BOYSTOWN — Popular drag queen T Rex was dropped by Roscoe’s Tavern and Berlin Nightclub after several Black queer people came forward accusing her of abusing her status to discriminate against Black performers and blacklisting those who stood up to her.
Black LGBTQ people detailed their experiences with T Rex, known out of drag as Benjamin Bradshaw, and a larger culture of systemic racism in Boystown during a virtual town hall streamed Saturday in lieu of T Rex’s weekly digital Drag Matinee show.
Roscoe’s was the first to announce in a Facebook post Sunday it had “severed our professional relationship with drag host T Rex, effective immediately.”
Berlin’s announcement followed early Monday, stating: “We have decided to end our relationship with T Rex. We do not condone racism or behaviors that hurt others. … We are sorry for the part we played in allowing this behavior to remain in our space and we vow to do better.”
T Rex did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The town hall was organized by the new Chicago Black Drag Council, an open group for Black nightlife performers created after this month’s Drag March for Change, which drew thousands of protesters demanding racial justice — starting in Boystown.
Lucy Stoole, one of the queens who led the Drag March for Change, moderated the nearly three-hour town hall with Shimmy LaRoux, a Black woman from Chicago’s burlesque community who works as a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant for her day job.
“This is a very needed conversation that’s been a long time coming, and it’s at the point now where we can no longer ignore it,” Stoole said. “It’s up to our community to do what’s right and practice what they preach. We have to take some steps forward to make sure we have a more inclusive and diverse Boystown or ‘Queerstown’ — whatever you would like to call it.”
Among other ground rules, LaRoux asked all participants to honor each speaker’s courage, hoping to facilitate discussion between members of the community who’d been hurt and the people they said were responsible for their trauma.
“The goal tonight is to hear from members of the community who have been harmed and … create specific actions for restorative justice,” LaRoux said.
Shea Couleé, a star of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” who came up in the Chicago drag scene at the same time as T Rex, accused T Rex of joking about doing a racist group number for Black History Month.
The performance would have been set to “I’m A Slave 4 U” by Britney Spears, and Couleé, the only Black performer, would have been dressed as a slave while the other performers whipped them, Couleé said.
T Rex, who sat quietly during most of the town hall and appeared to occasionally be on a cellphone, admitted to making the joke.
“I want you to know that experience has stayed with me for a very long time because you were somebody that I considered a friend,” Couleé said. “The fact that … I had to almost beg for an apology really let me know where I stood to you not just as a person, but as a person of color specifically.”
Couleé also accused T Rex of pay inequity and blacklisting Couleé until they made it onto “Drag Race” in 2017.
“You directly attacked my livelihood, which is an act of violence,” Couleé said, later adding they are finally speaking out now that their mentees, known as drag daughters, “are still experiencing these micro-aggressions.”
One of those daughters, Bambi Banks-Couleé, accused T Rex of using her position as a gatekeeper to hold Black performers to “impossible standards” that she doesn’t meet herself — such as not repeating outfits or wigs.
“I have held people to too high of standards, especially for the amount that they do have to work, so … I will take responsibility for that, and those rules are changing,” T Rex said.
In an open letter to T Rex, more than 50 of Chicago’s top drag performers vowed to stop working with her unless she meets their demands, which included an end to the micro-aggressions, “dictatorship over number selection” and holding performers to double standards.
The queens also demanded T Rex book more Black performers beyond mere tokenism and hand off her Saturday Drag Matinee show to a Black host for a biweekly tradeoff.
At the town hall, T Rex agreed to meet all of the demands, but initially resisted surrendering complete control of “Drag Matinee” to a Black host twice a month.
“I host, but I also set up the budget and cast the show,” T Rex said, saying she only agreed to pass over the hosting duties.
But when representatives from the show’s home bar said they were on board with changes, T Rex agreed to relinquish control of the behind-the-scenes work as well.
“Then I guess there we are. Yeah,” T Rex said.
“Can we get an actual ‘yes’?” Stoole asked.
“Yes,” T Rex said.
‘The Deeper Problem’ in Boystown
Representatives from Berlin Nightclub, Sidetrack and Roscoe’s listened as several other Black LGBTQ people shared their experiences with anti-Blackness in Boystown.
Black queer people recounted being treated as unwelcome at certain bars or having to completely avoid bars with anti-Black or anti-trans reputations. Performers said bar managers offer no support when reporting harassment from racist bar patrons.
“This [anti-Blackness] goes very far into the scene and very deep into a lot of pockets,” Stoole said. “We’ve got to get to the deeper problem.”
The Boystown bar representatives who were there agreed to come up with concrete plans to address the culture of anti-Blackness in Boystown. A larger town hall featuring a manager and Black employee from every queer bar on the North Side is planned for Tuesday.
The entire Black drag town hall can still be viewed on Drag Matinee’s Twitch channel.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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