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Wiltshire: Meet the rural drag queen who’s ‘breaking down barriers’

Oberon has brought together members of his town’s community (Images: Supplied/Getty Images)

For LGBTQ+ people from rural areas, the issue of home can be contentious.

Some clichés still revolve around small-town England, known for “traditionalism and a fondness for the past over the present.”

A 2016 Office for National Statistics report showed that the national average of people who identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual was 2%.

In London, that number stood at 2.7%, while in parts of the country, like East England, it fell to just 1.2%.

In most cases, rural-born members of the LGBTQ+ community “escape” to the bright lights of their nearest city.

Drag queen Scaredy Kat, who appeared in the first UK series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, previously described the drag scene in her home country of Wiltshire as “a joke in itself”.

The county has historical ties to the military in the vast plains of Salisbury and its rich agricultural industry.

But Oberon Christmas, who lives in the market town of Devizes, has swapped wellies for heels.

The rural drag queen is determined to make a name for herself in the rural town he loves.

Oberon Christmas, who performs as a drag queen under the name Gabriella Christmas. Fighting for LGBTQ+ issues to be respected in rural communities and the countryside

Oberon says there has been “no backlash” towards his LGBTQ+ support group (Image: Included)

He performs locally under drag staff Gabriella Christmas.

“There’s always been some kind of backlash to the way I dress or behave,” he told Metro.co.uk.

He was regularly abused at school but learned to dismiss and ignore hateful comments.

Oberon could have moved to London or Bristol after completing his education and become part of the broader drag community there.

But he chose to stay in Devizes.

He often goes out at night in drag and says the more he has done so, the attitude has become much more acceptable.

Oberon Christmas, who performs as a drag queen under the name Gabriella Christmas. Fighting for LGBTQ+ issues to be respected in rural communities and the countryside

Oberon performs as a drag queen under the name Gabriella Christmas (Image: Delivered)

During the pandemic, Oberon started a small LGBTQ+ support group to reach out to anyone who is afraid of coming out.

“We started in the park, it was just me in a dress in a field,” he said.

“Now we have a dedicated group with thousands supporting us online.”

The group had to make do with smaller venues than most, initially meeting at a pub in town.

Now there are plans for drag race bingo at City Hall and hopes Devizes could even host his first-ever Pride march.

Oberon said: “Wiltshire is associated with the army and farming, I want it to be known for the army, farming and drag queens.

“We might even be the drag capital of the west!”

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Wiltshire is more associated with the likes of the armed forces than gay clubs (Image: Getty Images)

“I want to keep doing this to make sure people feel like they can be happy wherever they are.”

Oberon’s ability to stay positive is partly due to his mother, Helen, who was his biggest supporter.

When things get “scary or frightening,” the 25-year-old simply remembers “the kindness she felt in her heart.”

Oberon added, “She’s also the reason Gabriella’s drag style is the way it is – I can’t show her all the wonderful things I’m doing with my life anymore, so I keep her alive with my drag.” .

“In a way, Gabriella always brings them with her.”

Oberon Christmas, who performs as a drag queen under the name Gabriella Christmas. Fighting for LGBTQ+ issues to be respected in rural communities and the countryside

Oberon hopes others can feel comfortable in their hometowns instead of feeling the need to leave

Oberon’s work raising awareness of LGBTQ+ support has made positive waves at Devizes.

He has worked with City Councilman Simon Fisher and other council members to change perceptions both locally and across the county.

“Cities of all sizes are made up of different people and that makes communities strong,” Fisher told Metro.co.uk.

“Therefore, where there are prejudices, be it race, sexual orientation or disability, we need to break down those barriers.

“Oberon has worked hard on this, not by openly waving flags, but by bringing members of the local LGBQT+ community together and starting a broader honest and open discussion, and has invited the City Council to join this conversation.”

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Devizes Town Council’s Simon Fisher (right) wants his town to be welcoming to all (Image: Trevor Porter)

Many LGBTQ+ people still find it easier to move to larger cities where there’s “safety in numbers,” Mr Fisher said.

He added: “Because a lot of cities like Devizes are their home and where they want to live, so why would anyone have to hide who they are to do that?”

Being “out and proud” in rural communities can still be difficult for many members of the LGBTQ+ population.

But one expert says there is “hope” for further acceptance in parts of the countryside where attitudes have historically been less accepting.

Joe Jukes, a researcher looking at LGBTQ+ communities in rural areas, told Metro.co.uk: “Through my research I’ve found that while LGBTQ+ people do feel pressure to move to the city, a lot However, this is caused by pressure rural person might face.

“Career opportunities, doing more things and having some distance between you and your family are draws to city life for many people, LGBTQ+ or otherwise.

Little boy sitting on father's shoulders in a crowd.

There is hope that more Pride events can take place across the country (Picture: Getty Images)

“The West Country has changed a lot even in the ten years since I last lived in Somerset.

“Rural communities are generally more accepting and celebrating LGBTQ+ people, with Pride festivals being held in towns like Midsomer Norton or Exmouth and even the Isles of Scilly.”

Rural Pride festivals have spread across Joe’s native County Somerset, including in Yeovil, Taunton and in Watchet, a port town of just 4,000 people.

Joe added that a variety of events are springing up across the West Country, including in Somerset, Devon, Glastonbury and Frome.

They added: “We still have a long way to go to make these spaces accessible and inclusive, particularly for people of color and under 18s, but initiatives like Plymouth’s Not Alone group or Mindline Trans+ in Somerset are giving me much hope for the future.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of pride

This year we are celebrating 50 years of Pride so it only seems fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support with a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raise awareness for the community this Pride month.

MORE: Find all of Metro.co.uk’s Pride coverage here

And we also have some big names on board to help us. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week, including Rob Rinder, Nicholas Adams, Peter Tatchel, Kimberly Hart Simpson, John White, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranjwe will also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and drag race stars the vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offer their insights.

During Pride Month, which runs June 1-30, Metro.co.uk is also supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in times of conflict , as well as the youth homelessness charity AKT. To learn more about their work and what you can do to support them, click here.

https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/24/wiltshire-meet-the-rural-drag-queen-breaking-down-barriers-16876424/ Wiltshire: Meet the rural drag queen who's 'breaking down barriers'

Justin Scacco

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