Arizona’s Top Drag Queen on Kari Lake and Anti-Drag Bills

In the face of pressing issues like Arizona’s water crisis, the State GOP’s is doubling down on anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Three state bills under consideration target drag performers, including:

  • SB1026, banning the state from using public money for performances that include drag (which would extend to school performances of plays like Rent)
  • SB1028, limiting adult cabaret performances and locations where they can be held
  • SB1030, a series of regulations on such matters as the hours of operation and facilities that can perform drag shows

A protest is being organized against these bills at the State Capitol January 22nd at 1pm.

In light of this, Secular AZ interviewed one of Arizona’s most popular and successful drag performers, Richard Stevens, a.k.a Barbra Seville. (Watch the full video here.)

Stevens recently made worldwide headlines as a former friend of failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who campaigned against LGBTQ interests and the art of female impersonation.

In the below interview excerpts, Stevens talks about his experience with the Lake scandal plus his candid views on LGBTQ+ rights, the art of drag, and Arizona’s political situation.


Can we just talk about the fact that drag has been around since forever?

It’s been a part of human culture forever. It’s been a source of entertainment. It’s been a source of intrigue. It’s been a source of fascination. It’s well documented. And even if you just look […] at the United States and American culture […] you’ve been surrounded by drag your whole life, whether it’s Bugs Bunny dressing up in a cartoon, whether it’s Fred and Barney dressing up in drag on The Flintstones, whether it’s I Love Lucy, it’s been there. It wasn’t my idea. It hasn’t hurt anybody.


Did you get any kind of warning from Kari Lake that she was going to come out against drag?

No, and she and I were in touch, you know, we stayed in touch during the pandemic. I had congratulated her on entering the field, for the Governor’s race. At one point I thought, “Oh, Kari! I know that’d be awesome,” you know. “Maybe she does have some Republican opinions or points of view financially, but I know socially how she identifies and how she behaves.”

So I wasn’t too alarmed by it, and someone sent me her now-infamous tweet that, you know, said they “took the flags out of the school and put up a rainbow flag, they took out God and brought in drag queens.” So I screenshot it, and I text to her and say, “hey, what is this about?” No answer.

I called her. No answer. Finally, I went to Facebook, and this is where I knew something was rotten. She and I had been friends on Facebook for, you know, 15 years, and there was no paper trail anymore. She had blocked me on Facebook. So not only we were we not friends, when you block someone, you also lose your history with them.

So our messages were gone, and I say, “Oh, wow! So she really did this on purpose. She knew what she was doing, and I have forgotten that she messaged me from her personal page […] so I still had access to those. So I screenshot of all those, and when I realized that she wasn’t going to talk to me about it, that’s when I went ahead and tweeted it, Instagrammed it.

Barbra Seville takes to social media to expose Kari Lake’s hypocrisy

And I’ll be honest with you: I thought maybe the New Times would be interested in it. I thought maybe the Capital Times might cover it. And no one picked it up for about almost like 36 hours, and I thought, Oh, well, whatever!

And then the next day […] the calls get coming in. And it started trending worldwide. And you know then, of course, she served me with legal papers at a drag brunch.

Then what happened? Did you just have to kind of keep your game face on?

It actually happened right before the brunch started. And I actually had a little bit of a breakdown. I actually started crying because it freaked me out. But then I read it, and I was like, “No, this is ridiculous. There’s no merit to this.” Even me, as just, you know, someone who has no law experience or anything, I knew that what I said was true. I knew that what I said could be proven. I knew that I had the receipts. And so after a little bit of a temporary breakdown… I messed it up, you know? I brought it into the show and really rallied those people. And really motivated them. And it was one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.

Are most the folks who attend your drag brunches politically active?

I think there’s a lot of overlap at the brunches that I do. They tend to serve more of a heterosexual community. You know, [gay people] see drag all the time everywhere. Drag brunch has really resonated with straight people and wine moms and bachelorette parties and things like that.

Fun at one of Barbra’s drag brunches

And so it’s been interesting to have them appreciate the art, and then understand that “Hey, I know these people. They’re not doing anything wrong. And hey, what can I do?” I’ve seen people really sort of ally themselves with us when you explain it to them.

You know, we all live in our own little world, and we’re not always aware of what this community is facing or what that pressing issue is. But you know, sometimes it’s in the middle of an entertaining show. I’ll stop it, and, you know, spit a few hard facts, and it’s so good to some people.


What effects has this violent rhetoric had on the drag scene in Arizona?

I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t seen much of it. I haven’t seen a lot of trickle down from that specifically. You know, the clubs that we perform in—they take our safety seriously, and they can sense when something is awry for the most part. So I have I haven’t had a lot of fallout from that exactly.

But what I can tell you is as a gay kid who grew up in Phoenix, I can tell you how unvalued I felt when legislators and talk show hosts would use the LGBT community to score points or to take cheap shots. I can tell you what it did to my self-esteem, I can tell you how it made me feel—and it wasn’t good, you know? I tell people all the time that I grew up in the AIDS crisis, and in addition to gay men just dying—an entire generation—I heard all the hate the people had for [LGBTQ] people.

