Drag Queens talk activism

The “Queens & Activism” Panel was a massive success, drawing more attendance that nearly any other Pride Week event. Education Professor and NVUnity Club Advisor, Hannah Miller, opened the event by thanking NVUnity for running Pride Week and introducing Drag Queens, Emoji Nightmare (Justin Marsh) and Nikki Champagne (Taylor Small).

The panel took place in Bentley 207 at 7:00 p.m. on April 18. During the event, Nightmare and Champagne talked about their experiences as Drag Queens and members of the LGBTQ+ community. They discussed the struggles they faced as queer and trans youth in rural Vermont, and how they challenged those stigmas in work and social settings.

Nightmare and Champagne are both currently working at the Pride Center of Vermont. Nightmare works as Director of Development, while Champagne is the Director of Health & Wellness.

Nightmare, a Johnson State Alum and Cambridge resident, started their activism career by running for State Legislator at the age of 23. After losing that race, Nightmare was inspired to start working on multiple committees for the town of Cambridge. One of these committees was the Silo Project. On this committee, Nightmare and four other people helped procure a grant of $15,000 for the community to hire artists to paint murals on the abandoned silos in town.

While Nightmare was focused mostly on activism in their hometown, Champagne was working with Out Right Vermont. Out Right serves the queer and trans youth of Burlington aged 22 and under.

Champagne interned for the organization which led to her interest in human services. Champagne worked for Spectrum Youth and Family Services at their drop-in shelter for a year while also working at the Howard Center doing Crisis Stabilization for youth ages five to 13.

After that, Champagne started doing case management with teenagers in Franklin County. Once Champagne, a transgender woman, worked there for eight months, she resigned because her workplace would not respect her pronouns. “I thought that I could get a job really easily as a trans person, but, here’s a shocker, it takes a little bit of time.” Champagne said. “So [I was] funemployed, six months. I call it funemployed because it sounds fun.”

Eventually Champagne started volunteering at the Pride Center of Vermont, where her and Nightmare work professionally today.

Champagne and Nightmare started performing together and even started their own television show, “The T.”

“The T” focused on interviewing activists and artists in the Vermont community. The show was produced by VCAM and episodes of its first season are available on YouTube. After temporarily cancelling “The T” themselves, Champagne and Nightmare started to do Drag Queen Story Hours. “We saw Drag Queen Story Hours popping up all around the country,” said Champagne, “like New York City and San Francisco, and we were like, ‘This isn’t happening in Vermont, let’s do it!’” Their first story hours happened in Cambridge with an attendance of 70 people. Since then they’ve hosted story hours with more than 100 people.

“The reason that we’re going out into all the libraries, going into schools, working with youth, is because from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (which comes out every two years here in the state of Vermont) LBGTQ+ youth are four times more likely to actively think about and try to kill themselves. That’s a staggering number—and this is specifically here in the state of Vermont—this is not a national average.” said Champagne. “Two years ago, it was six times more likely, so we’re down to four times, we’re making moves but [we’re] still not all the way there. But one thing that we know is that, if you have one supportive adult, so if those youths who have one supportive adult in their life, (whether it’s a mentor, a guidance counselor and friend) someone who is there for them wholly and sees them authentically, it decreases that [number] by half. So, I don’t want to say that by reading stories in libraries that we’re that supportive adult, but if you want to say that I wouldn’t be upset.”

While the pair of quirky Queens have worked together for several years in multiple settings, they weren’t always so inseparable. Nightmare had started going to bars in Drag and ended up meeting Champagne when she was about a year into her drag persona.

“We didn’t get along at first.” said Nightmare. “I had a big mouth and she had a big ego (and she definitely still does!) I remember one time I was standing on the side of the stage and she was performing and I was like, ‘I just don’t fucking understand why people like her so much.’ And then, I don’t know who was next to me, but they were like, ‘That’s my sister!’ and I was like, ‘Still doesn’t answer my question.’”

Eventually the two were cast together in a cabaret called “Paint” in which they worked together enough that they formed a bond. “We were kind of forced to work together,” said Nightmare, “it was that that brought us together as friends—which was so lovely.”

“It was so beautiful—it happened in Rutland, of all places.” said Champagne as the audience laughed. “Who would’ve thought you could find love in Rutland?”

“That should be a reality TV show,” joked Nightmare, “Love in Rutland.”

When asked how they felt about coming to Johnson to spread information about the LBGTQ+ community, Champagne said, “I absolutely love coming to Johnson. This is our third year coming here. There’s just this beautiful thing about when you’re at a college university. This is adolescence. This is the time when you’re developing your identity, you’re figuring out who you are, so you want to see all kinds of folks and see yourself represented in a variety of people. So, showing up in glitzy-glam drag is absolutely amazing—and being able to talk about queer and trans identities just reflects that even more.”
Nightmare said, “I love coming to Johnson—coming back to Johnson—because, as an alum most importantly, it’s really cool to see that these are the types of programs that they’re supporting, and that they are graciously bringing us back year after year. I think that’s really important. It also really warming to see, like, 80 people here tonight too who want to sit here and listen to us talk.”

Nightmare and Champagne have once again picked up “The T” and are still making episodes through VCAM every Tuesday at 7:00p.m. Since they cohost “The T” together, as well as work at the Vermont Pride Center, the Queens have recently created their own L.C., “Nightpagne.”

“Nightpagne’s” next performance is May 3 at Higher Ground in South Burlington. The show is for ages 18+ with doors opening at 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 for the day of. If you want more information on the Queens, follow their Facebook page @Nightpagne or their Instagram accounts, @emojinightmare and @nikki.champagne.