Grand Junction isn’t widely known for its LGBTQ scene — at least not yet. That’s one reason the creators of HBO’s “We’re Here” were attracted to the town on Colorado’s Western Slope, where they filmed the show finale in late September.
On Nov. 29, the local queer community will be thrust into the national spotlight when the episode airs in all its fabulous wigged and sequined glory.
“I don’t know if anyone ever had incredible drag queens walking through Colorado National Monument, but as of this episode that will have happened,” said Peter LoGreco, the show’s director and executive producer.
LoGreco is referring to the opening scene, when hosts Eureka, Bob the Drag Queen and Shangela go pose-for-pose atop the iconic natural structures that give Mesa County its name. (“Apparently these are not mountains; they’re mesas,” Bob the Drag Queen remarks.) That’s right before the trio struts through downtown dressed in lavish gold outfits, turning heads and attracting comments about “gold fairies” as they go.
The queens’ quest: to transform three locals into masters of drag using makeup, costumes and choreography in preparation for a public performance at the end of their stay. Fans of the TV show know the transformation is never purely surface level. “We’re Here” intentionally showcases places perceived as conservative or at odds with progressive ideas about gender and sexuality to both highlight and, importantly, uplift the LGBTQ scenes.
With more than 60,000 residents, Grand Junction is the largest city on the Western Slope and a hub for the LGBTQ community, which encompasses residents from the surrounding rural areas. That the town was the backdrop for the season finale was mostly a timing coincidence, LoGreco said. But because of that, the crew purposefully spotlighted three transgender locals: Dustin, Taylor and Angie.
Grand Junction resident Dustin Holt tries on wigs as he prepares to perform drag for the filming of HBO’s “We’re Here.”
“That’s not something we’ve done before and it was a very specific choice looking at where we are as a society — what seems to be loudest topic in the cultural conversation?” LoGreco said. “Trans visibility is one of those things. We found a vibrant and large community of trans people there.”
Visibility was the primary reason Dustin Holt decided to participate in the show. Holt uses a wheelchair because he has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and lives with his best friend and caretaker, who helps him get dressed and use the bathroom. Holt is a self-described “open book” with a YouTube channel featuring videos about his transition and drag shows in which he’s performed.
But the intimate moments of his daily life hadn’t been similarly broadcast until the show. He decided to invite the film crew in on them in hopes it inspires other differently abled people.
“Growing up, for me, there was not a lot of representation of people being differently abled, let alone me being trans,” 27-year-old Holt said. “That is a huge thing I had overcome when I started transitioning because it wasn’t talked about where I grew up.”
Participant Taylor Corpier, 23, described Grand Junction’s LGBTQ scene as “hidden” and, similarly to Holt, he wanted to show the rest of Colorado that the area doesn’t fit one archetype. It was also important to him to raise awareness about events, such as his weekly coffee meetup, that can help welcome more locals into the community.
“A lot of people, when they think of the Western Slope, they think of conservatives,” said Corpier. “We have this huge opportunity to put ourselves on the map and let other people know we’re here and we exist.”
Provided by Greg Endries/HBO
The queens noticed the tension between pride and perception during their visit, as the pro-Trump and Blues Lives Matter iconography juxtaposed the vibe from the people they were meeting. For example, filming synced up with the Grand Junction Pride celebration, which took place on an underground level of a parking garage. Eureka was quick to note it felt like a private party rather than an out-and-proud celebration.
“The reason for pride is to be out and proud in the area where you live — visible, seen, how powerful you can be as a community, owning that space you live in,” Eureka, who mentored Corpier, told The Denver Post. “Honestly you could be a block away and not even realize it was happening.”
The end-of-episode drag show was one evening, but Eureka hopes the impact of the queens’ visit will last longer, empowering LGBTQ locals to “stop hiding” and fostering greater acceptance in the Grand Junction community.
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For Corpier, some of those effects have already been realized. The “We’re Here” experience helped him gain more confidence and allowed him to be proud of the work he’s put into being a leader in the community. He plans to build on that momentum by applying for the Colorado West Pride board of directors in hopes of planning more youth-centric events during the annual celebration.
Holt hopes the show has a “positive, upward and onward push” for acceptance among Grand Junction residents and that it brings more awareness to the trans experience.
“Not all trans people express themselves the same. Not all people — period — express themselves the same, and that’s OK,” Holt said. “I knew that, but being part of this really enforced that for me. I need to stop letting people get to me and say (expletive) them and be myself.”