As students filed into Cat’s Cradle last month, they filled the air with an anticipatory buzz. Crowding around the stage, some students began to drum on the surface while waiting for the "Riot Night" show to start.
In the balcony above the crowd, drag kings and queens donned fake beards and intricate, glittery eye makeup that twinkled in the dim lights of the bar. While some performers put the finishing touches on their makeup, others hung out with friends and warmed up for the show.
The drag artists of the UNC drag troupe Chapel Heelz were intent on “crashing the cis-tem.” From the splits of co-host Terra Byte to the pants-dropping number of queen Alexis Carr, the performers were lip-syncing for a cause — raising money for those affected by recent anti-drag legislation in Tennessee.
Tennessee Senate Bill 3, commonly referred to as the Tennessee drag ban, was signed into law on March 2. The bill explicitly condemns “adult cabaret performances” on public property or in places where they could be viewed by minors.
Tennessee is not the only state to propose drag bans. Similar anti-drag legislation has been introduced in 14 other states.
Jenna Gartland, one of the founders of Chapel Heelz and co-host of Riot Night, performed as her drag persona Gemma Tolstoy at the event. Gartland was born in Siberia and later moved to the United States and said that her drag persona projects a personality that she might have had if she would have stayed in Siberia.
“She’s funky, she's a little bit bratty, a little bit insane, but she's just kind of a Soviet-inspired punk rock girly,” she said.
Drag has been a part of Gartland’s life since she discovered its existence.
She said the drag community provides an opportunity to explore interests she’s had since her childhood — such as makeup, sewing and costume creation. Gartland has pursued the passion since.