On the heels of releasing a new summer dance single, ”Take Me Up High,” appearing on the upcoming HBO special, The Out List, and launching a world-wide tour with her raucous variety show, the iconic Lady Bunny never seems to stop. With a career spanning stage productions, films, TV shows, recording projects, and touring, Bunny has long been one of the most visible and outspoken performers to rise to widespread fame as a drag queen. We sat down with the legendary drag artist to find out more about her new projects and were delighted when Lady Bunny arrived guns a-blazing and loaded for bear on the topics of gay rights, politics and a need for a return to activism in the LGBTQI community.

 

You’re a performer indelibly linked to the NYC nightlife scene after rising out of Atlanta alongside RuPaul and the DJ/Producer Larry Tee. It might surprise some people you grew up in Chattanooga, TN. What was it like being a gay kid in the South in the 70s?

You know people ask me about coming out of the closet, and I always say I was never really in the closet. I always had really long hair. And I remember one time, a teacher kind of patted my head. My dad, who was the town liberal, went to the school and said to the teacher who was cutting other kids’ hair, “If you touch a hair on my son’s head, we will go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

I was basically somewhat transgendered as a child and my parents stuck up for me. That can be hard when you are in the South around regular church-goin’ people, so-called Christian people. That’s just how they are and it’s the roots of most of the prejudice against us. So I’m not saying I was immune from discrimination growing up in the South, but it was great to have supportive parents. And because my dad was the town liberal, we were already used to being seen as outsiders.

And since he was a history professor, when he got a teaching scholarship to go to West Africa for a year, after we came back – I think I was twelve years old – they had a new reason to discriminate against us. We were “n-lovers” and we loved the n-word so much we had to go over to Africa to be with them. I always felt like it was a badge of honor to be different, but when you are also going through puberty….phewwww. Even before I went through puberty I was pretty much living as a woman. Not a very pretty woman. (laughs)

 

So you had lots of reasons to become resilient. Did that wind up being a gift that has helped in your professional career?

It did and it taught me not to be shy about taking on challenges. It just might be the case that everyone else is wrong and you are right.

 

Your career has spanned the spectrum of TV, film, emceeing, hosting, djing, recording, and despite a slew of hits this is the first time you have released a fully original song instead of an adaptation. What inspired you to try something new?

You know, I’ve always dabbled in it, but this was the first time someone from a label said, “This song is a hit.” And he actually gave me a release date, which lit a fire under my ass, and then he got a bunch of great re-mixers. So even though I’ve done a couple of duets with RuPaul and collaborated on songs with other people, “Take Me Up High” was the first time it was me as an artist saying what I wanted to say. Which was basically, “Get out on the dance floor.” Having all of the great remixes is so fun. I love them all but there’s one from a guy in Bristol, England that really summed up how I wanted the song to feel. That’s the one we are releasing the video around. Some people say “Take Me Up High” has a disco vibe, some people say it has a 90’s house vibe, but this version has piano in it, which is not something we often expect in dance music.

 

In addition to the single and the video and the touring, you’re about to be featured on the HBO special The Out List. What can you tell me about that project?

I saw the premiere last night and I can tell you it was a stroke of genius to put me right after the Log Cabin Republicans! It made me look like a beacon of sense, and I was wearing five-inch eyelashes and five wigs.

It’s people like Ellen, Wanda Sykes, Jake Shears from the Scissor Sister, Dustin Lance Black, are interviewed about lots of subjects. Some of them talk about coming out, some of them talk about what we need to do now to further our cause. It was actually very moving and one of the things I took away from it was that Larry Kramer, the founder of Act-UP said, “Anger is an important emotion, which prompted people to act,” and the fact we have every AIDS drug on the market that are helping people today is due to people like him jumping up and down and screaming, “Hey! This is an epidemic! We deserve treatment for this.” So I’m real curious why people aren’t getting angry today. Sure there is activism and there are protests here and there, but not a sense of anger that leads to action.

One thing that gags me is feeling like the younger generation does not have an appreciation for the people who fought for their rights or the people who went before them. The more that gay culture becomes accepted throughout the world the more we seem to forget the sacrifices made by so many to get us here. There have been so many people who fought for our rights. But I don’t see that spark in this generation, I’m not sure who was supposed to be passing the torch of activism, but we need to get that lit again.

When I see the energy some people spend on having opinions about reality TV like America’s Top Model or RuPaul’s Drag Race, I think, “If you put one tenth of your attention on that toward making positive change, what a difference to the world it would make.”

 

Many people are unaware of the historical connection of drag and activism, but so much of the fight for LGBT rights in our country has come from the performance community. They are always asked to come to the fundraiser, and who doesn’t love giving a dollar to a drag queen.

It was the drag queens that started Stonewall too. We started this shit. And it did wind up becoming a movement. Because these were drag queens who were not trying to fit in, they were oddballs, they were street people. They did not want to fit in and they were tired of being bullied by cops. So they stood up to bullying. And that’s one kind of bullying. There’s also the bullying where we have to worry about things like inheritance between lovers, whether you can visit your partner at the hospital, but I will fight to the death for us to get those rights. You have to have the strength of self to demand it.

 

We are nearing an important Supreme Court decision about marriage equality. How hopeful are you to see marriage rights become a reality soon?

I’m not going to get excited yet. I think gay people need to realize that marriage equality is dangled over their heads. And we are conditioned to support the politicians who support it. I am very leery of Obama claiming that he had an epiphany on gay marriage. I don’t need an epiphany. These are my rights. That’s not something you just choose to have an epiphany about. You happened to spend some time with a few gay people and now you’ve changed your mind? When in fact his epiphany happened when he looked at his polls. Most people don’t really care about gay marriage so they will dangle it over our heads so we will continue to vote Democrat. We elected Obama and then re-elected Obama but we’ve still been made to wait. We’ll see what happens with the Supreme Court, but I’m tired of waiting. I feel like we have been pawns in their game and they may just be playing us again.

91% of the country wants enhanced background checks. But we could not get that bill through Congress. The fact that 91% of the people could agree on anything, well, other than repealing Prohibition. I’m just not going to let any government, person or church, because face it, that’s where all of this discrimination originates, dictate that I don’t have equal rights.

It is causing people to leave churches in droves. They are feeling like they are judged and unwelcome and they want no part of a God who doesn’t accept them the way they were made. We can dance around the issue, but it’s a reality, especially in the South. Some people are still going to those churches where people look down on them, and I can’t imagine the guilt it must make them feel. I’m not religious, but I am a spiritual person and it is sad to think about churches causing people to feel unworthy or like they deserved to have gotten AIDS. When you get the message of disapproval that heavily from the church, which happens a lot in the South, it does sink in on some level.

photos by Billy Erb

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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