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The farther you get from urban centers, the story goes, the less tolerant the country becomes. HBO’s hit show We’re Here shows what happens when three famous queens show up in rural America to help locals stage their own drag shows.
Three seasons in, Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela reflect on the deeper meaning behind bringing their fabulosity to destinations that need a dash of sparkle and inclusivity.
“This has been a real opportunity for [us] to give back to kids that grew up like us,” O’Hara says. “And hopefully educate people who are not used to us. That’s what we need in this country more than ever right now.”
Shangela says giving queer people in conservative places a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves is essential: “Creating a sense of community is very important. Feeling uplifted by those people you consider your community is very, very important.”
We’re Here has visited many conservative destinations through its three seasons, including towns in Florida, Texas, Utah, Idaho, Missouri, Alabama, Indiana, and Hawaii.
As well-traveled entertainers, these queens have learned key skills for navigating places that aren’t particularly queer-friendly.
“Google is always a great resource,” Bob the Drag Queen says. “Read the reviews! If all else fails, go to the makeup store and ask the gay guy there where to go.”
“Find the makeup store girl and you’ll find a gay,” jokes O’Hara. “Follow your instincts. We as queer people have learned how to read the room. It’s how we’ve grown to defend ourselves. Pay attention to the signs. If you don’t feel safe, then listen to those instincts.”
“I’m no stranger to growing up in a small, conservative town,” Shangela acknowledges. “And I know what challenges that can come, especially for an LGBTQ+ person. In those spaces, there are loving, amazing queer people who deserve to feel connected. It’s not scary or strange or foreign to me…it just feels right.”
While We’re Here’s visibility comes through the screen thanks to the fierce drag queens, much of the show’s success comes from the work behind the scenes. Husbands Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren, who created and executive produce the show, team up with director and executive producer Peter LoGreco to find essential places for the show to visit.
“There’s a lot of really terrific small towns out there that are welcoming,” Ingram says. “There’s an opportunity in all small communities for the queer community to thrive. We highlight a ton of safe spaces and to see the love out there, even in the face of hate, is emotional and wonderful.”
“We have a wonderful cast of people that go out, scour the internet, and look for interesting stories that reflect some unique aspect of queer life in different places,” Warren explains. “Each of these places — we may have been threatened, but we find the courage to be ourselves and we’re rewarded with so much love.”
LoGreco adds, “We wanted to find small communities where the politics has taken on queer people. In the long run, that’s a very positive thing for the LGBTQ+ community and for the show to be able to put that on display in an active way.”
Many queer travelers fear being themselves in certain parts of the country, but the team encourages everyone to be brave and visit places outside of their typical bubbles.
“Don’t be afraid,” Ingram says. “You will find a lot of people that are affirming, supportive, and wonderful. It’s important to explore different types of places, so we understand that there are queer people in these towns that are fun.”
“In Granbury, Texas, the queens organized a karaoke night at this local bar and it was so fun,” Warren says. “Queer and nonqueer people performing karaoke together…I think it actually moves the needle a tiny bit. If you take that plunge and just be yourself and be kind, you’ll have a great story.”
We're Here is streaming now on HBO Max.
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