Recently this week, the drag scene in Chicago became the template for how to have open and honest discussion on issues surrounding race, equality, and accountability. Both Roscoe’s Tavern and Berlin Nightclub parted ways with Chicago drag performer T Rex after a number of black performers came forward with strong accusations detailing abuse and discrimination by T Rex towards them. They also spoke of experiences of blacklisting tactics used against those who then spoke up against her.
A letter was sent directly to T Rex, who handled bookings at a number of Chicago locales, signed by a litany of Chicago nightlife performers. In the letter, they detailed not just their grievances with her as a performer, but the changes that they wish to see made as well as the accountability that they want to see taken. A number of performers signed the letter including Lucy Stoole, and RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Monica Beverly Hillz and The Vixen, as well as current All Stars 5 standout Shea Coulee.
Following the letter, an almost three hour town hall was moderated by Lucy Stoole, one of the queens who also led the Drag March for Change. Alongside Shimmy LaRoux, a Black woman from Chicago’s burlesque community, they made the mission for the town hall clear; “This is a very needed conversation that’s been a long time coming, and it’s at the point now where we can no longer ignore it,” Stoole said. “It’s up to our community to do what’s right and practice what they preach. We have to take some steps forward to make sure we have a more inclusive and diverse Boystown or ‘Queerstown’ — whatever you would like to call it.”
One of the most powerful moments in the over two hour plus Town Hall came when Shea Coulee directed her thoughts directly to T Rex. “I”m just going to directly address you [T Rex,]” Coulée said. “At times when you felt as if I was being too bold, you used that and weaponized against me. “I also want to speak to a very specific experience I had with you,” Coulée continued. “We had already worked a show and were backstage with the staff — this was at Scarlet. I was the only person of color back there, it was you and Bryce and somebody else and you had made a joke — because at that time we would do cast numbers at the top of the show — that for Black History Month, it would be funny, as a number, as a cast, if we performed to Britney Spears’ ‘Slave for You’ with me dressed as a slave while the rest of you whipped me. “Do you remember that?” Coulée asked. “I — I do,” T Rex answered.
actually fuming pic.twitter.com/8SyZKFYEjI
— martin (@OOOOOVERTURE) June 21, 2020
Coulee went on to say “I want you to know that that experience has stayed with me for a very long time because you were somebody I considered a friend,” Coulée said. “And the fact that my hurt and my displeasure at being subjected to that and how I had to almost beg you for an apology, really let me know where I stood with you, not just as a person, but as a person of color specifically.”
Following the Town Hall, both Roscoe’s Tavern ended their relationship with T-Rex via the post below, while Berlin Nightclub posted in part, “We have decided to end our relationship with T Rex. We do not condone racism or behaviors that hurt others. In our 37 years serving the LGBTQ+ community, we have always strived to be a space where people from all backgrounds and experiences can feel comfortable coming together to express themselves and their art in an atmosphere of love, respect and enjoyment. We are sorry for the part we played in allowing this behavior to remain in our space and we vow to do better.”
The conversation in Chicago has also sparked conversation in other cities as well. As recently as today, a letter went out titled NYC Nightlife Inclusion that was signed by numerous New York City nightlife luminaries, such as Marti Gould Cummings, Heidi Haux, & Lagoona Bloo. The letter directly references the Chicago Town Hall, stating in part, “After the world watched the Chicago Black Drag Town Hall, organized by the Chicago Black Drag Council this past Saturday, we feel that it is the perfect time to start this conversation again. Our goal is to create a dialogue that will ensure all parties are heard. We call upon bar managers and/or staff to NYC’s first Black, Queer Town Hall that will call in issues rather than call out. Each segment will be moderated and hosted with both drag artists and appointed bar representatives having time to hold discussion in a safe environment.”
Request for comment to Shea Coulee was not returned as of press time
To watch the entire two hour plus Chicago Black Drag Town Hall click here