Drag queens have been a part of LGBT activism since before Stonewall, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many of them are still doing good in the world.
Below, we celebrate 11 queens using their platforms (pun intended) to make a difference—and looking damn good doing it, too.
Ambrosia StarlingAmbrosia Starling/Facebook
In 2015, when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered judges to ignore the Supreme Court and keep enforcing the state’s marriage-equality ban, Ambrosia Starling stepped up.
The queen, who first started performing to raise funds for her local AIDS nonprofit in 1997, joined a coalition rallying to stop Moore, alongside the Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU. After he was suspended from the court, Moore singled Starling out, claiming the movement was being led by a “professed transvestite” in an attempt to discredit her.
“Oh what a fool you are,” Starling said of Moore. “Because you have decided, like every other bully in my life, to pick on the weakest kid in the room. And I have a pretty good batting average in that arena.”
Moore has since resigned to start a run for Senate (oy!) and Starling has turned her attention to fighting anti-trans bathroom bills in Alabama. She also hinted at a run for governor next year. “If it takes a drag queen to get everyone to face the same direction and listen, I’ll do that.”
Marti Gould Cummings
This New York queen wasn’t particularly political in her act until Donald Trump came along. “The election happened,” she told Vice, “and two days later, I was like, ’Let’s f*cking do this.'”Monica Blewinsky/Facebook
Outraged that her local Democratic club was inactive during the election, Cummings became the new president of the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats and stepped up her activism in her stage show.
“I quit a job because my boss told me to stop being political on the stage,” Cummings explains. “He said, ’If straight people come to the show, they may feel alienated if they voted for Trump.’ I’m like, ’No offense to our straight allies, but if you’re a straight person at a gay bar, I’m not here for you.’ I’m here for the 21-year-old who’s scared to go home.”
The Stars Of “Drag Queen Story Hour”
Nobody knows reading is fundamental better than a drag queen, and performers around the globe are heading to libraries and schools in full kit to read to children as part of Drag Queen Story Hours, which aims to normalize queerness and gender diversity for the next generation .
“Especially in these times, I think it’s really smart and necessary for us to show [kids] that when people are different than them, they shouldn’t fear them,” San Francisco’s Merrie Cherry says. “When they get a little older and they see someone that looks a little different, or like me, walking down the street, they’re not gonna stare or make fun.”Drag Queen Story Hour
The first Drag Queen Story Hour, organized in San Francisco in 2016 by queer writer Michelle Tea, featured Drag Race alum Honey Mahogany. Since then, events have popped up in New York, L.A., Indianapolis, England and beyond.
“This type of activity opens a child’s eyes to what being different is all about,” says Angel Elektra, who recently read a book called Everyone Is Different in New York. “It has to start somewhere. I wish, when I was growing up, there was a program like this where they can explain and teach children to accept anyone. This is a great way of opening that vision to them.”
Panti BlissClodagh Kilcoyne/Getty Images
An impassioned speech about homophobia by Irish drag queen Panti Bliss went so viral in 2014 it was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys. After that, Bliss (a.k.a Rory O’Neill) became the face of the “Yes Equality” movement to bring same-sex marriage to Ireland. In 2015, Bliss was named one of Europe’s most influential people, and she continues to advocate for equality and fight stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Asifa LahoreAsifa Lahore/Facebook
As a British-Pakistani drag queen, Lahore is an outspoken advocate for both the gay and Islamic communities. Her politicized performances, which include donning a rainbow burqa, have led to condemnation by imams and even death threats.asifa lahore
Undeterred, Asifa speaks frequently about the intersectionality of being Asian, Muslim, and queer: “I think LGBT ethnic minorities in the U.K. need to have a reference point [to] inspire a new generation of youngsters that are coming out younger,” she told the Huffington Post. “I’d like to know I’ve done something for the community by pushing the boundary forward.”
Lahore came out as transgender this year, and is in the process of transitioning.
