The debut burlesque show “Lemon Squares” on Tuesday will feature local drag performers in an evening of strip teases, lip syncs, stand up and more | provided

West Ashley bar Tin Roof hosts the first show at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 8 as part of a series of pop-up performances by a new local LGBTQ performance group, Queer Liberty. This first show, a burlesque show, will celebrate queer eroticism.

“We were very intentional about wanting to start our show series with a burlesque show, a show where the through line is celebration and exploration of queer eroticism, because that is such a prominent point of demonization for queer people,” said Gabriel VanHorn, the group’s founder. 

He said he started Queer Liberty as an attempt to create more events in Charleston featuring queer artistry.

“Queer bodies and sex is so heavily politicized, and so we wanted to set that intention very clearly with this first show where it’s like, hey, if you want to come and celebrate these things, whether you are queer or you are an ally, or you just want to come and see art surrounding those things, then this is a space to come do that.”

Creating opportunities for LGBTQ performers 

VanHorn, a 2022 graduate from College of Charleston, said he had a “surprisingly positive” experience coming out as trans in his senior year, but even still, there was a level of fear in how his identity might affect his career as a theater performer. 

“I didn’t really know of a lot of trans performers that were at a level of success where they could support themselves through live performance theater like I do, especially musical theater,” he said.

But he did find acting work after he responded to a call for auditions from Charleston Stage for Kinky Boots, which led to more roles through the company. Then he acted in the play Succulents in February through the queer-focused theater company The Void. 

Performing artist Gabriel VanHorn leads the charge of Queer Liberty, pictured here as his drag persona, Showbiz Baby | Photo by Jillian Thorvaldson

VanHorn knew he wanted to try performing in drag, a longtime interest, and made his drag debut at Dudley’s on Ann in June. His first experience of Pride Month as an out trans man was beautiful, but it was also frustrating, he said, because it seems like  performance opportunities for LGBTQ folks seem to dry up once Pride Month celebrations are over.

“Seeing that, it became a mission to me to try and create more space for that with very specific intention,” VanHorn said.

One of those intentions is not to shy away from eroticism, exemplified by the Tin Roof burlesque show, which is intended for audiences aged 18 and older and promises a night of “strip teases, lip syncs, stand up and more,” VanHorn said. 

Another is to create space for queer joy and community in places other than bars. One of the big goals for Queer Liberty after this first show is to start a regularly occurring queer film and discussion series.

“A big focus is to create LGBTQ spaces that don’t revolve around drinking. There are so many people that are in the community and are sober or don’t necessarily feel comfortable in those spaces. So those events will be catered towards people who want to sit around and watch and appreciate queer art and queer stories and have open, supportive discussions.”

The debut show on Aug. 8 will feature local drag artists Honey Dew, Marty McGuy, NovaCane O’Bishop, Medusa Chaos and Ra O. O’Bishop. VanHorn will host the evening in his recently debuted drag persona, Showbiz Baby. 

“We are hoping this first show will make a big splash and introduce many local LGBTQ people and their allies to our name and our new event series,” he said. “We want them to know that we have performances, parties and discussion groups that are fun, supportive and safe to openly celebrate our community and experiences.”

Tickets are available for presale online at $12 or at the door for $15. Click here to donate to  Queer Liberty.

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.