Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Shangela's Success Shows the Power of Queer Resilience

Shangela

Shangela has come a long way.

This year alone, the performer had a role in the acclaimed film A Star Is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga — and became the first drag queen to walk the red carpet at the Oscars.

Additionally, Shangela made the LGBTQ community proud earlier this month by dancing and lip-syncing to a medley of Beyoncé songs — in front of Beyoncé at the GLAAD Media Awards. The now-viral performance was so excellent, even Queen Bey herself rose for a standing ovation.

However, these glowing milestones in Shangela's career were never guaranteed. The drag queen was the first to be eliminated on season 2 of RuPaul's Drag Race — her first major media appearance. Her time in the spotlight may very well have ended there.

"If you haven’t seen it, and you go back and watch anything other than the first episode, you’ll miss me," joked Shangela Sunday at the grand opening of the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Anita May Rosenstein Campus, which provides housing and resources for queer youth and seniors. "I was the first in the door; I was the first to sashay away."

At the celebrity-studded event — Lily Tomlin, Betty Who, and Mayor Eric Garcetti were among those who had taken the stage that day — Shangela reminded the crowd of her humble beginnings; born Darius Jeremy Pierce, she hails from Paris, Texas (not France), and her first visit to the LGBT center was as the assistant to Jenifer Lewis. She then reviewed the tenacity it took to overcome her initial setbacks to be standing where she was.

"I came back in a box on season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race," recounted Shangela, whose memorable personality helped her win a place back on the reality show. "Spoiler alert, didn’t win that either. But after seeing the episode and seeing the seasons, I knew I had some work to do. So I wasn’t afraid to go out there and do the work. I started working. I started traveling. I started getting better at makeup. I started getting better at hair a little bit."

"I started getting better at sewing — no, I didn’t," she joked — a reference to her infamously poor sewing skills. "But then I worked on myself and got to come back as what Beyoncé calls 'a grown woman' on All Stars season 3."

Shangela did not win her season of All Stars, either. A last-minute twist — eliminated contestants decided the final eliminations — snuffed out her chance to take that crown. However, when a voice in the crowd shouted that she was robbed, Shangela corrected him. 

"I’m in L.A. I’m in West Hollywood. We keep it real," Shangela said. "I got to tell you, on All Stars season 3, I was not robbed, thank you. I was burglarized, bitch!"

However, even losing All Stars gave Shangela an opportunity for growth — in addition to A Star Is Born and the Beyoncé performance, she has appeared in Hurricane Bianca and its sequel, the animated Netflix series Super Drags, and Ariana Grande's thank u, next album. She presented her own story as an example to others who have encountered obstacles to achieving their dreams.

"It is about just doing the journey and not giving up and keep going," she said. "Because you never know when a great opportunity will come. But you’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to have gone out there and put in the work so that when a great opportunity comes, you will be ready. And trust me, you don’t have to have a crown to be a queen."

Shangela's words held particular resonance in front of the newly opened Anita May Rosenstein Campus — which offers 100 beds for homeless youth as well as a community center for LGBTQ seniors. The message? For those who have endured discrimination and hardship, there is hope for a brighter future.

"It does not matter how many times you get knocked down in this world," Shangela concluded, "you just have to get the fuck back up."

Tags: People, RuPaul

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