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Drag's Place in Pride

By Joseph Rosenfeld

THE LAST night of May seemed to drag for hours, if you know what I mean, while I took on judging responsibilities for the Mr. and Ms. South Bay Pride 2008 Pageant. The evening's festivities served as a totally campy jump-start to Gay Pride month. I doubt the queens would have it any other way, since they've been leading the way for the gay community for 39 years. In fact, in 1969 the drag queens were the ones who had the "balls" to start the Stonewall riots in New York City that led to the openness and freedom the GLBT population now enjoys in metropolitan areas throughout the United States.

Drag is not an activity I've been really familiar with. Although I've definitely blurted out to friends I'd be a fierce Stevie Nicks, with black chiffon, lacy shawls and high-heeled boots to match. Alas, it's all up in my head; it won't happen. I'd have to shave my beard, rid myself of iconic eyeglasses, wax my arms and legs and practice. I think just writing this paragraph is cathartic enough for my psyche.

So drag may not be my path, but no one had to drag me to judge the contest at Splash, where I finally had the epiphany about drag queens I've been hoping to have. For years, I've questioned the image (quelle surprise!) the general public has of the gay community because of the visibility of drag queens. In fact, some within the gay community believe the prominence of drag queens at Gay Pride parades and events limit the social acceptance of gay people. Amazingly though, the pageant was less about judging as much as it was about honoring the paths of Anna Nicola, Angela and Jennifer Anderson, three contestants vying for the crown of Ms. South Bay Pride 2008, and Dreadly Justin and Eric, who attempted to use the best of their assets to score the Mr. title.

Ted Sahl, an award-winning photojournalist, has been covering the South Bay gay and lesbian community for decades. There was a time back in the 1970s, he said, when the San Jose mayor refused to honor a proclamation to honor gay rights for several years, until a miscommunication happened and a gay rights sympathizer working in the mayor's office reversed course. When the proclamation was issued, "all hell broke loose" according to Mr. Sahl. He said local church members and the Moral Majority protested at City Hall, while a smaller group of gay community members also fought back. When, finally, the county Supervisors issued a ban on discrimination against gays in Santa Clara County, the tide began to turn.

Sahl's archives are now a part of San Jose State University's Special Collections, an apt place for preserving the history of the local gay community since, he says, it is where the gay movement began in the South Bay. Of drag queens, Sahl offers his historical perspective. "If there were never any drag queens there would not have been gay bars. They were the silent action committee, if you will. Being in drag is their very nature. It gave the gay world the reason to fight for stopping discrimination and to eventually, hopefully, be accepted."

The GLBT community's vibrant nature exists because of the diversity of its members. When our open eyes lead to the opening of our hearts, we can celebrate the full richness of all people. Thanks to the drag queens for leading the way to open-mindedness.

Joseph Rosenfeld, the nation's only male Certified Image Professional, helps men, women and corporate sales, training and service organizations build professional images. Visit for more information.

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