Drag against fascism: D.C. LGBTQ+ community raises funds for Club Q workers
Photo courtesy of Aeleen Fiestas

WASHINGTON—Seven different talented drag performers—Jane Saw, Rico Pico, Jaxknife Complex, Ricky Rose, Dirty Sanchez, Mari Con Carne, and Molasses—took the stage at As You Are, a local queer bar and café in Southeast D.C., on Nov. 27 for a solidarity fundraiser for the workers of Club Q in Colorado Springs.

The event was the third installment of Revolution!, a political education and outreach effort to the LGBTQ+ community by the Claudia Jones School for Political Education. Organizers saw the reality that while the massacre at Club Q was a moment of grief for those involved, it also triggered a moment of financial turmoil for them.

Some performed music that expressed their outrage at the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ violence, while others took on a more celebratory character to highlight the resilience of the community in the face of threats. Thanks to donations from patrons, the bar, and the performers, the Claudia Jones School and As You Are were able to directly send $150 each to eleven Club Q workers.

The Revolution! shows put a new spin on a long left-wing tradition of using cultural events as a means for political agitation and education, much like the Jefferson School of Social Science, which provided a wide range of programming the 1940s and ’50s. The first ‘Revolution!’ show was designed to highlight the working-class histories and futures of the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation; the second was themed around an observance of Black August, featuring an all-Black cast.

These shows are intended to put politics back into the center of queer and trans performance and culture in the face of an increasingly commodified public image of drag thanks to shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and events like Capital Pride in D.C., which have more or less de-politicized drag and queer culture for mass consumption and advertiser suitability. Instead, the ‘Revolution!’ shows unapologetically put their politics right in your face with their combination of performances and speakers that address themselves to the theme of the show.

Photo courtesy of Aeleen Fiestas

Sunday’s event was no exception. It was titled “Drag Against Fascism,” and aimed to send a clear message to the increasingly fascist right wing. In addition to the show following the attack in Colorado Springs, the show also takes place in response to the at least 124 attacks on drag shows from fascists this year alone.

There was a sense of determination among the performers that they refuse to back down in the face of the fearmongering about drag from the right, with Republican lawmakers attempting to outlaw drag shows in different places across the country, including Idaho, Tennessee, and others.

But they also spoke to the D.C. LGBTQ+ community itself. Performers got on the mic to issue calls to action. Rico Pico, a D.C. drag king, expressed frustration and exhaustion with being saddened by the ever-growing number of news reports detailing new attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. Instead, they encouraged the audience to get mad and take action to protect the community. Another drag king, Dirty Sanchez, echoed the need to harness anger into action.

Speeches at the event made it clear that the rising amount of legislative and extra-legal violence towards the LGBTQ+ community was not simply a matter of bigotry or religious conservatism, but a deliberate effort by the ruling capitalist class to direct unrest away from itself and towards queer and trans people.

Parallels were drawn between the post-World War II mobilizations against gay men and lesbians designed to enshrine the nuclear family after the Great Depression and the war, as well as the use of anti-gay rhetoric and policy in the 1980s to shift the blame of widespread misery from the neoliberal restructuring of the economy towards what was claimed to be a wealthy minority group—gay men and lesbians—advocating for “special rights.”

Speakers had no qualms about naming this as part of the offensive of the right, which has been using propaganda about queer and trans issues in order to galvanize its base around a fascist agenda behind figures like Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, and Lauren Boebert. Connections were also drawn by speakers between the rise in anti-trans panics about the “grooming” of children to recent restrictions on reproductive freedoms, as well as to police violence and mass incarceration, as other components of this fascist program.

These connections pointed to the root of these issues in the agenda of an oppressive ruling class attempting to shore up their control in the wake of recent economic, political, and health crises. These points were well-received, sparking applause and cheers of appreciation from the audience.

In addition to being a space for political agitation, this installment of Revolution! sought to provide room for the community to come together and grieve. The event’s use of performance was designed to allow audience members to process the emotional response to the Club Q attack collectively, and to direct them towards the need for organization as a community to confront the fascist threat.

The social media response, alone, illustrated the necessity of this kind of event. Many reposted photos from the event detailing their thanks to the community and appreciation to the organizers for creating the space. It is clear that the LGBTQ+ community in D.C. is well aware of the looming fascist danger, and if the donations and dedication of community members to making the event a success are any proof, they are also increasingly prepared to do something about it.

The Claudia Jones School will continue the Revolution! series, beginning early work on a show dedicated to observing International Working Women’s Day in March. Through the continuation of the show, the School hopes to organize and grow the political consciousness of the LGBTQ+ community right in the heart of empire in Washington, D.C. Alongside their work in the queer community of D.C., the Claudia Jones School also has a wider range of scheduling in the District, including a monthly Saturday School program, film screenings, book talks, and panels seeking to organize and educate the working class through worker-led programming.


Bennett Shoop
Bennett Shoop

Bennett Shoop is Washington, D.C.-based activist for the LGBTQ+ community and the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.