DRAG as an art form may be one of the LGBTI community’s greatest quirks, but also one of its least understood.
However, sadly there are still many within our community that perhaps do not respect drag. They may not understand what it is, why people do it, or even recognise the important role that drag queens have played throughout gay history. These people may even express their contempt quite openly.
While TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have done much to popularise and revolutionise the world of drag — some might say even normalising it to a degree — there is still so much history surrounding contemporary drag that remains tucked away.
Like the history surrounding the very first Mardi Gras back in 1978, known then as the Day of International Gay Solidarity, or even the sad history of the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 80s, the history of drag and the role it has played in getting us as a community to where we are today, being on the brink of legalising same-sex marriage and being able to openly express our love for one another, is a story that many — especially younger generations — simply do not know.
Of course, this lack of knowledge is not these individuals’ fault. Most stories relating to the history of different cultures are passed down through generations, read through books, taught in school rooms, or held in museums (which, if you are reading Clover Moore, is why it is important that we have a museum dedicated to the history of our community). However, the gay community has mostly been exempt from such records.
You might not know that it was drag queens, lesbians and trans* people who were on the front lines of the Stonewall Riots, an event which sparked the gay liberation movement which soon spanned the globe.
In fact, it was Sylvia Rivera, a 17-year-old bisexual trans* woman (who at the time was referred to as being a drag queen) who is believed to have been one of the first to throw a molotov cocktail at the police.
It’s almost impossible to imagine what our lives would be like today if it weren’t for that single rebellious act towards the swarms of police officers on that one night in New York City.
Editor’s Note: This article has been amended to reflect the differing views on the role played by Sylvia Rivera during the Stonewall Riots as well as how she and others identified her before the coining of the term transgendered.