ST. GEORGE- A sea of smiles and pride flags greeted Friday night’s “We’re Here” concert in Town Square. The HBO series filmed an episode in St. George despite controversy over the concert location.
At Friday night’s concert, nearly 2,000 people expressed their love and acceptance for the show, its participants, and the LGBTQ way of life. The audience was of all ages. The performers on the program thanked the attendees for hosting them that evening and throughout the week leading up to the concert.
“We’re Here” is an HBO reality television series featuring former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and Shangela Laquifa Wadley. In the series, drag queens travel across the United States recruiting small-town residents to perform in one-night-only drag shows. One of the St. George residents who participated on stage said the concert experience really helped them come to terms with who they were.
“It’s difficult,” said one of the participants on the local show. “There will be days when you stand in front of the mirror crying because the person you want to be is someone you think you can’t be. You can be whoever you want to be; please be who. you want to be.
Another performer, Eureka O’Hara, said their message is that people take ownership of all parts of who they are, no matter where they are on their journey of self-discovery.
“Just know that there is love in the world for you,” O’Hara said.
St. George Councilwoman Michelle Tanner questioned holding the event next to the Children’s Museum in a letter to City Manager Adam Lenhard. Thursday evening, many people showed up at the city council meeting to express their support for the event.
Tanner objected to HBO, rated TV-MA, a drag show standing in front of the public children’s museum and children’s playground in Town Square. She noted that a mature program like “We’re Here” should be held in an “appropriate mature venue.”
Tanner said on Facebook that she felt the location was inappropriate but was still LGBTQ-friendly.
“Contrary to some of the messages I’ve received calling me a ‘fanatic’ etc. for requesting that a TV-MA HBO show be held in a proper mature venue (not a kid’s space), I actually support the individual rights to live how you want to live,” Tanner wrote in the Facebook post. “My brother is gay; I have gay friends who I love very much and have always supported them. Let’s not confuse issues here.
Show creators Stephen Warren and Johnnie Ingram said so many people showed up for the reunion and the concert illustrates how important it was for a drag show to take place in a public place.
“There were a number of speakers (at the city council meeting) who said it would literally save lives,” said co-creator and executive producer Stephen Warren. “You don’t think a drag show will save lives. But in fact, the reality is that having people openly celebrating life saves lives.
When the producers thought about creating the show, they wanted to shine a light on what was missing from the television landscape. They wanted to shine a light on conservative small towns where people feel marginalized as members, closed or not, of the LGTBQ+ community.
The program usually faces obstacles when they first arrive in an area. Often the opposition is called “parental rights” and that “somehow you can take out the First Amendment like you can ban books in the name of parental rights,” he said.
“It’s disguised as ‘I don’t want to have any expression other than the expression of men wearing men’s clothes, women wearing women’s clothes in front of my kids in a public space,'” Warren said.
In each area the team travels to, they look for locations to shoot the show. Sometimes locals are thrilled that an HBO show is coming to their town, but when they find out it’s a drag show or has LGBTQ themes, suddenly there’s an excuse, did he declare. For example, locations will say they are renovating or afraid of losing business. Warren said after performing a show at an opera house in South Dakota, a major donor withdrew funds from the venue.
“It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t want to deal with this. We are just trying to protect the children. Protect them from what? said Warren.
Another reason the program chooses public places is the “We Are Here” theme that emphasizes visibility for those who may feel marginalized by society, co-creator Ingram said.
“The name of the show itself is about our existence, and it’s about being visible, it’s about being center stage,” Ingram said. “We were forced to exist in the most hidden places. And I think it’s urgent to have the show in town and be openly visible during pride month in the center of a city. We need visibility for the LGBTQ community, allies and supporters to come out and see each other.
Ingram said celebrating downtown is powerful, meaningful and very progressive. He is very proud and happy to have this privilege.
“We are so happy to be able to do this in this beautiful and majestic community,” Ingram said. “We have been here in St. George for a week. We met some of the most open-minded, incredibly nurturing and supportive people in this beautiful physical setting. There is a spirit of community and unity that really impressed me.
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