Introducing Drag Syndrome: A group of outspoken drag artists with Down syndrome

With every song number and choreographed dance, the five members of Drag Syndrome are combating stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities.

The group is the first professional drag troupe where all member artists have Down syndrome.

"I can be who I am," said member Ruby Coldiroly, a drag king who goes by the name Justin Bond.

"Drag makes me feel really confident."

The group has quickly gained popularity and international acclaim since its debut in 2018. The members have performed in nightclubs, concerts and festivals across Europe, and Montreal's Pride week marks the first stop of their North American tour.

"Well baby, if you're going to come see me perform, well you better come work it," said Bond, nodding and crossing his arms, "'Cause I'm going to kill that stage."

Bond says he loves the makeup and the transformation. "I came up with Justin to be a handsome man for the ladies."

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Drag as empowerment and transformation

In 2018, choreographer Daniel Vais brought the group members together to provide a platform for performers with learning disabilities.

"[Drag Syndrome] helps open the mind of others," he explains. "It shows others with disabilities what they can do."

Each performer crafts their own drag personality — their look, name, and narrative. Drag gives them the opportunity to showcase their talents, such as singing, dancing or delivering quick one-liners.

He adds that through their drag, they can be "fierce, sexual, wild and [they can] express their ideas."

Vais says the group increases the visibility of performers with intellectual disabilities who are not represented in mainstream media.

Through drag, the performers can be judged on their talent rather than their disability, which is empowering, he said.

"This is our first gig across the pond," Vais told CBC News. "Montreal and Canada are known for their open-mindedness and we see [that] here."

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Paving the way for a social revolution

Along with Drag Syndrome's fame has come criticism and controversy, said Stéphanie de Sève, a Montreal filmmaker who is making a documentary on the group.

"In a world where they are not valued, they value themselves," said de Sève. "They are fearless. They do what they want to do."

Bond explained that he pays these people no mind. "I respond to them by saying back off — we deserve to be in drag and perform."

The filmmaker says she believes the troupe will be at the centre of "the coming social revolution."

"Their art opens hearts and minds across the world."

The members of Drag Syndrome are the honorary guests at the 13th edition of the Montreal Pride Festival. Their next performance is Aug. 16 at 10 p.m. at Parc des Faubourgs, near the entrance to the Jacques Cartier Bridge at the corner of De Lorimier Avenue and Ontario Street East.