Kicking up its sparkly heels on June 21, the Legendary Drag Queens of San Diego will showcase pivotal performers in local history in collaboration with the LGBTQ+ San Diego: Stories of Struggles + Triumphs exhibition at the San Diego History Center. The new exhibit, curated by six-time Lambda Literary Award winner Dr. Lillian Faderman, is also part of a partnership with the local LGBTQ organization, Imperial Court de San Diego, and timed to honor a significant event in LGBTQ+ history.
The exhibit marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, when a series of demonstrations were held by the gay community in Greenwich Village, New York after the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the site of the inn, Christopher Park, and the adjacent streets as a national monument to mark the area’s significance in gay rights.
Throughout the 20th Century, laws remained in place banning cross-dressing, specifically men dressing like women, an ordinance against which was not repealed until 1998 in San Diego.
Despite the ban, drag shows in the area thrived, as seen at the Show Biz Supper Club — San Diego’s first drag nightclub — which opened in Hillcrest in 1968 and operated until 1982. Lips, which opened in 1999, is still flourishing in North Park.
A community, indeed a civil rights movement, that does not know where it came from and on whose shoulders they stand does not really know where it is going.
The Imperial Court de San Diego, launched in 1974 by gay icon Nicole Murray Ramirez, is a part of the “International Court System,” which has more than 60 chapters in North America. Each year, the Imperial Court hosts gala coronation balls, raising money for charities.
Ramirez, aka Queen Mother I of the Americas, mused, “This LGBTQ exhibit will take you on an emotional ride of pride, tears, laughter and knowledge.”
Local drag queen performer Paris Sukomi Max credits San Diego, and specifically Hillcrest for strength and confidence in her identity, saying, “As I’ve looked back, I can confidently say that the person I am today was a direct result of my environment and the community of Hillcrest. San Diego taught me to have an open mind having been surrounded by so much diversity, be light and warm like our weather, and be strong like our history.
“Hillcrest and our LGBTQ community taught me to be resilient, show love and empathy, and be understanding to those who don’t know any better because we have that power to change hearts and minds, we just have to listen as much as we are heard and be patient when trying to be understood,” she continued.
Other performers featured in the Legendary Drag Queens of San Diego exhibit include RuPaul, Empress Nicole the Great, Chad Michaels, Tootie, Glitz Glam, Franceska, Paris Sukomi Max, Babette Schwartz, Lalatoo and Norma.
Legendary Drag Queens of San Diego
When: June 21 through Sept. 8
Where: San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
More info: 619.232.6203; sandiegohistory.org/exhibition/dragqueens