On the morning of June 12, 2016 I woke up to my iPhone displaying seemingly endless numbers of tweets and news notifications about what would become the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history and a symbol of hate crimes that target our LGBTQ community.

This tragedy was juxtaposed with the night before when I, along with several other representatives of Greater Cleveland’s LGBTQ community, ventured out on a beautiful sunset cruise off the shores of Lake Erie to support a local LGBTQ program. Cheers from other boaters and from patrons lining the bars and restaurants along Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River were heard as our big gay cruise ship floated by. Gallantly displayed on the bow of the ship was the pride flag. Many look to our flag for a sense of pride, diversity, and the social movement. However, there is another symbol within our community that is also inspiring: Our own version of Uncle Sam, the drag queen.

That morning when my iPhone was abuzz, I was overwhelmed with an array of emotions. What could I do to find solace, comfort, and meaning in the face of this tragedy from my little studio apartment in Cleveland? It was then that I reached out to social media to find some solace and understanding from my non-gender conforming symbols of Pride. And there they were: Drag queens from across the nation were sharing their sense of grief, resources, Equality Florida’s Go Fund Me page, and information on questions from “How can I volunteer?” to “Can I donate blood?” These queens are strong pillars of the LGBTQ community in any city.

In the days following the Orlando tragedy, many of us visited our local gay bars to stand up in defiance of terror and hate crimes. However, in addition to going to the bar, I needed to find my own way to cope. Again, I turned to my gender bending Uncle Sam and immersed myself in reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was through these episodes that my gay identity was reinforced. This coping, coupled with the pop-up events going on in Cleveland to support the victims of Pulse Night Club, reaffirmed my sense of a united LGBTQ community.

So I am sharing this narrative to shine a light on how drag queens and any other queer that tucks, duct tapes, breast binds, and harnesses up, has a voice. These are the unsung leaders within our community that in times of crisis and challenge, we can rely on to help lift us up and instill a sense of pride and endurance in our community. As my drag queen friend Manuela Love would say, “When I paint my face, it is like I am preparing for battle. This is my war paint.”

(Editor's note: Kyle Znamenak is a research associate and a PhD student in Adult Education at Cleveland State University. He is a diversity specialist and is active in making Cleveland's communities more inclusive.)