Political Notebook: 16 seek SF drag laureate post

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday February 24, 2023
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San Francisco Mayor London Breed, at left, is expected to select the city's inaugural drag laureate this spring. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br><br>
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, at left, is expected to select the city's inaugural drag laureate this spring. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Sixteen applicants are seeking to become San Francisco's inaugural drag laureate. City Hall officials expect the person to be announced this spring, well ahead of Pride Month in June.

The deadline to apply was last Thursday, February 16. It had been extended by a month in order to give people more time to apply, which included filling out a questionnaire as well as submitting a video recording.

"I think it was a good idea. It gave people a chance to get any questions answered that they may have had and gave people more time to fill out their applications. There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered," said Sister Roma, a member of the drag philanthropic group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who is on the selection committee for the drag laureate position.

The committee members were to meet Wednesday evening to begin the process of discussing the applicants and choosing upward of five individuals to recommend to Mayor London Breed. She will ultimately select the person for the position.

"She will have some time to think about it and look over the applications as well. I think we are at least a month out from any announcement," said Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, a gay man who advises Breed on LGBTQ policies. "I think we will have the person in place well before Pride so they can be part of the various events and whatnot."

The drag laureate will serve for 18 months and receive an honorarium of $55,000 to help cover the costs of performing their duties. Among the requirements for applicants was that they reside full-time in San Francisco and are at least 21 years old.

The city is not disclosing the names of the people who applied and are now under consideration. Ruiz-Cornejo did tell the Bay Area Reporter this week that he believed the city was able to attract "some good candidates" to choose from for the post.

"I think it is going to be a tough choice for Mayor Breed and our committee," he predicted.

Roma had encouraged people to apply in a guest opinion piece for the B.A.R. in early February. She said she has been impressed, so far, with the applications she has reviewed, and is hopeful of being able to introduce the drag laureate on the main stage of the Sister's annual Easter celebration this year, set to take place Sunday, April 9.

"I am looking for someone with experience and somebody with an appreciation for the history of our rich drag culture," said Roma, "but also someone forward thinking and looking to the future of drag. Someone who has done a lot of philanthropy, activism and fundraising with their platform as a drag performer will also be something I will consider."

The position is being modeled after the city's poet laureates, who have served between two to four years in the position. Breed secured the funding for the drag laureate in her budget proposal last year, and it is being administered via the city library since it also oversees the poet laureate program.

San Francisco was the second city in California to initiate having an official drag ambassador. In 2020, West Hollywood was the first known city anywhere in the world to approve the creation of a drag laureate.

Leaders in the Southern California city continue to tinker with the parameters for their position. New York City officials have also suggested creating their own drag laureate post.

As the B.A.R. has previously noted, the concept of having an ambassador for the local drag community was first proposed in the draft version of San Francisco's groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy released in 2018. It was reading about the drag laureate suggestion in the B.A.R. that led gay West Hollywood resident Scott Schmidt to first bring it to the attention of his city council representative.

City leaders in all three jurisdictions see it as a way to boost local nightlife venues and drag performers whose revenues have been impacted by the COVID pandemic over the last three years. San Francisco's drag laureate will be expected to participate in and host community events while serving as an ambassador for the city's LGBTQ, arts, nightlife, and entertainment communities.

The post is also being created at a time when Republican lawmakers in states across the country are banning drag events from being held at public venues and criticizing parents for taking their children to drag brunches or drag story hours at bookstores and public libraries.

"I am just so glad we are doing this as we've seen the drag bans popping up across the country. It is just important for people to know that drag and trans and queer people have always been here," said Roma. "We aren't going anywhere. We certainly aren't going to allow that fascist homophobia and transphobia to take root here in San Francisco."

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, February 27.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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