In 1991, New Jersey, a group of drag queens were kicked out of the gambling area in Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino. Among them was Glenn Belverio, a young filmmaker who birthed Seize Control of the Taj Mahal, a short documentary capturing the group’s reaction to blatant discrimination. The film will be available to view on Thursday, April 8, as a part of aemi’s online on-demand programme.
During the ‘90s, Glenn Belverio, also known as Glennda Orgasm, was co-host of a popular Manhattan Cable series called The Brenda and Glennda Show. A mix of politics and satire, it took the art of drag out of the nightclubs and into the streets.
As part of the series, Brenda and Glennda led a group of drag queens on a trip to Donald Trump’s hotel in Atlantic City. Intended to be a gambling getaway and a public stage for drag visibility, the trip turned into a moment of protest and reflection incited by homophobic discrimination.
The group was kicked out of the gambling area for supposedly wearing excessive makeup and inappropriate, flashy attire. What emerged on the boardwalk outside of the casino was a series of interviews with workers, onlookers, and fellow drag queens that revealed the polarising attitudes towards drag, gender, and sexuality in the US at that time. The conversations navigated topics such as homophobia, President George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and the owner of the establishment – Donald Trump himself.
As Trump’s presidency recently met its end, the documentary provides an interesting look into queer attitudes towards the man during the ‘90s – before his rise to political power.
“Back in 1991, we viewed Donald Trump as a buffoon, an embarrassing media whore. For our video Seize Control of the Taj Mahal, our queer and drag queen troupe chose Trump’s Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City for our outing because of its tacky camp value—and because Trump’s wife, Ivana, was considered a style icon for drag queens,” Belverio explains.
“We never dreamed at the time that one day this obnoxious, clownish businessman would be elected president. We should have heeded Andy Warhol’s prophecies about reality TV.”
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The US government continues to create problems for its LGBTQ+ population following Trump’s departure, most prominently targeting the transgender community. Reflecting on his use of art as a form of protest, and discussing the best ways for activists to amplify their voices today, Belverio says:
“Obviously, I feel that young trans activists should use art and the media to spread their message—but instead of trying to dictate the discourse, I think it’s extremely important for them to shed any ‘ok boomer’ attitudes they might have and listen to the lessons and experiences of their LGBTQ+ predecessors.
“I liked how in my 1991 video Gender Cruise on the Circle Line we used humour to address issues around queer, drag, and trans visibility. Humour can be disarming and I feel it’s a great way to capture a larger audience.”
Belverio, who was just 17 at the time, made the best out of a bad situation and created this documentary which has become an iconic piece of drag history.
Seize Control of the Taj Mahal will be available to Irish audiences as a part of the on-demand programme of Dublin-based film organisation, aemi. On Thursday, April 8th at 8:15 PM, they are hosting a Q&A with Glenn Belverio and a number of other international filmmakers who feature on their current programme.
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