Drag performers launch 2020 get out the vote effort

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday August 6, 2020
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San Francisco drag performer Nitrix Oxide is part of the national Drag Out the Vote initiative. Photo: Courtesy Nitrix Oxide
San Francisco drag performer Nitrix Oxide is part of the national Drag Out the Vote initiative. Photo: Courtesy Nitrix Oxide

Two San Francisco drag performers have joined an effort to promote participation in the fall elections, where control of the White House and U.S. Senate are up for grabs and countless local elections will be taking place across the country.

Wednesday the California Secretary of State's office became the first to forge a partnership with Drag Out the Vote. The statewide office will work with the group's Drag Ambassador Program to disseminate accurate and timely election information. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, state leaders are planning for most voters to send in their ballots by mail rather than show up at polling stations.

"Every eligible voter should have the ability to cast a ballot free of barriers, and the LGBTQ+ community is no different," stated Secretary of State Alex Padilla. "As the November 3, 2020, General Election approaches, it is more important than ever to make sure that people from all walks of life are able to register to vote and cast their ballot safely by Election Day."

Drag Out The Vote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is signing up drag performers and activists from across the country to utilize their social media and online platforms to promote voter education, voter registration, and voter activation locally and nationally. Not only targeted at LGBTQ people, the effort is also aiming to connect with young adults age 18 and older who may not be registered to vote yet.

In announcing the partnership with Padilla, Drag Out the Vote founder and Executive Director Jackie Huba stated the group "through our own actions including our Drag Ambassador Program, will endeavor to use the art and activism of drag to increase awareness surrounding his efforts, especially in the LGBTQ+ and Queer People of Color communities. We are proud that he is the first secretary to partner with us, especially given that he represents the largest state in the country."

Among the 28 ambassadors already signed up are San Francisco-based drag performers Casi and Nitrix Oxide, who also happen to be good friends. According to the website for the group, they are the only ones from California so far to serve in the position.

"It is not only important for people to vote in big elections like this year's with the presidential election, people should still want to vote locally," said Nitrix Oxide, 28, the alter ego of Jordan Nickels, referring to elections held in odd-numbered years when there aren't any federal races. "One in five LGBTQ people are not even registered."

The nonbinary drag performer first learned of Drag Out the Vote while attending RuPaul's DragCon in Los Angeles in 2018. They taped a video that year and did another video last year after running into the group at the Austin International Drag Festival in Texas.

"This year they started the ambassador program and they asked me to sign up for it since I had done videos for them before," said Oxide.

They are unsure when their first video this year will be released. When it does, Oxide plans to post it on their Facebook and Instagram pages. They also just signed up on the video-sharing app TikTok and are likely to also post their get out the vote messages on it, though they said don't expect to see them share any dance videos there.

"People should check their voter registration information to make sure they are signed up, especially if they have moved," said Oxide, who said they have voted in every election, including primaries, since becoming of voting age. "I hope to encourage people in the LGBTQ community to vote, definitely this month with a lot of primaries coming up in the country."

HRC's get out the vote efforts
According to new research from the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBTQ rights organization, and HIT Strategies, which surveyed more than 800 non-white voters from across the U.S., including Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, and Georgia about this year's election, 34% said they were hopeful. But 14% said they were anxious, while discouraged and nervous both received 13%.

The survey, which included 200 LGBTQ people of color, was conducted from June 29 to July 10 and has a margin of error of +/- 4%. According to the findings, 29% of POC LGBTQ voters said they were hopeful about the upcoming election, while 13% answered they were anxious.

Nine percent of the LGBTQ POC voters were registered Republicans, 71% were Democrats, and 20% were independents. Of all the survey participants, 59% were Democrats, 17% were GOPers, and 25% were independents.

Among all the POC voters, 76% said they believe the coronavirus will influence the November election, with many saying they wanted safer alternatives to voting in person.

The survey report noted the health crisis "is the dominating context of this election cycle and must be considered when developing" messages about voting by mail. While many non-white voters in focus groups have told the researchers they find is easier to vote in person, the survey found that 48% say they are likely to vote by mail, with 59% of the 200 Asian American/Pacific Islander voters stating that voting by mail is their current voting preference.

Nearly 70% of POC voters said they would either vote in person early or by mail this year. If there is still no cure or vaccine for coronavirus by November, then 79% of POC LGBTQ voters said they are more likely to vote by mail, with 75% of all POC voters, including 76% of the survey's 200 Black voters, also planning to mail in their ballots.

"Voters across the country this fall will be facing unprecedented challenges in how to safely make their voices heard in the pivotal election ahead," stated Human Rights Campaign Foundation President Alphonso David. "As these results show, voters are hopeful, resilient and ready to cast their votes this November - from the ballot box to the mailbox."

HRC partnered with other major advocacy groups, including the Latino Victory Foundation, the NAACP, UnidosUS, and Woke Vote, on the survey. More voter research is being conducted with additional survey information to be released ahead of the November 3 election.

"This year's general election will present some unique obstacles. Our findings show how we can work to prepare and rise to this historic moment, and voting by mail is an important tool in doing so," stated UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murgu´┐Ża. "The Latino vote will be a decisive factor in the electoral equation and we at UnidosUS, along with our sister organizations, are committed to making sure Latinos and all communities have the information and tools needed to make their voices heard in November."

President Donald Trump has repeatedly called into question the safety of voting by mail without providing any evidence that such a balloting method is insecure. In recent days the Republican has criticized the ability of Democratic governors to conduct a safe election via vote by mail while praising GOP governors' handling of the method, such as in the important swing state of Florida led by a Republican governor. (It also happens to be where Trump now lists his legal residence for voter registration and from where he has voted by mail in past elections.)

His Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, has assailed Trump for his "bald-faced lies" about voting by mail. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation in June ordering a ballot for the November election to be mailed to every single registered voter in the state.

"California is moving in a swift, bipartisan manner to fortify our democracy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic," Padilla stated at the time. "Expanding vote-by-mail statewide is a necessity to protect our right to vote and our public health. Voting by mail has worked safely and securely in California for decades. Mailing every voter a ballot for this election is simply common sense."

While registered as a Democrat, Oxide declined to say whom they are supporting in this year's presidential race since Drag Out the Vote is nonpartisan. Even if young voters are unimpressed with the individuals running for office, issues like climate change and other environmental concerns should motivate them to vote, Oxide stressed, as the people elected oversee how the country addresses those issues.

"When you think of politics, there are so many other issues than who is going to sit in the chair," they said. "Things like the environment and marriage rights are going to be affecting them in the future."

Oxide encouraged other drag performers to get involved in the voter promotion effort.

"San Francisco has always been a political city. Any drag performer who has a platform or a stage with a microphone should use it," they said. "Drag is political. If you are a drag performer you are inherently political. You should get involved in some way."

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