Pretty Woman

02/01/2023 12:48 AM By Lisa Anderson
Rainbow of Love
Rodney Harper
Rodney Harper
Story by Taylor Strickland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Pretty Woman

Bearded Drag Queen Promotes Community

“I grew up in Hernando,” shares Rodney Harper, twice-elected vice president for Ocala Pride and locally beloved bearded drag queen. “I moved away to Indiana when I turned 18.”

Rodney’s desire to safeguard others was apparent from a young age. “I had a single mom, and we didn’t have quite the means a lot of other families did. I remember, one time, my mom was at work, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to go find the end of the rainbow and fix that.’”

“There were very strict rules,” Rodney explains. “If the sun was going down, you needed to be home. Of course, I was like 8, and I had walked all over the neighborhood trying to find the end of this rainbow that kept moving on me. It was dark by the time I got home. I thought in my defense, ‘I was going to make us rich and things were going to be good.’ It didn’t help my case.”

The rainbows Rodney used to chase now serve as a ward. “The rainbow represents your pride. I thought about what gave me solace. When I go to any business and see the little rainbow stickers, I know I’m safe. I’m a walking safe space.”

The Bearded Queen

Rodney wasn’t always so confident in himself or his ability to protect others. “I was very reserved. I don’t want to say anti-social, but I spent a lot of time alone.”

Part of the reason Rodney struggled so much was the inability to be himself. “I just got up one day, and something clicked in me. I was sick of being something I’m not. I came out to my family in 2018. Most of them were very accepting. I had never really, at that point, even been to a gay bar.

“Naturally, there are no gay bars in Hernando,” Rodney laughs. “I looked online, and I found the Copa here in Ocala. It wasn’t what I thought. It had more of a Cheers for gay people type feel. I was looking for what you see in the movies, where you got the lights and the techno music.”

Rodney likely never would have returned to the Copa were it not for a friend in need. “I met a queen online. We were friends for about eight months before we decided to meet up.

“She was putting on a performance at the Copa, and you know how I felt about the Copa,” Rodney jokes. “I didn’t go. Later, she messaged me that they had been kind of catty with her, and being a new queen, that’s rough on them. Next show, I was there. Sat right in the center, ready to get anybody that got out of hand.

“At that time, I wasn’t doing drag,” Rodney says. “I hadn’t even thought about it, and I was just amazed that he went from looking how he did when I’d seen him as kind of a bigger boy, to the real Barbie-doll shaped woman.”

Rodney’s first foray into drag came a year later, at the behest of yet another friend. “Some queens had cancelled, and I thought, ‘Well, how hard could it be? Put on a dress, heels, a little lipstick–easy.’

“It wasn’t so easy,” he deadpans. “After about four and a half hours, I finally got transformed into a pretty woman. Walking in heels alone was challenging, to say the least. I still don’t walk well in heels. They have to be wide or chunky.”

Despite a few hiccups during his first few performances, Rodney was hooked. “When you go to a drag show, everybody has different styles and different looks, but the thing that’s always got me is how they make you feel when you come to see them.”

Rodney eventually decided to branch out. “At the time I was performing, you could go into any club and see 10 others just like me. I decided to do the bearded thing, because I wanted to be different.”


Life moved quickly for Rodney after his bearded debut. He met his now fiancé in 2019 and was nominated vice president of Ocala Pride in 2021. He has finally begun to soothe that superhero complex.

“My position lets me see more clearly where the needs in the community are,” shares Rodney. “There’re no spaces for us in Ocala; that’s what I hope to achieve with Pride. I want to reach out to our supporters and find those willing to help create those spaces.

“I know the need for acceptance is great. Many LGBTQ people don’t feel comfortable just being themselves or with their families. That’s one of the reasons I suggested we move the parade from Tuscawilla Park to the Downtown Square: visibility.”

Ocala Pride is just now reestablishing its presence in the Ocala community, and Rodney has big plans for the future. “I would like to see more of the community, and not just the LGBT community, but all of the community, come together. That has been my focus since becoming vice president. I want us to be one community.”
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