Two Soho House members on the state of Pride in America today
Nashville-based drag queen Vidalia Anne Gentry and LA media mogul Liz Culley discuss allyship in the USA – and what we can all do to help
Monday 12 June 2023 By David Levesley
Queer intolerance is on the rise in the US. Whether it’s the number of anti-trans bills being passed (174 in 2022 alone), anti-drag bills in Florida and Tennessee, or the fights outside a school in Glendale, California, where right-wing protestors pepper-sprayed parents who wanted the school board to acknowledge Pride Month, the nation’s long-standing discomfort with LGBTQIA2S+ people is calcifying into legislation at an alarming rate.
We brought Nashville-based drag queen Vidalia Anne Gentry together with Liz Culley, executive director of entertainment at Condé Nast and presenter of the podcast Cool Cool Cool, who is based in Los Angeles, to talk Pride in America – and how fighting back needn’t cost you a dime.
Vidalia Anne Gentry: ‘Pride Month so far has been a whirlwind, mostly in a positive way. On the first day a campaign I did came out; on the second, a piece I’m going to be in for Rolling Stone was released; on the third we found out the drag ban had been ruled unconstitutional in Tennessee; on the fourth I went to the symphony… So, I mean so far, a lot of queer joy. Pride Month is like: gird your loins, do you have your calendar handy…’
Liz Culley: ‘Club, another club…’
VAG: ‘No sleep…’
LC: ‘Totally. Overall, it feels like this is going to be the longest Pride of my life. I went by Soho House, there’s so much going on.
‘When I was growing up, it was a joke that we had more porn stores and churches per capita than any other city’
Vidalia Anne Gentry
‘Los Angeles is in an interesting place with Pride. For the second year we have two: we have West Hollywood Pride and the larger Los Angeles Pride. The conversation around those two different Prides has always been about big sponsorships and pride washing, which feels very front and centre this year. WeHo Pride is ride or die, all about Yonder and the original roots of it, while at Los Angeles Pride it’s Mariah Carey.’
VAG: ‘A queer icon.’
LC: ‘Yeah, but it’s more expensive.’
VAG: ‘We’re having similar conversations here in Tennessee. Nashville Pride is the one that’s feeling a little like a music festival with a rainbow slapped on it. But on the flip side of that, the emotion is manifesting itself in events in other, often rural, communities.
‘The first weekend of June we did a kick-off event at Soho House here in Nashville, but then we saw Franklin, Tennessee had their third Pride. They almost weren’t gonna be able to do it this year – they ended up getting a permit, but not really being able to have drag. Then we had Pulaski Pride, Upper Cumberland Pride, Mid-South Pride, all of that going across Tennessee. I mean, that’s probably not even all of them.’
LC: ‘I’ve actually never been to Nashville, which is a crime. I want to visit the Soho House, it looks beautiful, and I love music. It’s so interesting that of all cities in the South, this was the one to go for drag, because it’s a music city for the world, you know?’
VAG: ‘Nashville’s a place where the bloodshed of the Civil War ended, but the cultural Civil War never fully ended – there's a little bit of a battleground moment here. And we’ve got the whole history of the Protestant church here, too. One of Nashville’s nicknames is the Protestant Vatican, the buckle of the Bible Belt. When I was growing up, it was a joke that we had more porn stores and churches per capita than any other city.’
LC: ‘Entertainment all day long.’
‘If you’re in a setting with someone and they’re being homophobic, or anti trans, or racist, calling that out doesn’t cost you anything’
VAG: ‘I remember being in middle school and seeing the Matthew Shepard murder. And that was the first temporal marker in my brain of the LGBTQ rights fight here in America. White supremacy and fascism are always going to push at the margins. I don’t think it feels like it just came out of nowhere.
‘I think that maybe people were distracted by trying to fight their own battles. I know my first thing is like: “OK, I can legally do drag, at least this week. Now how do we protect trans kids as well?” Because we have to save ourselves in a lot of situations first.’
LC: ‘I think as a society we were like: “We’re OK with gay cis white men, which is fine right?” And we’re like… “No, no, no.” We have to respect everybody’s language, even in marginalised communities. I need to continue to expand my language, continue to understand other people’s language, understand my limitations. As we all start to be more vocal about it, these folks that were just like: “Why do I have to learn? Why do I have to ask people’s pronouns? Do I have to learn more?”’
VAG: ‘Why do I have to exert any effort into the humans around me whatsoever?’
LC: ‘If you’re in a setting with someone and they’re being homophobic, or anti-trans, or racist, calling that out doesn’t cost you anything. I mean, it could, so obviously always use caution and know your surroundings, but if you’re in a setting where you know that you could potentially correct someone or if somebody uses somebody’s pronoun that’s incorrect? Just being kind, using appropriate language and being respectful can really make huge strides in being an ally and also helping to make change.’
VAG: ‘Money is important, and if you have the financial affluence to give, obviously do that because those organisations are fighting legal battles that need to be fought. But like you say, the cultural movement of it all doesn’t cost anything. When you’re talking to family members or friends who’ve not come around to it yet, use that opportunity to tell stories of queer joy – of positive experiences with queer people and drag entertainers.
‘It’s a narrative issue, and we’re having this false narrative pushed. If all you’re seeing is headline after headline just straight-up lying saying drag queens are grooming kids, at some point you’re gonna say, “Well if the news is saying it…”’
LC: ‘It’s such a distraction, not only for these larger political identities but also it’s a total ploy to not talk about gun safety in this country. Drag performers have become the scapegoat in Tennessee, children are dying in schools, and somehow we’re talking about drag? I don’t understand it. I mean I do, unfortunately, but…’
VAG: ‘In the same legislative session in Tennessee that the drag bill came up in, there was a ban on trans healthcare and the right for marriage clerks to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples or interracial couples. Every bill was attacking a liberal talking point in Tennessee.
‘To me, the real point is a signal to liberal and progressive voters they’re not welcome here. But they’re clearly here enough to make you sweat, diva. So, we need to get together and vote.’
Visit our events page to see how we’re celebrating Pride at the Houses, plus our full events schedule.