Student Drag Race Creates ‘Queer Joy’ on Campus

This initiative is part of programming offered by Center on Halsted, a community organization dedicated to serving Chicago’s LGBTQ+ youth since 1973, according to their website.


A red dress cascaded on stage, paired with a figure hidden behind an open newspaper. 

Strutting confidently, the figure suddenly shredded the newspaper, revealing a face concealed by a red ski mask and wig. 

With the sonic ushering of an original mix of multilingual music, including Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” and Sexyy Red’s “SkeeYee,” Rainbow Connection and the Department of Programming’s third annual student drag race was well underway.  

The event, which was moved to the Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM Multi-Purpose Room this year due to renovations in Mullady Theater, took place from 6-8 p.m. on April 10. 

Jumping off the stage, drag queen and Loyola student Europa Shaykhlislamova began dancing between aisles, encouraging audience members to clap and sing along. Turning the student drag show into what felt like a mix between a nightclub and Coachella as Shaykhlislamova led the audience in clapping and singing along. 

For Shaykhlislamova, the audience’s reaction is what made the performance a success. 

“The audience is absolutely crucial to any drag performance and I feel like this audience, I feel like Loyola has some of the best students,” Shaykhlislamova said. “I am really just proud to have this community and to have seen so much support today.” 

The performer said they started doing drag at last year’s drag race event after being encouraged by friends involved with Rainbow Connection. 

Shreya Seetharam, president of Rainbow Connection, and Vivian Klosk, collaboration director for the Department of Programming, said they had been co-planning the event since November. They said their goal was to foster safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community while showcasing student talent. The event was attended by 204 people, according to the Department of Programming. 

“I’m hoping it’s a space for free expression, especially of our performers that are also students here, and a place where we can celebrate queer identity,” Seetharam said.

Kiki Love, a graduate student and performer in the show, said she was originally inspired to start doing drag after going to a show at Loyola five years ago when she was an undergraduate student, before the event was coordinated with the Department of Programming. After seeing the performance — which was hosted by RuPaul’s Drag Race competitor Morgan McMichaels — Love said she was exposed to the world of drag. 

Love said the 2019 performance prompted her obsession with the artform, then watching every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race available. Reflecting on her time at Loyola, Love said she was excited to perform in the space that catalyzed her love of drag. 

“I felt like it was a full circle moment,” Love said. “I was like, ‘This is kind of where it all started for me, and I can’t wait to go out and do it and be that experience for someone else in the audience.’” 

Seetharam said this celebration is something Rainbow Connection and the Department of Programming are committed to despite a small group of protesters gathering annually outside the event. Klosk and Seetharam said although these protestors are expected, they don’t influence the planning process. 

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to let a couple people ruin the celebration and the performances,” Seetharam said. “We don’t want to let that rain on our parade.” 

Roska, one of the professional drag queens who performed at the show, said she also loves drag because of the audience’s reactions. At the show, she performed a number to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” in order to foster audience participation, saying she was inspired by the renowned Rickroll meme. 

“I hope that people laugh, honestly,” Roska said. “I want people to not only be enthralled by what I can do, but to be like ‘She’s crazy. She’s stupid. I love her.’” 

Roska said she started officially doing drag last April, bringing to life a character she had sketched in her notebook. She started doing drag professionally after learning about Dare to Drag, a program that helps youth drag performers start out.

This initiative is part of programming offered by Center on Halsted, a community organization dedicated to serving Chicago’s LGBTQ+ youth since 1973, according to their website. Roska said a member from Rainbow Connection saw a performance at the Center on Halsted and asked if they would perform in Loyola’s Drag Race. 

Roska agreed and said they were glad to show their signature spin on drag — which included whipping their long ponytail and highlighting an assortment of Hello Kitty props. The audience roared during Roska’s chaotic take on Astley’s classic song, cheering in awe at the dancer’s seemingly nonstop energy and contortionist-like movements. 

“The audience is insane,” said Roska, reflecting on the show. “Y’all eat everything up.”

Like Roska, Love began performing after being exposed to Dare to Drag last July. She said she learned about the program via Chicago drag queen Sasha Sota’s Instagram story. 

Love performed two numbers, the first being Miley Cyrus’ “WTF Do I Know” and the second to “When I Grow Up” by The Pussycat Dolls. Wearing a sparkly mini dress and black thigh-high boots, Love showed off her performative prowess in both numbers, playing with her long, blonde hair between dramatic high kicks and splits. 

Love said there’s an importance to creating positive spaces for LGBTQ+ members under 21, as there aren’t many drag venues available to those who are under the legal drinking age. For this reason, Love said she is thankful Loyola has such a strong and supportive queer community. 

Love said she hopes audience members leave feeling happy because whenever she performs, she is just happy to be in a positive environment, highlighting the significance of communal pride.

“It’s just so easy for people to punch down on the queer community, especially, especially trans people,” Love said. “It’s just so important that we have spaces like this where we can come out and just have this queer joy.”

Featured image taken by Aidan Cahill / The Phoenix.

Hailey Gates

Hailey Gates