Nationally recognized drag queen visits campus

SAEM Club holds “A Conversation with Miss Coco Peru”


Photo by Katie Williams

Coco Peru talks to students in on Thursday, Nov. 8. at SAEM Club’s “A Conversation with Miss Coco Peru.”

Written By Hattie Charney, Co-Features Editor

From meeting Liza Minnelli to receiving a letter from the Vatican, Miss Coco Peru has led a life that others can only dream of.

Students gathered in the GRW Theater last Thursday night to listen to Miss Coco Peru in her series “A Conversation with Miss Coco Peru” hosted by Bambi, a local drag queen.

“I never felt really all male or all female. I was just sort of this in-between person,” Peru said.

Peru said that while she was dating a Peruvian gentleman, they went to Peru to visit his country, she came across the inspiration for her name, Coco.

“One night we went to a gay bar and you had to knock on this door and they opened up a little window and I guess if you looked gay they let you in,” Peru said.

She goes on to say she was introduced to a man named Coco, who left part way through their conversation before the show. Once the show started, a “beautiful, glamorous drag queen” came out and it was the same man she had spoken with previously.

What fascinated her more than Coco’s appearance was the fact that in a homophobic country, which Peru was at the time, this young drag queen was brought onto television talk-shows and was publicly praised by the entire country.

“That got me thinking that there is something about owning 100 percent of who you are that people are wired to somehow respect.”

When she came back to New York, she saw a need in her community as well.

“I was seeing the AIDS crisis and seeing what it was doing to my friends in the city in general. I wanted to be an activist,” Peru said. 

Peru’s first shows were politically based. She spoke about the AIDS crisis in New York City. Her first show was in response to a friend that was dying from AIDS.

“You know, I was in my 20s and my friends in their 20s were dying,” Peru said. “I was responding, I wanted to be this drag queen activist and once I saw the response I was getting, […] It all fell into place.”

Peru knew from the start that this was the path that she wanted to take. Peru was open about talking about how she came out to her parents in a climate that could have been negative.

She told a story about learning about coming out to her parents through a book she found in a gay bookstore in New York City. It told her not to cry, to write a letter, to rehearse it and then present it to her parents. 

“So that’s what I did […] I came out and they were terrific,” Peru said. “Then of course when I came out telling them I was going to do drag my mother said, ‘Oh well you always had to be different,’ and I told her, ‘That’s not exactly true, it’s not that I had to be different, I just was.’”

Peru then began her career in drag, and felt she had to be creative in the advertising for her shows. She created a stencil that said “Miss Coco Peru: She knows” and went around at night to spray paint the stencil on sidewalks so she could get her name out there.

“I didn’t think of it as vandalism, I hate spray paint when I see it on walls, but I thought I had a higher purpose with my vandalism and it was to create a better world,” Peru said.

Her version of creating a better world was showing the courage that drag queens have and creating a future for anyone that wanted to do what she is doing now.

She called upon her role-models that she had growing up and wanted to be that for the new generation.

“One of the other things that really affected me was there were pictures that I had seen, I don’t know if it was in a documentary or in a book, but they were drag queens being arrested in gay bars and put in paddy wagons.”

Coco was still inspired.

“[There] were photos of them waving out of the paddy wagon and still being fabulous as they were being arrested. I just thought that was so empowering that, even as [they’re] being arrested, [they] are going to show the world just how fabulous [they] are,” Peru said. 

Peru said she doesn’t want anyone to go through the ridicule and the pain that she went through to get to where she is now.

“I wanted to be this person on stage presenting as female but then talking about being a boy and I wanted the audience members to sort of be like, ‘Oh wait a second, he looks like a woman but talks about being a boy’ and then I wanted them to realize ‘Oh wait a minute, it doesn’t matter,’” Peru said. 

To Peru, it means something more.

“What matters is the story, what matters is the love or pain or grief or whatever it is that they can connect to. The gender and all of that stuff wasn’t what mattered, what mattered was that we are all humans and have the same experiences no matter what we dress like or how we identify and that’s what I wanted to do with Coco,” Peru said. 

Peru is nationally recognized and is friends with celebrities like Liza Minnelli and Bea Arthur, although she chalks it all up to facing her fears and just going for it.

