For decades, queer culture has undeniably impacted nightlife spaces and culture. From discos to drag bars, nightlife has long served as the backdrop for some of the spaces where those in the LGBTQ+ community have felt most welcome, safe, and accepted.
To commemorate Pride this year, we celebrated one of the most distinct and original forms of queer nightlife – drag shows. We speak with three queens from Darcelle XV & Co., home of the longest-running drag show on the west coast. Ahead of our Portland event to discuss queer spaces and community, what Pride means to them, and more. Check out highlights from the Portland in-store event with DJ one-half NelSon and read our chat with Cassie Nova, Summer Lynne Seasons, & Syra St. James below.
Who are you? What do you do?
Cassie: My name is Matt, or Cassie, and I’m a mortgage processor and showgirl.
Summer: I’m Summer, I’m a drag queen and emcee.
Syra: I am Syra St. James and I’m a showgirl at Darcelle XV & Co.
Can you tell us about the sense of family and community that exists within the queer community?
Cassie: A lot of people in the gay/queer community don’t have a strong connection with her family. The gay/queer community opens arms to us and we become our own family. The relationships that we build a long lasting and are some of the strongest relationships that we have in our lives.
Summer: When I have felt completely alone, I look to my queer community to show me that I belong. Some of the bonds I’ve created with friends are stronger than I have with family.
What influence have queer-centric spaces and events had on your creative work?
Syra: I would definitely have to say being able to perform at the venues I have been able to perform at throughout Portland has inspired me to be the best performer I can be!
Summer: The creativity and positivity of the folks in the room at queer events fuels my fire to be a better person, entertainer, and artist.
Which causes/charities are close to your heart?
Summer: I am the manager of Tod’s Corner and Esther’s Pantry a free food bank and clothing store for people living with HIV. I also volunteer as a nature specialist at Camp KC a children’s camp for kids who are infected or affected by people with HIV, and I also love donating my time to Peacock Productions and Pride of the Rose which are two charities that provide scholarships for gay kids or kids of gay parents.
Cassie: I belong to the Imperial Sovereign Rose Court. We work with lots of organizations and charities throughout the community. I give and support to the Audrey M Edwards scholarship, Pride of the Rose, and The Trevor Project.
What does Pride mean to you?
Syra: For me, Pride is a sense of self-expression to be the most authentic self you can be. From the very first riots at Stonewall to the fights we still have to fight to this day, it’s empowering to know that we have leaders behind us making sure we can live our lives through such an expressive month, as well as throughout the year.
Summer: Pride means being able to authentically be yourself all the time and to be proud of who you are and what you can do.
Cassie: Pride means family, sense of community, acceptance of who we are and what we do.
How do we keep the focus on LGBTQIA+ rights all year round?
Summer: You must stay fired up on the important issues and keep speaking up and showing out in order to make sure that we can maintain our equal rights
Syra: By not letting anyone dampen our shine. By standing together and making sure we let others know it’s ok to stand proud and true any day, any time.
What challenges do you think are facing Pride in 2022?
Summer: We spent 2 years isolated and alone, and we need to learn to come back together to be there for each other and to support one another.
Cassie: I think the challenges of pride in 2022 Is making sure that we have a safe space and that we do not have radical groups threatening us or our expression of who we are.
If you could celebrate Pride with one LGBTQIA+ historical icon, who would it be?
Cassie: I’m pretty lucky because I get to work with the historical icon that is Darcelle XV. But I would love to have been around during the early days of Stonewall and with the strong leaders that brought the gay community to the streets.
Syra: Marsha P. Johnson! To have such courage to truly stand up to ‘the man’ being a Black trans woman BLOWS my mind! And I would be thrilled to have been able to sit down with her and really ask what sparked her courage to start the incredible movement that we’re still able to celebrate today.
Summer: Alan Turing. What an incredible man who deserved so much more than what was handed to him. I’d love to meet him and say thank you.
What would you expect from someone who wants to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community?
Syra: I would only ask for compassion and support through whatever struggles we may face. To be a shoulder to cry on, a friend to laugh with, and a partner in stopping the hate we face daily.
Cassie: I expect an ally to be someone who is there for us and supports us, but is not there to tell us who we are and what we can do.
Summer: Listen to the community for what we need and help when asked. Be willing to take risks and stand up for what you believe is right.