The New York congressman George Santos competed as a drag queen in Brazilian beauty pageants 15 years ago, two acquaintances have said, drawing further attention to the contrast between the Republican’s past actions and his staunchly conservative views.
The embattled freshman congressman, who is gay, also faces calls from Democrats and his fellow New York Republicans to step down over fabrications about his career and history and amid reports of investigations at local, state and federal level in the US and in Brazil over the use of a stolen cheque book.
Democrats in Congress and various organisations have called for investigations of Santos’s campaign finances, asking when Republican leaders knew of his falsehoods and chequered past.
But Santos supported the Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, through 15 rounds of voting for the position, which McCarthy now holds with a slim majority.
McCarthy and other party leaders have not moved against the freshman, instead seating him on two House committees.
Santos has admitted “embellishing” his résumé but otherwise denied wrongdoing and said he would not resign.
A 58-year-old Brazilian performer, who uses the drag name Eula Rochard, said she befriended the Santos when he was cross-dressing in 2005 at the first Pide parade in Niterói, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, Santos competed in a drag beauty pageant in Rio, Rochard said.
Another person from Niterói who knew Santos but asked not to be named said he participated in drag queen beauty pageants and aspired to be Miss Gay Rio de Janeiro.
Emails to Santos’s press office and a newly hired communications director were not returned.
Santos, the first out gay Republican to win a House seat in Congress as a non-incumbent, has positioned himself as a staunch conservative on many social issues.
He has backed Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill, which prohibits classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Republicans increasingly denounce drag shows and performers, claiming they are harmful to children.
Responding in October to criticism of his support for the “don’t say gay” bill, Santos told USA Today: “I am openly gay, have never had an issue with my sexual identity in the past decade, and I can tell you and assure you, I will always be an advocate for LGBTQ+ folks.”
Rochard said the congressman was a “poor” drag queen in 2005, with a simple black dress, but in 2008 “he came back to Niteroi with a lot of money” and a flamboyant pink dress to show for it.
Santos competed in a drag beauty pageant that year but lost, Rochard said, adding: “He’s changed a lot but he was always a liar. He was always such a dreamer.”