Metro Weekly

The Fantastic Four Drag Queens of ‘We’re Here’

With an all-new cast, HBO's "We're Here" returns for a fourth season of inspiring, resisting, and uplifting through drag.

We’re Here: Jaida Essence Hall, Sasha Velour, Priyanka, and Latrice Royale – Photo: HBO/Max

Things were looking rough when the queens of We’re Here rode into the town that canceled Pride. It was summer 2023, a few short months since the Tennessee state legislature had passed the nation’s first drag ban.

A U.S. District Court judge blocked the statewide implementation of the vaguely defined Tennessee Adult Entertainment Act, on the basis of First Amendment concerns. But that didn’t stop the town council of Murfreesboro from passing a city indecency ordinance that likewise banned “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”

Ground zero for America’s homegrown war against drag, Murfreesboro went on to shut down Pride, triggering an LGTBQ state of emergency. Send in the queens! Honey, they’re here.

For its fourth season, HBO’s Emmy-winning docu-series We’re Here brings superstar drag performers Sasha Velour, Jaida Essence Hall, and Priyanka — each a crowned winner in the Drag Race franchise — to Tennessee to carry on the show’s mission of spreading love and liberation through drag.

As shown in episode one, their first day strolling through Murfreesboro town square, out of drag, some creep speeding past them in a pickup screams, “Faggot!” So, the queens had their work cut out for them in Tennessee.

“They want us to go back to a time where we were all hiding in the shadows,” says Velour. “But that’s not even the truth of how things used to be. There were times where there was as much, if not more, visibility. Drag shows that were accepted and popular. This is not anything new. We have been here and we aren’t going anywhere.”

The We’re Here cast, including Drag Race All-Star Latrice Royale, who joins Sasha and Priyanka for the season’s second half, also take their fabulousness to Tulsa, Oklahoma, another battleground for drag, and queer people, in general. Their queer joy and positivity seem sorely needed there, too.

We're Here: Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Jaida Essence Hall
We’re Here: Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Jaida Essence Hall – Photo: HBO/Max

“Really the most important thing that we realized about this fourth season is that we are here and we have to meet the moment,” says co-creator and executive producer Stephen Warren. “We are at a cultural tipping point, a moral tipping point, a political tipping point, and our show needed to evolve, I think, to be able to reflect, and to show to the world what’s really going on.”

To that end, We’re Here switches up its format — and its hosts of the previous three seasons, Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and the otherwise legally embattled Shangela Laquifa Wadley. Before, the show traveled cross-country, spending each episode in a different city, where the queens would guide three charges, be they queer or ally, through a drag makeover and fierce live finale performance.

This season focuses its first three episodes on the struggles and triumphs in Tennessee, followed by three episodes in Oklahoma, offering more in-depth insights into the lives of the local queer communities and chosen drag daughters whom the queens help to express their identity and flex their freedom.

“For me, personally, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, from, if not the very beginning, certainly since we finished the first season,” says Peter LoGreco, who’s directed every episode of the series.

“Because what we discovered too is that there is a division, there’s a conflict going on. We hear people with whom we’re working in these communities talk about what they experience vis-a-vis discrimination, hatred, all of these kinds of things. But we were only going to these places for a week, a little bit more and having to work with these individuals, have them have a real experience, and then put on a live show.”

With more time in a single location to show conflicts and differences of opinion, rather than just have them described after the fact, the show also was able to include a lot of the drama that previously had remained off-camera.

“Because in the decision-making process about whom to work with, where to shoot, what the drag was going to be, all of that kind of stuff, actually, was informed by the forces that work in those communities,” LoGreco explains. “By being able to be there for a longer period of time, I always felt like we’ll have a better chance at being able to show — versus simply talk about — the conflicts and challenges that the participants in the show face on a daily basis.”

Case in point, for the first time on-camera, one notable participant — Nashville-based pro baseball player-turned out and proud country singer Bryan Ruby — decides to back out of getting into drag and performing in the show. “Like, it’s not authentic for me,” Ruby tells a disappointed Priyanka, Sasha, and Jaida, minutes after we see him warbling the National Anthem at a minor league stadium Pride Night.

Co-creator and executive producer Johnnie Ingram accepts that Ruby had to do what felt right for him. “Drag isn’t for everyone, and I think, respectfully, we really truly understand what he was up against in Tennessee,” he says. “I’m from Tennessee. I know. I mean, we don’t live there. We can come and go. And I think the stakes were too high for him and we totally respect that.”

