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Calgary church welcomes drag artists to Easter Sunday sermon: 'Resurrection is about affirming who we are'

The sold-out event, Drag Me to Church, is garnering attention for its creative and inclusive intentions, but organizers are expecting protests

A Calgary church will be incorporating drag artists and the trans community in its Easter sermon this Sunday, which also falls on Trans Visibility Day. And while the sold-out event, Drag Me to Church, is garnering attention for its creative and inclusive intentions, organizers are also preparing themselves for protests.

Rev. Samaya Oakley, the minister with the Calgary Unitarians, says the event has been in the works since the fall — after an office administrator suggested they include drag performers into their sermon. When Oakley realized Easter also fell on Trans Visibility Day — March 31 — she thought it was perfect timing.

The church has a long history supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. In 2005, several congregants made a 500-foot pride banner to set on the steps of Parliament Hill the day same-sex marriage was legalized.

Silvie Small holds up a section of a 500 foot rainbow flag around Parliament Hill in support of same-sex marriage in Ottawa, June 19, 2005. REUTERS/Jim Young
Silvie Small holds up a section of a 500 foot rainbow flag around Parliament Hill in support of same-sex marriage in Ottawa, June 19, 2005. REUTERS/Jim Young

Easter Sunday’s event is a play on “Drag Me To” functions, which feature drag performers hosting activities like bowling or bingo. This one will feature drag queens and kings performing and telling Easter stories. The service itself is called "TRANSformation: What does transformation mean today?"

“Resurrection is about affirming who we are, who we’ve always been,” Oakley tells Yahoo Canada. “It’s not about changing who we are. With the rise of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transphobia in the world today, Unitarians Universalists have always sided with the side of love.”

Oakley says the event is a church service, not a drag show, though the performers will play a big part of it.

Tickets for Drag Me To Church sold out quickly, with organizers expecting 250 people. They're also prepared for protests across the street, and have been working with police since they started organizing.

As drag storytimes become targets of hatred and protest, Calgary Unitarians forges on.

“They have every right to protest across the street,” Oakley says. “We’ll probably bring them tea and coffee if they’d like. There will be a police presence.”

Reverend Samaya Oakley.
Calgary Unitarians Reverend Samaya Oakley.

Resurrection is about affirming who we are, who we’ve always been.

Drag artist Liv Brightly: 'Drag is for everybody'

Liv Brightly, one of the scheduled performers, says that while she doesn’t have a connection to church, she’s thrilled to be taking part, especially as a trans person who’s recently started transitioning.

“I believe drag is for everybody and I’m excited to be sharing my talents and craft with the church,” she says.

Brightly says drag performers are about sharing their art and their unique form of talent. She thinks it’s unnecessary for all-ages drag performances to be targeted, because just like movie ratings, drag artists can modify their work to fit the intended audience.

“If you tell me it’s an all-ages show…I’m going to perform in a nice outfit and I’ll perform an all-ages song,” she says. “(Critics) might not understand that. They might see us being raunchy, which is a form of drag and part of what it is, but we also understand that when you’re doing all-ages shows, you have to be respectful to who you’re entertaining.”

The Drag Me to Church event at Calgary Unitarians will also include performances and storytime by artists Indigo, Jessica and Visa De'Klein.

Rev. Oakley: Easter is a time to share message of acceptance

Oakley says Easter is an ideal time to be sharing the message of acceptance, and hopes that her service inspires that.

“Every time a child is born, it’s a holy moment,” she says. “This divine spark of life comes into being. Who are we to judge what journey this spark of life takes on? Whatever this spark of life takes on is sacred and holy and we need to recognize that.”