GAY global news

LGBTQ+ community mourns the passing of Tempest Heat, Wisconsin drag

Written by

Program Schedule

Program Notes

Program Schedule

Music Playlists

Program Schedule

Music Playlists

Wisconsin drag performer Tempest Heat. Photo courtesy of Meg Strobel

Tempest Heat, an acclaimed and beloved Wisconsin drag performer, has died, according to friends and family posting on social media. 

Tempest Heat was the drag persona of Jonathan Carthell Hughlett. She graced many stages across Wisconsin, serving as a mentor or “drag mother” to countless other performers. Hughlett was a champion for Black, gay and drag history and was a Community Advisor for the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.

Hughlett, 41, won many titles as a pageant performer, including “Miss LaCage” (2008-09), “Miss WI USofA At Large” (2010) and “Miss Gay Madison” (2023), according to the Wisconin LGBTQ History Project. Hughlett was also a regular performer at PrideFest, Hamburger Mary’s, D.I.X., This Is It and La Cage in Milwaukee, and FIVE Nightclub in Madison. Hughlett hosted drag queen story hours for children and was promoting an upcoming gig in Madison as recently as Monday.

An official cause of death has not been released, but the performer had been battling kidney disease and receiving dialysis treatments, according to a 2022 Radio Milwaukee interview.

Within moments of the news breaking, tributes flooded Facebook and Instagram, including from other performers, fans and community members. WPR has gathered a few reactions as many more continue to pour in.

Milwaukee’s Jaida Essence Hall, winner of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ season 12:

“I’m honestly at such a loss for words…

Being a lil gay watching you perform gave me so much inspiration to do what I do. We talked about our dreams together, you ALWAYS had my back… Tuesday nights we would go to Bar Louie, talk for hours and hours, the first face I saw after winning DR. I will love you forever! Thank you for being a mentor and amazing and inspiring us all.”

Courage MKE, a charity and home for LGBTQ+ youth:

“Please join us in taking a moment to offer peace to one of our own and her family.  We are heartbroken to wake up to the news that our dear friend Tempest Heat passed away last night.

Tempest has been part of our Courage family since before we had an official name. From fundraisers, to ribbon cuttings, to makeup tutorials with our residents, to hosting the Drag Show at our gala, to just being an amazing friend, we take comfort in so many fond memories and knowing that she is no longer suffering.

Rest well Tempest. We will always love you.”

Miss BJ Daniels, iconic drag performer and co-author of ‘History of Milwaukee Drag’:

“The only words that come to mind on this sad day are, ‘thank you.’

You set a high standard for community involvement, and were dedicated to being a great performer and representative for the titles you held. I was thrilled when you won Miss Gay Madison this last year, and we had that in common among other things. I will never forget you and your legacy.

RIP Tempest Heat”

And here’s an excerpt from a written interview with Tempest Heat, published in 2022, on the scene that nurtured her:

A promotional image of Tempest Heat. Photo courtesy of Meg Strobel

“I started doing drag in 2007. I met a queen named Misha Mahon … she was a transgender Drag queen who performed at C’est La Vie lol she was the first person to put me in drag and I fell in LOVE with it!

Before I met her, I would go to a black gay bar in Riverwest called Emeralds … the DJ (DJ Wayne) would play all this Chicago house music, and all the kids would be vogueing in the bar. It was a small bar, but they still had drag shows. I fell in love with seeing Shannon Dupree doing Patti Labelle, and Lady Symone doing Tina Turner and Kenya Black, she was a gorgeous Trans woman who was always half naked, but she had BODY so everyone loved watching her lol. Also Tracy Ross was another legendary performer I saw at Emeralds. Lastly and she has passed on, was Baja Bazaar (rip)… omg she was CAMP! I remember she came out in a gown made from Aldi grocery bags singing Eryka Badu ‘Bag Lady’ … it was everything!

Emeralds was the spot, but down the street in Riverwest, there was a Black lesbian bar called Barbie Dolls, the owner was a woman named Barbie she was super nice, and always has a live DJ playing Chicago house music as well. Eventually they closed sadly, but a new spot came along called “Conversations” This was another gay bar, owned by an old friend of mine named Devon. I would go there every weekend, especially since I knew the owner well … there was also a black gay bar in Walkers Point called “Viva LA Femme.” and lastly a black gay bar called “Purr” which was the same owner as Conversations, she closed the one bar to open up a larger spot (Purr) … that was one of the first places I was a cast member at and performed on Thursday nights each week.”


Leave a Comment