'RuPaul's Drag Race' Winner Bob the Drag Queen on Pride, Being Confident and Staying Strong After Orlando

Bob the Drag Queen explains how he found the confidence to enter his day "purse first"

Photo: Mathu Andersen

“It’s okay to say you’re doing well in the time of tragedy.”

That’s the advice from Bob the Drag Queen – the season 8 winner of Logo’s popular RuPaul’s Drag Race, in the wake of Sunday’s Orlando shooting that left 49 dead and injured 53.

“It was horrible and terrifying,” Bob tells PEOPLE of the massacre, which occurred at gay nightclub Pulse. “It was a blatant and hateful attack on our community, and I refuse to let terror win.”

Still, despite the horrors, the 29-year-old thinks the LGBTQ community can find a way to stay strong after the tragedy. “It’s okay to pay reverence to the people who lost their lives and still enjoy yourself,” he says. “What were the people doing when they were at this gay bar? They were having fun. They were out living their lives.”

“People want to be well, and mourning is not necessarily a great feeling,” he adds. “Mourning doesn’t always mean zen, mourning doesn’t always mean somber, mourning can just be a celebration of a life of people.”

“It’s not always about wearing black and listening to a Sarah McLachlan song,” he jokes.

Born Christopher Caldwell, Bob remembers the first gay bar he went to in Columbus, Georgia, as a young college student. He describes the feeling of safety members of the LGBT community, including those at Pulse nightclub, feel at a gay bar. It’s something he’s seen at every gay bar where he’s ever been.

“A gay bar is absolutely a sanctuary and a safe house,” he says. “It’s the place where you feel welcome. You’re so conscious and aware of your queerness all the time, and when you leave the gay bar, that fades away. You know that someone is going to treat you different.”

Bob has not always been confident. He gets part of his steadfast certainty from his mom, after “being pushed around as a kid and knowing that I’ve hit this ceiling and not wanting it to happen again.”

As a self-proclaimed “200-lb., 6-ft. gay man,” Bob says he’s not pushed around much anymore (“I am a lot more imposing than a lot of people”). But he adds that we all can grow to believe in ourselves.

“Confidence has not always been something I had in my whole life,” he explains. “But when I found it? Man you don’t have to be confident in every area of your life. Just grab something you’re confident about, and if you coast on that it’ll spill over to other areas in your life. Confidence is contagious, you know?”

His mantra on Drag Race was “Purse First” – an ode to confidence that he even turned into a popular song.

“It’s a very confident way to walk into the room, own the room the second you walk in and really be the boss of your own submission,” Bob explains – “be the queen of this particular moment.”

He’s been performing the jam and spreading the message of strength on his Drag Race victory tour. He was performing in Washington, D.C., the night of – and after – the Orlando attack. He’ll visit the city in on July 16, with a trip to the Parliament House.

But until then, the New York-based queen will kick off the Big Apple’s pride festivities at an event celebrating the history of the Pride Rally – which began after the the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, when 500 people gathered for a demonstration a candlelight vigil.

The tragedies that inspired pride, and the timing of the Orlando shooting is not lost on Bob. “It’s important to persevere, especially in times of tragedy,” he says. “New York City is the home of persevering in the time of tragedy.”

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