A Spotlight on San Diego’s Legendary Drag Queens at the San Diego History Center

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San Diego’s Legendary Drag Queens have all used their extraordinary talent to entertain in support of vital community institutions, including the LGBT Center, organizations to combat HIV/AIDS, animal rescue, and groups that serve the under-served, such as LGBT people of color.

In conjunction with the groundbreaking exhibition LGBTQ+ San Diego: Stories of Struggles + Triumphs, the San Diego History Center will shine the spotlight on the performance art of drag in San Diego. Running from June 21 – September 8 at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, the Legendary Drag Queens of San Diego will help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history.

Curated by internationally known scholar and six-time Lambda Literary Award winner, Dr. Lillian Faderman, and in collaboration with the Imperial Court de San Diego, one of the oldest LGBTQ organizations in the region, the exhibition will feature elaborate, glittering costumes, jewelry, photographs and other materials loaned by nine leading “drag queens” who have made their name locally and nationally. Honorary Chair of the Exhibit is San Diego’s First Lady Katherine Faulconer.

“Long before San Diego native RuPaul became an international star and household name,” says Faderman, “drag queens used sartorial flair and performance skills to raise money for San Diego charities, including AIDS organizations, scholarships for needy youth, Christmas toy drives, and a winter blanket drive for the homeless in San Diego and Tijuana.”

San Diego’s “crossdressing” ordinance was not repealed until 1998. But though it was against the law to appear on the streets wearing clothing of the “opposite sex,” drag entertainment flourished. San Diego’s first drag nightclub, the Show Biz Supper Club, opened in the Hillcrest area in 1968 and closed in 1982. Lips, a supper club with locations in New York, Ft. Lauderdale and Atlanta, opened in San Diego in 1999.

The Imperial Court de San Diego is part of the “International Court System” which has over sixty chapters in North America. The San Diego chapter was founded in 1974 by San Diego gay icon Nicole Murray Ramirez, who also led the charge to repeal San Diego’s prohibition against “cross-dressing.” Ramirez shares, “Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Stonewall is thought to be the beginning of the gay rights movement. The Stonewall Inn is the New York nightspot that was the site of the first LGBT resistance to police harassment. The exhibit at the History Center will shed an important new light on the historic good works of the drag community in this country. Drag Queens were at Stonewall in the beginning and have been raising money for charity and the equality movement ever since. Many of our most respected LGBTQ+ organizations were started with money raised by drag queens.”

In addition to RuPaul, included in the exhibit are: Empress Nicole the Great, Chad Michaels, Tootie, Glitz Glam, Franceska, Paris, Babette Schwartz, Lalatoo and Norma.

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Michelle Stansbury is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer. Feel free to reach out to her at [email protected] with story ideas!

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