Queer Liberty’s first show featured the group’s founder Gabriel VanHorn (far left) in his drag persona Showbiz Baby with local drag artists (from left to right) Ra O. O’Bishop, Medusa Chaos, Susu Serenity, Honey Dew and Severe McKenzie O’Bishop | Credit: Jillian Thorvaldson

New local LGBTQ performance group Queer Liberty celebrated queer identity during its debut burlesque performance Aug. 8 at the Tin Roof — which set the tone for the kind of themes the group aims to celebrate.

Queer Liberty’s founder Gabriel VanHorn performing as Showbiz Baby | Photo by Jillian Thorvaldson | Credit: Jillian Thorraldson

Through film screenings, pop-up performances and other events, Queer Liberty intends to make space for the local LGBTQ community and queer artists.

“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 started Queer Liberty as an attempt to create more events in Charleston featuring queer artistry, and the first event was a success, he told the Charleston City Paper, with many people asking about the next performance date which is set for late September with details to come.

“Queer bodies and sex are so heavily politicized, 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,” he said.

New opportunities

VanHorn, a 2022 graduate from the 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.

VanHorn knew he wanted to try performing in drag, a long-time 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.

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.”

VanHorn said he is looking forward to creating more events in the pop-up performance series, plus parties, discussion groups and more. To stay up-to-date with Queer Liberty happenings, follow @shwbizbb on Instagram.

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.