His first bullies arrived by bike, middle-schoolers.
They called him a fairy, and other slurs. They smashed eggs on his head.
The taunts came day after day as he walked to and from school. His mother, fearing for her son, put him in a new school. He entered seventh grade with new classmates, but it didn’t get easier. This was Utah in the ‘90s.
From the time he was little, he loved Barbies and Disney princesses. In kindergarten, he chose dresses when playing dress-up.
“When I was like 8, and nobody was home, I would go in the closet and get the poofy part of my sister’s prom dress and just twirl around by myself and in the mirror,” he recalls. “And I definitely identified with what a culture calls female. And the great injustice for me, as someone who identifies with the feminine, is that this world says, a dress and makeup and sparkles are only for women.”
Mormon-raised in a house that did not support homosexuality, he desperately tried to suppress his attraction to boys. He went to Brigham Young University and served on a mission for two years in France. Still struggling after college, he put himself through anti-gay conversion therapy where he was promised a “normal” life. He started dating a best friend, a girl.
“Her father actually left her family because he’s gay,” he said. “And I watched that devastation. And I was like, I’m not doing that … She deserves a man who loves her, sexually and emotionally and physically and romantically, and I can’t do that.”
He took his chances. At age 22, he came out.
More than a decade later, Lady Maga USA makes her entrance into a throng clad in red T-shirts and hats.
“Trump is making America great again, whether you’re Black, White, Latino or a drag queen!” she says to the crowd in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The drag queen bit is not a joke. That’s actually Miss Maga herself. It’s been years since that closeted young Mormon from Utah broke up with his girlfriend and came out. Today, he’s a mini-celebrity among die-hard Trump supporters.
Miss Maga is wearing a “Make America Great Again” shirt and hat, looking out across a crowd of thousands chanting “USA! USA!” She wears a white “Lady Maga USA” sash across her chest. Her lips, like her shirt, are bright red. Her curls are perfectly curled and blonde.
This outfit, like all of her outfits, is strictly G-rated. When she first appeared as Lady Maga USA (always add the USA, lest Lady Gaga’s people get litigious), it was in an American flag bikini. Now, she aims to be a family-friendly drag queen, typically sporting jeans or a ball gown.
Miss Maga, who chooses to go by her stage name — she said she and her mother have received death threats because she supports Trump — used to be a Democrat. In the early 2000s, she met Al and Tipper Gore at a Human Rights Campaign dinner.
Back then, Republicans just weren’t accepting, she said. Even still, she voted for George W. Bush in 2004. She felt like the left was growing intolerable and unforgiving, unwilling to engage in difficult conversations.
For three years, her drag persona had been Ryanna Woods, a nod to the character Elle Woods from the film “Legally Blonde.” In 2019, she debuted Lady Maga USA. Friends she had for years through Utah’s drag bars stopped talking to her.
“As soon as I came out as a Trump supporter, for them it erased all the good qualities that I have, and they only focused on that, assuming that I’m some sort of monster,” she said. “I lost everything. I lost my performances. I lost my friends. I lost my sense of community.”
Her new community is made up of thousands of other LGBTQ+ people who back president Trump, she says. She almost always appears at rallies as Lady Maga USA, and this October she was fully booked. Her schedule had no less than eight Trump events — all unpaid — leading up to Election Day.
Miss Maga has drained her own finances on costumes, travel and hotels to show her support for the president.
Miss Maga’s top issues are not LGBTQ rights. She is a strong advocate for the Second Amendment and for free speech. She thinks that people have a right to say offensive things, even if they are hateful.
“I think that the LGBT mainstream community is pushing further and further trying to eliminate all discussion or questioning of their agenda,” she said. “And I think that’s dangerous because we could be next. Anyone can be next, and I believe that free speech is absolute.”
At the Albuquerque Trump rally, she gives hugs to fellow supporters. She speaks in Spanish and English. She stops for photos.
“God bless you,” a man says to her.
This is not the response she expected the first time she went to a Trump rally in drag last year.
