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Drag queen competes for SF Carnaval title

by Matthew S. Bajko

San Francisco drag queen Garza will compete for a Carnaval royalty title Saturday. Photo: Never Navarro
San Francisco drag queen Garza will compete for a Carnaval royalty title Saturday. Photo: Never Navarro  

A Peruvian drag queen who works for the city's health department is among those competing to be crowned the first Drag Majesty titleholder for Carnaval San Francisco 2018.

This year marks the event's 40th anniversary. As part of the celebration, Carnaval organizers for the first time added the Drag Majesty title and the gender-neutral title Royale to the event's Royalty Court.

Transgender actor Jaylyn Abergas, currently appearing in the Tenderloin Museum's show, "The Compton's Cafeteria Riot," will serve as the inaugural Carnaval Royale ambassador.

The competition to crown this year's Carnaval King, Queen, and Drag Majesty ambassadors will take place Saturday night. The winners will join Abergas in leading the televised 40th annual Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade through the city's Mission district Sunday, May 27.

Maria Jose Garza, 55, a transgender woman who performs in drag as Garza, is one of the three contestants vying for the Drag Majesty crown. Born in Lima, Peru, and raised on a sugar plantation in Paramonga four hours north of the capital city, Garza was a ballet dancer in her home country.

About 25 years ago she began performing in drag at various gay clubs and bars around Lima. Her drag name is a nickname she was given derived from garza blanca, the Spanish name for the great egret, an all-white heron with long legs found in Florida.

"I wasn't a swan but I was an egret," Garza explained in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

Due to the homophobia and violent threats she faced in Peru, Garza sought refugee status in the U.S. and moved to San Francisco. In 2003, she was crowned Miss Gay Latina, the first of several drag titles she has won over the years.

Since 2005 Garza has worked on various HIV initiatives for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. She is currently with its Bridge HIV section and serves as a recruiter for its HIV vaccine trials and HIV prevention studies.

She launched The House of Garza to promote other Latin drag performers and used to host a monthly show in the Castro featuring its members. When she learned about the new drag and royale titles at Carnaval, Garza was thrilled to see the organizers celebrating the local LGBTQ Latin American community.

"Even here, there is still stigma and transphobia and homophobia in San Francisco. Maybe through our art and culture we can address it," said Garza, who will highlight her Incan ancestry during this weekend's title competition.

She recalled how four years ago a San Francisco police officer misgendered her when she was tabling on behalf of the health department at the Haight Ashbury Street Fair.

"I was doing my job, sharing info and condoms and lube. I was all dressed up, there was no doubt I was a girl. He said, 'No thank you, sir.' It was shocking because those people are trained to respect the residents of the city," recalled Garza. "We ran into that police officer again - I was with my co-workers - and I said, 'Excuse me, sir, I identify as a transgender woman. Don't use that term 'sir' with me.' He did apologize and shake my hand. It was good for me to say it."

She is vying to be crowned Carnaval's first Drag Majesty ambassador in order to bring more visibility to the Bay Area's Latin American LGBT community. Her competitors for the title are Latina drag queens Fortuna Vivanco and Mama Dora.

Should she claim the crown, Garza will experience a royal introduction to the city's Carnaval festivities, which are held each year during Memorial Day weekend. Due to work or other obligations, Garza said she has never been able to participate.

"I am very excited. I want to bring more attention to our community in the Bay Area," she said. "It would be an honor being part of such a wonderful celebration of the rhythm, colors, and flavors of our Latin American countries."

The Royalty Competition will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at Mission High School's auditorium, 3750 18th Street in San Francisco. Advance tickets cost $21.95 for orchestra seating and $17 for balcony, and increase to $25 orchestra and $20 balcony if purchased at the door.

To learn more about the competition, and purchase tickets online, visit http://www.carnavalsanfrancisco.org/kq.

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