The Office of Student Activities (OSA) recently published a video on their Instagram featuring the famous drag queen Miss Peppermint. In the video, she encourages St. Olaf students to engage in voting for the upcoming 2020 election, and she gives tips on how to vote early by mail or in person. Not only was this video important to encourage students to vote, but it showed how drag queens have a necessary perspective that should be listened to — especially by straight audiences.
Drag queens have long been at the center of debates about masculinity, gender roles and human rights, which means that their voices can and should add to the political climate. Marsha P. Johnson, a gay rights activist and drag queen, is famously known for being a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Since then, many other queens followed in her steps and began to use their art as a form of protest and activism.
Johnson’s participation in the Stonewall uprising was a response to police brutality and oppression from the straight community. Now, there is more acceptance for LGBTQIA+ folks and excitement about drag, but it does not erase the years in which the queer community suffered at the hands of ignorant government administration and an unaccepting general attitude from the public.
Today, drag is widely considered to be a simple form of entertainment, despite being much more than that. Straight audiences have taken over drag clubs, brunches and other performance venues. While this audience expansion is by no means a bad thing, drag now faces the challenge of catering to a straight audience while also being a primarily queer form of expression. Additionally, frightening amounts of straight audiences continue to vote for political candidates who will enact policies that harm the LGBTQIA+ community.
That being said, drag queens should not simply be labeled as “entertainers.” While they definitely create a delightful environment during their shows, drag is in itself a form of protest that belongs in political discussions. During a time in which LGBTQIA+ rights are still at stake, drag queens, if they so choose, can play a large role in inspiring younger generations to demand space for self expression and fundamental freedoms.
OSA took a step in advocating for drag voices, especially voices of black drag queens. However, in addition to voting, St. Olaf students need to recognize that simply filling in a blue circle is not enough to stop violence against drag queens, gender nonconforming folks, trans people of color and other members of the queer community. We must continue to listen and uplift the voices of those who have been historically disenfranchised. This means going beyond liking a video on Instagram and sharing their stories, contributing financially when able and continuing to pressure the college to bring in voices such as Miss Peppermint’s.
Mallory Lindahl ’21 is from Wayzata, MN.
Her majors are English and music.