Connecticut Queens welcomed by breweries and wineries despite backlash
Written and photographed by DAWN ENNIS
The mom-and-pop owners of a brewery in New Hartford aren’t backing down to the haters who have let them know, online and in person, their feelings about drag performers.
“GOOD BYE,” said one of the anti-drag keyboard warriors who claimed to be a customer when he targeted the venue’s social media. He was swiftly ratioed by supporters who mocked him and posted positive comments; others had their negative comments deleted. Another hater went so far as to vandalize a sign advertising a drag event in one of the brewery’s all-gender bathrooms.
“I try to ignore it, and it bothers me. I want to respond to it,” Christina Sayer, founder and co-owner of Brewery Legitimus, told CT Voice at its “Dinner with the Divas” event in May. “But what I’m seeing here tonight, I believe the people that are here are having a beautiful time. And it makes me emotional. This is beautiful!”
A large crowd, strictly 21 and older and mostly cisgender straight folks, enjoyed the night’s entertainment, as well as a buffet dinner provided by Avon Prime Meats, and of course, beer, cider, hard seltzer and cocktails. Despite threats posted online, not one protester showed up.
“I think it’s really stupid and ignorant, and I think it ignores a lot of the actual issues that are going on in the country in terms of violence,” said Frank from Cincinnati, one of at least two gay men in the audience who spoke with CT Voice. Chris from Simsbury said he just wanted to have a good time. His favorite part? “The show tunes!” he said.
“I love the costumes and the energy,” said Danielle from Harwinton. She came with her friend Kelly from Farmington, and news of the backlash was a surprise to them. “I didn’t hear anything about that, but I think that’s kind of silly. Drag has been around forever,” Danielle said. “It’s fun!” Kelly added, “We’re having a great time!”
That night in May was so successful in large part because of the performers Summer Orlando and Barbra Joan Streetsand.
“This is what support looks like!” said Summer. “We need more of this, in our venues, in our bars, and in our wineries, everywhere right now.”
“We’re not out to groom anybody!” added Barbra, with the punchline: “I can barely groom myself!”
Summer Orlando and Barbra Joan Streetsand, each of whom actually sing the Broadway anthems and pop hit songs made famous by Madonna, Cher, ABBA and of course Barbra Streisand, have left a trail of glitter all across the state: from Labyrinth Brewing Company in Manchester to Amici Italian Grill in Middletown, as well as Counter Weight Brewing Company in Cheshire, Brignole Vineyards in East Granby and WeHa Brewing and Roasting Company in West Hartford, to name a few.
But they’re hardly the only show in town. This past summer, Thomas Hooker Brewery hosted drag brunches on Sundays. Xiomarie Labeija hosted a drag brunch featuring Moxie Angel at Parkville Market in Hartford. Carlös & Patty Bourrée were the headliners for Sky Casper’s Pink Eggs & Glam drag brunch cabaret at the Heritage Hotel in Southbury. Frankie Cyanide, Clemintine Ku’Lay’d and Damela Cuca Deville appeared at Piggy’s Café for a brunch hosted by Mz. October May Lay titled, “B!#ch Please, It’s Brunch!” And that’s just a sample.
However, there are still places where their art is not appreciated or welcomed.
“There’s a lot of venues that don’t believe drag shows should happen,” said Summer. “The fact that Brewery Legitimus and other breweries in Connecticut are for it and support it and love it, it’s a wonderful thing. We’re very grateful for that. They’ve opened up the door for us and let us do a show here.”
As for those who express their disapproval of drag online, and in person, with vandalism, Barbra didn’t hold back. “It’s just disgusting,” they said. “It’s disgusting that these people don’t have anything better to do with their time. And maybe they need to look into something in their own lives, you know?
“All things come to pass,” said Barbra. “This is going to become an old story. These evil people are going to disappear some way or another.”
“I’ve been doing drag for about 12 years now,” said Summer, 30, who noted Barbra has been doing drag for 31 years. “Yes, longer than she’s been alive,” added Barbra, who is 55.
Both performers use she/her pronouns in their act. When not in their drag personas, Summer is a gay man who uses he/him pronouns; Barbra is nonbinary.
Although the drag dinner earlier this year was a 21-plus only event, Summer said they also host Drag Queen Story Hours that have sparked controversy across the country, and in some towns in Connecticut, too.
“We do a lot of family-friendly shows and events,” she said. “We do Pride events. I also have a drag queen story hour called ‘Once Upon a Queen,’ and I’ve partnered with Bridgeport Public Library, New Haven Public Library. I do readings at a lot of different Pride events, and I love working with kids and seeing them. You know, to them we’re just characters in sparkly outfits.”
According to the Movement Advancement Project, two states outlaw drag performances outright—Montana and Tennessee—and four states have laws on the books restricting “adult performances” that are aimed at preventing a venue from hosting a drag performer: Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and Texas. Courts in Florida and Tennessee have struck down those laws as unenforceable, pending appeal, as of press time.
Those laws are among more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed by Republicans this year from coast to coast, including here in Connecticut.
Barbra told CT Voice those lawmakers are wasting their time and taxpayer money.
“They really should be paying attention to answering the real questions, how to solve the economy and all that stuff,” they said. “Instead of singling out people because of how they like to appear in life. Real world problems versus, they talk about ‘grooming.’ Well, you know, more children are more in danger going to a church than they are to a drag show. Sorry.”
“Our demographic is, I like to say, six to 60,” said Summer.
“Summer and I did Wizard of Oz back in 2017, where she was the first male to play Dorothy, and I was the second male to play Glinda,” recalled Barbra. “The Scarecrow was quite the diva and was making the kids cry. So, they all gathered around my pink skirt. I was the one that they came to for nurturing, me of all people. They came to me for that comforting aspect because this man was scaring them, and that says a lot.”
For Summer, the roots of her performance hail back to her experience in theater.
“I’m a theater kid, so I’m all about characters and costumes and all of that,” she said. “My first experience was with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. As a lot of people in the LGBTQ community say, especially drag, we say, ‘You’re either a Rocky Horror Picture Show drag queen, or you’re a Halloween drag queen, like the first time in drag on Halloween kind of situations like that, which is wonderful. All drag is valid.”
As someone who’s been in show business even longer, Barbra said their journey to drag had a different origin.
“I started off more of as a celebrity impersonator to impersonate Barbra Streisand, because I look like her, so I started off doing it that. But I’ve always been a singer,” said Barbra. “I’m a performer. And yes, I do drag on top of that. People used to say, ‘Well, you’re not a drag queen. You’re a celebrity impersonator.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m a drag queen. My friends are drag queens. I’m a drag queen. All my friends are either trans or drag.’ And so, I have no qualms with saying I do drag. And I’ve been trying to really glam up my drag look.”
“Barbra and I say, ‘We take from the old school, and we also have new school.’ Celebrity impersonation is a great form of drag,” said Summer. “And as she said, we sing live, so it’s really a big deal, what sets us apart from all the other drag shows and stuff around. And we make it family-friendly and something for everybody.”
Summer offered this advice to anyone considering going to a drag show for the first time: “I highly recommend just taking the jump and going because you’re going to leave having had the best time of your life, You’re going to walk away having had fun. We always promise fun. We always, always promise hilarity. And, you know, just to get away from the real world for an hour or two and just have a good time, you know, let your hair down!”