The 'Drag Up! Fight Back!' organizers and friends lead the march to Union Square in San Francisco on Saturday, April 8, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez/KQED)
Drag performers and activists gathered at the “Drag Up! Fight Back!” rally in San Francisco on Saturday to protest recent anti-drag and anti-trans legislation as well as increased attacks against LGBTQ+ rights across the country.
“We wanted to show the whole world that San Francisco isn’t standing still, that Oakland isn’t standing still, that the Bay Area is not standing still, period,” said LGBTQ+ rights activist and drag king Alex U. Inn. “They come after everything I am. They come after my Black books, they come after my nonbinary books, they come after me being a woman in my womb, they come after me being transidentified. And what does that leave me? So f— them.”
Activist, politician, drag performer and singer Honey Mahogany, who was one of the organizers of the rally, hailed the LGBTQ+ community’s long history of struggle and defiance that goes back to the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, where drag queens and trans women, fed up with police harassment, fought back when an officer grabbed a trans woman’s arm. That rebellion, along with the Stonewall riots in New York three years later, set the stage for the modern-day LGBTQ+ rights movement.
“We have fought so hard for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and we’ve made a lot of progress, but right now, we’re really facing an unprecedented level of attacks,” said Mahogany. “We have a duty to stand up for those who cannot do that for themselves, who may be less safe in doing that, across the country. We have a lot of great organizations like Southern Equality, the NCLR, the ACLU and many others who are litigating these laws when they are passed, making sure that they are not implemented. It’s really important that we join them in this fight because today it’s them, but tomorrow it could be right here in California.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener referred to the “vicious attacks” on trans people, drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community in states across the country as “unacceptable” and “un-American” and said he considered it a form of “gender policing,” which, he added, has a long history in the United States.
“This is straight-up homophobia and transphobia,” said Wiener, in an interview with KQED prior to the rally. “They dress it up as other things and pretend it’s about the safety of children. These laws are often [drafted] in ways that go towards adults as well. They’re now trying to ban gender-affirming care for anyone under the age of 26, not just children. So this is a broader attack against all LGBTQ people. They want to take us back to the 1950s — or maybe the 1850s. It’s terrifying and we’re gonna fight it hard.”
The “Drag Up! Fight Back!” rally and march was organized by a coalition of drag activists that included Mahogany, Inn, drag icon Juanita MORE!, Oasis nightclub owner D’Arcy Drollinger and Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The protest kicked off at San Francisco City Hall before heading to Union Square, where there were performances. It came just days after the untimely death of San Francisco drag icon Heklina.
“We’re going to pay a tribute to Heklina when we get to Union Square,” said MORE! at the start of the rally. “I’ve known Heklina since ’94 or ’95. We’ve done a lot of things together that were so much fun and so crazy, and I was part of T-Shack the whole time that she ran it. I loved her very much.”
“They’ve already introduced bills in Congress to attack LGBTQ people to replicate what they’re doing in red states,” said Wiener. “Those bills currently are not gonna go anywhere, because we control the Senate and the White House. But if the Republicans take over both the Congress and the presidency in the future, they will absolutely pass these laws into effect nationally. And so they are coming at us here in California. We’re already seeing this with abortion, that they’re trying to effectively ban abortion pills nationwide. They will do the same with respect to LGBTQ people. This is our fight, and it’s our fight everywhere.”
“We have different states who are bringing legislation because they feel threatened against people who are in drag or people who are trans,” said rally attendee and transgender rights supporter Stanley Wong. “There needs to be more visibility and more activism to educate people that we are in this community and not a threat. Guns are more of a threat to us than people wearing attire.”
“I just think that I need to be out here to support my drag sisters and my transgender brothers and sisters, and I just see what’s going on in so many states, and there’s even an anti-trans bill here in California that was introduced,” said rally attendee Brian Harradine. “People aren’t realizing how serious the attacks are. I’m hoping that this march and me participating in this march will encourage more people to wake up and take action.”
“I think all of the movements are connected and the true fight is always intersectional,” said rally attendee Rose Tinani. “When you’re fighting for human rights, you’re fighting for all human rights. You are fighting for Black people, you are fighting for people of color, you’re fighting against anti-trans and anti-queer rights. You’re fighting for all of them, for our right to live as we deem appropriate, not as some white cis men deem appropriate.”
“What’s bringing me to this rally today? I think it’s ridiculous that people who have positions of power are utilizing it to diminish the humanity of the queer community as a whole,” said Shane Zaldivar, who identifies as both a drag queen and a trans woman. There are people out there just trying to make other people’s lives harder when it’s hard enough … It feels like lives are at stake.”
“[This] march is to show the country and the world that the LGBTQ community is not taking this lying down and that drag queens will not be silenced and we will not go back into the closet,” said Mahogany in a previous interview with KQED. “We will not be relegated to just the back of a dark room in a club. We are here as a part of the community, we’re here to stay, and we’re gonna fight back.”