San Francisco CNN --
D'Arcy Drollinger is a veteran in San Francisco's vibrant gay scene and has been named its first Drag Laureate. She will serve as an ambassador to the LGBTQ+ and drag communities of San Francisco for 18 months, announced Mayor London Breed's Office on Thursday.
This is the first position of its kind to be created in the country.
Breed stated in a press release that 'while drag culture is under attack elsewhere in the country, we in San Francisco embrace and elevate amazing drag performers, who have through their art, advocacy, and contributions contributed to the history of our City around civil rights, and equality.'
Drollinger is 'proud' to live in a place that's pioneering Drag, while other parts of America and the world may not support it. This role will create partnerships and build bridges, while elevating the Art of Drag.
Drollinger told CNN that drag is a refuge for people who aren't allowed to shine in their lives or as themselves.
San Francisco is home to a long history of drag
Breed announced the creation the Drag Laureate Program in her city budget for June 2022, but it was first presented in August 2020 by the San Francisco LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Task Force. This task force, which is supported by the city, reviewed feedback from the community on LGBTQ+ concerns and needs.
The task force, among other strategies, recommended that city agencies and community groups improve their partnerships to expand creative programming for LGBTQ+ artists. This included 'creating and funding LGBTQ+ artist residencies'.
Drollinger is well aware of the importance of finding spaces for queer artists. She opened Oasis, a popular cabaret-nightclub in 2015 as a venue for local and touring drag artists. Oasis' survival and success, despite the pandemics, were vital to San Francisco's drag scene.
Drollinger stated that it's important to create a space for everyone. Oasis is a good example of this.
Drag in San Francisco has a long history, as both an art form and a protest medium. Nightclubs like the Black Cat and Finocchio’s attracted queer and non-queer audiences since the 1950s. In 1966, the Compton Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco's Tenderloin District were one of the first notable queer protests. This was three years before New York City’s famous Stonewall riots.
Drollinger is a native San Franciscan who has always been attracted to the vibrant queer creative scene in that city.
There's something in that water. San Francisco is exciting because there's a willingness to try new things that I haven’t seen in other places. Drollinger stated that people are willing to experiment and work on things for the sake of art.
She lauds the city's efforts to promote drag at a moment when drag performances are under attack. Drollinger said that by making the Drag Laureate a city official position and providing a $55,000 stipend to the Drag Laureate, San Francisco sent a message about the 'legitimacy of drag'.
San Francisco is not looking for volunteers. They want us to act as a diplomat, show up in the city and be an active member.
Drag is important to applicants
Per Sia was a photographer who fell in love the art of drag as a photographer. They captured images of drag queens from South Central Los Angeles to San Francisco. Drag queens were admired for their extravagance, celebrity-like personas and elaborate costumes. However, they felt shy and uneasy to dress up themselves.
Per Sia first dressed up in drag 16 years ago, on a dare to perform in San Francisco’s Castro District. They haven't looked behind since.
Per Sia, 'I fell in love' with the feeling of empowerment and joy that she felt after performing.
Drag performers also have a second career in arts education. Per Sia jokes about how they get to "teach the small kids" during the day, and then 'perform before the big kids" at night. She sees drag performance as a way to educate people on top of entertaining.
Drag Story Hour is a program in which drag queens are invited to read stories to young children. This promotes self-expression. Per Sia has read at San Francisco Public Library and Oakland Pride events, and she enjoys teaching kids about thinking outside the box through story hours.
Per Sia stated, "When you are a child, all that matters is using your imagination. You glitter everything, and use all the colors. But at some point, all of that goes away." Drag shows kids there are other ways to live.
Drag was always a part Drollinger's existence, but she didn't embrace it as her "work clothes" until her forties. Drag helped her to find her identity and community.
Drollinger stated that'so many people who find drag find it because they're not allowed to shine in real life and their fabulousness has been squashed'. Drag is a great way to release all of that.
Conservative lawmakers across the country are taking action against drag while San Francisco is raising it.
Drag performances in public and transgender expressions are under threat by conservative legislators across the nation.
Breed said in a statement released in November that 'San Francisco is a city built on the commitment to inclusion and the arts.' Drag artists have paved the way for LGBTQ+ representation and rights in our city. They are part of what makes it so special. [[pending updated comments from Mayor's Office TK]]
Many Republican-led state legislatures are introducing legislation to ban or restrict drag. GOP lawmakers claim that drag shows expose children to inappropriate sexual themes and images, even though many drag shows are held in locations that restrict the age of attendees or require parental permission.
Tennessee was the first state in March 2023 to pass a ban on drag performances performed on public property or at places where children could view them.
Drollinger is feeling the impact of the national backlash against her work even in a progressive city. CNN reported that she has spent more on security to make sure the performers and audience feel safe.
They want to erase me and my community.
Per Sia, along with Drollinger, hope that San Francisco's pioneering of the Drag Laureate role will set a precedent for tolerance and acceptance.
"Important events take place in San Francisco and the world pays attention." Per Sia stated that it is a great honor to have this position available for me or anyone else who applied. It also shows the world how drag is powerful and deserves a place.