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Montana drag queens are the unofficial keepers of Pride history

Posted at 9:15 AM, Jun 23, 2024

BILLINGS — Drag in Montana is often misunderstood, according to many in the LGBTQ community. They say it is a very important part of Pride month though, and it's not stopping the state’s top drag queens from spreading a message of joy and resilience.

From queer trivia night at Sacred Grounds coffee shop in Billings, to historical call-backs citing the 1969 Stonewall Inn start of the Pride movement, many drag performers in Montana are unofficially tasked with being the holders of queer history.

“Drag culture is so deeply rooted in black queer history, so I'm just really happy to be here,” says Onyx Echo, a drag queen and founder of Brick Haus in Billings. “Pride started out as a riot. Pride started out as police raids in clubs that were wrongful. With drag, it's a mix of a celebration of us just being happy to be here, and it also, it can be very solemn, because we know why we're here too.”

Through the art of drag, Billings-based Onyx Echo is delivering messages all across Montana.

“Montana is a very big state, very small group of performers,” says Onyx Echo.

“It's theater, it's performance, it's acting, it's an aspect of modeling, it's fashion,” says Onyx Echo.

All of that though, Onyx says, is decades behind the rest of the nation.

“Doing drag in Montana is very similar to doing drag in the nineties or the two thousands. It's still very controversial. It's still very misunderstood here, and still pretty underground,” says Onyx Echo.

The shows, not as frequent, and stepping outside the performance venue can still be dangerous.

“A lot of times in drag if we go out after, especially in Bozeman, sometimes in Helena, you'll get the slurs, sometimes people will act like they're about to jump you,” says Onyx Echo.

For this drag queen, remembering the history she holds, paired with pop star moments, keeps her moving forward.

“The people that I run with, the people that I know, are really good people that just want to perform and maybe make some money and then go home. I'm just being like, Britney Spears for four minutes and then I'm done,” says Onyx Echo.

But those minutes matter to anyone hoping for a future, free to express themselves.