“I was terrified to go to the Trump rally, because I thought I may be rejected, I may be yelled at, I may be kicked out for all I know,” Miss Maga told The 19th. “But the moment I arrived, the first thing that happened was a lady comes running up to me and asked for a picture and told me I was fabulous. And then I walked in my full drag into the rally past the line and people were just cheering and screaming and welcoming me.”
Embraced by conservatives
Miss Maga is among a rarely discussed voting bloc: LGBTQ Republicans. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, just 15 percent of LGBTQ people are Republicans, compared to 35 percent of the general population. It’s unclear what percentage of those Republicans will vote for Trump in this election. Before taking office, Trump vowed to be a friend to LGBTQ people. Many say he broke that promise.
LGBTQ media organization GLAAD has tallied at least 175 incidents of the Trump administration attacking the community, from substantial policy rollbacks to the transgender military ban to fighting against landmark LGBTQ workplace protections won at the Supreme Court in June. Jennifer Pritzker, transgender billionaire, backed Trump four years ago. This time around, she has funneled more than $100,000 into defeating him.
Conservative values have often been painted as antithetical to LGBTQ rights. But the people who encapsulate both of those groups present a different picture.
Chad Felix Greene describes a similar experience of being embraced by conservatives as an openly gay person. Greene grew up in West Virginia and Ohio, with no openly gay peers in school.
As he entered his teenage years, he wished desperately he could be a girl. He tried wearing women’s clothing, but none of it looked right on him.
“I felt a sense of despair that there did not seem to be an option for me,” he said.
In 1998, the same year as the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, Greene’s principal outed him to his parents in front of school counselors, he said. His father, who had only seen depictions of gay people because of the AIDS epidemic, was traumatized by the event, Greene said. He was the first person in his high school to come out, and it made him a target of bullying. Adults in his life worried that like the Columbine shooters, Greene was an outcast.
“I had to go to a therapist and had to have a written statement that I was mentally fit, and I wasn’t dangerous to anybody,” he recalled.
He remembers sitting in high school science class one day next to a friend he’d had since kindergarten. Her eyes, crystal blue, reminded him so much of Ellen Degeneres’, which he’d seen on the cover of a book. He told her she had Ellen’s eyes.
“And (I) remember that she instantaneously said, ‘Don’t ever compare me to that woman,’” Greene recalled.
The experience struck him so much that he drew into himself. Comparing anyone to a gay person was unforgivable — he was unforgivable. “I almost didn’t graduate,” he said. “I ended up graduating, I think second to last in my class. I just barely got by because I didn’t care any longer.”
In college, he took sociology and psychology classes, and the world started to open up. He became what he called an “aggressive liberal activist,” making pamphlets about gay rights that he left on cars and at churches.
But Greene found his liberal peers to be dismissive and unforgiving, he said. His first girlfriend in middle school, whom he always idealized, had been Black. He remembers sharing with a college class that when he had a kid, he wanted to adopt a Black child.
“Several of the Black girls in the class told me that was the same as slavery,” he said. “They thought that I was purchasing a Black woman to be a symbol of pride for myself and that it was racism, and it was so startling to me to be called a racist.”
It was one of several incidents that pushed Greene away from progressive circles and toward conservative politics, he said. But it wasn’t until 2018 that he voted Republican, or voted at all. The confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh pushed him over the edge. Greene did not believe allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh or concerns from LGBTQ advocacy groups that he posed a threat to equal rights.
“I thought he was brutally targeted by an intentional campaign to smear him as aggressively as possible with false allegations to try and thwart his nomination,” Greene said. “I’m a survivor of rape. What they did hurt me very personally.”
Today, Greene’s a prominent LGBTQ conservative voice. He has more than 45,000 Twitter followers and a new book out, “Without Context: Evaluating the Anti-LGBT Claims Against the Trump Administration.” He early voted in Ohio this year, his first presidential election.
Ideas over identity
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SOURCE: USA Today; The 19th – Kate Sosin