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Nation's first 'drag laureate' kicks off Pride in San Francisco

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When you win a Nobel Prize, you become a Nobel laureate. The country also has a poet laureate. Many states have poet laureates. And now there is a drag laureate. NPR's Chloe Veltman recently joined the country's first drag laureate on her inaugural public appearance, unfurling a Pride flag outside San Francisco City Hall.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Getting D'Arcy Drollinger ready for her first official appearance as San Francisco drag laureate is a production.

D'ARCY DROLLINGER: I do need to get my nails on. So...

VELTMAN: The artist, nightclub owner and newly appointed government official stands in the living room of her San Francisco apartment as two helpers grapple with a set of bejeweled, custom-made artificial nails.

DROLLINGER: What was that one? That's a...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's a middle finger.

DROLLINGER: That's a thumb, honey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Wait. That's a thumb.

VELTMAN: Wedged into a pair of white patent stilettos and a tight, pink skirt suit, Drollinger eventually steps out of the house and into a very busy week.

DROLLINGER: I am speaking at the San Francisco Arts Commission. I'm also, in the same day, speaking at the entertainment commission. I'm also going to speak at a high school. I'll be in the parade with the mayor.

VELTMAN: San Francisco Mayor London Breed says the city's LGBTQ task force proposed the creation of the drag laureate position around three years ago, during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

LONDON BREED: The creativity, the joy that a drag laureate brings - because we've been through a really hard time.

VELTMAN: In fact, Breed says one of D'Arcy Drollinger's selling points as a candidate for the job was her track record as a spreader of sparkle. The nightclub owner pivoted during lockdown to create a food delivery service.

BREED: Meals on Heels.

VELTMAN: Performers in drag from Drollinger's nightclub delivered meals and cocktails to San Francisco residents with a side order of lip-syncing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Come on. You're just joining me, right? Come on. We're all dancing.

VELTMAN: But Mayor Breed says the recent attacks against drag performers, as well as a rise in anti-drag legislation in different parts of the country, now make the appointment of a drag laureate particularly crucial.

BREED: In some of those communities where something like this wouldn't be considered acceptable behavior, there's a kid that's thinking, oh, my goodness. She's like me. I can be myself without fear.

KYLO FREEMAN: It's scary right now. The backlash is real.

DROLLINGER: That's Kylo Freeman. They're the force behind Drag is Divine. The ad campaign aims to raise awareness and funding to help fight anti-drag laws. Freeman says they're excited to see local governments highlight drag culture in such a visible way. In West Hollywood, officials plan to appoint a drag laureate later this month.

FREEMAN: I think it's a real step forward to have these roles in place, giving us folks that can speak on behalf of the community at a large scale.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Pull it. Pull it. Pull it. There we go.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Woo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Woo.

VELTMAN: At San Francisco City Hall, D'Arcy Drollinger assists the mayor in the traditional unfurling of the Pride flag and makes her first official speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

DROLLINGER: Drag is activism. Drag is joy. Drag is instrumental to bringing people together. Drag is fabulous.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Yeah.

VELTMAN: Afterwards, Drollinger cheerfully admits she's not quite prepared to meet the demands of her new job. For instance, being on one's feet at long-winded civic functions isn't super compatible with the wearing of three-inch stilettos. But the nation's first-ever drag laureate says she's willing to improvise.

DROLLINGER: Sometimes you have to lip-sync to whatever song gets turned on.

VELTMAN: Because that's what trailblazers do.

Chloe Veltman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.
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