A few weeks ago I joined the Atlanta chapter of Black Lives Matter and took to the streets in protest of the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The two men were shot and killed within 24 hours of each other and it happened just weeks after the mass murder at Pulse in Orlando.
My heart was broken. I was so overwhelmed by all the recent tragedies that I felt I had to do something. It was important to me to let the black community know that I stood with them in their outrage, their grief and that they were not in this alone because I would appreciate the same from them if it were happening to my community.
The march down Peachtree was inspiring. I stood with white people, black people, Mexican Americans, Muslims and lots of people from the LGBT community. Yes, traffic was backed up. Yes, intersections were forced to wait until we passed. Some people honked their horns and waved in support and some people laid on their horns in frustration.
When I got home I posted about my experiences on social media and was surprised and saddened when an old drag queen friend of mine was publicly protesting the events, proclaiming that our actions were annoying “stunts,” that we should have gotten permission by the city and pronouncing that the entire Black Lives Matter movement was nothing but a waste of time.
I was so angry and wondered how someone in our community could so quickly forget how our fight for civil rights actually began. I had to remind him that Stonewall was a riot and that it was a transgender woman named Sylvia Rivera who reportedly threw the first rock. Sylvia Rivera was somebody who never quietly or calmly accepted the status quo. She spent her life fighting for the inclusion of transgender people, drag queens, homeless queer youth, and others who had become marginalized by society.
It was this kind of rebellion that inspired me when I first started to become friends with drag queens. I was in awe of their sense of humor, creativity and bold outspoken personalities. I admired their larger than life presence and I realized that sometimes they had to be a badass in order to defend themselves from all the haters in the world. It takes guts to walk out on stage in full make up and high heels but it takes real courage to use the microphone after you lip-synced your song to stand up for others and fight for a bigger cause.
I think it is important to keep in mind that drag queens have always been one of our community’s most active change makers. If it wasn’t for local legends like Bubba D. Licious and The Armorettes, we wouldn’t have been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for local AIDS charities. Organizations like The East Point Possums have been “doing good work through bad drag” for 16 years with founder Rick Westbrook spearheading and raising funds for Lost-n-Found Youth.
I am honored to have some drag queens that I can call true friends. I have realized how sensitive, fiercely loyal and sweet they can be behind their tough exterior. This is especially evident when they use their artistic platform for bigger causes like fighting for the civil rights for all people and it is important that all of us remember that the very first gay Pride parade took place without a city permit and to never ever forget where we came from.
“It takes guts to walk out on stage in full makeup and high heels but it takes real courage to use the microphone after you lip-synced your song to stand up for others and fight for a bigger cause.”
Bill Kaelin is the owner of Bill Kaelin Marketing Events and Consulting Agency in Atlanta. www.BillKaelin.com