Pickle relishes role as inaugural West Hollywood drag laureate

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 9, 2023
Share this Post:
Drag queen Pickle is the second drag laureate in California, having been chosen to represent West Hollywood. Photo: Courtesy Pickle
Drag queen Pickle is the second drag laureate in California, having been chosen to represent West Hollywood. Photo: Courtesy Pickle

She sings, has comedic chops, and is known for being a "powerhouse host" in the Los Angeles entertainment scene. Now Pickle can add another feather to her cap as West Hollywood's inaugural drag laureate.

After being recommended for the advocacy role by the city's arts commission in the spring, Pickle won unanimous approval in June from the West Hollywood City Council to serve as the LGBTQ enclave's ambassador for all things drag. She was formally installed Sunday, July 16, on International Drag Day.

"When the opportunity came up, it sounded like a natural fit for me," Pickle told the Bay Area Reporter during a recent interview at the West Hollywood location of local coffee chain Go Get Em Tiger. "I want to help drag artists spread their wings."

She has also used her drag to promote educational initiatives with children by hosting local drag story hours in West Hollywood and Los Angeles. Since 2017, Pickle has led her local chapter of the national Drag Story Hour organization and is creating a drag-based curriculum tied to the state's arts education standards so it can be used in schools.

"I find kids to be curious and open-minded, and the parents are so awesome," said Pickle when asked why she got involved in the drag story hours. "I meet a lot of queer parents from different socio-economic backgrounds who are looking for fun things to do with their children."

Speaking to the B.A.R. just over a week into being the drag laureate, Pickle had yet to determine much about her tenure other than knowing she wanted to host community meetings for drag artists who perform in West Hollywood to hear directly from them about the issues they are facing.

"I hope we can get on the same page and find some unity there. We are all very friendly mostly," said Pickle, 30, who attended Los Angeles' Hamilton High School Academy of Music before graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York with a B.A. in liberal arts. "It would be great to have a space where people could express their concerns and talk about the art form and how it is working in the city and maybe not working."

She told the B.A.R. she sees her role as one more focused on promoting tourism to the city than simply its nightlife.

"I have built a career of bringing drag out of nightlife, not that nightlife is bad. Traditionally, drag was done in bars because they were safe spaces. But they are not the best spaces for the art form to thrive," explained Pickle. "In West Hollywood, there are so many drag shows in the clubs and bars. It is great to see that come back and the commerce that brings and the tourism it brings coming back to West Hollywood. I hope to build on that."

Fellow Los Angeles-based drag queen Maebe A. Girl, who is vying for an open congressional seat next year that includes West Hollywood, called Pickle's selection for the role an inspired choice. She has known Pickle for eight years now, and the two have performed together at various events and venues.

"She's always been community driven," Maebe told the B.A.R. "She is a fantastic advocate for LGBTQIA issues."

Lesbian West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, who is seeking the same U.S. House seat as Maebe, called Pickle "wonderful" and "such a good soul." She told the B.A.R. she is confident that she and her fellow councilmembers made the right choice in confirming Pickle as the city's inaugural drag laureate.

"She is fantastic and she is going to be great in this position," said Shyne.

Following on heels of SF

As the B.A.R. has previously reported, having an ambassador for a city's local drag community was first proposed in San Francisco's groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy released in draft form in 2018. After reading a 2020 B.A.R. story about having a drag laureate position similar to a city's poet laureate, gay West Hollywood resident Scott Schmidt brought it to the attention of City Councilmember Lauren Meister.

Seeing it as a way to boost local nightlife venues and drag performers whose revenues were impacted by the COVID pandemic, Meister three years ago co-sponsored the resolution in support of establishing the position with former gay councilman John Duran, who lost his reelection bid on the 2020 November ballot.

"West Hollywood has been one of the centers of drag culture for decades," noted Meister. "Drag performers are often a thrilling attraction at many of our restaurants and bars, and West Hollywood's drag performers take center stage in a wide range of our city's arts and culture events."

