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Heroes of Harvey: Clutch Performers

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Drag artists raise money online and on stage in wake of storm.

By Josh Inocéncio

As Tropical Storm Harvey’s floodwaters rose, Regina Thorne-DuBois and her friends were trapped in their apartment complex. But she knew she had to do something, since her weekly gig at Michael’s Outpost that Monday was a lost cause.

“We were thankfully in a spot where we were not getting damaged too much by the rain,” Thorne-DuBois recalls. “But we were seeing people all over the city in situations infinitely worse than where we were.”

Thorne-DuBois, who studied theater at the University of Houston and now works for the Houston Grand Opera, organized a drag performance on Facebook Live to entertain those in distress and raise money as quickly as possible for relief efforts.

“I said, just because the show is cancelled doesn’t mean we can’t do one. We can put it on Facebook and do it in our living rooms,” Thorne-DuBois recalls. “And others can do mini-performances in their living rooms. Plus, people can donate money to charities.”

Regina Thorne-DuBois

Two Facebook Live marathons later (the first was 9 hours and the second was 12), Thorne-DuBois had raised $4,800 singing some of the same Broadway tunes she normally performs at Michael’s Outpost. Special guests on the live feed—who also performed from their living rooms—contributed renditions of songs by Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Macklemore. “We were all over the place,” Thorne-DuBois says. “[It was] quite the diverse drag show.”

All proceeds from those marathons went to the Montrose Center and Legacy Community Health for Harvey relief. But Thorne-DuBois isn’t finished. In addition to raising money for the Houston Food Bank, she wants to assist families affected by the storm—including one that had helped out with her drag career. So she plans to continue with Facebook Live performances once a month for the rest of 2017. “I want to donate my talent because I’m not able to go around and build houses,” she says. “So I can do something I’m really good at while raising money and entertaining people.”

Thorne-DuBois’ broadcasts, which made national news, were just one example of how Houston’s drag community participated in relief efforts in the wake of the storm.

Another Houston performer, Chloe T. Crawford, was also trapped by floodwaters at her father’s house near Sugar Land. Motivated by drag’s tradition of supporting charitable causes, she knew she had to contribute. “Most times during tragedies, the gay community looks to drag queens to raise money,” Crawford says.

“So naturally we were involved with efforts to create fundraising outlets for the community.”

Since then, Crawford has appeared at a string of impromptu events across Houston benefiting displaced people, including at South Beach, Hamburger Mary’s, and Rich’s. For comic relief, she’s sung her trio of storm songs: “Here Comes the Rain,” “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and “Brand New Day.”

Fellow drag performer Angelina DM Trailz was also flood-bound in her parents’ home after they evacuated to Dallas. “The entire time I was alone with a fridge full of vegan food,” says Trailz.

While the flooding cancelled Trailz’ regular Saturday-night performance, she banded together with a few other performers the following weekend for a show benefiting AIDS Foundation Houston. “As a drag queen, I live paycheck to paycheck,” Trailz says. “A lot of us lost work that week of the hurricane, but I told a couple of girls, ‘I know we haven’t had work, but we should raise money for the relief.’”

Trailz also tackled another issue alongside Harvey’s wreckage: president Donald Trump’s announcement that he plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for young “Dreamer” immigrants. “Houston has a ton of Dreamers, and many of them are now displaced,” explains Trailz, opening up about her Dreamer status. “They already don’t know where they’re going. It’s like Trump made the announcement at that moment so Dreamers would just get up and leave, [thinking that they] might as well start all over again somewhere else if they have nothing in Houston.

“Some of us who are your entertainers every Saturday happen to be DACA recipients,” she adds. “I think I’ll be fine, but still, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Since the storm, Thorne-DuBois has returned to her weekly show at Michael’s Outpost, Crawford has resumed a monthly brunch appearance at Boheme, and Trailz has lined up a special gig hosting the Gender Bender Ball at the Texas Renaissance Festival in November.

But they collectively emphasize one thing: all of their upcoming Harvey-related performances will raise funds for local charities rather than national ones like the Red Cross.

“When the Red Cross is gone in a few months, it’s the organizations here that will need funding the most to continue rebuilding Houston,” Thorne-DuBois says.

This article appears in the October 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.  

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Josh Inocéncio

Josh Inocéncio is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine, a playwright, and a freelance writer. A Houston-area native, he earned a master’s degree in theatre studies at Florida State University and produced his first play, Purple Eyes, before returning to Texas last May.
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