There was a time when a drag show in Gulfport on the first day of Pride Month wouldn’t have been big news, let alone landed on the front page of The Gabber Newspaper.
But that was then. This is now. In Florida’s current anti-drag, anti-trans climate, Drag at the Hickman on June 1 could be viewed as an act of defiance: a declaration of queer joy and a celebration of an art form that has been a mainstay of popular entertainment from Shakespeare to RuPaul, from Milton Berle to Mrs. Doubtfire.
Even more important is the beneficiary: the Gulfport Public Library’s renowned LGBTQ+ Resource Center, a collection of more than 10,000 books, CDs, DVDs and online materials. The Center’s the only one of its kind in a Florida public library. In this time of book-ban hysteria, support of a public institution that shares information for and about LGBTQ+ lives is more crucial than ever.
Drag at Gulfport’s Hickman Theater
Hosting a drag show at the Catherine Hickman Theater wasn’t the Resource Center’s first idea for Pride month. The Center, known for such programs as its popular ReadOut literary festival in February, planned a film series. But when that didn’t work out, a drag show seemed a timely alternative, said Susan Gore, the all-volunteer Center’s savvy and determined board president.
Like many other Gulfportians, she had grown familiar with the work of Edson Abadia, Jr. The acrobatic fire-dancer, frequently seen at the Saturday Morning Market, is also a drag artist. Gore hired him to co-host Drag at the Hickman with his partner, Michael Knapp, a yoga instructor and aerial silks dancer whose drag persona is Greta Gripp. Together, they perform as Mr. and Mrs. Gripp, and they’ll be joined on the bill June 1 by four other stellar acts.
“The message I really want to send out on behalf of the center,” says Gore, “is that drag is not child grooming. It’s performance art.”
She has full support from Gulfport’s mayor, city council, and library director for the event — and its goal of bringing “visibility and support” to the drag and trans communities.
But she’s not taking any chances with the anti-drag crowd, who out of misunderstanding or malice have targeted drag as dangerous for children.
18 and Older Only, Please
“We chose to make the event 18 and over,” says Gore. “We think we can make the point best without creating a provocation, and admitting under 18 would be poking the bear.”
As was the case with ReadOut, she added, “we will have a uniformed police officer on site.” This will assure attendees of their safety. It will also make sure “people who might be unhappy” with the event know security is in place.
Drag at the Hickman will also pack some legal firepower: Abadia is an attorney with particular expertise in LGBTQ+ issues. While at Stetson Law, he launched a scholarship for LGBTQ+ students, performed in drag during a Lambda Legal Society Event (the first-ever such performance on the campus) and won recognition from the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association for his student leadership.
He believes “the laws and attacks on drag queens are based on confusion about what drag is.” And while some of that “confusion” is willful, a pretext for the criminalization of trans lives, he hopes the Hickman show will make a statement about “all the varieties of drag.”
What to Expect
To that end, the program includes the edgy style of Rip Lee; the pageant-queen glam of Autumn Vee and Hazel E. Genevieve; and Silver Foxx of the Bois of Florida Drag Kings.
As for Mr. and Mrs. Gripp, they can’t include fire or aerial silks in their act, but acrobatics and song are definitely on the menu.
“I sing,” says Knapp, “and he can move. We both have strengths.”
Knapp may draw on his musical theater background with numbers like “I Am What I Am,” while Mr. Gripp (Abadia) might incorporate LED props, a handstand or two and maybe a bit of Freddie Mercury.
“I love to get the audience to have fun with me,” Abadia says.
Both have found that drag is about much more than dressing up.
For Knapp, doing drag as opposed to regular theater allows him to make his own decisions, choose the mix of songs, break the fourth wall — and then walk amongst the crowd afterwards in costume (normally a no-no in traditional theater).
Abadia values the fact that “drag gives people a voice. We are given four minutes to make a statement — and having my legal background, I like taking the chance to make my statement.”
The beauty of transgender people, the many varieties of drag — they’re all part of the statement he and his co-stars will be making via Drag at the Hickman. For the community at large, it’s good to be reminded of the importance of drag to LGBTQ+ history — not just because it’s a fabulous art form, but because it has posed a challenge to gender norms and homophobia since way before Stonewall, when the queens showed their fierceness on the streets of NYC.
See the Show
Drag at the Hickman Catherine Hickman Theater, 5501 27th Ave. S., Gulfport. June 1, 7:30 p.m. (doors, 7 p.m.). Ages 18+. $25-$100. This Gulfport drag show benefits the LGBTQ Resource Center of the Gulfport Library. Get tickets on Eventbrite.
Other Gulfport Pride Events
The Gulfport Pride celebration on Saturday, June 3 also benefits the LGBTQ Resource Center. Attractions include musical acts, 130+ vendors, the ArtOut juried exhibition at the Gulfport Public Library, and a 21+ indoor drag show starring Brianna Summers at Neptune Grill. For more info, go to gulfportprideflorida.com