The drag queen who goes by the name Potted Plant is unmissable in any room. With her large white wig, drawn on eyelashes, and striking laughter, she has become a celebrity in the Colorado Springs community, known for being a beacon of joy.
But in her performances, she reminds her audience about the fragility of LGBTQ+ lives.
During one May performance, her opening lip sync was interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing -- a "very important" call, she joked, that's become a bittersweet tribute in some of her shows.
"I'm still at work, just making sure you're OK. I assume you're still asleep, which is good. I'll see you around. OK, bye!" the voicemail said.
Potted Plant -- or Wyatt Kent when he’s not in drag -- was celebrating her 23rd birthday on the night of the tragedy, Nov. 19, 2022.
She had just performed on stage and was going out to the patio for a smoke, when she walked by Aston who was bartending that night.
"I saw Daniel on the corner of the bar, gave him a hug and a kiss," said Kent. "And I said, 'I'll meet you outside. We'll go smoke in a minute.' I said, 'I love you. I'll see you soon.'"
Aston was one of five people killed in a mass shooting at the bar that night. The alleged shooter faces more than 300 charges in connection with the shooting, including more than 50 hate crime offenses.
"Nothing prepares you to have to step over somebody that you talked to minutes prior, you know?" Kent said. "Everyone in there knew each other, loved each other."'
Kent said the shooting forced him to take a break from drag for the first time in 10 years.
His Potted Plant persona had absorbed the trauma, he said, and washing off the makeup in the shower that night and hiding that part of himself away offered a sliver of solace from all of the pain.
"It was hard for me for a while to even look at myself in the mirror in makeup," Kent said.
It took him almost two months to get back on stage. His first performance back was at a nightclub in Kentucky, where legislators are now considering anti-drag restrictions that would make his art form illegal.
As Potted Plant sang that first night back, she said she focused on a memorial put up in honor of the victims of the Club Q shooting. Aston's photo was positioned just in view of the stage, so he could watch Kent perform once more.
Aston was an avid supporter of Kent's drag -- and was also a trans community advocate who gave out his phone number and raised money for his trans brothers and sisters so he could help them access gender-affirming care, financial support, and more.
"That man was a protector. He would drive drunk people home from the bar. He would pay people's tabs out of pocket," said Kent. "It's important to keep that advocacy up and to look after my community the way that he always did."
In the face of what has been seen as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community at Club Q, Kent said he has been taken back to the revolutionary, activist roots of drag.
"Before, a lot of us queens get into the job because we want to be pretty, we want free drinks and we want attention. I loved that," Kent said. "But now we have work, and now we have a community to hold."
Drag performances have become a political powder keg nationwide, with conservative lawmakers across the country moving to restrict drag shows both public and private.
The efforts coincide with a growing demonization of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as legislation that targets, LGBTQ+ inclusion in education, access to gender-affirming care for transgender people, and more.
The rhetoric has prompted a rise in threats against the community, advocates say, with many reporting hearing of more anti-LGBTQ hate incidents as some conservative lawmakers implement what advocates say are anti-LGBTQ laws.
The Department of Homeland Security recently sounded the alarm, noting an increase in violent threats by domestic violence extremists and people who commit hate crimes against the LGBTQ community within the last year.
Many believe the Club Q shooting validated their concerns about the consequences of the hate.
The community has a target on its back in many ways, drag performers say, and with that comes the responsibility of being more visible, more vocal and more proud than ever before.
Several drag shows nationwide have been threatened by protestors and bomb or death threats, but queens in Colorado Springs say they refuse to be shut out and silenced by fear.
To exist proudly is an act of protest, they say.
"I find a lot of comfort in some words that Daniel left for us. He has a poem that's entitled 'Soft' -- 'This world will never make me hard,'" said Hysteria Brooks, a former Club Q performer, in an interview.
"We just went through one of the worst things that a community can go through, and the love that has transpired from this hate, for me, will always win," Brooks said.
Kent often references the shooting in his comedy and performances. It's a reminder of the lives at stake in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality.
"I'm already doing something that makes people uncomfortable. So why not push it a little bit further? Because what's wrong with being uncomfortable? Right? So many of us are too comfortable," Kent said.
Confronting death is a part of the queer experience, Kent said, adding that it's embedded in the history of the community.
Still, Kent argued, he'd hoped the country would be "on the other side of queer history" by now in its acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
"That's not why that pride flag should be hung off of city hall here in the Springs," he said. "It shouldn't be for five people murdered."
Leia Trillz Latrice, a former Club Q performer, said she treats every performance as an act of protest.
She told ABC News she had walked out of Club Q just moments before the shooting, and says she believes that she might have brushed shoulders with the shooter as she walked out the door.
"I wasn't going to do drag after that tragedy for a long time," she said. "But I remember both Kelly [Loving, another fatal shooting victim,] and Daniel always saying one thing, and it was, 'If you have to fight for something easy, you're not really fighting.'"
As a Black transgender woman who does drag, Leia said she feels that her many identities are under attack and marginalized in the U.S. in myriad ways.
Drag is a way to confront and demolish the stereotypes, the lies, the hate, many of the queens said.
"When is the time for change, but now?" Leia asked.
Some performers said they fear that limiting access to drag will restrict the ways people can learn about and find the LGBTQ+ community in their neighborhoods, and harm establishments that offer safe spaces for the community to connect.
"God preaches tolerance," said Brooks. "If [drag shows are] not for you, it's not for you. Don't come to the drag shows, don't bring your children to the drag shows, but don't shut down somebody's career that they built their life on because it's something that you don't understand."
Drag can take many different shapes -- as family-friendly story time or a raunchy adults-only comedy show. Performers say drag is an art form that allows performers and audiences alike a place to be their truest selves, unjudged.
It's a celebration of self-expression, they say. In Colorado Springs, it's one place where the small LGBTQ+ community feels most supported.
For Kent, drag has become and will continue to be a tribute to Aston's life and the love they shared.
"I have never met a bigger supporter in everything that I do, but in drag, especially … We would come up with the dumbest mixes, that are just jokes. We'd sit on the sofa together and make stupid jokes," he said. "Why stop that and lose that? But if I did, goddamn, he'd be so angry."
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