A community rallies behind  an embattled queen

While there was the usual spirit of fun, the drag show was also fraught with emotions and vibrated with a sense of defiance. At the bar Brooklyn Warehouse, along Claro M. Recto Avenue, in Sampaloc, Manila, on 8 October, more than 40 drag performers participated in what is most likely the biggest and longest drag show in the Philippines — quickly organized in just three days. This was galvanized by the arrest of drag artist Pura Luka Vega.

A few months ago, a video clip of Vega’s drag performance in a bar circulating on social media caused uproar and indignation. Many people called it offensive and comments on social media were overwhelmingly anti-LGBTQ+ insults. Several politicians denounced the performance and 11 areas declared them persona non grata, the most for one person. Aside from receiving threats, Vega was sued by several individuals and groups. On 5 October, they were arrested at their home in Santa Cruz, Manila.

Drag Den winner Naia spearheaded the event (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)


This time, many LGBTQ+ groups and individuals were more vocal, expressing indignation, and many find the actions excessive, considering many criminal acts remain unaddressed. That day, Naia, the winner of the local drag competition Drag Den, announced putting up a drag show to raise funds for Vega’s bail, which was set at P72,000, and called for volunteers. There were also calls for donations on social media platforms.

Vega was able to post bail and was released from police custody on 7 October. On Sunday afternoon, Naia, Drag Den creator Rod Singh and Vega’s friends proceeded to mount “NKKLK: A Fundraising Show for Pura Luka Vega,” using the shortcut term for “nakakaloka” or “maddening,” to raise funds for Vega’s legal battles and for their living expenses as they were not able to work. Aside from the performances, several merchants set up booths to sell products, the proceeds from which will be donated to Vega.

Drag queens expressing their support and indignation (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

Drag queens performed one after another including Vega’s fellow contestants in the first season of Drag Den, such as Aries Night, Lady Gagita who performed “Judas,” and Maria Cristina who lip-synched to “Man in the Mirror.” Drag Den co-host, social media personality Sassa Gurl, also performed.

Drag queens from rival competition, Drag Race Philippines, also appeared led by winner Precious Paula Nicole with heartfelt performance of “Can’t Take That Away,” Turing with “In the End” and Veruschka Levels.

Pura Luka Vega performed with their mother during a fundraiser event.

Other notable acts included those of Myx Chanel, who emphasized that being “LGBTQ+ is not a sin,” and Worshipthegays, parodying a prominent political figure. Activist queen Mrs. Tan performed “Tatsulok,” and said, “Panatilihin natin na ang ating sining ay malaya at mapagpalaya (Let’s keep our art free and liberating).”

Other participating drag performers were Muah Dayaw, Arxenik, Gogo Yubari, Aurora Borealis, Zilver Zwan, Mystic Lexie, Ezra and Dysco, Eula Hoops, Eliza, Riley Nicole, Syntax, Panthera Arma, Dolores, Andro Jenny, Kumareng Harvey, Edsa Xxtra, Mage, Tuanqui, Skinishaa, Jessie Wanaluvmi J, Stare Decisis, Gabriella She Lang, TSN, Regina Gorge, Salmo Nella, Rian, Gem, Luxx Arry, Viper, Jaja Collins, Sofia, Dominota and Jona Quinn.

Naia did not perform but expressed her gratitude to the attendees and delivered a message, saying, “This is not just an attack on the community; this is an attack against freedom of speech. Drag is an artform that cannot be silent and art should not be censored. And I want everyone to know that an attack on one of us is an attack against every single one of us, everyone in our community.”

Mrs. Tan (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

Naia acknowledged the presence of her parents who were there to show support. Prominent LGBTQ+ advocates Mela Franco Habijan and Janlee Dunca served as hosts for the second half of the show.

By nighttime, Singh announced updates on the donations — about P700,000 through online efforts and about P200,000 through the show. The following day, 9 October, the transgender woman filmmaker posted an update on X (@iamrodafrog), formerly called Twitter, on the total amount of donations — P892,975.60.

“Your donations will help Luka for their legal and living expenses especially that there are other cases filed against them including a complaint filed by Bro. Eddie,” she wrote.

“NKKLK” culminated with a surprise appearance of Vega and their first public performance after their arrest. They delivered a lip-sync performance of the song “The Prayer,” gesturing their gratitude for the support of the audience. Their mother, Esther, was present and she was invited onstage to join in the performance. She attempted a few lines before breaking into tears. The audience were also crying.

Their drag sisters also joined Vega in big embrace. After the performance, attendees came up the stage to give Vega hugs, to whisper words of encouragement, to take pictures with, to laugh and cry with, both friends and strangers but all in the community.

“NKKLK” proved to be not only a show but it was also a sign of protest, a way to create safe space and to look for one another as a community, a challenge against repression and discrimination, an expression of support and solidarity for an embattled member.

 Sassa Gurl (Photo by Roel Hoang Manipon)

While a part of the drag community performed and voiced out what they feel, Dr. Lizette Pearl G. Tapia-Raquel, an ordained deacon of the United Methodist Church and assistant professor at Union Theological Seminary, posted on Facebook her thoughts on the different interpretations and “translatability” of Jesus Christ through the times and different cultures.

“The many translations, faces and bodies, of Christ should not be a threat to us as people of faith. We cannot justify persecution and violence against those who may translate Christ in new ways — for as long as this Christ still preaches love of God and neighbor. If anything, these new images can be understood as the continuing translatability and interpretative possibility of Christ. The Spirit of Christ, which is never in our control and under our authority, endures and moves beyond what we in our limited faith can imagine,” she wrote.

She further said: “A few days ago, Pura Luka Vega was arrested for ‘offending religion.’ Her ‘crime’ is performing in drag the Lord’s Prayer. I did not watch it until today. I prefer live performances of drag, or any kind of artistic production for that matter. It’s just more powerful and awe-inspiring. Pura’s Jesus performance is a translation, an interpretation, that is new and different. It was performed to a community that celebrated drag as an artistic expression. I was not offended. Perhaps that is an image of Jesus that gave validation to the LGBTQI++ community. What to me is criminal is how our own families, churches and civil societies have caused harm against LGBTQI++ persons. Our faith does not give us license to exclude, persecute and promote violence against others.”

“Pura’s performance had no intent to offend you, me, our churches, nor our society. It’s not about us! It’s about the translatability of the Christ which continues and will continue for as long as people believe,” Dr. Tapia-Raquel ended.