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Leon Kaye headshot

Yas Queen! How Drag Queens Are Making Gaming More Inclusive

By Leon Kaye
Drag Queens

Dead by Daylight, a multiplayer action survival game, is the inspiration for this summer 2021 Instagram post by Deere.

The global gaming industry is worth well over $300 billion, according to at least one survey, and half a billion gamers have joined this community over the past three years. The result is that gamers, as well as game developers, are not the stereotype many of us still assume: the pasty white guy living in his parents’ basement ranting on Reddit when he’s not conquering the virtual world.

Nevertheless, the data and commentary out there suggest the gaming community still has a long road ahead to ensure everyone and anyone feel welcome. The lingering effects of the harassment of women and non-white gamers during “Gamergate,” for example, never went away. The recent accusations of harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard are also a reminder that the industry has plenty of work ahead if it hopes to truly become inclusive.

And who’s leading this charge? Many drag queens are doing more than holding court in the gaming world: They’re performing, showcasing fashion and, yes, playing. Not only are they breaking down barriers, but they’re also playing a role in making gaming an even more valuable industry — one that has already become more lucrative than the global film and sports industries combined.

“Not today, Satan! Not today!” — the response to just about everything from Bianca Del Rio, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Among the drag queens who have been long leaving their marks on gaming is Deere, who among many crowns wears one as the founder of Stream Queens, a group on Twitch that boasts about 100 streamers who fiercely make themselves known. She's also served more than realness as a brand ambassador for Twitch. Her drive to make gaming a space for everyone led to Gayming Mag naming her as the LGBTQ Streamer of the Year for 2021. In fact, Twitch has become Deere’s prime source of revenue — not a surprise considering she has almost 50,000 followers on the platform.

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It hasn’t been an easy road for Deere and her peers. While shows starting with RuPaul’s have nudged drag closer toward acceptance and no longer relegated to midnight shows at bars, gaming hasn’t yet been the most welcoming stage. She's spoken out against the harassment to which drag queens have been subjected on platforms such as Twitch — among the hideous behaviors they've endured include "swatting," as in when someone makes a fake call to law enforcement that leads to officers accosting that person in his or her home. Nevertheless, she keeps on coming through for her community. 

“I get trolled consistently while livestreaming,” Deere told Vogue’s Christian Allaire last week. “However, I believe that by being an example, we can change the world. Through showcasing diversity in the gaming industry, we can show people out there struggling, and kids that need examples of different people in the media, that they belong.”

The wider LGBTQ community offers gaming companies an opportunity to win more customers and, of course, more revenue. One survey conducted during the peak of the pandemic found that at least 10 percent of all gamers identified as LGBTQ and spent more on gaming than their straight counterparts. Take a step back for a second and the link makes sense: Gaming has long offered an escape when the real world was far too harsh and judgmental. And being told to shelter in place during the COVID-19 crisis seemed akin to going back into the closet for many LGBTQ citizens.

During an interview she gave earlier this summer, Deere mentioned that she’s reminded constantly about the isolation many in the LGBTQ community feel. “The most heartbreaking side of this is, every once and a while, I get people in my Twitch chat or in DMs that say, ‘thank you so much for making this content, thank you for being an example and entertaining and putting yourself out there, because being gay/trans/queer/enjoying or doing drag is illegal or frowned upon where I’m from. I’m unable to be myself and this is my only outlet and exposure to the community and you make a space where I can be myself’,” she told the Daily Dot. “This is such a beautiful commentary but it’s also so heartbreaking that they’re unable to express themselves safely in their surroundings.”

Deere’s determination to shantay and stay offers a lesson to companies. While companies keep touting their DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) chops — at an increasing pace, at least according to one study — many communities are still overlooked, which is another way of telling them that they don’t matter. This community needs more than a death drop. It deserves commitment.

A few companies outside the gaming industry have celebrated drag queens and have been true allies: Absolut was a sponsor of Drag Race in its early days, and United Airlines held a drag event pre-pandemic in partnership with the Trevor Project. The result — which can include trust and brand loyalty — is a win-win for customers, the community and, yes, companies.

Companies would be wise to slay it and open those garage doors, showcase these drag queens, let them turn the party and to paraphrase RuPaul, not sashay away from them.

Image credit: Deere via Instagram

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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