(from left to right) Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall, Sasha Velour, Latrice Royale | Image Credits: “We’re Here,’ HBO

HBO’s We’re Here has always been more than a “drag makeover” show.

As queens travel the country, welcoming small-town queer folks and allies into their drag families and putting on a special one-night-only performance, they spread much-needed messages of love and acceptance along the way. It’s a noble mission, and one that’s only felt more urgent as anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been on the rise.

Not coincidentally, the Peabody Award-winning series made some notable changes for its current fourth season. Yes, there’s a new group of fabulous queens at the forefront—Drag Race title holders and fan favorites Jaida Essence Hall, Latrice Royale, Priyanka, and Sasha Velour—but there’s also a shift in format, spending multiple episodes in a single town (and its surrounding area), as opposed to a new destination every week.

And the results thus far have been incredibly affecting; not only is We’re Here empowering individuals, but its empowering community. By devoting more time to each town, we get to better understand the impact the queens have on the places they visit, sowing seeds and building bridges in the hopes that LGBTQ+ individuals can feel proud to call their hometowns “home,” no matter what part of the country they’re from.

With that in mind, before the queens sashay from Murfreesboro, TN to Tulsa, OK this week for the remainder of the season, we sat down with the We’re Here hosts to reflect on where they grew up, how their hometowns shaped their outlooks on life and drag, and vice versa:

What does hometown pride mean to you? And how has We’re Here changed your perception of where you’re from? Scroll down below for each of the queen’s thoughtful responses:

Sasha Velour

Born in Berkley, CA; raised in Urbana, IL.

Sasha Velour getting read to take the stage | Image Credit: “We’re Here,’ HBO

“I think for straight people, [your] hometown is more obviously a source of pride, a part of your identity. And it can be the same for us as well—where we come from shapes who we are, how we talk, how we grew up, and imagined a future for ourselves.

The thing about my hometown, even though there were queer people there, is I didn’t see a big life for myself there as a queer person. But I think because of drag’s visibility and queer representation in the media, people in small towns are coming to imagine a big, queer life for themselves, the kind that exists—and always has existed—out in the world at large. And maybe that would make it possible for people to shift the culture in their hometowns, and make it a space that more people are welcome, and more people are able to thrive. I think that’s the hope that a lot of our drag kids have in staying in their small towns, often in the place where they grew up, is that they want to see the tides change for queer people in particular. To see progress in a place that you love? It’s one of the greatest joys of life.

We should be proud of where we come from. I feel like one thing that’s great about the queer community is: it doesn’t matter where you come from, or how you grew up or what your background is. But, if you want to bring it in and celebrate it, all of who you are as welcome in our community. Now, let’s make our towns and our homes that way, too.

But I think, unfortunately, it’s not always pride. In my hometown, the gay bar where I first did drag closed and then burnt down, and there’s no gay bar there now. We see conservative legislation—from no legislation to protect trans people to actively harmful legislation preventing people from expressing themselves or living open lives. It’s hard to feel pride sometimes in the places that we come from, even the places that we live, because of these laws. So we dream of a world where that pride and pride in our community could go hand-in-hand.”


Latrice Royale

Born and raised in Compton, CA.

Latrice Royale performing in Oklahoma | Image Credit: “We’re Here,’ HBO

‘It’s funny because I’m from the hood, from Compton, and it was a very different time in the ’70s when I was growing, so what I did learn throughout this experience and throughout my life is: the hood is not that much different than the country. You know, they carry a shotgun, we carry glocks!

But I come from a place where gay was not a thing—it didn’t exist. No one was gay in Compton—you know, ‘we don’t do that here!’ That toxic masculinity was just the life there. So, as a little boy growing up, there was no place for me. There was no kind of representation of what I felt inside, you know what I mean? And then, on top of that, having brothers who were involved heavily in the gangs and all that kind of stuff, I was living it. I was living in turmoil. So I have a lot of experience with hiding myself and just trying to survive.

So, am I proud of my hometown? I’m proud that I got out; I’m proud that I made it through! So I don’t celebrate Compton in that way, I celebrate that I got out and was able to make something of myself.

But it doesn’t matter if you’re from the hood or the country, the hate is real, the stigma is still the same, the fear is still the same. I see myself in all these people having to shelter themselves and hide themselves. It’s no way to feel completely happy as a kid, or a teenager, or at any age. Because you’re not living your authentic life. And you deserve a home where you can do that safely.”


Priyanka

Born and raised in Whitby, Ontario.

Priyanka performing in Oklahoma | Image Credit: “We’re Here,’ HBO

“I grew up in Whtiby, Ontario. And I remember not hating it, I remember not being like, ‘Oh, because I’m in a small town it means this‘… until I then came out of the closet and then remembered all of the small little traumatic events that have happened.

And I don’t blame it on being in a small town, I blame it on lack of open-mindedness in many different ways—in the school system, with my parents, and growing up West Indian. I mean, we grew up Hindu and it’s pretty open, right? And it’s pretty chill, it’s pretty “love who you want,” and just do good and good things will happen to you. But I was one of the only brown people in my school. And I remember locking myself in my bedroom and dancing to the Pussycat Dolls, because I didn’t have anywhere else to express myself. And maybe no one was outwardly loud about how much they hated gay people, it was just not a thing that was talked about when I was growing up.

But there was nobody—I don’t remember seeing other queer people in my hometown. And there was so little representation on TV, like we were just depicted one way. And I think that’s a huge reason why internalized homophobia exists. And that’s why it’s so important that we get out into in these communities to show people they’re not alone.”


Jaida Essence Hall

Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI.

Jaida Essence Hall & drag daughter Maleeka | Image Credit: “We’re Here,’ HBO

“In Milwaukee, it’s super segregated. There’s a lot of African-American people who live on the north side, Latino, Hispanic people who live on the south side, and then everyone else on the outskirts of the city. But then, even though the city is like that and has its troubles in a lot of different ways, I still love my city. And it may be crazy but that’s my home. It’s where my family is. I’ll ride through certain neighborhoods that I’ve been in, and on every corner there’s a memory. Like, “oh my god, I remember where I fell off my bike and scraped my knee really bad.” So it just feels like a safe place in that way, there’s a comfort to it.

And so I related a lot to the queer people in the community in Murfreesboro, because even Maleeka was like, ‘this is my home, I love where I live.’ And that speaks to what home is—even though she might not feel the safest, and it might not be the best place for her to be, she loves her home. Even though I’ve moved away from Milwaukee, I still love my home, too.

But when I think of back home, there’s been so much change since even when I started doing drag. Like, back then, sometimes at bars, the owners would be so discriminatory. They’d be like, ‘well, we don’t want you doing rap music because it’s attracting the wrong crowd!’ But now it feels like, when queer people or women or other marginalized communities speak up about how we’re feeling, people will listen—we’re making spaces for ourselves. I mean, Trixie Mattel has her bar, and she’s making sure it always feels safe and inclusive! So you can just feel the change there. Doing We’re Here and seeing the changes made in Murfreesboro just makes me more hopefully that more positive change can be made in my hometown, or anywhere.”

New episodes of We’re Here premiere every Friday on HBO, and begin streaming simultaneously on Max.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated