The sun shines brightly Saturday afternoon, the clouds in the sky threaten rain later in the day, but for Austin Morgan that is the least of her worries. The audience, decorated in rainbows, eagerly awaited for the next performance.
Blue Ridge Pride day celebrates and embraces sexuality and love for one another. This year’s pride is an important day for Morgan, or her stage name Amiyah Rose. For the first time she is the opening drag performance on the main stage, and she has an important message to share.
Morgan studies political science at UNC Asheville. Coming to Blue Ridge Pride since 2015, being able to perform for the event fulfills a dream of hers. For her, this is one of the biggest events for the LGBTQ+ community and being a part of it is special not only for her, but for the people around her.
“I was so happy and proud that she was finally able to do something she always wanted to do. She wanted to be a drag queen for a while so it makes me extremely happy that she’s able to do something like this,” said Rayna Pharr, a close friend of Morgan.
Pharr has seen Morgan evolve her style of drag into something that she can call her own.
The moments before she walks the stage aren’t different from any other time for Morgan. She knows she’s going to have fun and going to give it her all, but this time she has something a bit different planned. Abandoning her original plan to perform a party song, Morgan, who recently came out as transgender, decided to make this performance mean much more. Morgan’s style of drag is known for being political. She’s passionate about drag and passionate about politics, so combining the two only seemed natural. Morgan anticipated her perfected performance for weeks leading up to the event and it’s exciting to see it finally come onto the main stage, Pharr said.
“I’m passionate about politics and I feel like drag is very political. It’s like a big F you to stereotypes on what genders can’t do this and a big F you to the gender roles of the normalities that we have,” Morgain said.
As the host of the show announced Morgan onto the stage, the song “Freedom” by Beyonce plays through the surrounding speakers. The audience starts yelling in excitement, only growing louder when Morgan walks to the center stage; her nervous feelings vanish. She’s wearing her largest pink wig and her tallest heels that match her silver bedazzled two piece, glimmering as the sun hits her. Morgan begins to walk down the stage, not missing a single line in her lip sync. She holds a flag in each hand. On one side is the rainbow flag, and on the other side is the transgender flag with an additional black and brown stripe to represent people of color, a detail that Morgan made sure to include.
“I thought that was something that needed to be symbolized at pride as well because where most people walk around and they have their rainbow flags, I wanted to make sure that I had a flag that was representing the progress that we’re having,” Morgan said.
The audience stands screaming with excitement for Morgan as she walks off the stage. She walks to the crowd, reaching out to take the dollar tips people hold out to her, she is working on the clock after all. Morgan feels she is in a whole other world, her body and mind taken over and every whirl, twirl and flip comes naturally. Through her performance three people appear on stage, they turn around and hold up a sign that each show statements on problems the U.S. if facing, from Black Lives Matter to the crisis at the border.
“I loved that she included more than one aspect of injustice instead of just focusing on her trans peers. There is nothing wrong with bringing awareness to just one community but it was special and generous that she used her platform to cover POC as well, since we are such a marginalized group, especially within the LGBTQ+ community,” Pharr said.
The song lingers on its last few verses. Morgan makes her way back to the steps of the stage where she has one more message to share. She picks up her own sign, as she does the other three signs flip over with a single letter written on each one together spelling the word “vote.”
“Whenever we all turned around and it spelled vote and everyone started screaming, that was probably the best part for me. Getting that message across because I don’t think that people take voting into as big of importance as it is and a right that we have and we have to exercise,” Morgan said.
The show is over and Morgan makes her message clear. She wants the show to be enjoyable but also uses her platform to her advantage to speak out to the audience on issues she holds close to her and hopes the audience grasps that as well.
“I think that’s when you enjoy things the most because, you know, drag is empowering and I like how she tries to spread that like in her message and with her performance,” UNC Asheville alum Alpha Cardenas said. “When you’re talking about issues like ostracizing people, exposure is always the first step, so let people know here are the issues.”
In addition to using her platform to reach out to others, she plans to use her political science degree to incorporate more political issues into future performances, said Morgan. She wants everyone to make sure they are prepared and registered to vote.
“Through doing this performance if I made someone want to register or check the status of their voter registration, my message was successful. That is the only way we can make change,” Morgan said.