SF drag artist Joan Jett Blakk needs help after suffering stroke

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday May 24, 2024
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San Francisco drag artist Joan Jett Blakk, seen here in the short film "Beauty President," recently suffered a stroke. Friends are seeking to raise money to help with her care. Photo: From "Beauty President"
San Francisco drag artist Joan Jett Blakk, seen here in the short film "Beauty President," recently suffered a stroke. Friends are seeking to raise money to help with her care. Photo: From "Beauty President"

Joan Jett Blakk, a San Francisco drag performer who became famous for running for president of the United States in 1992, is in Oakland's Highland Hospital after suffering a stroke, according to two friends who spoke with the Bay Area Reporter. They are seeking help from the community to cover her medical bills.

The friends have launched a GoFundMe with a goal of $20,000 to help pay for Blakk's care. It has raised $2,530 as of press time May 24.

Blakk, the drag persona of Terence Alan Smith, 67, lives in San Francisco. Kokoe Johnson, who is intersex, gay, and president of Comfort and Joy — the queer community and arts collective — told the B.A.R. that Blakk has been at Highland since she "passed out at a bus stop in Alameda County" on April 25.

Blakk "started out in the ICU," said Johnson, who interchanged pronouns when talking about the drag artist. "He is definitely there but he's not a full communicator yet." It is not known how long Blakk will remain hospitalized.

Johnson said that while in the hospital, Blakk has been spending time listening to music she's familiar with. She's receiving physical, occupational, and respiratory therapy, Johnson added. Johnson, who uses he/she pronouns, said he/she wasn't aware of the matter until Blakk didn't show up at last weekend's Oaklash queer and drag festival in Oakland.

"I was supposed to meet her for Oaklash but couldn't find her anywhere," Johnson recalled. "I reached out to her biographer, who connected me to her sister in Detroit, who told me. As far as I know, I was among the first visitors."

Now, Johnson is coordinating Blakk's care. The two met in Chicago, where Blakk moved from Detroit, 37 years ago. It was in Chicago that Blakk began her political career, running against then-mayor Richard M. Daley in 1991.

The following year, Blakk ran for president under the Queer Nation Party as a write-in candidate. A 2021 Los Angeles Times short film, "Beauty President," shows Blakk on the floor of the Democratic National Convention that year in New York City.

Blakk subsequently moved to San Francisco and joined the group Pomo Afro Homos.

Blakk ran again four years later with the slogan "Lick Slick Willie in '96!" This was a reference to then-President Bill Clinton. Blakk's candidacies are credited with drawing attention to LGBTQ issues, particularly the AIDS epidemic.

Terence Alan Smith, aka Joan Jett Blakk, recently suffered a stroke. Photo: From Facebook  

"Our thing was visibility," Blakk said in the film. "We were still being beaten up, we were dying of AIDS, we were being denied jobs and housing. The more visible we made ourselves, the less that happened."

James Wagner, who identifies as gay, nonbinary, and queer, is another friend of Blakk's.

"Joan is a legend and she was before 'RuPaul's Drag Race,'" Wagner said, referring to the popular reality TV competition. "She was out there as a Black, queer drag queen leading."

Johnson said that Blakk may be up to seeing visitors, but that people should contact him/her in advance. Wagner and Johnson told the B.A.R. that questions can be directed to [email protected]

Johnson stated Blakk "needs visitors" but they need to be mindful of her condition.

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