DragCon diversity



The drag community lacks diversity, according to some DragCon visitors. Photo: India Duke.

The second annual New York City DragCon convention took place at the Javits Convention Center in late September, with an inclusive message for the 35,000 attendees: Everyone was welcome, including the children who crowded into booths to work on their hair and make-up and listen to a drag queen read them a story.

Launched in Los Angeles in 2015, the twice-yearly conference feeds off the success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a reality television show starring RuPaul, who is a partner in the convention.

The entertainer, born Andres Charles, is African-American, and the crowd at the New York event was diverse. But some of the drag queens who attended complained that white drag queens dominate the drag population, and can be as intolerant of racial minorities as the general population is.

Brooklyn, an African-American drag queen from Philadelphia wearing black half-framed sunglasses and dark lipstick, attended the convention with her friend Blasphemy, a white queen. When asked about the majority of drag queens, Brooklyn pointed to Blasphemy, who giggled and said, “Yeah, the white queens.”

And while Brooklyn finds the drag community to be fairly tolerant of the small minority population, the larger gay community is not.

“For a long time, I thought I was unattractive because I was black,” she said, using the female pronoun she prefers. “The ideal gay man in the media eye is a muscular white man.”

Blasphemy believes that it’s time for that to change. “We need to give more opportunities to queens of color, kings of color, just people within the community because it’s just like everything else,” she said. She thinks that attitudes are improving – even as she admits that she can’t identify with her friend’s perspective because she is, she says, “whiter than white.”

Saaphyri Wildz is an African-American queen from Baltimore, dressed in a blue jumpsuit with paint splatters and waist-length blonde hair. She said that she likes to attend the convention because it feels more accepting than the drag community in general. “At DragCon I feel like it’s pride, it brings all kinds of people together, but sadly this isn’t our community outside of DragCon,” she said. In her experience, the majority of job bookings and attention goes to slender, white queens.

Some minority drag queens feel that strengthening their own community is more productive than trying to impact the white gay population. Rodney Flores is a Puerto Rican New Yorker from Washington Heights with glittery pink eyeshadow and wispy eyelashes who identifies not as a drag queen but as a member of the LGBTQ community. He sees drag queens of color choosing to separate themselves from the larger drag community to achieve a certain level of comfort and inclusiveness, and feels that attitudes in the gay community have affected behavior as well.

“There’s no one going after them and telling them, like, ‘Hey I know this may be a little weird but there’s this [drag convention]. Come, we won’t judge you,’” he said. “You’re expecting to see everybody and more diversity but in reality, it doesn’t happen because of what happens in the gay community.”

Some attendees see progress, though not enough of it.

“Grindr recently released a diversity campaign and a black drag queen was their front person for it,” said Brooklyn, referring to the social networking app aimed primarily at gay men.

“This season of Drag Race there were more black queens,” said Flores, “so if it keeps on going like that we get to see more black artists, more black performers and then you know what that brings? More black people to come here and then it’ll be truly diverse.”

“We truly so need diversity,” he said, “and not only black and white but Hispanics, Asians, everything.”

Plexi, an ethnic queen from Philadelphia with dramatically-lined lips, said that the world outside of drag has to change first. “I think as the world gets more inclusive, so does drag.”

And Flores’ optimism doesn’t last long. He says a community that prides itself on rejecting the labels of the dominant society is too quick to embrace them within the gay community. “You’re put right back in a box,” he said.