BOYSTOWN — A beloved drag queen who died in a car accident this month is being remembered by friends and family as someone who stepped up to create welcoming places for the LGBTQ community downstate.
GiGi Mayonaé, the drag persona of 25-year-old Jherrion Bates, was known for her vivacious dance moves, endless kindness and passion for performing. The Danville, Ill. native built a sisterhood of queens spanning to Chicago and across the Midwest, and was a drag “mother” to many — giving them advice and a shoulder to cry on.
“Gigi was a fierce performer. If you saw her name on a flier, you knew you were in for a show,” said one of her drag daughters Hunny Mayonaé, known out of drag as August Francis. “She was also a friend to anybody, treating every person she met with kindness and support, regardless of who they were.”
Bates died July 21 at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, days after he was struck in his car by an allegedly drunk driver in Boystown, authorities said.
On July 18, Mayonaé had just attended “Black Girl Magic!,” a monthly drag show at Roscoe’s celebrating queer black performers, and was heading to gay nightlcub Charlie’s around 2:30 a.m. when the crash happened.
Gerrick Birt, 29, was allegedly speeding southbound in the 3500 block of North Halsted Street when he swerved around another car into the opposite lane, where he struck Mayonaé’s car, officials said. Mayonaé’s vehicle then struck an empty parked car and the front end of Birt’s car caught fire.
Mayonaé was taken in critical condition to Illinois Masonic. Birt was arrested and charged with one felony count of DUI and three misdemeanor counts of DUI and driving without insurance, police said. He was also issued a few traffic citations.
Mayonaé died at 1:50 p.m. July 21 after having surgery to repair a broken femur, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. She died of a blood clot in her right leg and hip injuries from the crash. Her death was ruled an accident.
‘The house mother of Danville’
Mayonaé started doing drag in her hometown of Danville, Hunny said. With no established LGBTQ scene in the city, she would often drive hours to Indianapolis, Champaign or Chicago just to perform. She also performed in Ohio and Minnesota.
“She would leave for those shows in full drag and then come home in full drag all in one night,” Hunny said. “Drag was her biggest passion and drive, but there weren’t many opportunities in Danville.”
Hunny said she met Mayonaé at a local talent night she was hosting at the Champaign nightclub 51 Main. Hunny hadn’t started doing drag yet, but was there to support her boyfriend in the show.
Mayonaé continued to visit Champaign and built a sisterhood among the local queens, Hunny said. She even arranged to bring The Vixen’s “Black Girl Magic!” show to Champaign in February.
One day when Hunny was packing her boyfriend’s things after a show, Mayonaé looked at her and asked, “So when are you going to get up on stage?”
“Hearing that from GiGi, somebody who always represented the plus-sized girls so well, changed my life,” Hunny said.
As a drag mother, Mayonaé would do anything to support her children, Hunny said. When Hunny was booked in her first hometown show, an ‘80s-themed fundraiser for Decatur’s annual Pride Fest, and had nothing to wear, Mayonaé shipped her a bodysuit the very next day.
“She would always do whatever it took to make sure I succeeded in my own drag,” Hunny said.
Dalton McBride, a friend of Mayonaé’s from high school, said Danville’s nearest gay bars were many miles away, so she created LGBTQ spaces in their home city.
“She wanted the generation of LGBTQ people we grew up with and generations to come to have places where they feel like they belong,” McBride said.
Mayonaé started her own drag show at an unofficial gay bar where LGBTQ people in Danville would gather. She also started a drag queen story hour series at the local civic center. McBride said churches and schools refused to host the drag queen story hour and that it was opposed by many community members, but she made sure it was a success.
“She used her creativity to push for acceptance and open the eyes of many people in Danville,” McBride said. “She brought drag to our city. She’s the house mother of Danville.”
McBride, a drummer, said he and Mayonaé bonded over their different performance backgrounds and both dreamed of moving to Chicago and making it big in the city. McBride moved to Chicago in January and Mayonaé, after years of driving hours to the city for drag gigs, followed him months later around April.
“GiGi was trying to make a name for herself before even moving up here,” McBride said. “Now I’m going to work hard in her honor to make it in this city for the both of us.”
Shetawnia Dick, the drag alter-ego of Kris Reed, said she met Mayonaé in April as she was just moving to Chicago. They were both about to compete in a 12-week competition at Splash in Boystown, so Dick messaged her online to hang out.
The two performers went to Queen! at Smart Bar and immediately became friends, Dick said. After that, they saw each other almost every day.
“We were drag sisters, but she was more like my mom because she taught me so much,” Dick said. “Whenever we hung out, she’d teach me how to get into face and different dance moves, and I was going to teach her how to sew.”
Mayonaé was known for her dancing, Dick said. She would perform polished numbers with splits, backflips, cartwheels and wig reveals to a high-energy dance mix, usually of songs by her idol, Beyoncé.
Dick said she once took Mayonaé to a Five Below dollar store, because they didn’t have them in Danville. At the store, Mayonaé found bee-themed phone cases that reminded her of Beyoncé’s fanbase, the BeyHive.
“But they didn’t have a case that fit her phone, so she made me go with her to several different Five Below stores that day until she found one in her phone’s size,” Dick said.
According to Fay Ludes, a local drag performer who met Mayonaé two years ago when she traveled to Chicago to compete in Crash Landing, an amateur drag competition at Berlin Nightclub, Beyoncé was the inspiration for Mayonaé’s name.
“GiGi comes from Giselle, which is Beyoncé’s middle name,” Ludes said. “Giselle Mayonaé-Knowles is how she was.”
Like Beyoncé, Mayonaé had star power.
“GiGi was a beacon of positivity. Every time I saw her, I knew I’d get a smile and a hug, and she that she would dance the house down.”
Dick said Mayonaé was immensely loyal and cared most about her friends, family and being part of a community. She used drag to bring people together.
“Getting into drag and dancing was her happy place,” Dick said. “She had this star quality about her that blossomed into her being this talented queen who changed lives.”
Mayonaé’s funeral is scheduled for Friday at New Life Church of Faith in Danville, 1419 N. Bowman Ave. Visitation will start at 9 a.m. with the funeral beginning at 11 a.m.
Mayonaé’s family requested that her friends attend the funeral in full drag for a tribute drag show that will close the day.
A GoFundMe page was also set up to raise funds for Mayonaé’s funeral expenses. As of July 31, almost $6,000 had been raised.