Orlando drag performer Leigh Shannon discusses drag on local PBS news program

Martin “Leigh Shannon” Fugate appears on WUCF TV’s “NewsNight” to discuss the state of drag in Florida. (Screenshot from “NewsNight” episode on PBS.org)

ORLANDO | Local drag performer and Watermark contributor, Martin “Leigh Shannon” Fugate appeared in a recorded interview on WUCF TV’s “NewsNight” July 14 as a part of the station’s look at the ongoing fight between Florida’s conservative lawmakers and the state’s drag community.

The story, which focused on the lawsuit filed by Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando over the state’s recently signed “anti-drag bill,” featured interviews with Fugate, whose Illusions in Revue show at Hamburger Mary’s celebrates its 14th year next month, and Demensio Barton, paster of Orange County’s We Are One Ministries.

The piece was meant to show the opposing views Fugate and Barton have on the issue, but when the show premiered and Fugate saw it, he says he was disappointed by the way the story was framed. In an interview with Watermark, Fugate says one of the main issues he had with the piece was how they made it appear as if he had a negative opinion on drag and may even be done with it.

“I am far from quitting,” he says. “I’m actually getting riled up again and we’re going to have to fight this harder. We have to grab those people that are thinking this about us, even some who loved us before, and let them know that this is who we are.”

Another part of the story Fugate took issue with was how drag was continually referred to as “live adult entertainment,” saying that while Republican legislators and the pastor they interviewed have used that language as a way to vilify drag performers, “NewsNight” should have clarified Fugate’s stance for its viewers that not all drag is actual adult entertainment.

“To me, as a layperson, ‘live adult entertainment’ means strip clubs and things like that,” Fugate says. “That’s just not true with most drag shows. Now the clubs late at night, they may do more of that type of thing but it’s presented as 21 and up, so to spew all this stuff about ‘all drag is one way’ is inaccurate.”

Fugate says that he made this argument during his taped interview with “NewsNight” but that it wasn’t used.

“It really upset me,” he says. “And then when the panel went on, what words did they use? Adult live entertainment. People are going to believe that. We’ve got to stop using that narrative for drag shows because it just isn’t true. Drag shows come in many colors. … If you’re going to put that label on everything about drag, then you can’t go see ‘Miss Doubtfire,’ you can’t go see the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ or ‘Hairspray.'”

Fugate categorizes drag shows using the same rating system film’s use. He says that his show, for example, is more PG-13, comparing his type of comedy to that of Chris Rock or Kathy Griffin.

“I’m a comedian first, before I’m a drag queen. I just use that form,” he says. “I’m saucy, drop a couple F-bombs, tell some naughty jokes. That’s my show. When clients ask me should they bring their kids to my show I recommend 14 years old and up.”

But Fugate says, like movie ratings, there are drag performances that fit that G or PG rating that are appropriate for kids.

“Broadway Brunch at Hamburger Mary’s is family oriented, its like Disney. I think that’s great for them and it’s fun for kids,” Fugate says.

Ultimately, what it comes down to, Fugate says, is parental choice.

“These politicians talk so much about parents’ rights,” he says. “Well, kids going to a drag show should be up to their parents and not government.”

Watermark reached out to WUCF regarding the issues Fugate raised about his interview and they responded, stating that they had not yet heard from Fugate about his concerns but that they would reach out to him.

“‘NewsNight’ stands by the fairness and balance of our content and while we do edit to fit time constraints, we do not alter the intent of the message conveyed through that editing process,” they wrote in their statement.

You can watch the “NewsNight” episode featuring Fugate here.

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