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Monday, April 22, 2024

‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ leaves impact on local LGBTQ+ community

University Club hosts weekly watch parties of the Emmy-winning reality competition show

Local drag queen Inertia talks to audience members at a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing event at University Club on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.
Local drag queen Inertia talks to audience members at a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing event at University Club on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.

Every Friday at 8 p.m., a crowd gathers at University Club’s downstairs bar to watch the weekly episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” For no cover charge, attendees join the club's drag performers to revel in the excitement of the critically acclaimed show.

Rachel Boheme, a drag queen who regularly performs at UC, said drag is an important part of her identity.

“I’ve always been someone who likes to perform for people, and drag has let me express all aspects of myself,” Boheme said. 

“RuPaul's Drag Race" is a reality competition series that pioneered televised drag entertainment since its debut in 2009 on the Logo TV network. Hosted by the legendary drag queen, RuPaul, the show has become a cultural phenomenon. The winner is crowned America's Next Drag Superstar, receiving one of the most prestigious titles in the drag world, a cash prize and a year's supply of cosmetics. 

With spinoff seasons in Canada, Brazil and Mexico, to name a few, “Rupaul's Drag Race” has also seemed to leave its mark in Downtown Gainesville. 

Boheme and fellow drag queen Inertia host the weekly premiere of each “Rupaul’s Drag Race” episode, including those from All-Star seasons as they air. Boheme said the two have been doing so since 2021, when Boheme replaced the previous co-host. 

“It’s just way more fun to watch with other people,” Boheme said.

She compared the show to a sporting event for the drag community. She said UC has been a safe haven for her since 2009 and mentioned recent waves of anti-drag-show legislation proposals.

By providing a platform for performers and fostering a supportive community, Boheme said UC is a symbol of resilience, defying criticism to create spaces where self-expression and creativity thrive.

“I basically grew up here,” she said. “I love our community and want to give a shoutout to all of the entertainers we have here. Some of the most talented people I have ever met are from here.” 

UC hosts drag shows with different themes every night of the week, such as Sinister Sunday and 4Play Friday. 

Boheme said besides the community of performers, the crowd UC draws is an important part of the welcoming environment. 

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“We also have some of the best patrons, it’s been fun watching people come here as kids and grow up and become awesome successful people,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” 

Marisol Lords is another drag queen who regularly performs at UC. 

“Drag is an art of self-expression and performing is an outlet of creativity,” she said. “It's a very supportive community and UC is a safe space for queer individuals.”

Lords is a part of the Twitch Latin Unity Guild, which is a program started by the online live streaming platform, Twitch, that funds and promotes spaces dedicated to marginalized communities. Besides UC, she has performed at Twitchcon in San Diego.  

Jayden Ellis is a UF costume design sophomore. He said he prefers UC to the other nightlife options in Gainesville.

“I’ve been to a few other clubs downtown, but none of them feel as welcoming or safe as UC,” he said. “As a male who presents very femininely, often going downtown to clubs can be stressful but UC offers a safe space.” 

He said he’s watched “RuPaul’s Drag Race” since its tenth season. He said the show can be difficult to find on traditional streaming services, so the watch parties make it accessible. 

Ellis seconded Boheme’s comment on the sense of camaraderie among the people of UC.

“The community is incredibly supportive and includes some of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet,” he said. “To have a group I can party with while also having my back through the unique challenges posed by a queer life truly is what I define as a healthy, thriving community.”

As Gainesville’s own queer community attests, shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and places like UC are vital to visibility and acceptance. The watch parties are held every Friday for the remaining eleven episodes of the season. 

Contact Emilia Cardenas-Perez ecardenasperez@alligator.org. Follow her on X @emiliaandreaa. 

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