'We Have to Keep Fighting': Honey Mahogany's Activist Roots Run Deep

3 min
Political activist, drag performer and bar owner Honey Mahogany. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States, is on Aug. 18, 2020. So we’re asking politically engaged women in our community to share their personal voting stories with you.

Today: political activist, Drag Race alumna and co-owner of San Francisco's The Stud bar, Honey Mahogany

The roots of Honey Mahogany’s political engagement extend back beyond her own lifetime.

Mahogany’s parents fled Ethiopia in the late 1970s as political refugees, after seeing their homeland descend into chaos as the monarchy fell to a communist military regime in the wake of famine and civil war.

"They have seen what can happen to a country when there is a tremendous amount of political turmoil and when people don't have any control," Mahogany said. "And so they were very much determined to be a part of a solution."

Mahogany said her mom and dad instilled in her beliefs in voting as a basic human right — and the power of individuals to make change.

At first, her political activism found expression in modest ways. "I was doing things like registering people to vote and making calls to inform voters of what's on the ballot and advocating for different candidates that represent my values," she said.

Meanwhile, Mahogany trained as a social worker and was a rising star on the drag performance scene. In 2013, she drew national audiences as a contestant on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Mahogany's political engagement rose to the next level when she co-founded San Francisco’s Transgender District in 2017. Helping to draft the legislation that brought the country’s first legally-recognized trans district into being, she said, made her believe even more strongly in her power to make things happen.

"I was able to be in the room and be a voice," she said.

19th Amendment Centennial

Since 2016, Mahogany has been one of the co-owners of San Francisco's iconic bar and performance space The Stud: "a place where, really, everyone was welcome," she said.  In May the venue was forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mahogany and her fellow owners say they're hoping to work towards reopening in a new location.

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Now in her mid-30s, Mahogany is an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and works as a legislative aide. And despite her recent career choices, she’s been critical of her party at times.

"When I was younger, I was so disenchanted with the Democratic Party and how they pandered to communities of color and the LGBT community, but never really delivered any solutions that seemed to really address our issues," she said.

Honey Mahogany photographed in San Francisco in 2017 (Audrey Garces/KQED)

This disillusionment is part of what drove her to become politically involved. "I realized if I want to see change, then I have to not just advocate for it, but be a part of the change that I want to see," Mahogany said.

Mahogany said democracy has come a long way as a result of mass movements like the struggle for women’s suffrage. But injustices persist today, such as the law in Florida preventing ex-felons who cannot pay court fines and fees from voting.

"That is a hold over of voter suppression for Black people, who were systematically incarcerated, and continue to be systemically incarcerated as a form of continuing slavery," Mahogany said.

"I don't think that we're all free yet," she added. "And so until that happens, we still have to keep fighting."

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