PHOTOS: ‘A Drag Queen Christmas’ wraps in Clearwater under scrutiny

ABOVE: “A Drag Queen Christmas” at Ruth Eckerd Hall Dec. 29. Photo by Christopher Gorman. Editor’s Note: This story was updated Jan. 3 with Ruth Eckerd Hall’s response.

CLEARWATER, Fla. | “A Drag Queen Christmas” wrapped its 36-city tour at Ruth Eckerd Hall Dec. 29, welcoming supporters amid scrutiny from protestors and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The eighth annual holiday show, produced by Drag Fans and starring “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum, began in Michigan Nov. 16 and concluded with four Florida stops Dec. 26-29. DeSantis first targeted the event after its Fort Lauderdale show via the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The agency, which allegedly received complaints about the tour, is charged with licensing and regulating Florida businesses and professionals. In Central Florida, officials threatened to revoke the license of The Plaza Live in a letter Dec. 28, which hosted the show in Orlando before its Clearwater conclusion.

REH, which has a long history of LGBTQ inclusion, received a similar letter from Melanie S. Griffin, secretary of business and professional regulation. “The Department has reason to believe that this drag show is of a sexual nature, involving the exposure of exhibition of sexual organs, simulated sexual activity, and/or the sexualization of children’s stories,” it reads.

“The Department has also become aware that drag shows by Drag Fans have been marketed to and attended by minors, including young children,” the letter continues. “Sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance.”

The department subsequently threatened REH’s license should children attend, noting “it is your obligation to ensure that minors are prohibited.” The event had previously been marketed as 18+.

REH had heightened security measures to ensure the safety of both performers and attendees, checking IDs and more. Protestors gathered at McMullen Booth Rd. to condemn attendance as a long line of cars entered the venue. Supporters far outnumbered the protesters.

Christopher Gorman, a Come OUT St. Pete board member who attended after winning Watermark’s ticket giveaway, estimated there were 25 protesters.

They were “most likely the same 25 people at all the other shows, spewing the same nonsense rhetoric as always,” he says. “They had the same signs and the same message as the other protests at other events, however, they were DRASTICALLY outnumbered by the amount of people there supporting the event.”

This show was hosted by Nina West and featured performances from fellow fan favorites like Silky Nutmeg Ganache, Brooklyn Hytes, Crystal Methyd and Jimbo. The festive production was nearly three hours and the crowd was treated to holiday classics with a drag twist, a beautiful holiday stage and set and interludes where each performer discussed the challenges of touring this year.

New were bomb-sniffing dogs, SWAT teams and a police presence across the country, a response to conservative and right-wing attacks on drag in and outside of Florida. The performers each reflected on the changes.

Still, the evening featured glitter, sequins, festive décor and a heartwarming message about inclusion and art. West primarily focused on gratitude, interacting with the audience and advising them that the drag and LGBTQ communities are needed, valued and not going anywhere.

After the show, counter protestors who had stood outside for nearly four hours shared messages of support for the LGBTQ community. Gorman says he was particularly touched by their presence.

“The individuals who stayed in order to show solidarity to trans and gay individuals were my heroes of the night,” Gorman says. “Being able to see the good of the world stand stronger than any hate made me feel extremely good. It’s a reminder of where we have come from and where we are today.”

REH President and CEO Susan M. Crockett also reflected on the experience Jan. 3, reaffirming the organization’s support for LGBTQ artists and audiences alike. Read her full statement below:

Ruth Eckerd Hall presents artists and performances to serve a variety of tastes. We gauge our programming by artistic success and market interest. Drag queen performers have been part of Ruth Eckerd Hall’s programming since the ‘80s. Many of our artists and audience members are part of or support the LGBTQ+ community and being inclusive is fundamental to our mission.

Since opening 40 years ago, Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Board of Directors has believed that censorship may satisfy some but eventually hurts all. However, ensuring age appropriate content is a responsibility we take seriously. Comedy sometimes pushes the boundaries in language and sexual references and we address that with parental advisories or age limits as we did for this show. Often the act itself will require it, which simplifies it for us. There is no universal rating system for live performances but we’ll consider if this was a film, would be it R rated or does it go farther? If there is a question, we will take the more protective stance.

Art has always been subjective, vocal and empowering. We are used to the controversy that comes with presenting artists across the wide spectrum of ideas and beliefs. Who is upset with us changes but our mission does not.

Watermark also reached out to Drag Fans for additional comment and will update this story when it is received. Meanwhile, view photos from “A Drag Queen Christmas” in Clearwater below.

Photos by Sylvie Trevena.

Photos by Christopher Gorman.


More in Drag

See More