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UNCA drag brunch sparks thoughtful discourse amid diverse perspectives

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Ganymede+receiving+a+tip+from+a+student+during+their+performance.
Photos courtesy of Adam Sorgi & Highsmith Marketing.
Ganymede receiving a tip from a student during their performance.

UNC Asheville’s drag brunch performance ignites a discussion of identity and inclusivity among drag performers and student Republicans on campus. 

“We are who we are and whatever laws are made, queer folk will still be here and we will not be silenced,” said Ethan Fletcher, 22-year-old recent UNCA graduate and local drag performer known as Nova Jynah. 

On Aug. 26, the Asheville Campus Entertainment (ACE) team organized a drag brunch in front of the Ramsay Library on the quad. 



“Lots of students at brunch are mostly first year, which means they’ve never been afforded the opportunity to go inside of queer venues and drag shows because of their age,” Fletcher said. 

According to ACE, they are a student-led and funded program that hosts a wide variety of events for the student community. 

“We have an event every semester called proposals and pizza where we invite all students to come share their ideas for what they would like to see at campus events in the upcoming semester,” said MacKenzie Bower, the Assistant Director for Student Engagement and advisor of ACE. 

 

According to ACE, the program aims to harbor inclusivity, transformational experiences and a sense of belonging to students while educating and entertaining the campus community through hosting diverse events. 

“We have earplugs available at our check-in tables and for events that are high energy and noisy we try our best to have an alternative, less-stimulating space for those that want a different experience.” Bower said. 

Micah McKenzie, a 20-year-old religious studies student and the president of the UNCA College Republicans, said he learned a lot from moving from his small conservative bubble outside of Charlotte to the more liberal Asheville campus. 

“The republican party is in a big problem right now. The party keeps trying to push these anti-transgender laws. It is just ridiculous. You are attacking people and these people are not just going to go away,” McKenzie said. 

According to CNN and the New York Times, a federal judge struck down bans proposed by Tennessee Republicans on public drag performances where children are present on June 3, ruling the proposal an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech. 

“How about people mind their own business. Especially conservatives trying to tell other people how to live their lives,” McKenzie said. 

McKenzie said people have the right to express themselves, but Republican lawmakers are trying to take that away. 

“You have seen them on campus. Waving signs in people’s faces. Repent. Repent. Like, go home. It doesn’t work,” McKenzie said. “We need to distance ourselves from christian values.”

Fletcher said they attended and dressed contestants for the Sylva Pride pageant at the Jackson County public library on Aug. 13, and conservatives in the town were outraged.

“Protesters showed up the night of the pageant and tried to get access to the inside of the building.” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said things like this may be a setback, but amazing community members in these small towns still welcome queer folk with open arms and do what they can to support them.

“I like to use my drag to make people laugh, because when you grow up in a small town as a queer person, it’s hard to make friends, which is why I have always used humor to relate to people,” Fletcher said. “We’re all fighting difficult battles whether they are seen or not, so if I can make someone belly laugh or even chuckle a little bit, I’ve made it a place where they can set that hardship aside and have fun.”

McKenzie said republican protesters aren’t trying to have a discussion but to instigate.

“I don’t know too much about drag culture. I have never been to a drag show. If that’s what people want to do you know that’s fine. It sounds like people have a good time. I don’t see any reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” McKenzie said. 

Fletcher said it can be liberating for someone to find themselves through the art of drag, and when booking or working in shows, they want everyone to feel assured their voice is being heard. 

“I find that just being as authentically myself as I can be, and being a strong figure to look at, I have inspired and touched so many hearts,” said Gage Filipovic, an 18-year-old local drag queen called Marceline Mashic.

Filipovic has been doing drag for five years and first became interested in performing after seeing one of his friends in theater class do a local youth drag brunch.

“It also hasn’t been the easiest for some of my family members to grasp. Some made me feel guilty for hiding this part of myself from them when they haven’t made their home a safe place for me to be myself in and have even told me that I’m going to hell,” Fletcher said. “At that moment it made me feel like I was a bad person because I felt as though I was disappointing them, but this is an integral part of who I am and I am not ashamed.”

Filipovic said many entertainers have significantly influenced him when creating his persona, including former Miss Continental Monica Munro and former Miss Gay USofA Shae Shae LaReese, along with several other title-holding entertainers. 

“I’ve found that personally any adversity I’ve faced in my career has often been from other entertainers in the community, rather than anyone outside,” Filipovic said.

McKenzie said the adversity he faces comes from people being surprised when finding out he is the president of the Republican club on campus. 

“If I told you that when you first met me a lot of people would just back away. It’s very interesting because I’m not out here all up in peoples faces. I just mind my own business about my views,” McKenzie said. “Most of my friends have different political beliefs than me.”

McKenzie said growing up with everyone around him being Republican shaped him to be more conservative-leaning, but he is trying to be receptive and wants people to be receptive to him in return. 

“I noticed that about the left. That has always kind of bothered me. As much as they want to talk about acceptance. We are accepting. Oh, but not to everybody. It’s very interesting. We could all use a chat with a real person,” McKenzie said. “Oh you’re evil because you are a republican. Maybe I do suck but you don’t even know me or half these people.” 

McKenzie said people take his clean cut appearance and southern accent at face value and do not try to get to know him on a personal level. 

“There’s a line there. They want a certain image. I’m not looking for a certain image. I’ve got so many friends that are so contrary to what the president of the college Republicans would hang around,” McKenzie said. 

McKenzie said people have made politics a lot of their identity, which is very dangerous. He said people are not thinking for themselves anymore and are just going along with something because they identify with it and have stopped asking questions.

“As an entertainer in an era where drag is almost considered mainstream, it’s important we are aware there were entertainers who were ostracized for who they were, who grew up in a time where it was harder to receive the opportunities to perform,” Fletcher said. 

Fletcher said drag is fun, but every time a performer steps on stage, it is a political statement because their existence as a queer person is a protest. 

“It is important to understand where we came from to appreciate where we are now,” Fletcher said. “I started drag in the West Ridge residence halls in late 2019, with nothing but a tattered blonde wig and a silver dress. Don’t wait to put yourself out there.”

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