By Matt Simonette
Drag performer and entertainment producer T Rex has been dropped from their ongoing engagements at Roscoe's and Berlin nightclubs after allegations of racism.
Roscoe's published on its Facebook page June 22 that it has "severed our professional relationship with drag host T Rex, effective immediately. We look forward to working with the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically with those on the Black queer and genderqueer communities, to take the necessary steps to ensure that all performers at Roscoe's Tavern are treated fairly [and] equally, and shown respect for their individual art form."
Berlin also posted June 22: "We have decided to end our relationship with T Rex. We do not condone racism or behaviors that hurt others. In our 37 years serving the LGBTQ+ community, we have always strived to be a space where people from all backgrounds and experiences can feel comfortable coming together to express themselves and their art in an atmosphere of love, respect and enjoyment. We are sorry for the part we played in allowing this behavior to remain in our space and we vow to do better.
"Moving forward, we plan to work with the Chicago Black Drag Council to bring in new shows and new hosts highlighting Black drag artists, to ensure that our space is welcome to all, always. The safety and comfort of our community while in our space is our number one priority and we vow to continue making changes to further that promise.
T Rex had been accused the week of June 15 of disenfranchising performers of color who participated in shows taking place at the two Lake View nightclubs.
The statement calling out T Rex, signed by several local performers, said: "You have abused your power and you've helped perpetuate racism through Boystown by reducing all people of color to tokens for your personal gain. You've based the value of our art of winning your competition. You've used influence to push multiple people out of the scene who've made mistakes. … You have taken a position of power in an art form you rarely practice, and it is time you make space for others."
Among the demands issued were that Drag Matinee performances be hosted by a Black performer in a bi-weekly trade-off; that more Black talent be engaged overall; and that T Rex attend a digital town hall meeting with representatives from the Berlin and Roscoe's nightclubs.
"These demands are not made to make you feel bad," the statement concluded. "These demands are for a better future and relationship with your community."
T Rex issued an apology June 16 and agreed to their demands; among those was participating in an online forum June 20 wherein T Rex was to be brought to accountability for the allegations.
That forum was hosted by performer Lucy Stoole and moderated by performer Shimmy Laroux, who is also a diversity/equity consultant.
"We are looking tonight for restorative justice," said Laroux.
Stoole added, "This is not a witch-hunt of any sort. It's a very needed conversation that has been a long time coming, and it's at a point now where we can no longer ignore it."
Representatives from Roscoe's, Berlin and Sidetrack were on hand for the town hall as well; the safety of black performers and patrons in North Side nightclubs was a key factor in the discussion and is likely to be a factor in future discussions.
Performer Shea Coulee accused T Rex of "exercising privilege over me" and attempting to blacklist them, adding, "so you directly attacked my livelihood, which is an act of violence."
Coulee recounted an incident one Black History Month wherein T Rex suggested a production number wherein Coulee would perform as a slave, mockingly being whipped by other performers.
"That incident has stayed with me a very long time," Coulee said, adding that they had to "practically beg" T Rex to apologize.
Activist Zola later told T Rex that the demands were too light; she additionally addressed longtime allegations of racist comments and behavior at Roscoe's, telling the representatives on hand that their business needed to make a "revolutionary and monumental change" beyond promises to change show formats. "We need plans and actions."
"I admit I have too much power," T Rex said, later admitting, "It's fucked up."
"It's fucked up that you're supposed to be one of the most influential people on the scene, and you've created this bubble where you're untouchable, and you can't even have a conversation yourself," Stoole replied, adding that even he should have done more.
T Rex apologized to "the entire community" and said they got "too comfortable."
Stoole said that T Rex was very aware of people's perceptions and the extent of their power over other performers.
"That's fair," T Rex said.
Laroux said, "This has been a very heavy conversation for everyone. … I would strongly recommend that conversations continue with the Black Drag Council and that everyone continues to be open, and that everyone realizes that, in order to have restorative justice you will have to give things up to restore people to wholeness."