Drag Defense Fund increased throughout the evening. While Sitilides said it was important to remember the anti-drag and anti-trans legislation passed in recent months, he also emphasized that the showcase was an expression of inclusivity and pride.

“We felt that this was the time to celebrate the art of drag,” Sitilides said. “We are in love with the power of womanhood and femininity, and we believe that anybody should be able to express that as they see fit.”

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Maya Vibhakar
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