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Despite attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights, one local group is hosting 'family-friendly' events to show Missourians they're not alone

Nclusion+ Facebook Page

It’s a Friday night in the Arts District. Despite the biting November cold, there’s a warmth in how the loud music floods Serendipity Salon and Gallery.

The space is filled with people excited to play bingo in support of Douglass High School. Drag performers, Artemis Grey and Faye King, take turns lip-syncing to catchy songs and heartfelt ballads. And between performances, they call out numbers until someone gets a bingo.

Star Mezzanotte was one of the night’s winners.

"Right now, it's such a sensitive time in our country. I just think it's really important to just have people know that we're here and we're not going anywhere."
Faye King

“I am a bingo fanatic,” they said. “I love bingo. I play it as often as they can. So yeah, I always love when I get to win.”

Mezzanotte is also a member of NClusion Plus, a lifestyle production company in Mid-Missouri working to create space for the queer community to “feel at home.” The group is also responsible for putting together the Drag Bingo night on November 18, 2022.

Beyond the chance to win and support a good cause – this event has another purpose - bringing drag into new spaces.

“I always think it's good for people to be able to experience different forms of self-expression, and, you know, things like that, especially people who haven't ever attended a drag show before to maybe get out of their comfort zone a little bit,” Mezzanotte said.

Drag shows hold a cultural meaning within queer history and liberation. And, in addition to providing a place for the queer community to find each other, drag shows offer a space for exploration outside of the gender binary — which is what attracts Faye King, a nonbinary performer.

“It allows me to express myself in different ways,” she said. “It allows me to try new things and have an audience and see what kinds of things I like and what kind of things I don't like, as far as expression goes. And it hopefully allows them to feel the same way that I feel when I'm on stage too.”

For Faye, Nclusion Plus family-friendly events are special because they introduce families and younger audiences to drag since many drag shows are held in bars and require people to be 21 or older.

“Being under those ages, it's a sort of vulnerable time in your life, and having representation matters so much,” King said. “And to know that they're not alone, if they are questioning things like based in like how society kind of tells them to act a certain way, dress a certain way, you can't be this you can be that these queer spaces kind of do allow us to create those moments where we can show that it's okay.”

Nclusion+ Facebook Page

Spaces free from homophobia and transphobia are becoming harder to find despite still being vital to the community. The American Psychological Association recently found that 72% of the LGBTQIA+ community reported feeling like their rights were under attack.

While environments like this are important across the world, it’s significant that these spaces are in Missouri. It’s one of the 22 states that’s categorized as “high priority to achieve basic equality” by the Human Rights Campaign in 2021.

So, in a state that still has a long way to go for LGBTQIA+ equality, having a space that is open to all can be an important resource. Chris Lehman, one of the co-owners of Nclusion Plus, explained that creating this space to celebrate different types of expression is one of their core purposes.

“We're doing this as a passion project for us,” he said. “So, it's something that we enjoy setting everything up and we enjoy actually facilitating the events and running the events. We're still reaching out and getting to impact different people at different events.”

And for Faye King – back at the bingo night - these spaces are especially important right now as anti-LQBTQIA+ policies and legal battles are putting stress on the community. Policies that aim to prevent transgender students from playing sports, aim to prevent gender-affirming care, and have banned books that have LGBTQIA+ representation.

“The queer community has always been under attack,” King said. “But right now, it's such a sensitive time in our country, that I just, I just think it's really important to just have people know that we're here and we're not going anywhere.”

At the end of the night, when the bingo cards are cleared away, Nclusion Plus raised about $250 for Douglass High School AND created an accessible space for people of all ages to enjoy drag performance, be themselves or explore what that might be.

Abigail Ruhman is a reporter and afternoon newscast anchor for KBIA. They are working on a special series, and have produced for KBIA's Missouri on Mic and Missouri Health Talks in the past.
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