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A composite picture showing George Santos and drag queen Trixie Mattel, with whom he feuded on Twitter

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George Santos and drag queen Trixie Mattel have engaged in a Twitter feud

By Sam Cabral

BBC News, Washington

He admitted he was guilty of “embellishing” his biography and resume – but Republican lawmaker George Santos said he was definitely never a drag queen.

Or at least that was until photos and videos of what appears to be the New York congressman performing in drag during his younger days in Brazil surfaced online.

“I was young and had fun at a festival,” Mr Santos, 34, insisted to the pack of reporters chasing after him at the airport on Saturday.

More evidence has since circulated, further corroborating that the performer known to friends in the Rio de Janeiro area as “Kitara Ravache” is in fact the newly elected member of Congress.

NEW: I just spoke by phone with Eula Rochard, a Brazilian drag queen who was friends with George Santos when he lived near Rio. She said everyone knew him as Anthony (*never* George), or by his drag name, Kitara, and confirms this photo is from a 2008 drag show at Icaraí Beach.

— Marisa Kabas (@MarisaKabas) January 18, 2023

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

An unbowed Mr Santos took to Twitter on Monday, calling those impersonating him on late-night television “embarrassing” and then feuding with drag personality Trixie Mattel.

The congressman was only sworn in 19 days ago, but is already facing multiple calls to step down. He has allegedly lied about his college degrees, his work experience, his campaign finances, his animal charity and even his faith. He has also falsely claimed that his grandparents survived the Holocaust and that his mother died in the 9/11 terror attack.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Mr Santos would be removed from Congress if the House Ethics Committee finds he broke the law.

But the revelations of his drag queen past have left even more questions to answer as he settles into the ranks of a Republican Party increasingly hostile to drag culture.

While no Republican members of Congress have directly addressed the drag allegations, drag has become a hot-button issue in the party.

At least eight states have introduced Republican-backed legislation to restrict or censor drag shows, according to the Pen America free-speech group.

Right-wing groups across the country have targeted drag story hours – in which drag queens read stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores – and parental rights’ groups have opposed drag events, which many in conservative media claim are “grooming” and “sexualising” children.

Moms for Liberty, a conservative activist group, argues drag should be confined to “adult spaces” and that “bringing drag into our children’s schools is intentionally provocative. They want to provoke people to react to this.”

Mr Santos’ own colleague, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, has said the drag “agenda” is “targeting our children”.

Critics of that position argue it sits within a long history of anti-LGBT rhetoric.

“It’s a backlash to 50 years of increasing freedom of dress and increasing visibility for the LGBTQ community,” says Michael Bronski, a Harvard University professor who has written extensively on sexuality and LGBT politics.

Image source, Jeff Livingston

Image caption,

Jeff Livingston – aka Annie Manildoo – performs at a drag story hour event

Organised opposition of this kind was last seen in the 1970s, he says, when activists and evangelical Christian leaders launched a “moral panic” that came to be known as the Save Our Children coalition.

Drag opponents today are employing the same “old line of attack”, Mr Bronski notes, but are up against an LGBT community that has made “inescapable” advances woven into the fabric of American culture.

Political attacks against drag culture growing

There is little indication yet of where Mr Santos, who ran his campaign as an openly gay Republican, stands on the right’s anti-drag legislation and rhetoric – but he has embraced other anti-LGBT talking points prevalent in some Republican circles. In 2020, he said same-sex couples are “an attack on the family unit” and children raised in such households tend to grow up “troubled”. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Florida law that restricts LGBT education in primary schools, labelled “Don’t Say Gay” by its critics.

Jeff Livingston, a drag queen from Long Island – a portion of which is represented by Mr Santos – has performed for nearly a decade at clubs and story hours under the name Annie Manildoo. As Republicans have ramped up their rhetoric against the drag community, he has encountered more protests at his drag events in the past year and typically does not leave events in full drag anymore, for safety reasons, he said.

“Drag has become so mainstream that it’s an easier target now,” he says. “Any time a minority group grabs any kind of power, the majority gets a little anxious about it.”

Image source, Alexander Heimberg

Image caption,

Alex Heimberg’s drag performers are more in demand than ever

With a background in acting and education, he also works regularly at theatres and summer camps. “There are a lot of queer folks who work regularly with kids of all ages with no issues ever arising, despite the image conservatives try to paint of us being sexual deviants,” he said.

At the New York-based Screaming Queens company, Alex Heimberg manages over 100 drag performers, who he says are more in demand than ever, for everything from birthdays to fundraising galas.

“The country is very divided [but] it’s not like everybody hates drag and is protesting,” he said.

Mr Heimberg, 55, who performed in the 1990s and 2000s as the prominent drag queen Miss Understood, says he thinks it is hypocritical for Republicans to keep George Santos in Congress while decrying drag.

“His misdeeds are more important than the fact that he was a drag queen,” he added. “The fact that he was a drag queen is just an extra reason to have a giggle at his expense.”

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