The 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City are widely credited for birthing the modern LGBTQ movement, with trans women of color throwing the brick that set off the entire chain of events. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were trans women and drag performers (note: Trans = Identity, Drag = Profession) who not only kick started the riots, but were also active members of the community, co-founding STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, in 1970. STAR was a Trans rights group that fought for inclusion within the LGBT umbrella and set up a home for homeless Trans youth and drag queens.
For years, people have taken the voices of drag queens for granted, missing the bigger picture of gender subversion and a platform from which to inform and shape the agenda of the community. Marginalized within a group already treated as second class by the mainstream, drag queens know first hand the importance of giving back. Drag’s blurring of gender goes against the social binary in which we live – a binary that values masculinity above all – leading to queens often being repudiated and relegated to the miscellaneous fringes of the community.
Where in recent years the conversation has mostly gravitated around marriage equality, this month’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando indicates the fight is far from over. The role of drag queens is now more important than ever, if not as social megaphones, as healers, reclaiming night clubs as LGBT safe spaces by replacing pain and suffering with wonder and laughter.
In the spirit of Pride as a commemorative anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we decided to put together a list of New York City-based Latinx queens giving back to the community and pushing the movement forward.
Every New Yorker has met or seen Ms. Colombia at some point in time, but don’t expect to find her working your local bar. A staple of every parade or public festival, this legendary queen and street performer has been on a mission to bring smiles to the faces of grown-ups and children all over the city for 20+ years running. This queen from Queens is known for her perpetually colorful beard and outlandish pairings of homemade ruffled gowns, printed kaftans and thrift store finds.
Diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, the news proved a turning point for Ms. Colombia who, at the time, was given less than a year to live. With a laundry list of medications and indefatigable determination, the man, a lawyer who emigrated from Colombia, decided to enjoy what little time he had left on this Earth, and thus donned the costume for the first time. Today you can find Ms. Colombia all over the city, dressed in her signature hodge-podge looks and pushing a baby carriage loaded with props, her parrot, and her dog, Cariño. Her message of resilience in the face of illness has made her an icon within the community, and an important voice in ending the stigma of HIV and AIDS.
The hot mess of New York City, this Cuban-Boricua queen has established herself as a West Village mainstay with residencies at legendary establishments like Boots and Saddle and Stonewall Inn. Known for her trademark smeared lipstick and a penchant for physical comedy, Ari Kiki is one of the go-to mother hens of NYC nightlife, always ready to book or give advice to new queens on the scene. Ari reps heavily for her uptown Caribbean upbringing, regularly performing numbers by Gloria Estefan and La Lupe, and has been bringing her slapstick genius to NYC stages for over five years. Aside from her reputation as a good time gal, Ari Kiki is regularly involved in charities and fundraisers around the city, the most notorious of which is Riot! at the Stonewall Inn, her home bar. Riot! is a dance party and drag show held the second Saturday of every month, with a $5 cover for entry. The proceeds from the party go to benefit Sylvia’s Place, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth in midtown Manhattan, with Ari and friends getting you turnt up and dancing, all for a good cause.
This queer Chicana from the Texas / Mexico border has been a New Yorker for the last 9 years. The child of Mexican immigrants, Lady Quesa’Dilla (pronounced the gringo way) is the first person in her family to earn a college degree, and came to NYU pursuing a Master’s Degree. With a drag style that emulates the mannerisms of her mother, her tagline “Feed the children” resonates deeply with her community work because, as she says, “Donde come uno, comen dos.”
The former Miss Coney Island Queen of Drag has been working at Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center for nearly 5 years – first at the front desk welcoming and helping to direct Center patrons, and now as a Leadership Developer for the Center’s Youth Department, where she helps to organize activities like karaoke, the Youth Pride Chorus, and a weekly Queer Film series. Her commitment to youth development has seen her teaching after-school theater classes across the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as a volunteer coordinator for Bushwig, Brooklyn’s infamous drag festival. Aside from her regular citywide gigs, this month you can also see her at Everybooty, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual Pride celebration.
A self-described “punk rock Mexican pretty girl,” Horrorchata is one of Brooklyn’s most prominent queens. This Texas-born Chicana helped revolutionize the borough’s largely untapped nightlife scene with parties like Be Cute, Razor 5000 and Bathsalts, bringing about new platforms to up and coming club kids and queens. Horrorchata’s Latinidad is an essential part of her drag; she regularly incorporates Mexican iconography and music into her shows and looks, and also throws her seasonal Cholalicious parties.
Parties aside, the Bushwig drag festival remains Horrorchata’s most important achievement to date. Brooklyn’s now iconic drag fest is a successor to Lady Bunny’s 90’s annual drag extravaganza Wigstock, opening doors for local queer performers to showcase their talent in one large scale festival. Co-founded with fellow queen Babes Trust, Bushwig has grown exponentially since it’s first edition in 2012, now booking drag queens, kings, and queer performance artists from all over the country and abroad. With plans to take Bushwig to Europe, Horrorchata and the festival’s legacy lies in providing a fun and safe space for unconventional performers and their artsy fans, as well as staying true to the DIY roots that have made Brooklyn a modern creative Mecca.
Bob The Drag Queen
First name Bob, last name The Drag Queen, this queen for the people is an NYC hometown hero, and though not Latinx per se she is worthy of an honorable mention for her commitment to charity and activism, and as the winner of Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Like many queens before her, Bob first got into drag during Pride, and eventually began using the platform to showcase her comedic talents. One of Bob’s first big community undertakings was performing drag wedding ceremonies in Times Square as a call for marriage equality to be legalized, going as far as getting arrested with a number of fellow queens for obstructing traffic in protest. Since RuPaul bestowed Bob with the crown and title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” she has started her Charity for the People fundraising initiative where memorabilia from her time on Drag Race is auctioned with proceeds going to benefit various charities around the country. The goal is to raise $100,000 throughout the course of the year, with donations benefiting LGBTQ youth shelters and HIV charities.