Chosen Families: Love Over Laws

photos by Drew Parker aka Donna Tyme

For many members of the LGBTQ+ community, our chosen families are the foundation of our support systems. These people have accepted us for who we are, unconditionally loved us, and helped us navigate a world that often seeks to erase or marginalize us. With anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being introduced in many parts of the world, it’s more important than ever to recognize the vital role chosen families play in our lives. Despite the legal challenges we face, our chosen families offer a haven where we can be ourselves without fear of judgment or discrimination. It’s up to us to support and uplift each other in these difficult times and to stand together in the face of bigotry and hate. Together, we can create a world where love and acceptance reign and where chosen families are celebrated for the essential role they play in our lives.

This spring, we invited entertainers throughout the Mid-South to join us for a photo shoot to capture a representation of what our community looks like. This Chosen Family photo shoot represents a beautiful cross-section of people, friendships, and the relational ties that bind us to one another. United together, our message is clear. To support each other and fight discrimination. Thanks to everyone who participated and made this possible.

Drag is important, well, because of family. I have built a drag family here. They have been closer to me than some of my own family and I think it means more than anything out of drag. It’s not about the performance, the money, or the fame. It’s about family.

JR Stone

Never be afraid to be you, because there are—I guarantee you—there are other people who are just as scared and if you give them that courage then that’s a beautiful thing. Never stop being you, do what you want to do, be experimental. And do it around people who love and care about you.

Siren Strange

Drag belongs to all of human civilization, although I very much consider it a quintessential queer art form. Drag is a way that we communicate a lot of different ideas about gender, fashion, and imagination to the rest of culture. It’s something that everyone has been enjoying for thousands and thousands of years. Here in Memphis we’ve had public drag shows for almost a hundred years now. I don’t believe that we’re going to go back—that we can go back at this point—we can only move forward. And I sense a blossoming, a strength and an evolution we’re building right now and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

moth moth moth

Drag is not just important for Tennessee, drag is important for the entire world. The fact of the matter is, drag has existed from the beginnings of time. It’s only recently that it’s been given this name and this idea of it being a part of something ugly or dirty. It’s artistic expression, it’s a way of honoring art, creativity, and yes, queerness. It’s a way of saying ‘I may not fit in there, but dammit I fit in here. And I can find myself, I can be myself. And I can be joyful. People will accept me for me and love me for me.’ That’s why drag is important. And f**k Bill Lee.

sister twinkle van winkle

Drag is incredibly important, not just in Tennessee but all over the country right now. I mean legislation left and right is not only trying to keep gender nonconformity out of public spaces but also trying to define what gender means in really scary ways. So being out and visible—if you can, if you have the privilege of doing that—is imperative right now. Allies—join us! Go out and wear a dress if you’re a dude.


For me personally, I’m non-binary and I’ve always been told that I’m too femme to be non-binary which is not accurate because gender expression and gender identity are not the same thing. So, for me, being a drag performer is like reclaiming that femme side of myself, and being like ‘This is who I am!’ Drag, in general, just is a way to exist to your fullest and express yourself fully outside of societal constraints.

Ama Ehrmann (zoloft)

In the immortal words of Darcel Stevens: ‘Be vigilant, but not afraid.’ Lawmakers have thrown down the gauntlet, but we must show them that we have a gauntlet of our own. We cannot stand by idly and be complacent, we must be who we are, show them who we are, express ourselves. When you’re born a certain way, there’s nothing you can really do about that so you really just have to be who you are. And proper health care and other avenues that are out there, support systems, it’s all needed to become healthy, thriving individuals.

fantasia bourdeaux

Not only is drag not a crime, it is an art form, a mode of expression. Art is therapy for a lot of us. Through drag we are able to become another person, we are able to become a character and let go of some of that anguish and pain that some of us carry throughout our daily lives and not just in regards to legislation but in our home lives and other things that are happening to our community.

Mr. al nitelong

Right now we need more support than ever. From not only our community, but from everyone else all around the world. Right now they’re trying to pick us apart and trying to take away everything we’ve fought for, and that’s not right. And right now none of us is going to stand for that. We’re going to stand strong, we’re going to keep fighting these bills and we’re going to stand in the front line no matter who tries to take us out.

Aubrey OMbre

My biggest piece of advice would be to not let shame win. Do not let people shame you into being anything other than your absolute truest-to-you self. Don’t change yourself for anyone else’s opinions, beliefs, or what they’re telling you. If you are honoring yourself, you are living your best life.

polly popjoy

Drag is important in Tennessee because it has existed through millennia and through cultures. The idea that you can keep children out of drag is absurd. The idea that there is anything inappropriate about playing dress up, for any reason, is absurd. And so any attempts to squash it will result in what happens every time, you’ll have queer individuals who continue to resist and who continue to thrive.

sister kat ion

Drag is art and art is life.

imagene azengraber

Focus on friendship and know that your friends will never make you feel like exploring your gender identity is too much. Your friends will always use your pronouns and always uplift you, speak up for you, defend you, and make you feel that your transness or queerness of any type is valid.

blanca diamond

I have been around since the 90s at Backstreet and Aftershock watching drag queens all the time, and I wanted to get into it. After my father died, it got me out of that depression and it got me into meeting all these beautiful people.


Drag is important to me because it’s a milestone moment for my life in terms of something I’ve wanted to do but had never done because of a fear. I’m no longer afraid. For me, it’s huge.

holly walnutz