Legendary drag queens return to the stage for a cause

A Brazilian documentary, "Divine Divas," profiles eight drag queens who were active in the 1960s, a time when sexual minorities in the country faced virulent hatred.

Divina Valeria, now 74, says she took part in the film because she wants to show people what she and her colleagues had to endure to show their true selves.

A drag queen is a male entertainer who performs in women's costume and makeup.

In their heyday, Valeria and her colleagues performed at a small venue in Rio de Janeiro. The Rival Theater remains open today.

Brazil in the 1960s was ruled by a military dictatorship. The government closely monitored concerts and theater performances for political remarks. But Valeria and her colleagues devoted themselves solely to singing and dancing, and so they were among the few entertainment options available at the time. As a result, they built up a huge following.

She says looking back, she thinks they played a very important role in society. She says they brought joy to the people at a time when it was in short supply.

Divina Valeria was part of a generation of pioneer drag queens in Brazil.

But society at large had little understanding of sexual minorities. Valeria says the ladies of The Rival Theater faced constant discrimination. She says her family nearly broke off ties with her.

But it wasn't just in society that Valeria and her colleagues faced prejudice. The lifestyle was largely against the law. At the time, she says the simple act of walking around town dressed as a woman would get you arrested.

Since then, the rights of sexual minorities have expanded significantly in Brazil. Same-sex marriage is now legal and every year Sao Paulo holds one of the world's largest gay pride parades.

However, violent attacks on the LGBT community continue. In 2017 alone, 445 people were killed in such incidents. The death toll has risen 150 percent over the past decade.

In the film, Valeria and her former colleagues get back on stage together for the first time in a few decades. They are all over 70 and have been away from the spotlight for decades. But they banded together one last time, motivated by the common goal of raising awareness for their continuing plight.

Divina Valeria and her colleagues reunited at The Rival Theater.
Watch Video: 02:50

Valeria says she has lived out in the open, not in a closed community of just LGBT people. She says her friends have differing views on sexual orientation.

"If everyone can open their minds and live like families, it would create a happy society for everyone."