Among the estimated 50,000 attendees at RuPaul’s DragCon NYC — an annual convention drawing drag devotees to its dramatic vast pink carpet, outlandish performances and sea of wig, makeup and glittery costume booths — was a familiar, if jarringly unexpected face: that of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Hello, DragCon!” she began, via a pre-recorded minute-and-a-half video message played from the main stage of the vast Jacob K. Javits Convention Center — after a catwalk parade of queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. season 1 and a rousing DJ set by RuPaul Charles himself.
Drag celeb Trixie Mattel introduced the presidential hopeful’s message, first telling the crowd about how she went to vote at an L.A. elementary school last year in full drag. “And if I have the time to vote, in drag,” she noted, “you b*****s do, too.”
Warren, in her video, urged everyone to make sure they had registered to vote, saying, “When we make our voices heard, when we get into the fight, we win.” She also called out the record number of trans Americans, particularly trans women of color, who were killed last year. “We need to fight back,” she said. “Equal means equal, period.”
The applause Warren drew was excited (if not quite as frenzied as the response to the U.K. drag queens), though hers was certainly one of the more sober moments of the colorful, over-the-top weekend. Still, it was far from DragCon’s only politically themed event: HeadCount, a non-partisan group that encourages participation in democracy, made calls to action for everyone to get registered, hosted a voting registration booth on the main floor and ran a panel, “When Politics Get Personal,” to encourage activism.
Swing Left also hosted a panel — “Trump and Mitch, Sashay Away: How We Win in 2020” — featuring Marti Gould Cummings, a longtime drag queen who just announced his 2021 run for a seat on the New York City Council.
“Me wearing eyelashes and a wig does not make me less intelligent or less aware of what the issues are,” Cummings told the crowd. “For me, drag is just an extension of who I am … And if drag gets the attention, I can then say, ‘Great, you’re listening? Here’s what the issues are.’” (They are, for Cummings, the city’s high cancer and asthma rates, the viability of small businesses, the need for a higher minimum wage in NYC, police relations and more, just for the record.)
And though Warren herself was not at DragCon, she was the only candidate among the many who were invited, according to organizers, to have a booth on the convention floor — replete with a rainbow-boa-wearing cardboard cutout of Warren for people to pose with. (Fellow hopeful Cory Booker, however, was a guest on RuPaul’s eponymous talk show recently.)
“I think it’s cool,” Moses, a convention attendee from Long Island, N.Y., told Yahoo Lifestyle about Warren’s presence, while wondering aloud where the other candidates — particularly Pete Buttigieg — were. “They should all have tables,” he said, waving a blue cardboard fan that had printed on it, cheekily, “I’m a Warren fan.”
For three years now, DragCon has rolled out its pink carpet in both Los Angeles (in May) and New York City, bringing about 50,000 attendees to each city, every year, over the weekend-long affair; in January, it’ll make its debut in London. And while past years have also featured political panels and events, this year’s, coming just five months before the Iowa caucuses, felt particularly amped up.
But DragCon can’t help but be political, said founders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the duo behind RuPaul’s Drag Race production company, World of Wonder.
“Ru once said, ‘Every time I bat my eyelashes, it’s a political act.’ And I think it is absolutely the case,” Bailey told Yahoo Lifestyle on Saturday, “because drag is about not fitting in, it’s about not allowing other people to force you to hide your light or to be lesser than you are. It’s inherently political.”
And that’s true not only for the performers, Barbato added, but the fans.
“I think even appreciating drag is political, in a way, because … it’s the way the world’s supposed to be. In many ways, DragCon is like the ground zero of the resistance — and it’s interesting that the resistance would be filled with joy and love and color. It’s the opposite of what you’d expect.”
That’s why World of Wonder is so committed to not only having political organizations at DragCon, but, said Barbato, “to creating this amazing environment and atmosphere, so people leave here spreading that positivity. Because I think that’s what we need, people engaged and positive for the future.”
As far as the spectacle of drag itself goes, added Fenton, “Let’s hope it can have an impact on this very polarized, hate-filled political climate right now.”
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