Amid Opposition, Pali QSU Successfully Stages First Drag Show


Photo by Gavin Federizo

Mercer Hall was filled to capacity with students and staff on Monday, May 22 as Pali’s Queer Student Union (QSU) organized their first student-run drag show. Hosted by QSU members Natalie Alpert and Ruby Ford and featuring 11 student performers and one staff member, the show managed to attract one of the biggest turnouts of any club-led lunchtime event to date. 

The show began with an announcement from the hosts, introducing each performer and rousing excitement from the crowd. But alongside the cheerful intro was a more serious undertone. 

“I know [QSU has] gotten a lot of hate recently, but we’re here, we’re queer and we’re loud,” Alpert said in her speech, following the introductions.

The hate that Alpert alluded to was most prevalent in the days leading up to the drag show, when QSU members who took to Schoology, social media and the morning announcements to promote the event were met with intense opposition from Pali students.

“Within a day of me posting the drag show flier on the QSU Instagram, we got a few hateful comments on the post as well as a student… taking a picture of it and posting it on his social media, saying stuff like he’s going to have a ‘there’s only two genders’ protest, saying he’s going to bring a Trump flag and just doing stuff like that,” Alpert said. “A lot of people felt very uncomfortable performing because of that, but that’s when we started getting a lot of support from certain faculty members and certain admin.”

In the face of so much backlash, Pali faculty remained supportive of the event, ensuring that QSU members knew that their values aligned with those of the school’s. That said, the opposition still managed to spread, coming to a head the morning of the drag show when students confronted QSU member Stella Simons, a junior. 

“I went to go get the pride flags for our performance as props, …and I heard that [a student] was in the cafeteria with his [Trump] flag,” Simons said. ”I already had the [pride] flag around me, …and [when] I came out of the cafeteria door, he was standing there. He said he wasn’t meaning to threaten me, but it obviously felt like a very threatening situation. I was less disappointed in him and more disappointed in how many people were rushing to us …there were a lot of really awful things said from people coming up around us.”

According to QSU president Lalo Miali, the incident caused some apprehension among the performers gearing up for the show.

“For a second, people didn’t want to perform — I mean, it scared a lot of people,” Miali said. “And rightfully so — I mean, that’s definitely a very scary thing to happen.”

However, the students behind the drag show ultimately made the decision to continue with their performance despite the morning’s incident. Backed by the school’s faculty and by many students who demonstrated their support, QSU members said they felt confident in their ability to keep the show going and to continue pushing their message of equality and acceptance.

“Even though it was a really scary thing to have that [hate] directed toward us, I feel like it kinda just made this production a little bit bigger, and it got people to feel better [about] being a part of it,” Alpert said.

One Pali teacher, Kevin Oliva, was particularly supportive of the show, choosing to perform alongside his students. Sporting a black glittery dress, Oliva danced to “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce and said that he was excited to do his part to make Pali a more welcoming and inclusive space.

“I want to tell others that I am here to support everyone,” Oliva said. “I am here as an ally, and I want to promote that unity and safe space wherever I go.”

Alpert shared a similar sentiment regarding QSU’s motives for the show.

“We’re doing it to show that we’re not going to tolerate any of this hate,” Alpert said. “This school is a safe space for students that are openly trans and queer and even students that are closeted. As a club, we need to promote positivity, inclusivity and try to reach out to those students who are feeling unsure of themselves or who don’t really feel that they have a place in our community because all are welcome at our club.”

Ultimately, QSU and the students who participated in the drag show said they managed to run a successful event despite the backlash and harassment that they had received from unsupportive students. Their goal was to solidify Pali as a safe space for queer students, and the large number of students and staff in attendance suggests that they were successful to some extent.

Miali shared the overall message that QSU intended to spread with this event.

“[Our message was] to be okay with yourself and just to be outwards and be happy with who you are and be proud and confident with your ability to be yourself,” they said. “Honestly, I feel like there should be no shame in wearing a dress anywhere, regardless of who you are. And this is just here to give some people some confidence and to show other people that this is OK.”