Without a shadow of doubt, Shane Jenek, aka RuPaul’s Drag Race star Courtney Act, has emerged as one of the LGBT+ heroes of 2018 when he proved himself to be a calm but determined champion of LGBT+ and gender issues in the Celebrity Big Brother house back in January. And so it is totally fitting that he will be one of the stars on the Trafalgar Square Main Stage this Saturday at Pride in London. Dave Cross had a catch up with the Australian star to find out what Pride means to him.
Hey Shane, are you excited to be appearing on stage at Pride in London this weekend?
Oh yeah! I love Pride. I’ve only done one Pride in the US this summer and I’ve never done Pride in London before; I had to watch clips on YouTube so I’m excited to be there and be a part of it.
What does the concept of Pride mean to you?
For me, Pride has always been about inclusion and a celebration, where all the different facets of the queer community intersected and were able to come together. Pride is also an important time to remember where we come from and also remember those queer brothers and sisters overseas, and also in different parts of the country, who are not as fortunate as us.
We live in ‘interesting times’ – do you think it’s more important than ever that we still have Pride marches and rallies?
I’m from Australia, part of the Commonwealth, and in 35 countries in the Commonwealth it is still criminalised in some way to be queer. It’s fine for us to live in a big city and have access to the internet etc, but the harsh reality is shown in LGBT homelessness and the LGBT youth suicide rate. Plus the rhetoric from the right that’s been seeping into popular culture of late, [which is] probably a lot worse over here in America. So yes, it’s important to have queer voices included in conversations and to tell our stories. I think it’s important to share and celebrate that and remember that Pride started as a protest.
On Celebrity Big Brother, you ended up talking about gender and other LGBT+ issues. Did you go into the house thinking that you were going to be this spokesperson for the LGBT+ community?
No, I just wanted to go into the house and see what was there. But as time went on I realised someone had to say something as there was misunderstanding and confusion about terms like trans and drag, about being transgender, and issues about sexuality and gender. I think it’s important for individuals to support themselves and consume as much information as they can, and be aware of their own identity. And not just their own, but also the people around them. So [for me]: ‘I’m not just a man’; ‘I’m not just gay’; ‘I’m not just white’. I try not to be one dimensional. The queer identity intersects with people of colour, trans people, Muslims, women and more. So in that moment I felt it right to explain some things as I understood them and hopefully explain them to the wider audience as well.
Well I’m sure everyone’s told you this, but I think you did a brilliant job.
And some of the people in the house, they kind of proved why we still need Pride, but then you won the public vote and that must be a good sign, that people were listening to what you were saying?
Yeah, and with such a mainstream broad audience too. I think a lot of the public and Big Brother audience take things at face value, which can be both positive and negative. A lot of taxi drivers over the past few months have said to me, ‘Oh I loved you on Big Brother,’ and then they’ll be like, ‘Ann [Widdecombe] was good in there too, wasn’t she?’ And I’d say, ‘What was it you liked about Ann?’ ‘Oh I dunno, I just love that she’s a bit older and sticks up for herself.’ But it’s interesting that, for me, my identity has been something that I’ve had to fine-tune from the year 2000 when I realised I liked boys and dressing up in drag, and so I suppose it’s natural that I’m more aware of somebody who’s got such as an outspoken opposition, not just in life but also when it comes to legislation that affects the LGBT community.
I was actually going to ask you what the reaction had been like, but I think you’ve already answered that…
It’s been very positive. I had another taxi driver telling me that his wife loved me as well, so I said ‘What did you like about the show?’ And he was like, ‘Oh, you and Andrew [Brady] – just beautiful, seeing two mates just having a good time. You could tell there was real love there, real genuine love.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, y’know, 2018, here’s a straight taxi driver telling me how his wife got him to watch the show and how he fell in love with a love story between two boys, and one of them sometimes dresses like a girl.’ I was like, ‘Look at that – that’s progress, kids.’