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Comment: Why it is wrong to erase drag artists from Pride

Naith Payton July 21, 2015

Writing for PinkNews, Naith Payton argues that it is wrong to ban drag artists from Pride, as they are a huge part of LGBT history.

A drag queen poses in a tourist street in the city of Ibiza on July 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JAIME REINA        (Photo credit should read JAIME REINA/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo JAIME REINA/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, Free Pride Glasgow – which was set up as an “anti-commercialist” alternative to the main Pride Glasgow event – made the controversial decision to ban drag performances ahead of the event next month, claiming that despite drag being a uniquely celebrated part of most Prides, drag performers would not be welcome to perform at Free Pride. It has since said transgender drag artists can appear.

The lines between drag and transgender people haven’t always been solid. There are trans drag performers, of course, but also plenty of people blurring the lines between gender, identity, presentation and performance.

Many drag artists and performers have gone on to play key roles in the LGBT rights, most famously, of course, at the Stonewall riots in New York.

The riots were in reaction to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, and widely credited with helping to kick off the gay rights movement.

Folk history says the riots were started by drag queen Marsha P Johnson who yelled “I’ve got my civil rights!” and threw a shot glass into a mirror  – “the shot glass heard around the world” as it came to be known.

Whether this exact story is true or not, it’s certainly true that she was there on the first night, and a key figure in the initial riots and the activism that came later.

Drag queen singer Conchita Wurst of Austria leaves the Shibuya ward office in Tokyo on July 9, 2015, after he met with Shibuya ward chief Ken Hasebe. Shibuya ward decided to issue "partnership" certificates to gay couples this March since gay couples often have difficulty renting apartments and are stopped by hospitals from visiting loved ones because they do not have officially recognised family relationships.  AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO        (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo – YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

Her fellow drag queen and friend, Sylvia Rivera, often faced an uphill battle to be accepted within the LGBT community and among activists. She did amazing work to provide for homeless LGBT youth, and raise the voices of gender nonconforming people.

Mainstream gay activists saw such work as a threat to the image of gay and lesbian people being “just like you”. She often faced opposition from those who thought gender diverse people, homeless people, people of colour, would ruin the image of LGBT activism.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a drag group originally from San Francisco, but with chapters worldwide, who campaign fundraise for LGBT causes, particularly sexual health and HIV prevention.

Their religious habits have caused controversy, not least from the Catholic Church, but there’s no doubt their methods have been effective.

Their mission statement says they are “devoted … to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.

“We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humour and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 01:  Grayson Perry attends the announcement of the winner of the UK's largest arts prize - the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year, presented by Ben Okri at Tate Modern on July 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for The Art Fund)(Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for The Art Fund)

In the famous Castro gay district of San Francisco, they campaigned against anti-gay violence, giving out leaflets to inform people of safe areas and whistles to alert people in case of trouble.

Drag performance, drag queens and kings, and drag houses have been a part of LGBT activism, entertainment and the community from the very beginning. Attempts to erase and deny that should be fought against.

More: drag, Free Pride Glasgow, naith, Pride

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