Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos said claims that he had performed as a drag queen are “categorically false.” His denial comes shortly after a Brazilian drag performer shared on social media an image of herself and another person in drag, whom she identified as the newly sworn-in congressman from New York.
“The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or ‘performed’ as a drag Queen is categorically false,” Santos, who has been the subject of international headlines for weeks for fabricating parts of his résumé, tweeted Thursday morning. “The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.”
However, when questioned by media outlets on Saturday, Santos appeared to soften his denial and imply that he had, in fact, dressed in drag in the past.
“No, I was not a drag queen in Brazil, guys. I was young and I had fun at a festival. Sue me for having a life,” Santos told reporters as he walked through New York's LaGuardia Airport. His remarks were recorded and then shared online by multiple outlets.
Earlier this month, Brazilian drag artist Eula Rochard posted an image on Facebook and Instagram of herself with a person wearing a red feathery dress, bright red lipstick and dangling chandelier earrings. Rochard, who is identified as Eula Rorard in the photo, claims the other person in drag went by the stage name Kitara Ravache and is, in fact, Santos.
“Me with the American Republican congressman who wouldn’t leave my house,” Rochard wrote in Portuguese on the Facebook post. “Whoever said I was a liar bite your tongue.”
NBC News has not independently verified the images posted on Rochard’s social media accounts, which she said originally appeared in a Brazilian newspaper in 2008. As of Thursday afternoon, the images had been widely circulated on social media and news websites.
Journalist Joâo Fragah told NBC News he had interviewed Kitara Ravache in an exchange captured on video.
Fragah said he was very confident Santos was the person he interviewed and was the same person in the photos Rochard shared. However, the journalist noted that the interview was done a long time ago.
Fragah said the performer had been "name-dropping" and trying to get the media's attention when the interview took place.
Rochard told NBC News that she met Santos in about 2005 and last saw him in 2008 through Niterói’s gay community, but added that she only knew him by his drag name, Kitara Ravache, and Anthony (Santos has gone by various combinations of the name George Anthony Devolder Santos, the full name listed on a Federal Election Commission filing from 2019). Rochard said she saw a photo of Santos as a recently elected U.S. lawmaker in a Brazilian news outlet and recognized him. When asked why she decided to post the image that she claims to be of herself and Santos, she said, “Because I wanted to.”
Rochard, who described herself as the “RuPaul” of Brazil, said she knew Santos when he was “coming up” in the drag world and said she was a mentor to him. She described him as having an “outgrown sense of grandeur” and added that “he lied all the time.”
Rochard’s claims about Santos, who has positioned himself as a conservative Republican and has aligned himself with some of the party’s most hard-right lawmakers, come as the GOP has thrust the centuries-old art form of drag into the center of the simmering culture war.
At least six states are considering bills this term that would ban minors from attending drag performances and seek to classify any business that hosts drag shows as a cabaret or a “sexually oriented business,” according to an NBC News analysis of new legislation targeting LGBTQ rights and queer life.
Among the legislation is a Tennessee bill that would ban drag queens from performing on public or private property in the presence of a minor. If enacted, repeat offenders could be charged with a felony and face up to six years in prison.
The anti-LGBTQ legislation also coincides with a recent wave of far-right protests and threats directed at drag events.
Last year, there were at least 141 protests and significant threats aimed at drag events in 48 states, according to LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD. And a report from the Crowd Counting Consortium, a public interest and scholarly project that documents crowds and contention in the U.S., found a steep increase in anti-LGBTQ demonstrations over the past two years, with a common target last year being drag-related events.
A lawyer for Santos did not return NBC News’ request for comment regarding the congressman’s stance on the proposed policies related to drag performances. In a previous interview, Santos told NBC News that he sees no contradiction between his identity as a gay man and his party’s policy stances, saying, “I have never experienced discrimination in the Republican Party.”
Questions over Santos’ biography first erupted on Dec. 19, when The New York Times published a bombshell investigation questioning whether he fabricated aspects of his education, work history and finances. Santos later admitted to “embellishing” his qualifications and apologized for having done so.
Democratic lawmakers, as well as several Republicans, have since called for Santos to resign.