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    Application Process Underway for San Francisco’s First-Ever Drag Laureate

    January 16, 2023, is an important date for drag artists in San Francisco, as it is the deadline for applications for the inaugural position of Drag Laureate of San Francisco. Both San Francisco and West Hollywood will be announcing their respective Drag Laureates early next year. Here in the Bay Area, the announcement of the forthcoming position was made jointly by the Office of Mayor London Breed, the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), and the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

    The selected individual “will lead the way for revolutionary new representation that uplifts and highlights the storied drag history of the City and County of San Francisco and the significant contributions of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and Two-Spirit + (LGBTQIA2S+) community,” according to the announcement.

    The inaugural Drag Laureate will receive an honorarium of $55,000 to carry out 18 months of service in the role.

    The SFPL and the HRC will administer the selection process. They will be collaborating with a vetting committee made up of various city agencies including the HRC, Library, Entertainment Commission, Arts Commission, Grants for the Arts (GFTA), Office of Transgender Initiatives, and the HRC LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee. There are also community partners involved, including individuals affiliated with or part of the Transgender District, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Castro Cultural District, Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits, Grand Ducal Council of San Francisco, Imperial Court of San Francisco, Drag Story Hour, Rebel Kings of Oakland, GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA), and more. 

    “San Francisco’s commitment to inclusivity and the arts are the foundation for who we are as a city,” said Mayor Breed. “Drag artists have helped pave the way for LGBTQ+ rights and representation across our city, and they are a part of what makes our city so special. Investing in programs that continue their legacies and create opportunities for the next generation of drag performers to thrive help us to celebrate our city and this community. I want to thank the drag community, Human Rights Commission, and Public Library for their work, and I look forward to crowning San Francisco’s first Drag Laureate.”  

    Some responsibilities of the Drag Laureate of San Francisco will include:   

    • helping develop and promote the role of the Drag Laureate;
    • serving as spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ Community of San Francisco;
    • participating in community-based drag programs and events that reflect and honor the diversity of San Francisco;  
    • partnering in an official capacity with various city agencies and community organizations throughout the full 18-month term, including during Pride Month;
    • producing drag-centered events and programming centered on celebrating and supporting San Francisco’s dynamic and diverse LGBTQ+ community in collaboration with the SFPL, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and community partners;
    • ensuring San Francisco’s rich drag history is shared, honored, and preserved;
    • and helping promote and select the next Drag Laureate towards the completion of their 18-month term.

    “San Francisco would not be the beacon for LGBTQ rights it is without drag artists,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, “This program is an appropriate recognition of the essential role drag plays in our queer culture, and I look forward to seeing who will be named our first Drag Laureate.”  

    In order to qualify, applicants must submit a written and video application and be able to demonstrate and meet the following requirements:   

    • be a full-time resident of the City and County of San Francisco;   
    • be at least twenty-one years of age by the application deadline;
    • have fundamental knowledge of San Francisco drag history;
    • show enthusiasm and love for San Francisco and demonstrate the ability to serve as its ambassador;
    • have a background in community activism, engagement, and philanthropy;
    • have the ability to work collaboratively with a wide range of people from various backgrounds;
    • and be able to organize, produce, and manage events/projects from start to finish. 

    “I can’t think of any other city with a drag community more talented, diverse, inclusive and exciting than San Francisco,” said Sister Roma. “As a member of the Drag Laureate vetting committee, I’m relying on my 35 years of experience as a drag activist, fundraiser, public speaker, event producer, and entertainer to present Mayor Breed with the very best candidates to represent our city.”  

    Sister Roma told the San Francisco Bay Times that Mayor Breed invited her to serve on the vetting committee. Doing so obviously excludes her—otherwise one of the most prominent candidates—from being considered for the position.

    “I’m very excited for San Francisco to appoint our first Drag Laureate,” she added. “While vetting applicants, I am looking for someone with a deep love of San Francisco who possesses knowledge of our rich and storied drag history. Candidates with eloquence, style, creativity, passion, and experience performing and producing inclusive and unique events move to the front of the line.”

