Chicago Drag Loves the World fundraiser takes Pride back to its protest roots

Dozens of drag performers are coming together to raise funds for communities across the globe.

Lindsay Eanet
Written by
Lindsay Eanet
lucy stoole
Photograph: Courtesy of Lucy StooleLucy Stoole.

Last year, amid a rash of drag bans and anti-trans bills across the country, Chicago drag queen Lucy Stoole brought together dozens of drag performers, DJs and local creatives for Chicago Loves Drag, a celebration raising funds for organizations supporting drag performers and trans community members in Chicago, Tennessee and beyond.  

This year for Pride Month, Stoole is taking this effort a step further, across the ocean. On Friday, June 21, she’s hosting Chicago Drag Loves the World at Metro Chicago, an evening of performances raising money to support communities impacted by war, displacement, famine and genocide in Gaza, Congo and Sudan. 

“I’m looking forward to the fact that everyone is bringing all of these causes together in one place,” says Kal Jazeera, a Chicago-based queer Palestinian creative who is speaking at the fundraiser. “I haven’t seen that as much so far. I’m looking forward to having a place to put what the spirit of Pride is to me into action. We’re trying to do something meaningful with our time and energy at this moment instead of watching Jojo Siwa perform.”

100% of the proceeds from Chicago Drag Loves the World will be split between four aid organizations: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), the Sudanese Red Crescent and Congo Children Trust. 

For Stoole, the phrase “Pride is a protest” is more than a bumper sticker slogan—it’s a reminder to use her platform to advocate for human rights locally and globally.

“It never felt right for me with any Pride to just be going about my day in rainbows when there are people who are unable to be free in that way,” she says.

She hopes this fundraiser will not just raise money, but encourage other drag communities across the world to engage in similar ways. 

“[The Chicago drag scene] is followed and seen as the starter of trends and the people who are looked at as pushing the envelope when it comes to drag,” she says. “I thought it would be great for people to see that you can be the change in your community and raise awareness on the atrocities that are happening in Gaza, Congo and Sudan and inside your own communities.”

And the drag community, she says, has a particular role to play, especially as the art becomes more popular and performers become household names. 

“I think that drag performers are definitely seen as the spokespeople for the queer community in a lot of ways, since we have these roles as the host in the nightclub or the host onstage that runs the microphone and corrals the party,” she says. “We’re seen as people to look towards in the community. We've always been those pillars in different ways since Marsha [P. Johnson] threw that brick, using our voices to say, ‘Listen to what’s going on around you and make sure you’re helping people.’”

The extensive lineup of 40 performers includes headliners RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Denali and Kahmora Hall, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula runner-up Sigourney Beaver and Chicago-based “Palestinian Pop Princess” Amira Jazeera. Beyond the big names, the lineup includes many popular hosts and heavy-hitters and represents a broad spectrum of Chicago drag styles, including performances from Aunty Chan, Abhijeet, Ms Toto, Helvetikah Blak, Ari Gato, Lúc Ami and Penis Envy, along with beats from local DJs Pepper Jelly and Stasney.

“I think it’s really remarkable to have more than 40 drag performers in a scene alone, but to have 40 of my favorites in one show is pretty stupendous,” Stoole says.

lucy stoole
Photograph: Courtesy of Lucy StooleLucy Stoole.

It was important to Stoole to ensure Palestinian Chicagoans were involved and given a platform at the event, including siblings Amira and Kal Jazeera and activist and organizer Samer Owaida. 

Chicagoland is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora community in the United States, and that is represented in Chicago’s queer community as well. The first Palestinian drag queen Kal Jazeera saw was K’hole Kardashian here in Chicago.

“Drag has always been political, even before the RuPaul-ification of making drag just for entertainment,” they say. “We need to continue using the energy behind Pride to mobilize our community.”

They say they want their fellow Chicago queers to know that queer Palestinians exist beyond fetishization, and that the community rejects the narrative that queer Palestinians don’t exist, something Palestinian activists refer to as “pinkwashing,” a term to describe a government or organization promoting LGBTQ+ rights in order to deflect from its harmful practices.

They also encourage queer Chicagoans to consider the impact Pride events and partnerships may have on queer Palestinian community members, citing an incident at Pride Fest in 2022 where queer Palestinians and allies protested a performance by Israeli pop singer Netta. The protesters were attacked by festival-goers and a queer Palestinian protester was arrested.

“I hope that the Chicago queer community continues to fight for liberation and remembers this is everyone’s fight, and rejects blatant racism and rhetoric that there can’t be queer people in Palestine, which is not true,” Amira Jazeera says.

At Chicago Drag Loves the World, Amira Jazeera will be performing her new single “Still Thinkin’ Bout Me,” ahead of her debut album dropping later this year. “The audience are like my best friends,” she says of her shows. “It’s like we’re kids again, and I’m a pop star in my living room.”

She says being a proud Palestinian pop star is a form of protest in itself. “When we say our existence is resistance, we mean that to the core, especially when you don’t see representation of queer Palestinians in mainstream media,” she says. “I see myself as representation within my community and hope I can make people feel seen and heard and encourage them to be themselves.”

The response to the event has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive, Stoole says. In addition to the performances and speeches, guests can pose for photos in the GlitterGuts photobooth and enter the raffle, featuring prizes from Stoned Stoner Stoning and RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Shea Coulée and Laila McQueen. 

As drag continues to become more popular and commercially viable, Stoole says it’s important for drag performers and communities to bring their values into their work. Fame, she says, can lead to individuals more likely to stay quiet on issues that are important but perceived as controversial. 

“It’s easy to see stuff go out of the news and quickly forget about it,” she says. “I hope this reminds them to keep this in their head, in their heart, in who they want to collaborate with, who they want to give their money to. Their actions can speak very loudly and they should be choosing to make better actions for themselves and the community.”

Stoole says she’s looking forward to the joy and celebration that will come from having 40 performers together showcasing their talents for these causes.

“Even though we spend a lot of time feeling powerless, we have ways to bring joy and help to the world,” she says.

Chicago Drag Loves the World takes place Friday, June 21 at 8pm at Metro Chicago, 3730 N. Clark St. Tickets are $20 in advance, or $25 at the door, and available here.

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