Among the more interesting line items in Mayor London Breed’s $14 billion proposed city budget announced this week is a $35,000 stipend for the honor of being San Francisco’s first-ever drag laureate.
The program is modeled after the city’s poet laureate program and will work under the umbrella of the San Francisco Public Library, which oversees the city’s poet laureate program. Official details of the drag laureate’s duties are TBA, but city agencies, including the Human Rights Commission, the library, Entertainment Commission and Arts Commission, will come together to establish a working group to create criteria and eligibility requirements for the role, with the goal of naming the city’s inaugural drag laureate sometime this fall. San Francisco is the second city in California to initiate such a program, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
And like RuPaul’s Drag Race, the competition could be fierce! San Francisco is home to a glut of top drag talent, according to local drag performer Jubilee (aka writer Joe Wadlington).
“We're, like, possibly the top city in the world,” says Wadlington. “This is where you come to do interesting drag.”
From powerhouse performers who light up the stage to artists who combine their work with activism, San Francisco and the Bay Area at large boasts an array of drag performers who could take on the mayor’s new honor and put their singular stamp on it. (Criteria for the laureate crown are still being hammered out, but contenders must at least do work or perform in the city, we’re told.)
It was tough to whittle down this list—and because of San Francisco’s sky-high rents, the city may need to look to Bay Area communities outside of the 415—but here are seven drag performers who we think could wear the crown.
Currently the reigning Empress of the Imperial Council of San Francisco, an esteemed LGBTQ+ nonprofit, Juanita More! has been a venerated activist force and champion of San Francisco drag for decades.
“She is kind of the end and the beginning of drag activism in the city,” said Wadlington.
More! has used her glamor to campaign for queer candidates and mobilize for LGBTQ+ causes, fundraising more than $1 million for local LGBTQ+ charities, according to her website. She’s also nurtured two generations of San Francisco drag performers as a drag mother—or mentor—of the House of More! Some of her proteges include Los Angeles drag icon Phyllis Navidad and SF-based drag queen Dulce De Leche. She is also considered the “drag aunt” of another contender on this list, Nicki Jizz.
A Best of the Bay award winner and the creator of the award-winning all-Black drag show, Reparations, Nicki Jizz is a trailblazer in queer nightlife and drag. The show, which began as an online streaming revue in response to the murders of George Floyd and and Breonna Taylor, morphed into a cultural statement piece during the pandemic and later became an IRL show at Oasis. Jizz’s Reparations not only centers Black artists, it urges audiences and allies to put their money where there mouth is with ticket prices that openly redistribute wealth with discounted tickets for Black attendees. A portion of a full price ticket covers admission for a someone who is Black and trans to enjoy the show for free. The next edition of Reparations is June 10 at Oasis.
While Mahogany may be busy heading into a race for District 6 Supervisor against incumbent mayoral appointee Matt Dorsey, her stint on RuPaul’s Drag Race definitely makes her a contender for the drag laureate role. Since appearing on season 5 of the reality competition show, she’s been active in local politics, serving as the chair of the San Francisco’s local Democratic Party—the first Black and trans person to do so—and an aide to previous D6 Supervisor Matt Haney.
While we won’t know who wins District 6 until November—Mahogany would be the first openly transgender supervisor if she claims the seat—she could easily step into the role of drag laureate should that other opportunity not pan out.
Born in the United Kingdom, this local drag queen has brought glory to the San Francisco drag scene as the runner-up of the 14th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her balletic moves dazzled Drag Race audiences, and we anticipate that she’d bring that same elegant sparkle to SF’s drag laureate role.
Peaches Christ may be among the most cinematic and theatrical drag artists in our roundup. Known for her live movie events that frequently pack the Castro Theatre and leading the Midnight Mass cinema series, Peaches Christ has made a name for herself with elaborate productions, such as the Terror Vault and parody shows, like Drag Becomes Her. Peaches’ alter ego, Joshua Grannell wrote and directed the cult horror film All About Evil starring Natasha Lyonne.
Sister Roma is probably one of the more recognizable faces of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an SF-based order of activist “nuns” dedicated to spreading “universal joy” and expelling “stigmatic guilt” worldwide by advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and causes. During her decades of service, Roma has fought against the HIV/AIDS epidemic as an educator and activist and raised over $1 million for the LGBTQ+ community globally. She even went toe-to-toe with Facebook over the social media platform’s “real” name policy by creating the #MyNameIs protest campaign.
Named Best Drag King of the Bay in 2021, Jota Mercury (formerly known as Jay Mercury) “uses drag to challenge machismo as we know it,” according to Mercury’s website. The alter ego of Oakland-based burlesque dancer Emjay Mercury (also known as Rebecca Salas), Jota Mercury is not only creating space for Latinx representation in the Bay Area drag scene, Mercury isalso deconstructing Latino masculinity and taking it into a new creative space through their “mid-century Mexican folk singer” act, Wadlington explains.
D’Arcy Drollinger may just be the hardest working drag artist in town. An actor, writer, director, choreographer and producer, Drollinger took over as sole owner of popular drag show venue and nightspot Oasis in 2020 and has been part of the popular Golden Girls Live parody drag show since 2015. During the pandemic, Drollinger wrapped postproduction on the film Shit and Champagne, a comedy celebrating the sexploitation flicks of the ’70s.
Given the array of drag talent in the Bay Area, compiling a truly comprehensive list of contenders would be next to impossible. But here are a few additional drag artists who may not be as well known but could also be up for consideration.
Described as “a hippie, barefoot-on-the beach performer” by Wadlington, Syzygy hosts Golden Hour, “a seaside sunset drag show,” on the nude part of Baker Beach.
“They've done shows on the naked end of Baker Beach, where performers are naked, which is super interesting to think like, ‘How can you do drag with no clothes on?’” muses Wadlington. “Obviously not for everyone, but artistically very interesting. … Syzygy has a real focus on the environment and on the natural world and bringing drag outside.”
A runner-up for Best of the Bay’s Best Drag King and two-time San Francisco Drag King, Wadlington says that the performer has “birthed many performers in the Bay Area” and made the Bay Area a fertile ground for drag king artists to nurture and showcase their craft. “A lot of performers thank Madd-Dogg for that,” says Wadlington.
Expect “high drag” from Polly Amber Ross. “There's going to be a bustle, there's going to be a train,” Wadlington said. “You're going to get headpieces, mink stoles, very Midsummer Night's Dream, Elizabethan.”
Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]