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Drag queens go online as coronavirus shuts clubs

Latrice Royale performing at the Laurie Beechman theatre in New York City – Image: Thomas Evans, courtesy of Latrice Royale (Reuters)

As bars and clubs shutter around the world, drag queens are performing online to make up for lost income and keep their fans in good spirits during the coronavirus epidemic.

From live-streaming shows from home, to personalised Instagram raps for fans, some of the biggest names in drag, including RuPaul’s Drag Race stars, Latrice Royale and Gia Gunn, are innovating to stay in touch with their millions of followers.

New York City and Los Angeles – home to the United States’ two largest LGBT+ communities – ordered restaurants, theatres, and bars to close on Sunday to slow the spread of coronavirus, which has killed almost 100 people in the country.

“It’s really scary because I’m a small business as well as an … entertainer,” said Royale, a plus-sized queen, famed for her friendliness and loud laugh, who has suspended all live bookings until further notice.

Royale said she was considering hosting an online performance in drag at home with her musician husband, to help pay her business costs of about $20,000 a month, including eight employees, who promote her shows and merchandise.

About 30 drag queens and kings, including RuPaul’s Drag Race stars, Alaska and Rock M. Sakura, will perform in a Digital Drag on the live streaming platform, Twitch, on Friday.

Another revenue stream for LGBT+ performers is Cameo, where fans pay for personalised video messages from more than 25,000 celebrities, said a spokesman for the website, which takes a 25% cut.

“I will get up in drag and knock ’em out,” laughed Royale, who describes herself as “chunky yet funky” on the site, where she charges $125 for one message.

At least 11 RuPaul’s Drag Race stars have signed up to Cameo, or reactivated their accounts, the website’s spokesman said, adding that drag queens made up four out of the top six celebrities booked for video messages on Saturday and Sunday.

Less famous drag queens are also looking online for income.

Rose, who usually performs at bars, birthday parties, and corporate events in New York, five to six nights a week, has received about 60 requests to post personalised raps to almost 20,000 followers on her Instagram Stories, at $10 to $15 each.

“I took it upon myself to find something creative to do,” she said.

“I’m trying to set myself aside from the crowd and keep entertaining people.”

As well as distracting fans from the anxiety and boredom of coronavirus lockdowns, LGBT+ performers said they wanted to cheer people up.

“I don’t want the community to forget about life,” said Gunn, known for being a “shady queen”, who created drama with other contestants on RuPaul’s show, while also opening up about how drag had helped her to come out as a transgender woman.

-Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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