Drag queen from Red Lion had friends at Orlando club Pulse

John Joyce
  • York County native and traveling drag queen Daniel Hawkes knew patrons inside Pulse at the time of the shooting
  • Daniel Hawkes, who grew up in Red Lion, said he has been the victim of gay bashing and other attacks

Daniel Hawkes still has not received word about a friend he knows was inside Pulse Nightclub on Sunday night when Omar Mateen walked into the Orlando LGBT establishment and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing 49 people.

Daniel Hawkes, who grew up in Red Lion, performs as Jada Sparxxx.

He said his friend, Jason, was a patron at the club.

Hawkes, a York native and traveling drag queen, said he did not want to further identify his friend until he knows for sure what Jason's status is.

Another friend Hawkes did not name, a Pulse employee who got out alive, described the scene to Hawkes firsthand.

"It was bloody," Hawkes said. "It has probably been the ugliest they'd ever seen."

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Jada Sparxxx: Hawkes, 34, is better known locally as Jada Sparxxx. As Sparxxx, Hawkes travels to gay clubs and LGBT venues and performs stand-up comedy and other acts. He said there was a drag show at Pulse the night of the killings, but he did not know personally any of the performers there that night.

He, like many in the LGBT community, is afraid the violence is just beginning.

"We don't think this is the end. My biggest fear — especially with the guy they caught in Los Angeles with those guns — is that something will happen in New York," Hawkes said.

He is referring to the LGBT Pride March scheduled for Sunday, June 26. As details were breaking Sunday about the shooting in Orlando, a story emerged that a man headed to the L.A. Pride event armed with weapons, ammunition and bomb-making materials was arrested by police. The suspect, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times, told police his intentions were to "harm the Gay Pride event."

"New York is our largest Pride, our oldest Pride," Hawkes said. "It is where Pride started."

Healing: Hawkes, who now lives in Harrisburg, is not alone in his fears, which he traces back far beyond Sunday's events, beyond his own experiences with bullying and gay bashing, back to the Stonewall Inn in New York.

Hawkes, who said he was attacked and beaten on Aug. 29, 2010, said healing from such attacks comes from the LGBT community's ability to come together in the face of tragedy and its unwillingness be deterred by the myriad forms of abuse gay and transgender people are subjected to almost daily. The  community will not be closeted once again by Sunday's attack in Orlando, he said.

"To be targeted, to be sought out as freaks and as something less than human, I still can't understand that," Hawkes said. "But we are a very resilient community; we are not a community that falls apart at the drop of a hat."

Hawkes grew up in Red Lion, a community that, during his formative years at least, was very closed-minded, he said. He was considered the "weird" child in his own family, and he was picked on as a kid.

"I was not outspoken. I was a very shy, quiet person. My own family did not accept me, did not understand me," he said.

His grandmother, Geraldine Hawkes, who passed away in 2010, was the only family member he felt a loving, accepting connection with, he said.

"Like all little gay boys, it was my grandmother who loved me unconditionally," Hawkes said.

Drag: As he got older, it was in drag that Hawkes was able to express himself.

"Finding drag, I found I had a voice. My community allowed me to find out who I was," he said.

Hawkes credits drag queens with being the voice of the LGBT community. They are the songstresses and the comedians, the performance artists who spread joy and laughter to people in what, before Sunday, were considered their "safe places," where they were free from judgment and epithets and violent physical attacks.

The show will go on. Hawkes said the funerals for all 49 of the victims at Pulse will be the most lavish, the most elegant, the most stylish that anyone has ever seen.

Somewhere in the near future, Hawkes — who will speak Thursday at York's upcoming candlelight vigil for the Pulse victims — envisions thousands of drag queens coming together on one stage in solidarity with all of the victims past and present in the LGBT community. Especially the 49 who lost their lives at Pulse, he said.

"We will make jokes. As Robin Williams said, 'The best jokes come from the darkest places,'" Hawkes quoted. "You reach inside yourself, you find the deepest darkest memories, you laugh at them and you move the f— on."

— Reach John Joyce atjjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @JohnJoyceYD.