Lady Bunny, Mistress Formica, Sweetie, Anna Conda, Tabooo
In the spring of 1969, the modern gay rights movement was emerging in the United States after all the Stonewall Riots were done. With any drag revues shuttering and the after math of the riots drag was getting near extinct with exemption to major gay clubs...and even then was falling out of vogue. A few queens in the 70's early eighties got things started up again, with exemption to the few well known female impersonators, like Jim Bailey and Charles Pierce.
Divine was one of the first on the scene and was one of the first queens to break into huge mainstream culture, notably in the films of director John Water. Her fearless and uncompromising manner influenced others to be a badass bitch like herself. Tragically, she died of heart failure in 1988 at the age of 42. Meanwhile on the West Coast we had the like of Pristine Condition
and May Doll,
bringing drag slowly back into the light.
Meanwhile in New York, Mother Flawless Sabrina was out and proud. The flawless one challenged LGBT issues all along the east coast and led in rallies against New York businesses that refused to serve gay Americans. She was arrested more than 100 times during her fight to normalize cross-dressing.
Sarria A.K.A. The Widow Norton, Absolute Empress I de San Francisco, was the first openly gay candidate to run for public office in the United States, paving the way for other gay politicians to follow. From the west coast, she was an activist for gay rights during the 1960 and 70's. Sarria also founded the International Court System of the United States which helps aid LGBT issues. Sadly Sarria died in 2013 at age 90.
Pepper LaBeija who was known as “the last remaining queen of the Harlem drag balls”, LaBeija had a successful career as a fashion designer. She ruled the drag scene of the ’70s and early ’80s with her wild persona alongside queens Angie Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey and Avis Pendavis. She passed away in 2003 at the age of 53.
But then in the late 80's there was a drag explosion! I myself firmly believe, in part it was the NYC club kids and Leigh Bowery and the arrival of a yet to be known Rupaul, Lady Bunny and Lahomma Van Zant who arrived from Atlanta with their looks and shtick to get things jump started.
Lady Bunny with Leigh Bowery
Lady Bunny and Rupaul
LaHomma Van Zandt
The club kids with Amanda Lepore
It was glamorous, glitter-drenched nights that crept into mornings. From notorious East Village spots like the Pyramid Club to mega venues like the Palladium, Roxy, the Limelight and The Tunnel, it seemed more and more people were taking notice of drag again....and soon a evolution and eventual explosion of drag into a widely-acknowledged subculture. But in my mind, it wasn't until the 90's that drag really went nuts. I remember living in Harrisburg and started going out in the mid 90's right out of college. I became enthralled by drag when I first met Lady Bunny in New York and that was that. But outside of the big cities it was still risky. It was to the true God Mother of drag, Rupaul, who got to big for New York and went mainstream.
After that, drag came out of the closet and never did go back in. All of a sudden , even in Harrisburg and other little cities drag queens went from 2 to like 20 over night it seemed. Rupaul was everywhere, radio, tv, a talk show and it seemed hard to find anyone who disliked him. RuPaul,to me, really altered history more then anyone. I know people who watch Rupaul's Drag Race, who I never thought would.....and they can't get enough. These queens of the 90's really did bring drag out, and into everybody's face, like Lady Bunny who put on the wildly popular Wigstock every year, and drag shows at clubs would be packed...even still to date. I knew drag was here to stay when one New Year's Eve, yours truly in 2000, went to a party. I was decked in a white floor length, skin tight gown, that was lace, beaded and pearled, huge hair with white plumes and doves in it and jewelry. I was informed the party was going downtown right before midnight to watch the ball drop in the center of Harrisburg. Well, I had never been in drag outside a gay club, in a huge crowd before. The friends I went with had rented a limo, which we drove down in. Once there, we got out. I was shocked by the reception. People were enamored by me. people talking to me, and commenting my look. There was even a huge fraternity there from Penn State and they had a group picture taken with me. It was quite something. And this was a time when Harrisburg was not as gay friendly as it is currently. I swear it was because of Rupaul!!! Everybody loved her and was all curious about drag. I firmly believe because her him, drag was more accepted and more mainstream then ever before. Now we have drag queens on web shows, recording their own tracks and completion shows. And we have all our fore Queens to thank for that and Rupaul. We must always remember our roots and history.