Nancy Pelosi Made Drag Queens Cry on 'RuPaul's Drag Race'

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 4 years old.

The Winter Olympics might be over, but the Gay Olympics (a.k.a. RuPaul’s Drag Race) are still kicking. Whether it’s a wig reveal or Maskgate or a frontrunner randomly eliminating herself, the show is truly a surprise-loving stunt queen. Last week, one such surprise waltzed into the workroom in the form of the most powerful woman in Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Senior Editor of KQED's Politics and Government Desk Scott Shafer and I had a lot of feelings about this, so we opened up a chat, and had at it.

Emmanuel Hapsis: Scott! Our congressional representative popped up on a show about drag queens! Were you gagged, as the kids say?

Scott Shafer: I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I first heard she’d be on. My first thought: “Wouldn’t she be a better fit as a guest judge on Project Runway?” But "Leader Pelosi" definitely has the fierceness RuPaul is looking for. In fact, when she was Speaker of the House, some called her “the velvet hammer!”

EH: Now I’m dreaming up a scenario where Nancy’s drag alter ego, Ms. Velvet Hammer, is a contestant on the show. Like you said, she has the fierceness RuPaul is after, but does she have the other four requirements necessary to become America’s Next Drag Superstar?

  • Charisma: Totally. How else was she able to convince everyone to stop freaking out and finally pass Obama’s health care bill (and pretty much all of his other legislative priorities)?
  • Uniqueness: By Washington standards, sure.
  • Nerve: Definitely.
  • Talent: Just last month, she set a record for the longest House floor speech in support of the Dreamers. I’d call that talent.

Crown her already!


Joking aside, even though her appearance was just a minute or two, it was really exciting to see such a high-profile politician appear on such a gay show. In a way, her work as an LGBT advocate in Washington helped advance our culture to a place where a show as unapologetically queer as Drag Race can be one of the highest-rated series on a mainstream network.

SS: The queens seemed genuinely touched by her appearance. Did that surprise you at all?

EH: Some Drag Race queens don’t know their herstory as well as they should, or don’t feel connected to the political side of drag. The cringe-y moment when Season 8 contestant Derrick Barry brought up Stonewall in a recent interview without really knowing what happened there comes to mind:

So when I saw Nancy come into the workroom, a small part of me was worried some of the queens wouldn’t know who she was. But not only did they recognize her, some of them cried! Just look at their faces!

This was filmed last summer, a few months after Trump’s inauguration. It was -- and still is -- a raw time for the LGBT community, to say the least. Under Obama, we more or less enjoyed being able to assume that the government wouldn’t try to roll back any of our civil rights, but all that has changed now. It makes total sense that, in this scary time of uncertainty, having a powerful politician say that she will continue fighting for us and that we matter might be overwhelming.

SS: She also packed in some important, heartfelt messages about knowing your power and the importance of voting. I do wonder how many of those queens are registered to vote.

Okay, time for a political History Lesson! When Pelosi ran for Congress the very first time back in 1987 (back when The New York Times still called us “homosexuals”), there were, like, 12 people who ran against her, and they tried to paint her as a party girl (as in the Democratic Party), and a “dilettante” who was rich (well she was), and too conservative for San Francisco.

Her main opponent was Harry Britt, who was trying to become the first openly gay man elected to Congress. Nancy won of course, and Harry Britt sort of faded away. The irony is that now Nancy Pelosi is like a heroine to the LGBTQ community. She was heroic on HIV/AIDS funding, fought for marriage equality, and pretty much any other queer issue you can think of. So it does makes sense that those queens seemed genuinely touched by her appearance.

EH: I didn't know that story! Thanks for inspiring The More You Know™ star to arc over my head!

I think the show missed an opportunity to have Nancy judge a challenge with a political theme. Back in Season 4, the producers made the queens participate in a presidential debate, which led to iconic moments like this one: 

If you could craft a politically-charged challenge for Nancy’s episode, what would that look like?

SS: Yeah, I was also a little disappointed Pelosi's appearance was so short. Then again, it’s so rare to see politicians talk too little, so good for her. Leave ‘em wanting more!

I’m thinking one challenge could be to dress like a lobbyist and have to convince Pelosi to vote the way they want her to. I can see the cash stuffed into their bras and offering all kinds of favors in exchange for her vote. Then again, Pelosi would never agree to something like that. She’s got enough problems with the Midwest members of her caucus already!

EH: I love that lobbyist idea! If you ever get tired of reporting on politics, you might have a second career over at World of Wonder productions!

I'm obsessed with the Supreme Court (as this piece I wrote can attest), so I would have loved a Ruth Bader Ginsburg-themed runway. The judge's robe could be a tearaway for a second look obviously. And each queen would have to do 25 pushups at the end of the runway, in honor of RBG's daily fitness routine.

Since you're so good at production ideas, who are some other politicians you’d love to see on Drag Race?

SS: Well, in the spirit of world peace, how about Kim Jong-un? He’s very into pop culture I hear (just ask Dennis Rodman!). They could share hairstyling tips. But I guess he’s more a dictator than a politician, so maybe not.

I’m trying to think whether there’s a Republican who would actually do it and could pull it off. Yeah, no. (Back in the day, Rudy Guiliani appeared on SNL in drag. Pretty hilarious. Then he went and turned crazy on us.)

I think Kamala Harris would definitely give these queens a run for their money. Did you ever hear her on Pod Save America? She dropped a bunch of F-bombs, which went over pretty well with that crowd. I believe Ms. Kamala knows how to have a good time, and I’m sure she’s been to many a drag show in her day.

EH: My picks are Michelle Obama (duh) and Abraham Lincoln's ghost (come on, he was definitely at least a 4 on the Kinsey scale).

Kamala would also be amazing. I had to stop listening to Pod Save America because hearing about all the awful things going on in politics was bumming me out; reading about all of it is enough for me. But I will definitely hunt down the episode she's on! It'll be cool to hear our future President / Vice President drop an F-bomb or two.

Speaking of future promotions, if the Drag Race audience takes Nancy's advice and votes in the midterm elections this year, she may very well find herself as the House Majority Leader again.

SS: She betta work!

EH: Exactly.


You can watch Nancy's appearance over at