West Hollywood council backs drag laureate position

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 19, 2020
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Rainbow crosswalks grace part of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, which is soon expected to have an official drag laureate. Photo: Courtesy Discover Los Angeles
Rainbow crosswalks grace part of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, which is soon expected to have an official drag laureate. Photo: Courtesy Discover Los Angeles

The West Hollywood City Council has instructed staff for the Southern California LGBTQ enclave to present it with a plan for creating the first drag laureate position in the country. The person could be named as soon as early next year.

At its October 19 meeting, the council unanimously voted to move forward with becoming the first city to appoint an ambassador for the local drag community. There was no discussion, as the item was included on the council's consent calendar that was adopted by an unanimous 5-0 vote.

But in his comments at the start of the meeting, gay City Councilman John D'Amico voiced his support for the idea.

"Again we know how to invent the world and we are doing it again," he said.

Gay City Councilman John Duran, who is seeking reelection this November, and Councilwoman Lauren Meister co-sponsored the idea. They learned about the idea from a gay constituent, Scott Schmidt, who had read about it in the Bay Area Reporter.

As the B.A.R. reported in August, establishing a citywide ambassador of drag similar to a poet laureate is among the nearly 50 suggestions included in San Francisco's groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy. The document, a draft version of which was first released in 2018, aims to provide city leaders myriad ideas for preserving and strengthening San Francisco's LGBTQ community.

But it has yet to be finalized or presented to the planning commission or Board of Supervisors. Although city staff had told the B.A.R. last year that the supervisors would need to vote on the document in order for it to become official, a planning spokeswoman recently told the B.A.R. a final version of the strategy merely needs to be published and the department is awaiting guidance on its next step.

Thus, West Hollywood is poised to beat San Francisco in establishing the nation's first drag laureate.

"Let's get to work on it quickly so we can be first in the nation," Meister said during her comments at the start of the meeting.

In phone interviews earlier this month, Duran and Meister both told the B.A.R. they envision the person serving not only as an ambassador to West Hollywood businesses, particularly those located in the city's historic LGBT district, but also as a promoter of the local arts and cultural scene.

Now that the five-member council officially voted in support of the idea, city staff must define the scope of the program, create guidelines for the position, and outline a selection process that the council members would need to adopt. Advice will be sought from both the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce on how such a position could assist their members.

Duran told the B.A.R. there likely would be some cost, less than $10,000 he estimated, to hold a competition to crown a drag laureate. Whether the city or a civic group would pay for it, or share in the costs, is something the city staff will address when they return to the council with the plan for launching the program.

One thing both council members were certain of is that the city council should not be the one to determine who is selected as the drag laureate. They both told the B.A.R. it should be done by a selection committee comprised of community members.

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