We're Here: Sasha Velour, Latrice Royale, and Priyanka - Photo: HBO/Max
We’re Here: Sasha Velour, Latrice Royale, and Priyanka – Photo: HBO/Max

Priyanka, season one winner of Canada’s Drag Race, splits her time these days between Toronto and the road, and she took strength from the fact that whatever happened, she would not be stuck in Tennessee.

“I just always chalked it up to I am never going through what the people that live here are going through,” she says. “I get to leave, and I always felt like that was an important perspective to have, because it made me feel more fearless. I was like, ‘Right, you are here for this mission. This is what the show is about. So shoulders back and get it.’ And there’s times where I was scared.”

Yet, fearless they all are in episode two, as Priyanka, Jaida, and Sasha, resplendent in feathers and rhinestones, march into a Murfreesboro city council meeting one sultry August night, to “hear who speaks out against drag and who speaks for it,” according to Sasha.

What they hear — after Mayor Shane McFarland opens the meeting with a prayer in Jesus’ name — are a parade of speakers like 16-year-old homophobe Hannah. “Quite frankly, the LGBTQ rainbow movement is a religious cult,” she declares, as her father seated nearby visibly taunts the queens.

Later, the queens try to engage Hannah and her dad in a conversation that serves as a perfect illustration of the misinformed anti-drag crusade the queer folks of Murfreesboro are up against.

“We were going there just to have a conversation, and they said they wanted to talk with us,” Jaida recalls. “But immediately, it kind of went left. It was like the energy was already giving that he was looking over at us, pointing, almost like a high school kind of behavior, like, ‘Aha, nana-nana, boo-boo,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re a grown man. This is kind of crazy.'”

So, as tensions escalate on-camera, Jaida politely removes herself from the conversation. “For me, I’m a black femme person. I grew up queer my whole life. I could not hide it if I wanted to. And I have had a lot of people say a lot of nasty, ugly things to me, and in my life before, I’ve not been in the space to defend myself or say, ‘You know what? I don’t like the way that makes me feel. I’m going to walk away because I deserve better than that.'”

In that moment, she says, “I thought to myself, ‘This is not okay for me.’ And also, I want to send a message to other people, who are queer, too, just like myself, [that] just because you want to be able to understand people and have conversations does not mean that you have to be a punching bag for people. It does not mean that you just have to take anything from anybody.”

Jaida points out that Priyanka and Sasha patiently persisted. “My sisters wanted to have a really deep conversation with him too. And it turned into him just insulting them, saying misogynistic things about his wife, and his children, and it just made me really uncomfortable.”

It was frustrating, Sasha recalls, yet, “It was better than when we were in the city council meeting, and we’re not allowed to speak at all, and we’re having to listen to person after person praise the city council for stopping the gay agenda from advancing in the city of Murfreesboro. Meanwhile, we know all these people in this town who are queer and are desperate for some kind of representation in their hometowns, something to be proud of in their hometowns.”

The entire sequence makes for gripping television. So do those glowing drag makeovers and exuberant, moving finale performances from the queen’s drag protégées. Like Brad, the straight Christian-folk musician from Hickory, Tennessee, who participates to show support and allyship for his queer 16-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old trans son. Brad brings the house down performing an original song as drag persona Wynonna Dudd.

Maleeka, a Black trans woman in rural Shelbyville who loves the outdoors and her chosen family, but feels at war with herself and her body, brings the crowd to tears performing an exuberant drag lip-sync of Allison Russell’s “The Returner.”

Exuding confidence, Maleeka embodies the song’s affirming lyrics, singing, “I’m a summer dream/I’m a real light beam/I’m worthy/Of all the good and the love that the world’s gonna give to me.”

Each person’s heartfelt journey on the show testifies to the power of drag to allow them to free themselves and be themselves. It’s all part of the ministry of drag, as Father Josh, who leads an inclusive church congregation in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, tells Latrice Royale. Clearly, the statement resonates with Latrice, who gets emotional listening to Father Josh’s Sunday sermon.

“For him, to use those words, specifically, that’s what moved me because that’s how I do my drag,” says Latrice, who professes her strong faith on the show. “My drag is my ministry. And for him to see that light, and give me those affirming words, and let me know that I was worthy of greatness, and that I was welcome in the house of the Lord. All those things that I never would’ve thought, he gave me, and I was just blown away.”

