By night, Orlando’s drag queens entertain the masses. By day, they lead the fight for LGBTQ rights 

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click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette

CHACHITA GIFT & AALIYAH VALENTINO

When the gunman stormed into the gay nightclub Pulse, he robbed 49 people of their lives, dozens of survivors of their peace of mind, and Orlando of one of its only Latin nights.

The mass shooting on June 12, 2016, happened on "Latin Night," meaning many of the victims were Latinx, with the majority being of Puerto Rican descent. But now, a year later, two drag queens are joining with Pulse survivor and promoter Orlando Torres to bring back a safe space for the Latinx community at Savoy Orlando on Saturday nights.

Chachita Gift brings a comedic touch that makes everybody feel like family as the night's host. The performer, whose given name is Nicolas Diaz, started his drag career in an unusual path. He was working as a professional clown in Puerto Rico when someone told him they wanted a "clown for adults."

"That's when Chachita started, and I liked it," he says. "It paid more than children and I can drink while I'm performing."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette

When he moved to Orlando decades ago, Diaz began performing at weddings and quinceañeras – Chachita stood out from other pretty Latinx queens for being hilarious and mixing in that humor between songs.

"Why don't you want to laugh and forgot about five minutes for everything, your job, your family and disconnect," he says. "That's what I love, to make people laugh. This is an art, and a way of living, but it's more than that – you can use it to help a lot of people, too."

Last Saturday, Aaliyah Valentino, 23, was getting ready next to Chachita with multiple makeup kits at a kitchen table. The two had helped raise money for Puerto Rico hurricane victims at Savoy along with other queens. Aaliyah, whose real name is Luis Rodriguez, was born in Deltona to Puerto Rican parents. By day, he works as an erosion control specialist on the I-4 Ultimate Project, but for a year now, he's been making the hour-long drive to Orlando perform in local clubs as a drag queen because there are no gay clubs where he lives. He likes to rap to Ivy Queen and Cardi B, though he occasionally plays with gender while lip-syncing to Marc Anthony.

"I want to show people you can go out and be yourself and try something new," Aaliyah says. "Five years ago, I would have never imagined myself doing this because of the person that I was and how shy and timid I could be. I would have never imagined myself being in front of people on a stage and a crowd, but here I am."

Both were touched personally by the Pulse massacre. That's the first club where Aaliyah was inspired to be a drag queen; Chachita lost friends at Pulse and wasn't sure she'd be able to perform again.

"It was scary and hard to go out the next day, but life needs to go on," Chachita says. "The show must go on."

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