And then, if you ever saw a gay person on TV or on Oprah Winfrey, it was because they were getting kicked out of their house, it was because their community would turn their back on them, it was because they’ve gotten beat up on the side of the street. So I really grew up thinking that I would never live to be 30. I grew up, never thinking that the dreams that I had for myself could come true, because I never saw a place for myself, because there was just this constant barrage of negative messaging and finger pointing and blaming.

So I just never believed anything would be out there for me, and that’s what I worry about now, when I hear this kind of stuff. That’s what I worry about, is the kid who doesn’t have access to a gay youth group. I worry about the kid that maybe doesn’t have complete freedom on the internet to look up what they want or find resources or meet people like them.

And all they hear is these horrible things, and it breaks my heart, you know, and you see those people leave their homes. You see those people leave their communities and that’s how we end up where […] an LGBTQ teenager is four times more likely to be homeless than a cisgender straight [teenager]. They’re more likely to end up being taken advantage of on the streets, they’re more likely to drop out of school. They’re more likely to find themselves fighting substance addictions. They’re more likely to—it’s just rougher. It’s a rougher life for those people, because that messaging is constant, and it’s damaging.

And so when you see elected officials take those potshots and you see your favorite singer saying, yeah, I agree with that, all that does is hurt people. That’s all it does.

Did you personally receive any threats to your well-being?

Yeah, I got a lot of crank messages. They were typically people from people that don’t live here. You know, it was a lot of people who were just following the campaign and… you know, when famous people say “Don’t read the comments?” You should never read the comments. People get really vicious in the comments, but the comments are pretty […] separate from you.

But a few people managed to get in touch with me personally through [direct messages] and then at one point Sheriff Penzone’s office reached out to me because they were like, “Hey what are you doing about this? Are you protecting yourself?” And that’s when I was like, okay, this is a little more serious than I knew. And thank goodness, nothing ever really happened other than messages, and a few threats online. But I reported those things, and I mean…. still scary, though, nonetheless.

But [politicians’] words have consequences, and their followers believe everything they say to the point that they will take matters into their own hands. I will say I thought that Kai was the most reckless in that interview on Fox News, where she talked about me, and I really thought that was dog whistling her listeners and her fans and her supporters, [saying] “Give this guy a hard time.” She called me shady and unreliable, and a grifter, and it blew me away. It blew me away.

What is it like for your colleagues in much more conservative places?

Well, my experience is a lot of those people just aren’t engaged, and they’re just not aware of what’s going on.

You know, there’s a line in “The Handmaid’s Tale” where she says you would be boiled alive before you ever even realize the water was warming up, and that’s how it is for a lot of people. They just aren’t engaged. They’re not gonna know something happened until they go to that bar, or they go to that brunch, and it’s been closed down.

I am an optimist and I don’t think these bills have a lot of merit. I don’t think that they have the strength these people think that are behind them. I don’t think that they’re ultimately enforceable.

And I believe that—let’s say Arkansas passes the craziest one of all, and it gets approved, enforcing it looks really dicey to me. I think that it’s stuff that would constantly be appealed. I don’t think higher courts would stand by some of these things.

Are these bills are being brought forward to just show that the GOP is “in charge?”

Yeah, I agree with that. I agree. It’s a lot of flexing. It’s a lot of posing. It’s a lot of just signaling.

My cynical point on that is they’ve got an eye on the dollar down the road. Crazy politics are fashionable now, the more extreme you are, the more apt you are to get picked up to be on Tucker Carlson, or to be on what whatever fringe network Kari Lake loves.

By the way, follow me on Twitter. My Twitter is mostly dedicated to politics. My Instagram is pretty promotional for drag. My Facebook is me just talking a lot of crap. But on Twitter I share a lot of stuff and that’s my political stuff.

Have you ever engaged with gay conservatives like the Log Cabin Republicans?

It’s a battle to maintain those friendships. I don’t ever want to be as intolerant as some other people, but […] I’m not tolerant of someone who games the system. I’m not tolerant of someone who speaks to your deepest fears as part of political ambition.

I’m not tolerant of those things, and some of those Republican people […] I struggle to understand because I do want to understand, because I want people to understand me.

How many times have we seen that you know anti-gay legislators found in compromising positions or payoffs to sex workers? And that’s one of the reasons that when everything took off with Kari that I never just shut up, because the lawyer that was advising me was like, “Hey, you can do two different things here. You can go away now—you landed some blows—or you can keep this up. You can keep speaking up.” And I said, you know what? Let’s do that. Let’s keep speaking up. Because I’m not the only person with a story like this.

Where does this fear and hatred come from?

It’s just a fear of losing control. It’s a fear of losing power. It’s a fear of not having control over people. Also, the church bred homophobia, and to me that even comes down to money as well. You know, it just comes down to “if people start thinking for themselves, they’re not gonna come in here and tithe. And if people start living by their own moral compass, they don’t. They won’t need me to tell them what to do. If they if they learn that the Golden Rule is enough for them, there’s no reason for them to come in and give me money on that collection plate or whatever.”