Bowling Green drag scene steps up for storm victims

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by Spencer Jenkins
he/him
spencer@queerkentucky.com

Historically, drag queens stepped up when shit got tough. Queens, along with our trans community members, were just not the demographic to f**k with. Whether we’re talking about Bob the Drag Queen getting arrested during a marriage equality rally, Pepper LaBeija sashaying the runways of balls, or pushing the boundaries of social and gender norms like Divine, drag queens always show up and deliver.

On December 10, 2021, a violent, long-tracked tornado moved across Western Kentucky, producing severe to catastrophic damage in numerous towns, including Bowling Green, Mayfield, Benton, Dawson Springs, and Bremen. It is no surprise that Bowling Green based drag queens physically and financially helped storm victims.

Drag Queen group, the Primadonnas, held a benefit show on December 17 to raise money for storm victims. Also, Queen Venus Knight has been at the forefront of the storm cleanup in Bowling Green through physically helping people. We were able catch up with her recently and what a pleasure it was!

Give us a little background on who you are. Who is Venus and what is your relationship with the state of Kentucky? What do you love most? Hate most? Why are you here still?

I was born and raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky, so Venus embodies all of Bowling Green.  I created Venus to represent not only my hometown, but also Kentucky as a whole.  Having spent my entire life here, I feel I have a connection with all Kentuckians.  Venus is a creation from various aspects of my life, through meeting people, my career as a behavioral counselor, and the change I wanted to see in the world.  I was inspired through the life and works of Princess Diana.  Through my work, I have become “Queen Venus Knight,” but like Princess Diana, I want to earn that title and become the queen of peoples’ hearts.  I want my legacy to be about what Venus represents instead of any national titles and crowns I have acquired.  In addition, in Roman mythology Venus is the goddess of love and beauty.  I selected my name in hopes that those two attributes will shine in Queen Venus as well.  Through meeting people across the Commonwealth, I have a tremendous sense of what Kentucky represents and we are truly genuine, loving people.  

What did you think when you heard there may have been some bad weather?  

My first thought was for the safety and well-being of my family and friends.  So many people are important to my life that I immediately wanted to reach out to them at the start of the storm to ensure they were safe, taking cover, and best prepared for what was to come.  Secondly, I became concerned for all my Knights—the supporters and fans of Queen Venus.  I reached out to my followers on social media to best prepare them.  Since the storm swept through Bowling Green during the early morning hours, I was worried so many would still be asleep, but I knew I had to reach out to them as soon as possible.  My initial concern was not for myself nearly as much as I was for friends, family, and my Knights 

How were you doig the storm? What did you think when you first walked out your door the morning after?

While I was safe, I was worried for everyone else and ultimately I did not sleep any since the storm came through. Driving to a safe location to seek shelter in a basement, I began to get a sense of the strength and magnitude of the storm as my car struggled to remain on the road as the speed and intensity of the winds increased.  While seeking shelter and the storm developed, I could see the tornado dart across the horizon with each flash of lightening and I monitored the incoming videos and pictures on social media.  I tried to prepare for what I was to witness when I walked outside early Saturday morning: the devastation near my own home was a mix of downed trees, broken fences, and toppled outdoor furniture.  However, I was not prepared for what I was to witness when I drove around Bowling Green.  Homes that were destroyed, trees completely uprooted, power lines and poles broken to the ground, and the bodies of those that lost their lives strewn about.  The scenery I surveyed while driving around brought heartache for me, as landmarks in my hometown were wiped away and streets were barely recognizable.  One of our primary roads was changed completely, with businesses gone, many of which were places I patronised before.  One cannot understand the magnitude of such a storm until you first-hand witness the destruction left behind.

I saw you post about running around with a chainsaw to help people? What was going on with that?

I had to contribute to the clean-up in an effort to give back to my community.  Bowling Green has been supportive of me for years and is my hometown.  I had to do whatever I could to help with the clean-up and rebuilding of my community.  With so many trees and limbs brought to the ground, my first instinct was to grab my chainsaw and begin there.  As I drove around, I looked for individuals and families beginning the initial stages of cleaning up their yards.  

What all have you been doing to help the victims of the storm in BG?

Initially, it was about helping with the clean-up efforts and searching for missing individuals.  However, as reports of displaced families began to pour in, I realized there would be a need for basic supplies, especially for those that lost everything.  The reports identified single parents, families, and children that had lost everything and that trauma alone can bring about so much anxiety for these individuals, so with that in mind, I organized a relief drop off center to help more long term.  Knowing many would be reaching out to local agencies and churches for immediate resources, I knew these individuals would need support two or three weeks down the road.  My efforts are focusing on providing that continued support after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, when other agencies’ supplies have dwindled.  Upon witnessing the immediate efforts at Gasper Brewing Company when I visited Saturday, I knew there was a tremendous need that had to be sustained.  While sitting there, I realized we had to do more and I immediately began to pray for guidance.  At that moment I opened up my email and saw an message from the owner of TKO Custom Designs.  The owner, Kerry, volunteered space to begin a relief and resource center.  From that moment, we began building to what we have thus far – a resource center of supplies and basic essentials to maintain that support for the families.  Likewise, through the collaboration of TKO Custom Designs and Queen Venus Knight, LLC, he has developed and printed Bowling Green Strong t-shirts, with proceeds going to families in need.

LGBTQ+ people always step up to the plate in times of crisis, even if we don’t get credit, why do you think that is? Or why is it for you?

I agree as many times LGBTQ+ individuals are often the silent minority.  However, our history has clearly shown that we prosper through adversity.  We are fighters, whether for our rights or the support of others.  Therefore, it is not surprising to me that others in the LGBTQ+ community are and were so willing to come forward to help with the relief efforts.  However, it is important to recognize that our community has been a hindrance.  My own community of sisterhood has been divided in their support for Venus, with some only wanting to recognize my efforts as self-serving.  While driving around the community, I did not see LGBTQ+ individuals working; I saw human beings coming together.  It is not necessarily about the label of the individual, but the efforts and contributions they provide.

Running across someone that would never give you the time of day may have happened during this time, but I’m guessing you helped them anyway…despite they could be homophobic?

Absolutely!  It is not a time to draw lines in the sand when it comes to sexual orientation, regardless of whether they support or defy the LGBTQ+ community.  I am there to help others and provide the support needed to rebuild our community.  I do not build my life on how others treat me.  As Venus built her image, there were times she was not treated with kindness or respect from others, and I determined to try never to do that myself.  I continue to build my brand with love and acceptance and celebrating the achievements of others.  I only hope that in time, that effort will touch someone and change their perspective on how the LGBTQ+ community truly impacts our region and state as a whole.

What is the scene in bowling green like right now? how do you plan on helping in the future?

It is amazing seeing people from all walks of life come together to help their neighbors.  All around Bowling Green, I see many people working to help clean yards, the streets, or whatever is necessary.  No one expects or anticipates recognition.  It is clearly people – men, women, children – coming together to help the community get back on its feet.  I will continue my efforts even after other relief programs and agencies have finished.  Again, it is about giving back to this community that has provided me with continued support over the past years. 

Bowling green is strong, why do you think that is?

We are a strong community because of our belief in one another.  Adversity builds strength.  We have no choice but to be strong, and Kentuckians step up.  Everyone has come together to help rebuild because we believe in our community and our people.  We know that through adversity, we will prosper and continue the fight.  

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