“Every time I’ve met celebrities that I’ve always wanted to meet, and some I’ve become friends with, it’s always in the back of my mind that I made the right choice when I decided to do this completely crazy idea of doing drag and creating Coco,” Peru said.

Peru encourages youth to do the same and to never look back on what could have been but instead keep pushing forward into the unknown and to always say yes, even if it’s scary.

“I’ll tell you, most of the things that scared me in my life turned out to be my most memorable and best experiences,” Peru said.

Peru was in the right place at the right time and that earned her a start to a career. She had said yes to helping a friend out by auditioning people for his 1999 movie, “Trick.”

 Peru had read all of the different parts while auditioning people, which led to the directors and writers writing her a part to keep her in the movie because of how funny she was.

“It was a happy accident,” Peru said. “That moment chance of saying yes completely changed my life.”

Peru also got the chance to guest star on the television series “Will & Grace” in 2001 and reprise her role this past year in the reboot. 

Filming for “Will & Grace” was scheduled around the original date for the speaking event, Oct. 18, which is why the event got pushed back.

Peru spoke about her one-woman shows that she is currently touring with as well as her YouTube channel that has become a global sensation. 

People from all around the world watch Peru’s channel, including some priests at the Vatican.

“I also once got a letter from the Vatican,” Peru said. “I had done a special that aired on LOGO and one of the gay priests had the DVD, and got all the other gay priests to watch it. They were being very sneaky about it. The priest wrote me this letter to let me know that one of the bishops in the Vatican, when it was over, said ‘That Coco is doing God’s work.’”

Toward the end of the event, Peru took questions from the audience and heavily stressed the idea of being yourself and taking risks in life, in order to step out of your box. 

“When you step into that spotlight, it can be scary but that’s where the magic happens. It’s show time kids and you’re on,” Peru said. “That’s what I really believe, that this is your moment here on Earth to be in that spotlight and create yourself. When you do that, all of a sudden these magical things start happening in your life that reinforce your decision that make you know that you’re on your right path.”

The event came to an end when Peru did two short monologues for the audience that ended in a standing ovation.

The event was hosted by a local drag queen, Bambi, who kept the audience upbeat and attentive during the discussion. She attended Point Park University and had nothing but praise for Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management (SAEM) club president, Nate Grossi.

“Nate and the SAEM Club did an amazing job,” Bambi said. “I’m always happy to come back to Point Park; it means the world to me.”

Grossi, junior SAEM major, was excited to have Peru come and perform for the students on campus. He said that she is the same as she is in person as she is on television or in her YouTube videos.

“We were really excited to have her because she’s been on many television shows,” Grossi said. “She’s huge. She’s one of the biggest drag queens and she did it from a time where it wasn’t as big. She’s really inspirational in that way. That was a really cool opportunity for us to bring her here.”

Gary Van Horn, president of the Delta Foundation in Pittsburgh, a LGBT+ advocacy organization in Western Pennsylvania, was also present at the event.

Van Horn said he was inspired and got a feeling of hope from hearing Peru speak. He said it gives him hope that everyone could be more accepting but also gives him the drive to continue to work to change people’s minds and hearts regarding the LGBT+

“I think that anytime people have a positive interaction with someone from the LGBT+ community and somebody as famous as Coco, it’s a positive for Pittsburgh and you know to give the perspectives that she has to young folks, alking about what it was like in the ‘50s and the ‘80s and talking about everything that they’ve gone through from Stonewall Riots to HIV and AIDS. It gives a perspective of where we are and how far we’ve come but also how far we have to go,” Van Horn said.

Peru has been in the drag industry for roughly 25 years and continues to push for the acceptance and the recognition that everyone deserves as a human being. 

Peru left the audience with a challenge to step out of comfort zones.

“So I encourage you young people, while you’re young and your youth is so valuable, to really seize opportunities and to say yes to things and not let your fears or your doubts [stop you,]

 Don’t let any of that fear stop you because there’s a lot of stupid people in this world that are making it big. That’s the thing, they’re too stupid to worry about their fears […] they’re not even thinking about whether or not they should be nervous,” Peru said.