San Francisco citywide drag event organizers apologize to performers whose Israel protest led to an altercation

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 13, 2023
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San Francisco citywide drag event organizers apologize to performers whose Israel protest led to an altercation

Three drag artists who helped organize pop-up performances around San Francisco as part of SF is a Drag earlier this month apologized December 13 for a lack of security after a performer was met with aggression after they protested in support of Palestinians on a street corner in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

Overseeing the citywide event was D'Arcy Drollinger, the city's drag laureate, along with drag queens Honey Mahogany and Juanita MORE! The Civic Joy Fund provided stipends to the 100 drag performers who fanned out across the city December 2-3.

The incident that prompted the apology occurred at Haight and Cole streets at 1 p.m. December 3, Civic Joy Fund spokesperson Alexandra Liss confirmed to the Bay Area Reporter.

A video shows King Lotus Boy and a small group chanting "From the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, Palestine will be free."

The slogan has been used at recent protests against Israel. On October 7, Hamas terrorists went into Israel and killed 1,200 people in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Israel responded with an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas, and a ground invasion, which has led to the deaths of over 16,000 Palestinians, according to reports.

The statement from the Drollinger, Mahogany, and MORE! reads, "On Sunday, December 3rd, one of the participating performers, King Lotus Boy, exercised their right to protest and were joined by additional protesters, including Harddeep. We were deeply troubled to hear that they were confronted by an individual who responded to their protest with aggression, racist remarks, and a threat to their safety. This is unacceptable and we strongly condemn the assailant's actions."

The statement continued, "The lack of on-site security and our reliance on volunteers who were untrained in de-escalation for this type of situation was a significant oversight."

"We take full responsibility for the performer and volunteer interaction, and we offer our sincerest apologies for not adequately addressing this at the time and with our initial statement. We are incredibly sorry to King Lotus Boy and their supporters, especially Harddeep, who went through this and the distress it has caused our community," the trio added. "This incident was a point of failure — one we won't let go to waste, but rather will serve as a lesson for future events."

Each performer was paid $1,000 for two performances over the weekend that consisted of two to three songs each, including King Lotus Boy, Liss stated.

King Lotus Boy did not immediately return a request for comment via Instagram message; Harddeep could not be reached for comment.

Drollinger, Mahogany, and MORE! stated that political speech is integral to drag.

"Drag is inextricably political, subversive, and historically tied to queer liberation," they stated. "Trans, GNC, and BIPOC individuals are the bedrock of our community and central to our queer freedom. We take seriously our mutual responsibility to protect and uplift this community and respond appropriately and compassionately to its needs. We hear you and are committed to doing better in the future with open ears and open hearts."

The three also stated that they personally support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza "and we fully acknowledge that the freedom, sovereignty, and safety of the Palestinian people is directly connected to ours and to humanity as a whole."

The statement came a week and a half after SF is a Drag brought 100 drag kings and queens out to the streets of the city for pop-up performances, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

SF is a Drag was paid for by the Civic Joy Fund, which was launched by Manny Yekutiel, a gay man who is proprietor of Manny's Cafe in the Mission, and Daniel Lurie, an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune who is running for mayor in next year's election. Last week the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Yekutiel is considering a mayoral run and will decide by January 1.

Yekutiel was in Israel during the Hamas attack on October 7, as the B.A.R. reported at the time.

Civic Joy Fund responds

Yekutiel referred the B.A.R. to Liss, who stated that Civic Joy Fund is "an independent, apolitical nonprofit initiative collaborating with local artists, musicians, small businesses, volunteers and community leaders."

Liss stated that SF is a Drag is the seventh project the fund worked on. A past project was the Castro Halloween revival, which the B.A.R. also reported on.

The event was "an idea that came about in order to lift the spirits of the city while supporting local drag performers who make San Francisco great," Liss stated. "Over the course of two days we saw 400 performances on 50 street corners in 10 neighborhoods spreading drag to thousands of San Franciscans."

Liss then went into the events of December 3.

"During the second day of the event, a performer and their colleagues exercised their right to protest, which was not only fully supported by event organizers but is also in line with the history of drag," Liss stated. "We were notified in the midst of the event that they faced intense aggression from an offended passerby and they felt unsafe and unprotected. We're deeply sorry that this happened, sorry to the performers involved, and sorry to those who witnessed the aggression both in person and online."

Liss stated that Civic Joy Fund opposes "all forms of violence, whether it be verbal or physical or otherwise."

"We and Oasis Arts are responsible for mitigating any oversights during the event and are actively debriefing on what we could have done better, including improved communication with our volunteers, providing on site security for all performers, and de-escalation training for all involved," she stated.

Oasis Arts is a nonprofit that Drollinger operates and provides artist in residence programs. It partners with the LGBTQ Oasis nightclub that Drollinger owns.

"We are learning from this incident and promise to ensure far enhanced safety measures in the future. We stand in solidarity with Oasis Arts, D'Arcy Drollinger, Honey Mahogany & Juanita MORE! and their calls for an end to violence and liberation," Liss added.

The B.A.R. reached out to Drollinger, Mahogany, and MORE! to ask if they had anything further to state. Drollinger and Mahogany did not respond; MORE! referred to the prior statement.

A video shows a drag artist, second from right, chanting "From the river to the sea" at the corner of Haight and Cole streets during the SF is a Drag event December 3.

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