Within the first few seconds of the third season of HBO’s We’re Here, the danger is palpable. The opening episode is set in Granbury, Texas, a small, conservative town in Hood County where 83 percent of voters opted to re-elect Republican Greg Abbott as Texas Governor in the 2022 midterms. It’s easy to wonder if drag queens have ever touched the soil.
Enter Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela. Every season, the three drag queen superstars visit allies or queer community members in smaller, often deep-red towns across the country. They then help the individuals—or as the queens call them, their drag kids—put on a glitzy drag show. The one-night-only performance aims to provide a safe space for the drag kids to express their genuine selves, find support in those around them, and breathe visibility to the often-sidelined LGBTQ+ voices. This season, in addition to Granbury, the show heads to St. George, Utah; Brevard Country, Florida; Jackson, Mississippi; and Sussex, New Jersey.
While there has been some opposition to the drag queens in past seasons, it seldom felt dangerous. But in this season, which premieres this Friday, Nov. 25, that changes. “I haven’t seen this much outrage locally, maybe ever,” says Adrienne Quinn Martin, one of the drag kids and the Democratic Chair of Hood County, in the first episode.
As the queens are confronted with protestors, agitators, and vocal opposition, it’s hard not to think about current events. The Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida, which bans conversations around sexual orientation or gender identity until grade three comes to mind (this season has two episodes in Florida and addresses the bill head on). This past weekend, a gunman killed five people and injured dozens more at Club Q, a gay bar, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Even in the first episode of We’re Here season 3, a simple drag queen story hour hosted by Shangela is forced to move locations due to a violent threat. This time, the show is incredibly political, simply because it has to be.
“Representation really does matter, and our show is a shining example of why it’s so important to not only have the existence of LGBTQ plus people, but also a community,” Shangela tells ELLE.com. “That really is one of the most special parts about our show.”
Below, the show’s three stars sit down with ELLE to discuss the new season, the challenges they faced, and what the phrase We’re Here really means.
Let’s start at the end of each episode, when the town comes together for an extravagant drag show. What is it like when you get to the final performances?
Bob the Drag Queen: Each episode feels like you’re holding your breath the whole time. It’s a whole episode of gulp, and then, at the end, you finally get to go woo, onto the next town. It always feels like an exhale. I’m very proud. I’m always so proud of what we’ve done. Every time.
Shangela: Yeah, he said it.
Eureka O’Hara: You know, we have pride. We put a lot of work, and a lot of people put a lot of work, into it. So when we get a chance to finalize the show, we’re all exhausted by that point and ready to hit our own beds for at least a day before we move on to the next thing and have to start planning for the next episode. Even though we only shot six episodes, it still took us six months to shoot, because we spend anywhere from 12 to 14 days in a town when we film an episode. We also spend a couple of weeks pre-planning. There’s a lot of work we put in before we even get there.
I didn’t realize you spent so much time in each of those towns. This season, is there a town that felt the most challenging?
Shangela: Granbury, Texas was definitely a place that was unlike any other that we’ve been to in the history of doing our show. I’m a Texan. I have great pride in Texas, because I know some wonderful people in Texas. I came out in Texas. I came into who I was as a proud, young gay man in Texas. I know great drag queens, people, and activists who live in Texas. Being in Granbury, it just seemed like there were so many loud voices that were very negative. There were a lot of people who oppressed anything that was different from them, to the point of really vehemently arguing for us not to be a part of their town, to not be a part of their Fourth of July parade, and–
Bob: –to not be.
Shangela: To not be period. Right. They did not want us there. They made it very known online and through podcasts and everything. I don’t think we have run into that emboldened opposition to us [before].
Bob: In Texas, I always just reminded myself Texas isn’t all bad. Beyoncé’s from here.
Eureka: I think I had some trouble with New Jersey randomly. There were a few moments where I got really uncomfortable in drag, where I felt laughed at. Normally, I’m okay when it comes to that, but there were some moments. We were at a diner where people were literally just avoiding us like the plague. We were at a car show where we always have the straight guys come and go ha ha ha. It just felt a little extra that day. Noticing the people laughing and gawking at versus laughing with. You know, sometimes I remember there’s times where I’m not always at my strongest. That’s the reality of being different in the world we live in. That’s why we’re doing this show, because the people that we work with, they feel like that all the time.
I think you hit on something: Doing this show takes incredible confidence. How do you find courage and how do you just approach those people who are against you?
Bob: I’m very confrontational. That’s really it.
Eureka: Bob’s good at arguing but is also willing to face the conversation. I think what I’ve learned, even from Bob specifically, is a lot of times people don’t actually want to have the conversation, they just want to be heard. When you start having a conversation with them, they just kind of talk in circles. They don’t have any real valid point. I think you even see their wheels start to spin in confusion. ‘Well, I’ve never actually been challenged on why I think this way, or behave this way, or react this way.’ They strictly go to these fear tactics. It’s a message from God, or we’re trying to protect the children. They go to these safe places versus real facts. That’s what I got from it.
