The Mayor of San Francisco has named D’Arcy Drollinger to serve as the city’s first ever Drag Laureate.
A veteran of San Francisco’s vibrant drag scene, Drollinger will fulfill an 18-month term as the city’s ambassador for the drag and LGBTQ+ community.
“While drag culture is under attack in other parts of the country, in San Francisco we embrace and elevate the amazing drag performers who through their art and advocacy have contributed to our City’s history around civil rights and equity,” said Mayor London Breed in a news release last week.
On top of serving as the spokesperson for San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community, Drollinger will produce and participate in events and programs that “celebrate the City’s rich drag history and diversity.”
Responsibilities Drollinger is “honored and thrilled” to execute.
“I am proud to live in a city that is pioneering this position while other parts of the U.S. and the world might not be supportive of Drag,” she said. “This role will build bridges and create partnerships, while elevating and celebrating the Art of Drag.”
The Drag Laureate program was formally introduced by Breed in her June 2022 city budget. But its origins can be traced back to August 2020, when the LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Task Force of San Francisco, a city-endorsed group responsible for assessing the needs and concerns of the LGBTQ+ community, proposed the idea in a report.
In addition to various approaches, the task force aims to foster collaborations between city agencies and community organizations to achieve artistic opportunities for LGBTQ+ artists. This included working to establish and finance residency programs specifically catering to LGBTQ+ artists.
Carving spaces for queer artists is something Drollinger understands very well as the owner and artistic director of Oasis Cabaret and Nightclub, a venue space for local and touring drag performers. According to CNN, the survival and success of Oasis throughout the pandemic was vital for the city’s drag community.
Drollinger called Oasis a “bit of a hub,” serving as an important space for the drag community.
San Francisco has a storied history when it comes to drag, which has been cherished as an art form and a means of protest. As early as the 1950s, renowned nightclubs like the Black Cat and Finocchio’s attracted diverse audiences, including both LGBTQ+ individuals and heterosexual patrons. Notably, in 1966, the Compton Cafeteria riots took place in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, serving as a significant act of queer protest that preceded the renowned Stonewall riots in New York City by three years.
“Drag has a long and vital history in San Francisco, as it has been a way for many people to express themselves, find community and advocate for their rights,” said renowned San Francisco drag queen Juanita MORE!. “The art of drag has given birth to many leaders who resisted and protested against oppression and discrimination.”
With a career spanning over three decades, MORE! is a prominent drag figure and LGBTQ+ activist in San Francisco, who was instrumental is shaping the city’s drag culture. She’s a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and equality, committed to helping the queer community with mental health resources to raising HIV/AIDS awareness.
“By appointing our first Drag Laureate San Francisco sends a clear message: Drag is not a crime. In fact, quite the contrary,” said Sister Roma, a drag queen activist and a member of the Drag Laureate vetting committee. “We celebrate the important contributions that drag culture has made to the arts, entertainment, philanthropy, and our continued fight for equality.”
This appointment coincides with pushes from conservative lawmakers nationwide against public drag performances and the freedom of transgender expression.
In several Republican-controlled states, there has been an increasing momentum behind legislation that bans or restricts drag shows. GOP lawmakers argue that these performances expose children to inappropriate sexual themes and imagery. However, it is worth noting that many drag performances already take place in venues with age restrictions or under the condition of parental consent.
The most recent addition to the list of states implementing such restrictions is Florida, where drag performances in venues accessible to children have been banned.
“It’s important to send a clear message that our drag queen siblings make us proud, as they are attacked and vilified elsewhere,” a representative for California Sen. Scott Wiener said in an email response to Reckon. “Just like the anti-drag message that right wing extremists in Florida are [affecting] us here, we can send a message of love and inclusion that reaches people all across the country.”