    When asked if many hard-working drag artists have already served as unofficial drag laureates for San Francisco—fulfilling the stated obligations of their own volition—she agreed. What Sister Roma could not reveal were the names of the other vetting committee members. They were not provided by the Mayor’s Office and she was concerned about violating their privacy. As a result, it remains unknown if some of the city’s most well-known drag artists are eligible to apply. They include, but are definitely not limited to, individuals such as Juanita MORE!, D’Arcy Drollinger, Bebe Sweetbriar, Peaches Christ, Pollo Del Mar, Katya Smirnoff Skyy, and Khmera Rouge. (Heklina relocated to Palm Springs a few years ago.)

    Drag kings such as Alex U. Inn, Fudgie Frottage, former San Francisco Bay Times columnist Kit Tapata, Fontaine Blue, and Madd Dogg may also be among the applicants, as could be bioqueens like Deana Dawn.

    The Bay Times confirmed that Donna Sachet is an applicant. While many of us wish that more than one Laureate could be chosen for this inaugural year, reflecting the utmost uniqueness and diversity of drag that exists in the city, our team wholeheartedly endorses Sachet for the position that seems to describe the work she has already done for decades.

    Sachet’s achievements include serving as Absolute Empress XXX of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, being the first drag performer to sing the National Anthem at the opening of a Major League Baseball game, serving as Grand Marshal in the SF Pride Parade, co-hosting the television broadcasts of the Parade for many years, hosting the Finocchio’s inspired Sunday’s a Drag at the Starlight Room, producing and appearing in fundraisers that have raised millions of dollars for various LGBTQ causes, co-hosting important seasonal events in the Castro such as the lighting of the Holiday Tree and the opening of the Castro Farmers’ Market, serving on multiple boards (such as those for the SF LGBT Community Center, the AIDS Emergency Fund, PRC, Equality California, and the Imperial Council), and so much more. It is little wonder that former State Senator Mark Leno dubbed Sachet “the first lady of the Castro.” We hope that she becomes the first Drag Laureate of San Francisco.

    As for how the Drag Laureate idea gained prominence in San Francisco, it stemmed from the city’s LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy, a community-driven effort to honor the legacy, nurture the well-being, promote economic opportunity, and ensure the longevity of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community. Then Supervisor Scott Wiener sponsored the ordinance to create the LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Task Force.  

    The task force identified the needs and concerns of the LGBTQ+ community, articulated critical goals to address these needs, and presented a set of recommended actions to be undertaken by the city and local organizations.  

    “San Francisco’s Drag Laureate program is a wonderful celebration of our drag queens,” said Senator Wiener. “Drag performers are an amazing representation of the LGBTQ community and they contribute so much to our city. I’m thrilled about the launch of this program, and excited to see who is crowned Drag Laureate.”  

    “As a drag performer myself, I know the transformative nature of this art form, unlocking power through finding a voice as an artist and mobilizing our LGBTQI+ community as an activist,” said Michael Nguyen, a member of the HRC LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee and chair emeritus of the GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance.

    He added: “San Francisco has long been a place where queerdos have used drag as a platform to create international movements, from the International Imperial Court System and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I am proud we are able to pay homage to our past, recognize a drag performer for their talents and impact, and build a future for even more drag activist spaces throughout San Francisco.”  

    Suggestions in the report included calling for innovative programming, such as “the creation and funding of LGBTQ+ artist residency opportunities or the development of City Drag Laureate positions to recognize the significant longstanding and ongoing contribution of drag artists to San Francisco’s culture.” Since the issuing of the report in August 2020, the HRC has re-established its LGBTQI+ Advisory Committee. This working body has spearheaded the effort alongside Mayor Breed.  

    “It is great to live in a city that recognizes and celebrates diversity and awards and honors those differences,” said HRC Executive Director Dr. Sheryl Davis. “I look forward to all that we will learn from the selected Drag Laureate.”  

    “I am excited to see this plan move forward to proclaim a Drag Laureate for San Francisco, an important recognition for our entire community, akin to our city’s Poet Laureate,” said City Librarian Michael Lambert. “San Francisco Public Library has always been at the forefront of collections, services, and celebrations for the LGBTQIA community, thanks to our groundbreaking Hormel LGBTQIA Center at the Main Library.”  

    Those wishing to obtain an application for Drag Laureate of San Francisco or to ask questions about the program are asked to send an email to:
    hrc-lgbtqi+ac@sfgov.org

    Submissions are due no later than 6 pm PST on January 16, 2023.

    Published on December 15, 2022