A performer who goes by Beatrix Lestrange organized and hosted the No Border Wall Protest Drag Show in Brownsville, Texas. (Reynaldo Leanos Jr./Texas Public Radio)
Drag queens from throughout Texas' Rio Grande Valley gathered last weekend in Brownsville to protest further construction of the border wall and bring attention to LGBTQ migrants who have been detained or are seeking asylum.
In a public park, a performer who goes by Beatrix Lestrange did not have to struggle to catch the attention of protesters gathered for the No Border Wall Protest Drag Show. Lestrange, whose real name is Jose Colon-Uvalles, wore a multicolored dress, a red wig, black pumps and a choker with studs.
"Who's ready to have a political time?" Lestrange yelled out. The audience, standing in a semicircle and dressed in similarly vivid outfits, cheered and applauded.
"We'll try to bring joy, positivity, beauty, drag, culture to whatever this is," Lestrange said, pointing to the section of the border fence directly behind her.
Earlier this month, Congress passed a spending bill that will allocate $1.375 billion for the construction of border infrastructure in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. Last November, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, awarded two contracts for the construction of a border wall in south Texas. Construction is expected to begin this month.
Lestrange organized the drag queen protest show and is a self-proclaimed "dragtavist" — a drag queen committed to social activism.
"The vision was to perform in front of this wall and project our beauty and our glamour and our empowerment against this symbol that stands for hate, racism and xenophobia," Lestrange said.
As Lestrange set up the music, the participants lined up and prepared their own performances.
Michelangelo De Vinci, whose given name is Sabino Ponce Jr., said this moment had personal resonance for him. His dad was once undocumented.
"I know his struggle coming over and how he built himself from the ground up with his third-grade education," he said. "There are other people who are trying to come over here and do something better for themselves and their families — my dad being one of them — and these other people as well, so they should get a chance to live here also."
The queens also sang as part of the event, including Green Day's "American Idiot" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."
David Bocanegra, who performs as Arina Heys, wanted to participate to showcase the beauty of the Latin culture in the region.
"We get painted as this one negative picture," the performer said. "We are just like any other community, and it's extremely family oriented, it's lovable, humble and welcoming."
Jorge Trujillo, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was among the spectators. He said the drag show exemplifies how the Rio Grande Valley is the United States at its finest.
"We need to continue that movement and let people never forget that there [has] never been a more perfect opportunity to be Valley proud," Trujillo said.
Lestrange wanted the protest to show solidarity with LGBTQ asylum seekers. She hoped their performance brought some awareness to the issues trans and queer migrants face.
"I get teary-eyed and emotional every time," she said, "because they're already fleeing really horrible conditions. They're fleeing homophobia, transphobia, violence, trauma, only to come to the doorsteps of our country and encounter more of that."
In less than two hours, the drag queens raised about $650. All the proceeds will go to local organizations that work with LGBTQ asylum seekers.
Lestrange also wants to challenge other LGBTQ communities across the country to participate in their own form of activism.
"If we can do this in front of the border wall, then they can do something similar," Lestrange said. "Do it now because tomorrow is too late."