Having been the first known city to approve the creation of a drag laureate, West Hollywood was expected to name the person last fall. But its selection process was delayed as city officials retooled their position and sought more funding for it.

It gave an opening to San Francisco officials to become the first ones to install a drag laureate, after Mayor London Breed included funding for it in the city's budget last year. A community selection committee submitted several names to her earlier this year, and Breed announced in May that Oasis nightclub owner D'Arcy Drollinger would be the first-ever drag laureate of a municipality anywhere in the world, beating West Hollywood officials by several weeks.

New York City officials have also suggested creating their own drag laureate post. And the B.A.R. has learned that gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria has also been approached by LGBTQ advocates about establishing such a position for his Southern California city.

West Hollywood is providing its drag laureate an annual honorarium of $15,000 for appearances and a yearly event they will be expected to host during their two-year tenure. Pickle will serve in the post through June 30, 2025.

She told the B.A.R. she doesn't know Drollinger, who is receiving a $55,000 honorarium to help cover the costs of performing her drag laureate duties through the end of 2024. Pickle did reach out to her Northern California counterpart after becoming the world's second drag laureate.

"Hopefully, we can work together at some point," said Pickle.

Drag queen Pickle meets the Teletubbies at RuPaul's Drag Con 2023. Photo: Courtesy Pickle  

More than boosting nightlife
Initially, the post was viewed as a way to help promote local nightlife venues and drag performers, especially after surviving the COVID pandemic. But it has taken on greater importance due to the legislative attacks against drag performers and venues that host drag shows being led by Republican lawmakers in states across the country.

"This year, we've witnessed conservative attacks on drag performers by those who seek to ban culture and expression. Plain and simple, this is a proxy for homophobia and such 'drag bans' attack LGBTQ people," stated Meister. "I'm thrilled that West Hollywood's Drag Laureate program will raise awareness about drag culture and I'm overjoyed to welcome Pickle as our inaugural drag laureate."

While "devastated" by the legislative assaults, Pickle told the B.A.R. she is "generally an optimistic person" and believes lower court rulings that have deemed the anti-drag laws unconstitutional will be upheld on appeal.

"I feel for the people on the ground affected by this legislation, especially transgender people who should be represented by their legislators," said Pickle, adding that the protests by the LGBTQ community against the laws "represents queer people coming into the light and refusing to go back into the shadows ... the queer community is not backing down. This legislation won't hold up in court. I don't see a longevity to it."

Since she began performing in drag professionally eight years ago, Pickle has not only promoted drag as being a career but also as an art form. A Los Angeles native who is a gay man out of drag, Pickle asked that the B.A.R. not use her "government name" due to the increase in online trolling she has received of late as a drag queen story hour organizer.

Her first time dressing up in drag came in high school, when she was cast in the comedy "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." But her debut as a drag performer happened during her senior year of college.

"I would organize drag shows on campus. I got into some really busted drag and just experimented," recalled Pickle, whose drag name would come later and pays homage to a drag performer that she admires, Hedda Lettuce. "It's funny, I don't incorporate pickles into my act."

As for why she refers to herself as a single gherkin, Pickle noted that the plural version of her name is already taken by the Rugrats cartoon character Thomas Malcolm "Tommy" Pickles. Besides, the singularity of her name is better, she told the B.A.R.

"There is only me. It is just me as Pickle," she said.

Pickle has appeared on several television shows, such as NBC's "The Weakest Link," the Discovery Channel's "Dodgeball Thunderdome," and Tyler Perry's "Sistas." As for her live acts, she is known for performing and singing while accompanied by a nine-piece band.

As she notes in her bio, Pickle incorporates new technologies into her drag, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Of the latter, she has been using it as a de facto personal assistant though didn't want too many specifics disclosed by the B.A.R.

"In drag, the biggest thing is to take your drag seriously but don't take yourself too seriously. Take what you do seriously," advised Pickle.

For more information about Pickle, visit www.pickledragqueen.com.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.