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Friday, March 31, 2023
Arts: Drag performers earn ovations at Ironwood
Rhonda Richards makes the crowd swoon during Queens & Ciders at Ironwood last Friday. Julia Sacco

Queens and Ciders show welcomed warmly, unlike protests earlier in Welland


Drag performers got a much different welcome in Niagara-on-the-Lake than a similar show received in Welland.

During a drag brunch at Welland’s Vegan Hippie Chick in December, the Pride Niagara performers were greeted by a small group of protesters outside the restaurant. 

During the recent Queens and Ciders night at Ironwood, they were greeted with cheers and applause.

At Ironwood, the audience sang, danced and laughed along to the stylings of Macy Manolo, Rhonda Richards and Empress Claudia Silva.

From Mariah Carey to Meghan Trainor, the three performers synched their hearts out all night, leaving guests with smiles on their faces.

It was much different than the hate the performers encountered a few months earlier. 

“It was shocking, but at the same time, it’s not shocking,” said performer Empress Claudia Silva, who also is a member of the board of Pride Niagara. 

“It’s not shocking that this type of hate still exists because it’s something that the queer community has to deal with all the time,” Silva said.

“They don’t want children knowing drag exists, that people who would like to drag or identify with that community exist until their child is 18 and can make up their own minds. They would like them to have no other option other than the hetero-norm.”

Silva said the people protesting outside the Vegan Hippie Chick were from Kitchener, Hamilton, Toronto and Stoney Creek and are constantly trying to erase the queer community. 

“I think they thought that with a smaller municipality (like Welland), they would have a better chance of being the bullies, but they were drastically outnumbered,” said Silva.

Their NOTL performance was met only with praise. 

“I thought it was beautiful. We actually had a lot of people that are part of the queer community that live in NOTL that we don’t usually see at other events,” Silva said.

“Having an event where they can say, ‘Oh I feel represented here. This is my space right now,’ that was great.”

Partnering with Ironwood for Queens and Ciders was an especially positive experience, Silva said. The performers didn’t have to reach out to Ironwood – they were sought after by the venue.

“They didn’t want to just do a show and google drag queens from Toronto. They saw the significance of hiring a queer organization in Niagara, run by queer Niagara for queer Niagara,” Silva said.

In cases like municipal flag raisings, Pride Niagara usually has to approach organizations and officials first, but Silva was moved that a NOTL business showed the initiative instead.

Robyn Brown, head of marketing and events at Ironwood, said partnering with Pride Niagara was imperative in ensuring the cider house upheld its company values.

“It’s really important to us that we have a lot of diversity in our events and that we’re putting it out into the public that we’re a diverse and inclusive place,” she said.

“We thought that a performance like a drag night would be a great way to welcome the 2SLGBTQIA+ community,” she said.

“Also since we’re starting to offer weddings, we want to put it out there that this is a safe place for everyone.”

Hospitality manager Devon Ryback added that from an art curation standpoint, drag adds something special to Ironwood.

“Drag is another form of art to add to our gallery and we thought that would be important to showcase, too,” she said.

Brown said a few hateful comments were posted online, but in-person the event ran smoothly with only positive feedback.

“It was actually something that we were really happy to see,” she said.

“We heard there could be a bit of pushback since NOTL is a very small-town vibe, but we were happy to see that everyone was very welcoming and a lot of locals came out to support,” added Ryback.

Brown said Ironwood has plans for more events in conjunction with Pride Niagara, including  one in June.

“We’re definitely planning to do something for Pride Month, so we will probably do a drag show and a whole pride party.”

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