In HBO’s drag queen–themed reality show We’re Here, there’s no separation between red and blue—only unity over sequin and lamé. Now in its second season, the series follows RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka as they meet small-town residents who are struggling with homophobia and queer acceptance and teach them the art (and therapeutic power) of drag. What may seem at first like a campy makeover show—each episode culminates in a drag performance—quickly reveals itself to be a profound examination of America in 2021, confronting social divisions with a message of tolerance, understanding, and platform-heeled, sashaying hope.
In season two, the queens visit eight towns, from Selma, Alabama, to Watertown, South Dakota. Another reality show might have taken the easy route and poked fun at small-town mentalities, but this one pushes back against biases of this kind as well.
“It’s an easy thing to stereotype people from small towns,” says Shangela, aka D.J. Pierce, who grew up in Paris, Texas. “But if you visit, you find pockets of support for the [queer] community in the most unlikely places.”
While the queens do experience some discrimination (in a season one episode, a shopkeeper in Branson, Missouri, called the police on them for standing outside her store), Shangela says she doesn’t feel fear when they land in a new town. “I’m excited to be able to amplify the voices that don’t usually get a microphone in these small, conservative spaces,” she says. “And, of course, I’m traveling with Eureka and Bob, my sisters. We show up as a trio, and can’t nobody take us down if we stand together!”
Each episode will likely leave viewers misty-eyed, but the visit to Del Rio, Texas, is particularly moving. There, we meet Bruno Lozano, the border town’s first openly gay mayor, who also serves as Shangela’s “drag daughter.” Besides performing a killer Selena number and showing his town how important it is to be true to yourself, Lozano also counsels a drag daughter who has yet to come out to his parents. “Seeing an out loud and proud queer person in a community that doesn’t have a substantial queer presence be someone you can look up to and set the example, it’s really inspiring,” Shangela says. Each time the queens roll out of a town, it feels as though they’ve made a difference, showing what a little bit of love—and a lot of false lashes—can do. “I hope that our experience helps people—whether they are a part of our show or watching on television—to feel less alone,” Shangela says. “No matter where you are in this world, there is a tribe for you somewhere.”