CALGARY – In the minister’s office, Uropa gets ready to hit the stage for her second performance at Hillhurst United Church before the Pride Parade.
But it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for this Calgary drag queen.
Jeff, as he’s known out of drag, came out to his father, an ordained religious leader in a conservative congregation, when he was 14. As a young, gay teen, he was scared he would no longer be accepted by his family or by his church.
“I had the thought, like what if my parents send me somewhere? What if they send me to some sort of conversion therapy?” recalled a pink-haired Uropa.
“My dread, my fear, was that my parents wouldn’t get it. That they wouldn’t get that, even if I went through conversion therapy, I’d still be hiding… I don’t know about everybody else but for me I know that it would mean more concealing. More protecting, more guarding, and more covering up.”
Father Kim Follis remembers the time–what he calls a “moment of vulnerability”–when Jeff came out.
“My perspective of life and of God did a complete shift in that space and time because I needed God to be someone who would embrace Jeff, love Jeff, and who would’ve created Jeff for who he was and who he is as a gay person,” said Kim.
“[Pride] has broadened my perspective of what a person’s story can be and including people and all of who they are,” shared mom Lori.
Not all kids get the same warm acceptance when they come out, something that’s not lost on Uropa.
“I think that for so many other people, if their kid doesn’t fit into their view of the world there’s this huge crunch for them and they can’t get through it. And my parents, they accepted that challenge and they moved through it,” said Uropa.
Kim said it took some time for the family to find a church that was aligned their religious beliefs and their connection to the LGBTQ+ community. Eventually, they found a safe place in the Hillhurst congregation. Kim and Lori now run a group through the church for parents of LGBTQ+ kids.
“I look now, and I’m the most open I’ve ever been. I’m the most free I’ve ever been. I’m the most successful I’ve ever been. And I have the most love I’ve ever had,” said Uropa.
Last year, the church invited Uropa to perform for Pride.
“It was an immediate ‘Yes!'” said Uropa. “There’s nothing like doing a death drop on a church stage… I don’t think that was ever on the bucket list and yet I think it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever done.”
Jeff grew up singing in the church and harmonizing with his parents–skills Uropa puts to good use today. She was invited back to perform at the church this year.
“When I’m in drag, this is the time to let go. That letting go is the same letting go that I felt when I was in church as a kid, when it was good, when I was singing.”