What We're Reading: Why Democracy Donors Should Fund Drag Performers
"There shouldn’t be anything controversial about drag, a multidisciplinary art form that weaves together fashion, acting, song, and dance," said Beatrice Thomas and Lane Harwell for the Chronicle of Philanthropy. "From the time of Shakespeare, when female roles were performed by men, to the vaudeville circuit and the Harlem Renaissance, drag has been a means of expression that cuts across history, cultures, and continents."
But not only is it a mode of performance and a way to promote tolerance — it’s also a paycheck. As queer artists and leaders of programs that promote creative expression, we consider drag essential to who we are and central to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and gender justice.
We envision a world where kids love themselves, support their peers, and stand up for what they believe in. That’s why drag performance should be shared with young people. Yet in August and September alone, protests erupted over drag story hours in communities from California — the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego — to Edinburgh, Scotland and Winnipeg, Canada.
That’s not coincidental — it’s strategic. The retaliation against drag artists is part of a broader, well-coordinated movement against LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous, and people of color to regulate the conduct of everyone deemed abnormal. Drag is a lightning rod because it defies traditional norms.
Any philanthropic strategy to protect democracy should include funding for drag. Criminalizing one form of creative expression sets a harmful precedent that makes all art forms potentially vulnerable.
That’s why we’re not advocating for separate philanthropic programming to address drag. Since drag touches multiple issues, it should be included in existing programs in areas such as arts, culture, education, civic engagement, workers’ rights, and economic justice.