I was scared for all you at different times in Granbury. Did you know you were going to be facing that in the show? What kind of protection did you have?
Shangela: I honestly never felt unsafe. Now, that does not say that it was not an unsafe environment. We have people going on saying they want to drag us through sagebrush. There were people saying they would come out with their guns and rifles and all this. Being from Texas and being accustomed to this kind of scene, environment, and rhetoric, I didn’t feel unsafe. Maybe it was naivety. Now, the show knew more, so they took special precaution to make sure we were safe. They hired additional security for us and our drag kids. When we were going to certain places they would check out the climate of the place before we went in.
Eureka: We’re also used to it. In a weird way, we create these blinders to avoid that negativity and that confrontation. We’ve had to walk through these situations in life that were really tough for us, and the way we protect ourselves is we have really gotten good at ignoring ignorance.
Shangela: Or being ready to meet it head on.
Eureka: We do feel very empowered. We know what we’re in this town to do. If we don’t stand up for the people that we’re working with, and the people in this town that don’t have a voice, who’s going to stand up for them? With great power comes great responsibility, right?
Shangela: Who said that?
Eureka: Right. Who knows? Honestly, sometimes we just take on that responsibility to be the strong figureheads, specifically as the faces and the bodies in the town talking to these people, having to kill people with kindness or listening to alternate opinions that aren’t ours, and having these hard conversations. We’re trying to prove to people that we aren’t their vision of who we were going to be and show them our authentic selves and the good side of the type of people we are as queer people.
Shangela: For our drag kids to continue to feel safe after we’re gone, after our security is gone, all of that—I think one great thing that our show does is it does unearth a community of support that people didn’t think existed for them. So maybe they will feel more safe going to their Fourth of July parade without Bob, Eureka, and Shang. At least I know that Lisa at the coffee shop or Sarah at the post office, who I saw at the drag show, they would stand up for me.
Eureka: [The drag kids] also took it upon themselves to create support groups within social media, where they stay in contact with each other. They give each other resources and have conversations about their experiences. It’s more than just us. There’s a lot of people that build relationships with a lot of the kids that we work with.
I feel like you all keep mentioning the phenomenal team working on the show. What does the mostly queer and all-allied team mean to you?
Bob: Our creative team is Emmy Award-winning because they create remarkable drag art. I’ll never shut up about the phenomenal job our award-winning makeup artists and costume designers and brilliant hairdressers do on this show. If you want to see some of the best drag you will ever see in your life. I’m telling you, We’re Here has it.
Eureka: These people also connect with our kids too. They spend a lot of time doing fittings, listening to them talk, talking them through this process of getting them ready to perform. Everyone has a little bit of a role in our drag children’s experience. So they’re not just getting drag mothers, they’re getting a drag family.
What does it mean to really say, “We’re Here,” we’re in these communities?
Bob: We’re Here is a great name for our show. No matter where you say it, it is true. Queer people are not a race. You can be Black and queer, you can be Asian and queer. But also, you need Black people to make Black people. You need Asian people to make Asian people. Queer people? We pop up everywhere, from sea to shining sea, from every corner of the globe, there’s a gay penguin somewhere in the in the Antarctic. We pop up everywhere in every species.
Shangela: Where do you think they got the movie Happy Feet? Those were gay feet.
Bob: What makes the show remarkable is that no matter where you say it on the globe, it’s true. We are here.
Eureka: I think we as a queer community are forever evolving, but not just as a queer community—we as people. We all go on different journeys every season. Each season is completely different, because we’re going through different experiences, even as hosts, even as drag kids, even as a government, even as a country we’re living in. It’s ever changing, and so is the struggle of being different in this world. More and more people, whether you’re queer or not, are starting to understand what it’s like to struggle because you’re different. You don’t fit the mold. There’s so many rules placed in straight communities, queer, not queer, whatever. I think a lot of people are exhausted with it. They can’t keep up. They can’t live up to the expectation that this morality, or this old way of thinking, has put so much guilt on every type of person in our country in our world.
We’re just living proof that we’ve figured out a way to get through it. I think straight people are starting to see the bright side of what we do as drag queens, what we do as queer people to get through these things. They are taking notes. They think, “Maybe I could start implementing some of these things into my life or my existence to make me feel a little bit better about myself in a world where I don’t feel like I belong either. I have access to truth. And I have a heart to empathize.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Samuel is the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at ELLE Magazine. His interests include music, theater, books, video games, and anything to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke both his arms at the same time in fourth grade.