A drag queen in a large blonde wig speaking into a microphone as she addresses the crowd. In her other hand she holds a purple butterfly net behind her head used to collect money.

Jewels Long Beach addresses the crowd during the Sunday Brunch on March 5, 2023, in Long Beach, Calif. “Drag is freedom, being fabulous should be celebrated,” Jewels said.


What does it mean to be


In this project we are highlighting the experiences of people in one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S.

Kait Lavo speaks with Jewels, a notable drag queen and community figure in the city of Long Beach. She is the first drag queen to receive a key to the city for her work and is a loving co-parent to her niece. After moving away from a small town in Death Valley to the big city, Jewels discovered her sense of home through the LGBTQ+ community.


‘Dragging’ herself out: Long Beach drag queen finds her true sense of home

by | Mar 17, 2023

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by Kait Lavo | Next Generation Radio, University of Southern California Annenberg | March 2023

Click here for audio transcript

Hi. I’m Kait Lavo with NPR’s Next Gen Radio in Los Angeles. 

Jewels is a notable drag queen in the city of Long Beach.  

It wasn’t always easy to find a sense of belonging. 

But she’s created that sense of home with like-minded individuals she met through the community.

I grew up in a very small, isolated town in the desert near Death Valley, and my father was a minister. We had a very narrow worldview, only associating with people in our church, and our insular community. And so, all I ever heard about being gay was condemnation from a pulpit. I didn’t know any gay people, we weren’t allowed to have televisions or go to the movies or any outside emoluments so I knew I was different. And I had a deep sense of shame, from that religious instruction. 

And so learning to love myself, it’s been a long process and started when I found a group of people that I could relate to.

Hi, my name is Jewels Long Beach, I am a fabulous drag queen in Long Beach, California, where I’ve made my home for the last two decades. And I perform for people all over the country as I tour with my very glamorous job as the executive director for entertainment at Hamburger Mary’s International. 

Home to me, means love, freedom and safety. I think finding comfort in a place of home is kind of defined by somewhere you feel loved, and celeb rated and safe. 

I think the first time I felt safe loved and celebrated was when I was turning 18 years old and moved to Long Beach, California and finally found a fabulous group of folks at our LGBTQ center support group of fellow queers my age, and created friends that are still friends today, and found my community so found my community by performing onstage with a Rocky Horror Picture Show. And a performance group called   Midnight insanity at the Art Theater in Long Beach, which was my first time ever being at a movie theater. And then also my first time getting to perform in drag, or what would become my drag persona. 

I think the proudest moments I’ve had in drag is leveraging drag to not just be fabulous, but to help my community and leveraging drag to do things I learned to do growing up in a religious community, reaching out  helping those that have less than you or need a hand up or hand out even. 

[Sound of clapping performance. Introducing herself.]

So using my drag for philanthropy for fundraising.those mean so much and those moments are a full-circle thing. That you can be you and you can help anyone by being yourself. 

Drag is freedom.

It seems like today, it’s harder and harder to find your sense of home, whether isolation from lockdowns or social media, and especially being demonized by crazy ideologies that tell you what you can and cannot wear in public.

The place is not the home for me. It is the feeling. Your home could be small, it could be large, it could be tidy. It could be a hoarders’ house. It’s the sense of belonging, community and love that defines home for me.

Jewels Long Beach, 42, has been grand marshall of the Long Beach pride parade, volunteers weekly in a local AIDS relief center and is the first drag queen to receive a key to the city.

But she wasn’t always a celebrated figure in her community. At age 18, she had to escape her deeply religious hometown in Death Valley, where her father was a minister.

A person’s sense of home is correlated with their mental health, especially for LGBTQ individuals. Over half of those who have experienced housing insecurities left home in the U.S. due to fear of mistreatment because of their LGBTQ identity, according to a 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. 


Jewels’ journey from small town to the big city

“In my late teenage years, trying to figure out what was going on with myself and my sexuality and gender identity, the only source of information about gayness or deviant things [came from] a congregation of 30 people, [and] being told that I was unworthy of love, life or liberty, because I felt, deep inside, that I was going to love a man,” she said.

She felt persecuted and ashamed of her identity.

