Drag Race legends share defining memories of on-screen queerness: ‘Billy Elliot changed my life’

RuPaul's Drag Race

From Queer as Folk to Popstars the Rivals, the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race recount to PinkNews their defining memories of onscreen LGBTQ+ representation.

In the landscape of today’s media, in which we can watch teenage schoolboys fall in love in Heartstopper, a gay couple fight the apocalypse in Knock at the Cabin and a young lesbian romance in The Last of Us, it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when positive LGBTQ+ representation was practically non-existent.

Long before streaming services and social media came along, television screens and cinemas were places where a rare glimpse of LGBTQ+ identity was a seriously momentous event. Whether it was seeing a same-sex kiss or queer people forging friendships, very often, all it took was a single scene for many in the community growing up during this time to begin to envisage a future filled with happiness, success, and love.

With that in mind, PinkNews caught up with several stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race to find out the moments of onscreen LGBTQ+ representation that resonated with their younger selves and helped shape their identities.

Angeria Paris VanMicheals

I remember growing up and seeing Noah’s Arc – I actually found it in the heart of my coming out, right before I came out completely, and it actually helped me do it, because of seeing these men on this show.

Being from a small town and not really having gay friends or being around gay culture, it just gave me the sense of what it was like, and gave me the power to think: “I want to go ahead and be out and proud and live the lifestyle as well.”

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It was Queer as Folk. That is basically soft porn. When you’re like, 13 or 14, that’s all you have access to.

I come from a very Caribbean family – homosexuality isn’t something that’s spoken about or encouraged, so [I would watch it and think]: “There’s gay people happy on TV, and enjoying themselves and living life.” And I thought: “I can live my life and be gay and be happy? Werk.”

Blu Hydrangea

I loved the original Hairspray with Divine. That was my first introduction to drag! I used to watch it a lot as a child – my uncle worked in HMV and and got it for me on DVD over Christmas. Not to flex but I got Hairspray on disk! But it was the John Travolta version – not quite as iconic, but I still live.

Divine in Hairspray (New Line/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock)


Specifically the American version of Queer as Folk, which is not necessarily aspirational viewing, but it’s what I had. And my life has turned out surprisingly similar.

Danny Beard

I remember seeing – who’s that character off Queer as Folk? – get rimmed. Charlie Hunnam? I remember watching Queer as Folk in the middle of the night in my room.

And it was set in Manchester and I was like, “I’m going to move to Manchester,” and I moved to Manchester and it was nothing like Queer as Folk. And I’m still yet to be rimmed in an apartment by a hot man.

Ella Vaday

My realisation that I kind of fancied men was actually watching Brad Pitt in Fight Club. I think that was like when I was like four.

Heidi N Closet

I don’t know if this is a queer movie in itself, but it was the first time I ever saw drag, it was in the 80s: He’s My Girl. It’s where this man gets in drag for the first and he and his friends go to LA and they’re trying to make it big and it’s a crazy story.

I was definitely intrigued [by the drag], but she was busted. Mama was busted. She was crusty. She looked like me on season 12. But I was intrigued.

The original Queer as Folk cast.
Queer as Folk first aired in 1999. (Channel 4)

Joey Jay

The movie Birdcage is absolutely hysterical, with Robin Williams the icon. I watched it with my grandma, and I didn’t realise what was happening – and now I watch it as an adult and I’m like, “Holy s**t, I watched this with my grandma?”

Kandy Muse

I think a lot of queer people can agree with me: the documentary Paris is Burning. That really influenced me, a lot of my upbringing and still now as a queer adult. Not just for me – any little ‘gaybies’ out there.

Kitty Scott-Claus

Popstars: The Rivals – the formation of Girls Aloud? Honestly, just everything about that was incredible. So so good.

And another one on top of that – I mean, I’ve never watched the whole thing – Irish Popstars for Nadine [Coyle], back in the day when she lost her passport. That is iconic television right then and there.

