When the queen of the Parliament House gets on stage, she's not just lip-syncing to Missy Elliott or Tina Turner – Darcel Stevens sees herself as preaching a ministry of hope for those who may not be accepted by society.
Darcel, né Darnell Stevens, has been performing at Parliament for 25 years and currently serves at the gay entertainment complex's entertainment director. The drag character was born in 1983, after a friend in Gainesville dared Stevens to dress up. Back then, drag was regulated to someone's house or a gay bar – certainly not on television, Darcel says. Aside from mastering the art of female impersonation for decades now, Darcel sees it as her duty to use her platform as a drag queen to promote gay rights, educate on sexual health and help get resources for people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS. After all, it was drag queens who started the rebellion at Stonewall, Darcel says, and it was Stevens and other drag queens at Orlando City Hall years ago protesting for anti-discrimination ordinances.
"We were in full-beat drag, therefore we got attention," Darcel says. "We started a dialogue and a conversation. Within each one of those queens is the spirit of activism. Most queens who take their job seriously know that being an entertainer is more than just the stage. We don't take any shit and we will fight for our rights."
Darcel has inspired dozens of people to follow their dreams, but her main goal at this stage in her career is to convince youth to take up the mantle of activism and community organizing in the age of Trump.
"My mission and ministry is to inspire and empower people – to let them know that there's hope, that they're better than what they [think they] are," she says. "Young people grew up in a whole different era with rights and there was a time when we got to enjoy them without thinking. But I think what woke everybody up was this past election – we were smooth sailing until this person who is a racist and a bigot was elected. Now is not a time for people to be complacent."
Darcel plans to be in the Pride parade this year, though she says she wishes the LGBTQ celebration were less focused on corporations and more on making a statement.
"We as gay folks need to become more radical," Darcel says. "We've got to show we're not sitting back. We've got an administration not looking out for us, and we've got to let them know we're here, we're queer and we're going to vote."