Four drag queens stand side by side posing for a photo while outlines of the audience sits in the foreground. One is wearing a royal blue fringed leotard, to the right of her a curly blond hair queen is wearing a leopard dress, in the center the queen wears a big blonde wig and a multi-colored dress, and to the far right the queen wears a fitted glitter covered copper-like dress.

Hamburger Mary’s Sunday brunch performers (Left to right) Ava Stone, Oxxie Gin, Jewels Long Beach, and Big DEE pose side by side for the audience to take pictures of them after their show on March 5, 2023, in Long Beach, Calif. “I was really lucky to find a group of friends around my age that all loved drag, and we all grew up and learned together,” Jewels said.


I had to choose if I wanted to live, or if I could not handle it – something deep inside said, ‘We’re going to live and be fabulous.’

Jewels Long Beach, Drag Queen

She knew she needed to leave her hometown.

“I think the first time I felt safe, loved and celebrated was when I was turning 18 years old and moved to Long Beach, California, and finally found a fabulous group of folks at our LGBTQ center support group of fellow queers my age, and created friends that are still friends today,” she said.

She found resources through the LGBTQ center, a non-profit that provides health and legal resources for the community. The circle of friends she met in Long Beach would socialize at LGBTQ coffee shops and screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – her first experience at a movie theater.

“I was completely blown away … and I definitely realized this is the ‘evil’ that the preaching was all about,” she said. “If this was a movie theater, no wonder, and I loved every minute of it.” She joined the theater’s shadow cast soon after.

“The first time I got to play dress up and put on that dress – and some very poorly applied makeup – was a feeling of pure joy … Drag was a fabulous way to present myself as a competent, confident and wondrous creature,” Jewels said.

A red headed drag queen in the spotlight dressed in a sequined, colorful top sings to customer. A person sits in the foreground with her back to the camera, with curly hair and a denim jacket with a ‘New York’ patch on the back.

Jewels (left) wishes Terri Garcia (front) a happy 88th birthday during the Hamburger Mary’s drag brunch show on March 12, 2023, in Long Beach, Calif. “How do you choose to go out in the world? For me, it’s a sparkly dress, all the rhinestones, and a whole lot of makeup. So I can share my joy through this art form with others, and share my sense of freedom with the world,” Jewels said.


Drag bans

Three arms reach out with dollar bills to place in a purple butterfly net held by a drag queen with a big blonde wig.

Hamburger Mary’s patrons hold out tips for Jewels to collect during the Sunday brunch on March 12, 2023, in Long Beach, Calif.


In February, at least nine GOP-controlled legislatures sought to restrict or criminalize public drag shows. 

“It’s very disheartening to see … Just simply dressing up in something that is not representative of your gender is being made illegal,” Jewels said.

Jewels advises LGBTQ people to separate themselves from spaces where they feel unsafe. Practicing self care, turning to loved ones for support, utilizing the internet to find community groups and resources, or moving to a new place are ways she recommends to create a feeling of home.

Home: More than a place

Jewels built a home for herself in every sense of the word.

“My version of home is not always a place,” she said. “Sometimes my version of home was a studio apartment. That was $400 a month that I had to split with a loved one, just to be in the big city. Now, it’s a beautiful home I saved 20 years for.” Jewels is a co-parent to her 12-year-old niece, who she raises with her sister and brother-in-law, which has been a “gift.” 

Jewels said she wants to give her what she didn’t have growing up: “Because of our shared history, when we are teaming up to help raise this kid, it definitely came from a similar background and what we did and didn’t want, and so we are attempting to raise a human who shows respect for everyone – everyone’s personal identity and sense of self.”

Five people sit around a dining room table smiling at eachother with plates of food in front of them. One can be seen through a window into the kitchen.

Jewels Long Beach sits between her friends Dani Carter (left) and Joe (right), while responding to Lance Wood (far right). Shayne Benigno grabs something from Jewel’s kitchen during their weekly Monday family dinner. “In my home, at any given Monday evening, for dinner, you’ll see an assortment of drag queens and DJs, and my sister and kids running around, and you know, people who work all types of different fields that are just part of our chosen family,” Jewels said.