by GK Gurley | photos courtesy Chris Walburn Photography
Murfreesboro is hosting its fourth annual Boro Pride event on September 7. George Manus, better known as the drag queen IONA, has been their emcee each year. She has been a resident of Tennessee and a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community from the get-go.
Manus identifies as non-binary (using she or he pronouns) and discovered a love for drag during the ‘90s. She started by performing in fundraisers for AIDS awareness. After losing countless friends and performing in such an environment, drag became a way to be an advocate and build a chosen family. “It became important for me to be a part of the community and have a platform,” said IONA. “Drag was the best way I knew how, especially with a theater background.”
Drag was and continues to be how IONA builds her chosen family and gives to the queer community. She took a break to get sober, which she has been for 19 years, and came back to drag around 9 years ago both to perform and host. In Middle Tennessee, especially in smaller towns, IONA talks about the necessity for queer people to make spaces and opportunities for themselves. “This is why I started an open stage night. We need places for people to have a shot and get some stage time. Open stage is my favorite thing I do here.”
Murfreesboro has always had a tight-knit queer community. IONA, in describing her experience being a life-long resident of Middle Tennessee, said, “There’s always been a pretty big gay population at MTSU, but they haven’t really had an outlet to be themselves, so all the things we’ve started like Pride and general drag shows are opening up opportunities for people to have a place to go and be comfortable and open about who they are around other people like them.”
She started a queer centered performance space but had to close it after five years after a family tragedy. She hopes to see a queer bar open in Murfreesboro in the near future because there is a definite need for a queer-specific space.
“… All the things we’ve started like Pride and general drag shows are opening up opportunities for people to have a place to go and be comfortable and open about who they are around other people like them.”— IONA, aka George Manus
IONA is not only the emcee for Boro Pride, but she also hosts monthly and bi-monthly drag shows and does Murfreesboro Drag Queen Story Hour. Being non-binary as well as having a partner who is trans, she is very thoughtful about how she structures and books her shows. Boro Pride has different performers each year, and as she casts performers, she intentionally casts more than just cis male drag queens. Her thoughtfulness for creating open and safe queer spaces for everyone exudes through all of her work.
Throughout her life and career, IONA has prioritized her family and advocating for her queer community. “My life is all about giving to other people. I love hanging out with people I work and perform with. I get that joy in return for sure, there’s so much validation and joy in what I do. We’re a chosen family out here, we have a beautiful camaraderie and enjoy what we do. We’re grateful for these opportunities in Middle Tennessee, even when we have to make them ourselves.”
IONA hosts a show at Boro Bar and Grill the first Saturday of every month. Her open stage night is the last Wednesday of the month, also at Boro Bar and Grill. She also hosts shows at Spinelli’s Pizza the second and fourth Friday’s of the month. Drag Queen Story Hour’s schedule is dependent on Technology Engagement Center and happens once a month. Come see her at Boro Pride and her regular shows!
IONA has been a strong leader and community organizer for decades in Middle Tennessee, and she deserves that same love shown to her. Her house recently burned down, and many people in her community started a Facebook fundraiser to help her get off her feet again. Please consider contributing!
Boro Pride is 5 to 10 p.m. Sept. 7 on the square in downtown Murfreesboro.
Find IONA online at facebook.com/ionatheonlyone.