One Latinx drag artist’s journey and integration of QTBIPOC spaces in Salt Lake City

Story and photo by JASMINE BARLOW

*Editor’s Note: QTBIPOC represents an acronym for Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

Salt Lake City is making strides in opening diverse, engaging spaces for QTBIPOC artists and youth to express themselves in a variety of art, healing, and community programs.

Justice Legacy, a 20-year-old Latinx drag artist (pronouns: they/them), has passionately immersed themself into such spaces, honing and experimenting with their craft and personas. Featured as a performer across several venues, including the Utah Pride Center and Queer Haven SLC, their “coming-of-stage” story is steeped in courage, vitality, and being true to oneself.

Justice Legacysmall

Complexities surrounding Legacy’s upbringing weren’t always so glamorous. “I didn’t grow up with my biological father,” Legacy says. “He was an alcoholic, so our mom kicked him out because she didn’t really want that negativity around us. He was eventually deported to Mexico, so I grew up with my mother and my sister’s father.”

Reflecting on this change, Legacy realized that the absence of their father meant an absence of their Latinx roots. “Since I didn’t grow up with my dad, he carried the Hispanic side because my mom is white,” they says. “Although my sister’s dad was of Mexican descent, I was dipped into [Latinx culture] more than completely engulfed. I feel I have been ripped from a culture I really wanted to be a part of.”

Aching to rekindle this part of their identity, Legacy recently began teaching themself Spanish, learning more deeply about Latinx culture, and discovering what it means to be Latinx. For example, their primary onstage persona derives from traditional beauty ideals of Latinx women. “[My Latinx background] has definitely played into my look the most,” Legacy says. “I love the long black hair, bold red lips; very Selena!”

Sexuality and gender expression, another major aspect of Legacy’s identity, was explored at a young age. However, it wasn’t always met with acceptance. “If I wanted a Barbie or something not necessarily made for a boy, it was almost always met with a ‘no,’” Legacy says. “It was because my [father figure] wasn’t very accepting with what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be.” On the other hand, Legacy’s mother responded differently. “My mom grew and adapted, so I didn’t really have to come out to her. She always knew.”

It was in high school that exploration began to manifest as outward expression. “In high school, I did not understand my gender or who I wanted to be, so I came out as gender fluid,” Legacy says. “Basically, I wanted to wake up every day and dress as the gender I felt.”

The transition of gender fluidity subsequently sparked an interest in pursuing drag and makeup artistry. “I eventually came to realize that I want to identify as male, and use drag to express my feminine side,” Legacy says. “My styling is all self-taught. I woke up one morning and I was like ‘I wanna be a hairstylist, a makeup artist, all of it.’ I started practicing makeup, and my mom showed me.”

A big break emerged for Legacy when they were invited to perform at Queer Prom, an annual LGBTQ+ youth dance hosted by the Utah Pride Center (UPC). “I was ecstatic,” Legacy says. “I ordered a really good wig, and I thought I would splurge on my outfit.” The invitation also evoked feelings of nervousness, as it was one of UPC’s major events during the year and the young artist was fairly new to the drag performance industry.

Ultimately, it proved to be one of the most memorable, life-changing performances up to date. “It was a really crazy awakening,” Legacy says. “They asked me to stand by the photo booth, and people would come up and say: ‘You are such an inspiration, it’s so amazing what you do, you are so gorgeous.’ I couldn’t believe the impact I was making.”

Following the Queer Prom experience, Justice Legacy was invited to perform at other UPC events, including Masqueerade and another year of Queer Prom, as well as Queer Haven shows hosted at the Beerhive.

When asked about the inspiration behind the name “Justice Legacy,” it came from an affinity for “strong powerful heroines” and a twist of the “Justice League” series title. “It felt like a perfect name for me,” Legacy says. “I wanted to feel like Wonder Woman or Power Girl.”

If Legacy could go back in time, they would want to let their younger self know how much power they truly hold. “Sometimes I get too much into my head. I had really bad anxiety in high school,” Legacy says. “I would remind myself that where my mind is taking me to is not actually going to happen. It still takes a lot of reminding myself now that everything is going to be OK.”

Justice Legacy commends the amazing love, support, and authenticity imbued in the city’s queer spaces for supporting their journey.

Existimos is an inclusive, artistic community devoted to supporting QTBIPOC individuals like Justice Legacy. “We created Existimos because we wanted more art-focused spaces and events made for diverse and marginalized communities in [Salt Lake City],” says Graciela Campos, co-founder of Existimos with her sister, Patricia. “We just wanted our own community space that was ours.”

In response to how the broader Utah community can better serve the interests and needs of Latinx artists, Campos encourages tangible, meaningful action steps. “Buy art from them, hire them for gigs, go to local shows, pass the mic,” Campos says in an email interview. “Sometimes the broader art community only cares about what’s happening in bigger organizations or the biggest institutions where, honestly, a lot of local artists are better than what you see in museums and more diverse.”

To gain exposure and find more resources, Existimos decided to participate in Utah’s annual 2019 summer Pride event for the first time, despite the “crunch time” to make it happen. “We worked with local creatives Clover and Marqueza to plan it because we wanted more views and opinions,” Campos says. “My sister and I can’t speak for everyone in the QTBIPOC community.”

Campos believes that Pride should be a celebration about “community and existing unapologetically.” “[It] isn’t about cute slogans or pricey merch[andise] or rainbows everywhere,” she says.

Campos has a deep purpose and yearning for starting Existimos and creating the dynamic it is today. “I think [QTBIPOC] want to be in a space where they feel loved and accepted,” she says. “A space where they meet fellow creatives and feel inspired. A place to escape from the harsh realities they deal with. At the end of the day, they just want to find love and a sense of family and I believe we bring that.”

Running and maintaining the space (located at 7677 S. Main St. in Midvale) can be challenging: from working a day job, to balancing all of the responsibilities with a personal life. Funding the space seems to be the most pressing challenge. “We have a GoFundMe that everyone should check out and spread. It gives us funding to keep the space open every month,” Campos says.

Despite these challenges, the events reportedly turn out to be an intimate, heart-warming experience for everyone involved. “We don’t really care about turnouts or calculate those types of things,” Campos says. “We hold Zumba classes to like eight people and those are so uplifting. We have dance parties, movie nights, and art shows. We don’t care who shows up as long as people know there is space for them and they feel at ease and welcomed.”

For QTBIPOC feeling disempowered and struggling to find their voices, Campos imparts a message of hope: “There is a community out there, and it does get better. No one can ever be you, and the world would be less bright without you. So be authentically yourself.”