In a shiny green long-sleeve bodysuit with sparkling orange fabric, marching band-style buttons dotted down her chest and fringed shoulder pads resting below gold hooped earrings, headliner Kornbread Jeté radiated unapologetic confidence at Student Entertainment Events’ Spring Drag Show.
“When I go out and perform, I live authentically as myself,” Jeté said. “It’s huge to have representation…just to show people that there’s not one way to [live].”
SEE hosted the Spring Drag Show with its co-sponsor, the Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy office, on Friday, April 14. Packed into seats surrounding the T-shaped runway in Stamp Student Union’s Grand Ballroom, students cheered on four queens as they strutted, turned and high-kicked in a celebration of originality.
Jeté previously starred in season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, where she took home the beloved “Miss Congeniality” award, which is awarded to the season’s kindest queen by her fellow castmates. The fan-favorite queen also gained recognition for her comedic performances and amusing facial expressions, which were later taken to the big screen in her role of Drag Mary in Hocus Pocus 2.
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Growing up queer in South Carolina and proudly representing transgender women both in and out of drag, Jeté strives to live every day for herself.
“I just know what I’m going to do, it’s gonna piss somebody off, and it’s pissing you off because you’re not happy with yourself,” Jeté said. “So maybe you’ll find yourself in what I’m doing.”
Several states nationwide have proposed legislation targeting public drag shows, with states such as Texas passing two bills restricting drag performances around children. But for students at the University of Maryland who come from around the country, like freshman biology major Raegan Duroy from Texas, attending the annual drag show is a chance to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
“I can’t think of many schools in Texas that would even remotely come close to doing the same thing,” Duroy said about the show. “I really like getting to see that the campus cares about LGBTQ culture in that sort of way, through directly focusing on the drag part of LGBTQ+ culture.”
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Jeté was joined by the show’s emcee and university alumni Miss Toto, who reiterated messages of self-love and perseverance throughout her time on the mic. Taking the pre-med route as a Terp, Miss Toto advised students to follow the path that is truest to them rather than pursue what their parents want.
For Duroy, who is also on the pre-med track but unsure if she wants to continue, Miss Toto’s message was a reassuring boost of confidence that even if she didn’t end college the way she planned, Duroy would be okay.
In between reminders to stay true to oneself, queens Sirene Noir Sidora Jackson and Angelle Zhané kept the audience on their toes as they embodied charismatic characters in showstopping ensembles.
Showcasing her talent in three performances, Jackson swung on staircase railings leading up to the stage before walking up the steps, pausing with her back to the audience and arching her spine backward to lay eyes on the cheering crowd.
After each queen’s first performance, the second round of outfits came with even more surprises.
Wrapped in a black, waterfall petticoat with the shoulder fabric puffed out, Zhané made an extravagant statement of what it means to take up space. Then, stepping one leather thigh-high boot in front of the other, she unbuttoned her coat to reveal a bright orange, pink and yellow fringed leotard with sheer black sleeves.
“Being in their presence…you see them just embodying their characters,” Gabriella Feinberg, a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences, said. “You’re just so privileged to be able to be in that spot…[it’s] so magical.”
But as drag performances face backlash outside of College Park, students who appreciate the art form and the community it represents need to use their votes and voices to ensure it’s protected, Duroy said.
Until then, students can take home the queen’s lessons on the importance of self-love and authenticity to make a difference in their own lives.
“We need reminders about that a lot of the time, especially in college,” Feinberg said. “We forget that we could just actually look and be whoever we are, whatever that manifests in.”