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West Hollywood leaders release plans for drag laureate post

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West Hollywood city staff will present a proposal to the City Council August 2 for a drag laureate position. Photo: Courtesy Discover Los Angeles
West Hollywood city staff will present a proposal to the City Council August 2 for a drag laureate position. Photo: Courtesy Discover Los Angeles  

Nearly a year after the West Hollywood City Council approved the creation of a drag laureate, staff for the Southern California LGBTQ enclave have etched out a proposal for how to launch the position this November. It will be the first such representative for drag performers and LGBTQ nightlife issues established by a U.S. municipality.

San Francisco may become the second, as the idea is under discussion by City Hall officials and could be brought forward later this year. As the Bay Area Reporter has previously noted, the concept of having an ambassador for the local drag community was first proposed in the draft version of San Francisco's groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy released in 2018.

The final document, filled with myriad ideas for preserving and strengthening San Francisco's LGBTQ community, was published and given to the Board of Supervisors last August. It has yet to be officially presented to the supervisors due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After reading about the drag laureate suggestion in the B.A.R., gay West Hollywood resident Scott Schmidt brought it to the attention of City Councilwoman Lauren Meister. Seeing it as a way to boost local nightlife venues and drag performers whose revenues have been impacted by the health crisis, Meister co-sponsored a resolution in support of establishing the position with former gay councilman John Duran, who lost his reelection bid last November.

The council unanimously voted 5-0 October 19 in support of the idea and instructed city staff to hash out the details for how to select someone for the role. Staff will present their proposal to the council at its meeting Monday, August 2, where a suggestion from the city's Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board that $10,000 for the production of an extended social media campaign comprised of PSAs and photos will also be under consideration by the council.

Similar to West Hollywood's poet laureate program designed to act as a champion for poetry, language, and the arts, the drag laureate will be an honorary position tasked with attending various business and civic functions, participating in business mixers and events, and conducting one or more projects that bring awareness to drag culture, per the staff report.

"This honorary position would serve as an ambassador to West Hollywood businesses, especially the businesses in the city's historic LGBT district and promote arts and culture in West Hollywood," it states. "The Drag Laureate would serve to highlight and promote the contributions of drag artists to West Hollywood by acting as an ambassador to businesses in the city."

The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce both provided feedback to the city about the program. The person selected as the drag laureate would serve a two-year term from November 2021 to October 2023.

They would be expected to attend and participate in six West Hollywood business grand openings/ribbon cuttings, West Hollywood Chamber mixers or events to support West Hollywood local businesses. The person would also have to organize one yearly event to promote drag culture, such as a panel discussion or performance workshop.

What could prove to be the most controversial aspect of the proposal is that city staff wants to review all of the drag laureate's official programs — they would be required to perform at three city events during their reign — to ensure their "appropriateness prior to execution."

The staff proposal calls for a $5,000 honorarium each year for the drag laureate, which is $2,000 more per year than the poet laureate receives. The bump in the stipend is due to the increased scope of the drag laureate position, such as the required number of appearances and cost associated with hiring artists for their events.

Each year's honorarium would be parceled out in $1,250 increments based on benchmarks established in an agreement between the city and the person selected. The staff is also proposing that the city cover the facility costs, tech costs, and create promotional materials on behalf of the drag laureate's events.

Drag artists eligible to be considered need to show they have "a significant connection to the City of West Hollywood," per the staff report. They could either live or work in the city; volunteer regularly with a community program servicing the city; or have organized or participated in multiple events co-sponsored by and/or took place in West Hollywood.

Anyone fitting the requirements is welcome to apply for the position and will need to submit a three-minute video sample of their drag work. If the drag laureate program details are approved by the City Council next week then the window to apply will be from 8 a.m. August 30 to 6 p.m. September 30.

A nine-member selection committee would recommend one of the applicants to the City Council for approval at its November 1 meeting. It would be comprised of two city staffers; an arts and cultural affairs commissioner; one person each from the city's Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and its Transgender Advisory Board; representatives from both the city and the Los Angeles LGBT chambers; and two West Hollywood businesses owners.

The council's meeting Monday begins at 6 p.m. The full agenda with the staff report for the drag laureate position and information on how to virtually attend the meeting can be here.

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