Krystal Versace

I always wanted to be a mermaid, so I love the film Splash. I saw that and I thought, “Oh my God, this glamorous woman who’s a mermaid, every man just falls in love with her, she’s like the ultimate goddess.” I wanted that to be me.

Stuff like that I feel enhanced my queerness to bring me to where I am today.

(Facebook/Paris is Burning)
The Paris is Burning documentary. (Paris is Burning)

Lady Camden

Billy Elliot was my big thing. It’s not really LGBT, but watching someone be so in love with something against what everyone else around them thought or wanted literally changed my life.

It just shaped who I was, in terms of thinking: “You don’t have to have the approval of even your friends to really want to do something.”

A show that I’m obsessed with now, that I wish I had when I was younger, is Heartstopper. I cannot stop watching it, I cry every single episode. It’s so nice to see a queer focused show that isn’t about sex and drugs.

Nicky Doll

I wish I had something more edgy and elevated, but what became the gay Bible to me was Queer as Folk – the American one, I’m sorry!

I was in the closet, I had no friends and I was just weird – the only way for me to escape was to say ‘Goodnight’ to my mum at 11pm, and just put my headphones in and watch Queer as Folk religiously. If it wasn’t for Justin and Michael and Brian, I would not have known what a top and a bottom was, what poppers were, what a backroom was. I still wouldn’t.

Ra’Jah O’Hara

As a young queer kid, the only TV shows in America that we had with queer people on it were the daytime talk shows – but they were… not positive, because we were trying to figure out if he was a man or a woman or not.

But that’s where I actually saw a lot of the people that I look up to now, especially people in pageantry such as Candis Cayne. She was on one of those Maury Povich shows. Is it a man? Is it a woman? Either way, she’s sickening.

RuPaul in a Confederate flag dress
RuPaul in a Confederate flag dress in To Wong Foo. (YouTube)

Scarlet Harlett

I’ve seen every queer TV show and film that ever existed when I was between 15 and like, 25, because I didn’t have any gay friends.

Queer as Folk, the British one, always had an impact on me, because that was the first time I’d ever seen gay sex on screen.

More recently, I really enjoyed Call Me by Your Name, because that was probably one of the first queer movies that I personally felt connected to, in terms of that power dynamic. Because queer people don’t generally get to have that experience of looking at a TV show and going: “I feel so seen.”

Sminty Drop

There was nothing that I found that was openly LGBT, that made me think: “Oh my god, I associate myself with that, that’s so me.”

I think it was more so the pop stars; when Miley Cyrus had just come out of Disney Channel, when Hilary Duff was doing her thing, Ashley Tisdale. All of those Disney girls that then grew up into their own careers, I felt like I was growing up with them, and it made me find myself in strong independent pop girlies.

Sum Ting Wong

I know it’s gonna sound really cheesy, I’m so sorry – it was RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I remember having a sleepover at my cousin’s house, and it was on Channel Four – and Shannel was juggling right down the runway. That’s the first thing I saw. And I turned the volume down to zero, because everyone else was asleep. And I’m like, I think these are my people.

The queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race (Karwai Tang/ WireImage)

Utica Queen

I was exposed to Hairspray, with John Travolta playing Edna. For me growing up that was really special, because it just gave me a lot of confidence to see someone like that could get onto the big screen.

Veronica Green

I was eight-years-old when I accidentally walked in to my mom and dad’s bedroom, and they were watching Queer as Folk, and it happened to be that sex scene. And my dad, being the ex-homophobe that he is, was like: “That’s disgusting to have two men doing that.”

And I was hearing that but I was just more fascinated, at eight-years-old, of how two men could do do that – missionary style – and that was when the curiosity was awakened, and I didn’t have any sexual feelings of my own until I hit puberty, it was more just curiosity and wanting to understand more about different people?

And, of course, To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. When I saw that film in 1993, I was babysitting for my cousin and the film was was playing on one of the movie channels, and I was just fell in love with it instantly; it’s my favourite thing.

Victoria Scone

David Bowie in Labyrinth made me queer for sure. And Rocky Horror.