The loving welcome that the queens receive in Father Josh’s church, however, is the exception and not the rule during their time in Oklahoma. Trying to book a venue for their big show, the cast and crew are met with closed doors and minds all over Oklahoma. The general tone is less hostile than in Tennessee, but just as stalwartly anti-drag.

We're Here: Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones, Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Jaida Essence Hall - Photo: HBO/Max
We’re Here: Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones, Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Jaida Essence Hall – Photo: HBO/Max

“Tennessee was like in your face, ‘I hate you, go home. God hates you, you’re going to hell,'” says Priyanka. “Whereas Oklahoma, it’s all very silent. It’s all very, to your face, ‘Hello, how are you?’ But behind the scenes, they want you to go away, and that was tough because it made Oklahoma feel more eerie.”

Perhaps even worse, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group, OK Equality, which the queens and queer community were counting on for support, actually joined the chorus of those telling We’re Here to pack up their show and go.

Priyanka understood the move, from the perspective, again, of those who have to stay in that town and deal with any subsequent backlash.

“I was honestly not shocked,” she says. “I was like, I get it, girl, you’re just saying, ‘We want to be safe here. We don’t want to make too much noise because we’re going to be the ones that have to deal with it.’ I understand where it came from, but they were losing sight of what their organization is actually about.”

On the other hand, she clarifies, “You’re telling three queer people to not be queer and make noise. You’re telling your community that you support going back in the closet, and that you support not making noise because it is unsafe.”

In Tennessee, the mood is strikingly similar, according to Maleeka, who says she mostly keeps to herself out of fear of “being harmed for being who I am.” As Sasha observes while in Murfreesboro, “The queer community here is surviving by hiding and keeping their heads down.” But, as we can see on the show, living your truth in hiding is no way to live.

So, despite the slammed doors and hurled epithets, the hateful stares and hostile confrontations, the We’re Here queens stick it out, and stand up for Maleeka and Wynonna Dudd and veteran Tennessee performer Veronica Page to have their moments in the spotlight. Latrice’s drag pupil, longtime LGBTQ activist Randy, practically steals the show in Oklahoma as Pussy Willow Royale, delivering a number directed at so-called supporters, like OK Equality, who don’t stand on business.

“I totally enjoyed working with Randy because his message was so clear,” Latrice enthuses.

“He is a pillar of his community. He’s a little bit of a star, but he’s well-loved. He felt like his people let him down, and through his drag, he was saying, ‘Hey, where y’all at? What’s up? I’m here. Where you at?’ So I think he had a powerful message, and it was still fun. It was camp. It was drag. It was all the aspects of what a good drag show is.”

Nearly a year since filming, as We’re Here premieres its new season, drag is still legal in Tennessee, thanks to a permanent injunction blocking the law from taking effect. The matter is still in court, however, and anti-drag crusaders everywhere keep stirring the pot.

Just this past month, Freddie’s Beach Bar, a popular drag venue in Arlington, Virginia, had to evacuate the bar when someone called in bomb threats over a planned drag story-time hour.

“You hate drag queens so you’re going to blow up the kids? That makes no sense to me,” insists Latrice. “I lost friends in the Pulse massacre. That was devastating. And [fellow Drag Race alum] Manila was the one that really said, ‘Look how people have to go to the extremes of being ugly, to show their hate.’ It’s ridiculous.”

“So we’re not out of the fire. We’re not out of the woods yet,” Latrice adds. “Even though the bans are being overturned. It’s all failing, because it was baseless in the first place. It was stupid, and vague, and so it was going to fail, but it did distract us from what we should be doing, and it did put doubt and fear in other people’s minds and hearts.”

Now, just like Latrice, Jaida, Priyanka, and Sasha demonstrate, true advocates still have a lot of work to do, in order to undo some of the damage of the false, demonizing rhetoric.

“All it takes is an allegation,” says Latrice. “It doesn’t even matter if it’s real or not. People are going to be scared. And so, I don’t want people calling me names. ‘Pedophile,’ I don’t answer to that. Baby, you know what? We are the last people that want to hurt or harm the children. We are the harmed children. We’re trying to save them from y’all.”

New episodes of We’re Here, Season 4, premiere every Friday on HBO at 9 p.m. ET/PT through May 31. It is also available for streaming on Max. Visit or


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