As caretakers of Kentucky’s LGBTQ+ history, we at Faulkner Morgan Archive find it imperative that we continually remind ourselves and our communities of the long-lasting legacy of queer people in the Commonwealth.
One of the most prominent ways to do that is by sharing stories of our queer ancestors who paved the path for us to be where we are today. The history of Kentucky drag is one place that holds countless stories of individuals creating a space of freedom and self-expression for LGBTQ+ people. Drag “houses’’ often became core support groups for drag queens, gender-bending performers, and trans individuals with drag “mothers’’ forming and leading the house.
One drag mother, Sweet Evening Breeze, and her drag house left a particularly strong mark on the city of Lexington. As early as the 1920s, Sweets strolled through Lexington’s downtown in her feminine attire, with a parasol in hand. Before the 1970s, Sweets would have probably been the first, if not only, openly queer person many Kentuckians knew. While Sweet Evening Breeze is the best remembered of the Black, gender-ambiguous folks in Lexington, she was actually just one member of a vibrant community. Other queer individuals and drag queens began to make a name for themselves through the 1950s and 1960s as drag performances rose in popularity among Lexington’s queer community.
One drag queen and trans woman, Leigh Angelique was from the house of Sweet Evening Breeze. She would often perform at The Living Room, which is now known as the Bar Complex located on East Main Street. However, on April 8th, 1970, a Wednesday night, Lexington Police raided The Living Room and arrested four queens, including Tiffany Ross and 22-year-old Garland Hanley, better known as Leigh Angelique.
After Leigh was booked for the crime of “wearing a disguise,” she sought refuge at the home of Sweet Evening Breeze. Enraged by the injustice, Sweets called the judge assigned to sentence Leigh. Sweets told the judge it was “in his best interest to drop the charges.” The judge complied. In the words of Leigh, “I don’t know what Sweets had on the people in this town, but she had something.”
This was the last time Lexington Police raided a gay bar for simply being a gay bar. For years after, Sweets and Leigh celebrated the date as their “Bastille Day,” when they dismantled a prejudiced law and its unjust enforcement. This is just one example of the impact that Sweet Evening Breeze had in the city. In a time where being publicly queer meant being faced with harassment, violence, and even imprisonment, Sweets became a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Another one of Sweets’ drag daughters was Miss Joyce, also known as Charles Dansby, who was Lexington raised, and lived most of his life in the house that his great-grandfather built (and where Charles was born) in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Spiegel Heights. Charles’ drag career spanned decades, and when he passed in February 2020, he was the last known “drag daughter” of Sweet Evening Breeze, whom he had known since childhood. Charles met Sweet Evening Breeze at the Walgreen’s lunch counter on a Saturday trip downtown with his mother.
Charles was one of many interviewees in the documentary The Last Gospel of the Pagan Babies by Jean Donohue.
The life and legacy of Sweet Evening Breeze and her “drag daughters” is still inspiring and impacting Kentucky’s queer community. In 2022, The Faulkner Morgan Archive held a dedication for the “Mother Of Us All” mural of Sweets painted by GAIA located prominently in downtown Lexington. Sweets is also the namesake of Sweet Evening Breeze, a Louisville organization that is working to end LGBTQ+ young adults homelessness. It is important to remember our shared queer history and the impact of icons like Sweets. We must now carry on their legacy and fight to leave a better world for future queer people.
The Faulkner Morgan Archive is a grassroots community archive with a mission to share Kentucky’s LGBTQ history. Our collections span 200 years of history, representing individuals, events, and institutions across Kentucky’s diverse LGBTQ spectrum, creating a rich resource for activists, scholars, artists, museums, and the curious. We believe sharing our history can change our future. You can find us online at FaulknerMorgan.org or on Facebook and Instagram @FaulknerMorganArchive.
“Mother Of Us All,” Painted by GAIA. Located at 161 N Limestone, Lexington, KY, 40507.