Fulbright really requires you to be bold, and to explain your project to people, and to interact with the local community and use those foreign language skills. That is really, really valuable.Sasha Velour
On June 3, 2021, the Fulbright Program hosted a special event to kick off Pride Month and celebrate the career of 2009 Fulbright U.S. Student to Russia, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9, and internationally recognized drag queen, artist, and producer, Sasha Velour. The discussion was moderated by Christian Flores, 2019 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Brazil and founder of Projeto Memoria LGBT – Bagé. The conversation spanned many topics including Sasha’s Fulbright experience in Moscow, the international influences on her drag aesthetic and performances, the importance of uplifting and celebrating queer voices, and the details of her creative process and current projects.
In discussing queer stories, Christian and Sasha talked about the changing ideas around non-binary figures in history. “Unfortunately, the physical research about queer existence is about times when people have been destroyed, or times that people were arrested or punished,” Sasha noted during the event. “I think about Leslie Fienberg’s Transgender Warriors about where things changed from trans and nonbinary people being seen as spiritual figures or folks who had an access to a fluidity that would be considered an asset to society, when that changed to be something that people are afraid of or disgusted by, and then reclaiming that positivity.”
Sasha and Christian discussed the importance of telling and recording queer stories, which are often remarkable and just as often lost. Sasha reminisced about working with a drag queen who impersonated Shirley Temple in the 1970’s and 1980’s at Finniochio’s Club, a drag dinner club in San Francisco. “One of the most historic drag dinner clubs that’s been closed my entire lifetime… Only later did I realize what vital oral history it was, the stories she told me about Bette Davis visiting Finnochio’s I will never forget, and it’s nowhere written down.”
The audience heard about the status of upcoming projects from the House of Velour, including the resumption and extension of the Smoke and Mirrors European tour, and the upcoming NightGowns: the Musical.
Sasha Velour: 2009 Fulbright Student Researcher to Russia
Sasha Velour is a genderfluid drag queen, theatre and television producer, and winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (Season 9). Since her debut on the international stage in 2017, Velour has bewitched sold-out crowds on five continents. Her internationally renowned solo theatrical work, “Smoke & Mirrors,” has toured The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, selling out theaters in New York, LA, Auckland, Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, London, and more. The show will return to Europe for a 34-city tour in early 2022. Last year, Velour adapted her long-running drag review, “NightGowns” into a docu-series that she Executive Produced for Quibi. “NightGowns” with Sasha Velour was hailed by “The New York Times” as being “among the most life-affirming shows you could find on any platform.” She won a Realscreen Award for the show, which will come to the Roku Channel later this year. Through her genre-defying work, Velour is creating new business models for drag as art, which “Fast Company” says is “disrupting the business of drag.” “Variety” named Velour to their “Power of New York List” in 2019 and she has been honored in “Out Magazine’s” OUT100, twice. Velour studied Modern Literatures through the independent program at Vassar College and Cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies. In 2009, she received a Fulbright grant to study the role of political art in contemporary Russian life. As a public speaker, she has spoken at the Smithsonian, the Teen Vogue Summit, colleges and universities, and on behalf of the U.S. State Department abroad. Velour recently starred in the short art-opera film, “The Island We Made” (commissioned by Opera Philadelphia), and her first book will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2022.
Christian Flores: 2019 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Brazil
Christian Flores is a 2019 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Brazil. While on his Fulbright, he inaugurated “Projeto Memória LGBT – Bagé,” a public history project designed to highlight and celebrate queer voices and experiences at the Federal University of Pampa in Bagé, a small, conservative city in Brazil’s southern countryside. Flores, an Illinois College alumnus, is based in Chicago, IL where he works as a Program Administrator in the Research Division at Safer Foundation, a non-profit that assists individuals with arrests and convictions to access job opportunities.