The Sisters of Perpetual IndulgenceDale Brazao/Toronto Star via Getty Images
The first order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence launched in San Francisco back in 1979, combining drag with Catholic trappings in street performances satirizing religious intolerance and raising awareness of LGBT rights and gentrification in the Castro.Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Since then, the group has grown into an international network of orders that’s fought for marriage equality and AIDS awareness, and raised millions for various causes. The Sisters were among the first to stage public actions during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and continue to visit hospices and perform other community service.
In 2011, Grigory Zaritovsky was fired from his job as a children’s theater teacher in St. Petersburg when his boss discovered that he was gay and an LGBT activist. After that, Zaritovsky started performing full time as Mona Pepperoni.
Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law makes performing in drag risky: Gay clubs regularly face police raids and attacks by homophobic hooligans. Despite those dangers, Mona pushes the envelope by incorporating politics into her act, satirizing Vitaly Milonov, the conservative St. Petersburg politician known for championing anti-gay legislation.
It’s rare for Russian queens to touch on politics, she admits. “It’s easier for people to be hidden and not stick their necks out,” she told The Moscow Times. “It’s self-defense.”
Pheonix Riesling started the activist drag troupe Drag Militia in Seattle’s Bellingham suburb after the presidential election, when several bar owners banned political drag.
“The bar we were performing at was run by a straight couple, and they didn’t want our political viewpoints to negatively impact the bar’s crowd,” she told Vice. “People coming in for alcohol was more important than having a safe space.”
Drag Militia shows touch on everything from Donald Trump’s administration to ongoing violence against trans Americans. According to its Facebook page, the troupe “acknowledge[s] the truth that drag is political and a force for good in troubling times.”
A variety of drag queens and kings have joined Pheonix’s rabble-rousing shows at Swillery Whiskeybar—including Pistol Marqius, Skathandra, Sir Lix a Lot, and Fran Zia.
In February, a photo of Gilda Wabbit (a.k.a. Sam Themer) and a woman in a niqab riding next to each other on the New York City subway started to be circulated among the alt-right with the caption, “This is is the future that liberals want.” The meme was quickly reclaimed by progressives, who tweeted all manner of ridiculous photos accompanied by the same caption.
Gilda had already begun stepping up her activism following the election—adding political elements into her act and urging social media followers to sign petitions and show up at protests. The viral photo inspired her to be even more fearless in her activism.
“I was just going about my day at the time, but the fact that this image has blown up shows just being yourself can be an act of resistance,” Themer told The Daily Beast. “It’s radical in itself that this woman and I can exist together on a train in this political climate and not be bothered by anyone during our whole ride.”
Sara and NinaSara and Nina/YouTube
Brazilian queens Sara and Nina perform as a duo, and use only their drag names in the media. Over the last several months, they’ve been leveraging their act as a powerful tool in the ongoing fight for justice and equality in their country, where an LGBT person is murdered nearly every day.
In April, the pair performed in the hall of the National Congress to call attention to the lack of minority representation in government.Mario Tama/Getty Images
A month later, after an anti-gay evangelical was elected mayor of Rio de Janiero, Sara and Nina joined a protest inside City Hall.
“Sara and Nina are our hyperbole,” Sara told the Brazilian site Extra. “A way of speaking more vehemently and forcefully about what we believe. They are spokespersons for a social transformation.”
Bob the Drag QueenRodin Eckenroth/WireImage
The winner of Drag Race Season 8 meant it when she claimed to be a “queen for the people”: While she was on the show, she was auctioning off her outfits and accessories as part of her Charity 4 the People.
Before that, Bob joined other queens in protests in Times Square every every week until New York gained marriage equality. At one demonstration, she was arrested in the middle of Sixth Avenue.FilmMagic
“Drag and activism go hand in hand for me,” Bob told Huffington Post.
“If you are looking for permission to do it, well this is your permission—now go do it. I wasn’t an expert on drag or activism when I started, I just decided that I had had enough and I wanted to do something about it.”