Drag Queens and Voting Machines
While an event that combines drag performance with voter education might seem incongruous, the creative minds at the youth voting campaign NextGen Michigan have found a way to make it work (or work it). Titled Learning With Drag Queens: Voting Edition, the organization that aims to identify, engage and mobilize the youth vote is hosting their friends at Boylesque Drag for a family friendly online event to be held Saturday, Sept. 19, from 11:30 a.m.to 1 p.m. in preparation for National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 22. There is no fee.
The show will include performances by Jadein Black, Hershae Chocolatae, and special guest Ani Briated as well as Drag Queen storytime. Not only that, viewers will enjoy a music lesson, guest speakers, and a live Q&A to ask the queens those burning questions. Black, who will be hosting this Saturday's event, chatted with Between The Lines to talk about the show, the shutdown and why voting matters. She said Boylesque has done a series of online events since the novel coronavirus hit Michigan in March.
"We wanted to give our community, our audience in the state of Michigan, a present — that we were still here," Black explained. "Since then, we've been doing family-friendly shows for quite a bit of time now. They've become very, very popular."
Black, who is based in Ypsilanti and who has performed for the likes of Gov. Gretchen Witmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, said the "Learning With Drag Queens" shows have raised over $11,000 for various nonprofits. She's adamant about keeping it online-only, for the safety of herself, the other performers and the audience.
"We do everything virtual," Black said. "I decided, right in March — I know they're performing in bars right now outside in parking lots and stuff — but I keep my audience and our cast's health very seriously. So I wanted to do everything I could do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I've had to turn down dozens of gigs that were offered to me. We can do virtual, for a lesser fee."
What's in Store
This themed installment of the series will feature voting- and equality- themed books for the storytime segments, guest speakers from NextGen who will talk about voter registration and absentee voting, and as part of the music lesson, Black will teach "I'm Just a Bill" from Schoolhouse Rock. Black, who recently left her job as a K-5 general music teacher will also teach musical concepts at a kid-friendly level. For anyone whose favorite elective in elementary school was music — not P.E. — this music lesson led by a drag queen is sure to be a treat.
Parents of little ones watching on Saturday needn't fear the show is pushing a political agenda, said Black. It's purely for educational purposes. Making positive change in the world is something of a mission for her.
"I've been doing drag about 10 years," Black said. "I have traveled around the United States on tour doing different stuff, mostly in night clubs. And I got to a point where I was very bored in drag, and I told myself I needed to reinvent myself. For all my shows, we are raising money for nonprofits. Last year we raised over $180,000 for different nonprofits. You know, it's not about raising the money. It's not about making the money. It's about, for me, making a positive change in the world."
When asked about the upcoming election, and the poor registration and voting numbers for the LGBTQ community, Black grew serious. She has a message for those who think their vote doesn't matter.
"I would tell them, there is hope if you get out to the polls because if we don't take the steps to change, things will not change," Black said. "And even if it's somebody that you do not like, it might be that first step in the right direction to what you want, [as] opposed to the alternate step backward. Because over the last four years, we definitely almost [reversed] LGBT rights. And we cannot afford not to vote."
Black used Mariah Carey's "Save the Day" and reimagined it as"A Call for Voting."
Black talked about why she made the video.
"I've posted so many news articles," Black said. "And what people do is they say 'fake news,' whatever. I wanted to take a different approach on how it affects me personally. I wanted to see if I could touch peoples' hearts. It's more a personal open[ing] up. I was not political in my drag [previously]. Most of my audiences doing drag bingo are probably about 80 percent Republicans. I wanted to take that chance.
"I don't care about how much money I make down the road," Black continued. "I'm worried about being there for our community and being this activist that hopefully — if I can change two people or get them to accept me and vote another way, I'm doing my part to save my life."
More About Drag Queens and Voting
In an unrelated but like-minded effort, Drag Out the Vote, is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate, register and turn out voters through the art and activism of drag. By working with drag performers to promote participation in democracy, Drag Out the Vote advocates for increased voter access and engagement in 2020 and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter and follow on social media for events and inspiration to sashay to the polls.