Bob The Drag Queen Talks Racism And The Future Of Pride
The RuPaul’s Drag Race and We’re Here star shares thoughts on microaggressions, Pride 2020, and the reason why people should stand up to Donald Trump.
Apart from being one of the fiercest queens ever to have shantayed down the main stage of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bob the Drag Queen is also one of the most iconic.
Having grown up in Columbus, Georgia, and moved to New York City at the age of 22, she has made a name for herself as a stand-up comedian, actor, and activist. Describing herself as “hilarious, beautiful, talented, and… humble,” she went on to slay the competition in Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, snatching the crown as one of the most undisputed winners in the herstory of the show.
And prior to her global fame on television, Bob the Drag Queen had been consistently standing up for LGBTQ folks and their rights for years.
A founding member of the group of drag queens who staged weekly demonstrations in Times Square demanding marriage equality in 2015, she strikes the perfect balance between hilarious and serious in her comedy — often talking about black lives and drawing on personal life experience.
Since the murder of George Floyd, she and fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Peppermint have been using their platforms to raise awareness, emerging as two leading queer voices who are forcing all of us to look at the world through a more intersectional lens.
BuzzFeed LGBTQ caught up with Bob the Drag Queen earlier this week as New York City began streaming its annual Pride events online due to COVID-19 and as activists prepared for the Queer Liberation March on Sunday.
What do you think it is about the current Black Lives Matter movement that has captured the attention of the world to an even greater extent than before?
BtDQ: I think it’s the perfect storm, with the pandemic, quarantine, and the murder of George Floyd happening all at once. What happened to George Floyd — that video was particularly upsetting — seeing a man of that age specifically calling for his mom, with the cop kneeling on his neck for almost nine entire minutes.
So, why is Black Lives Matter so important to us as a society right now?
BtDQ: It’s always been important, but, compared to maybe 10 years ago, it’s as if people have decided they’ve had enough. It reminds me of that movie, Network, where the main character sticks his head out and yells, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It’s like America has reached that point.
My mom asked me why I was going to a march because she was afraid of what might happen to me, and I said: “Well, think about Nevaeh, my niece. Maybe one day when she’s your age, and she has kids who are my age, maybe because all this is happening now, things will have changed, and she won’t have to feel nervous about whether or not her kids are going to make it home.”
What about the current Trump administration? Does it warrant a mention in this context?
BtDQ: While I like the idea of not mentioning Donald Trump, as a form of protest, I think right now we need to be mentioning Donald Trump, so people see his egregious transgressions. Not only against black people, but Americans, and not just Americans, but people around the world — so Americans can do something to get him out of office.
People refer to him as “he who shall not be named,” but Donald Trump isn’t Voldemort. Voldemort was an outcast, and Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America.
In order to get rid of Donald Trump, you need to be willing to stand up and do something about it.
The Black Trans Lives Matter movement has also been gaining momentum. Why does this need to be raised as a separate topic?
BtDQ: There are people trying to exclude Black trans lives from the debate, because of what I think is a combination of misogyny and internalized homophobia.
I believe that when cisgender men are killed, it’s because people are afraid of their power and of what they’ll do, but that when people kill trans women, a lot of it is because they’re afraid of themselves and the reflection they saw of themselves in the trans woman.
A lot of Black trans women are murdered by the people who say they love them. We need more Black, cisgender straight men to be willing to come out and say: “I stand with Black trans people.”
Is systemic racism an issue in the drag world? Are there any personal experiences you could share with us?
BtDQ: In terms of experiencing microaggressions as a Black person in America, my cup runneth over. On a professional level, something recently came to light in Chicago, where a drag queen called T Rex had been stifling the voices of local Black queens.
"They see a queen who is young, white, pretty, all the things they want to be, so they click on her profile."
Hearing Shea Couleé talk about her experience reminded me of when I was working the club scene in New York and this queen wanted me to do something I thought was offensive. I said no and ended up quitting the show because of it, and she went around telling people I was problematic and a trouble stirrer.
What about in RuPaul’s Drag Race?
BtDQ: I don’t think the show itself has ever had an issue lifting up voices of color — just look at the number of Black queens who have won, or gone very far, in the competition.
But don’t white queens tend to have more followers on social media than Black queens?
BtDQ: That’s less about the show itself, and more about the fan base. Because of implicit bias, fans tend to click on the person they have most in common with. They see a queen who is young, white, pretty, all the things they want to be, so they click on her profile.
This year seems to be the year of the pandemic, the fight for social justice, and racial equality. Is pride still relevant in 2020?
BtDQ: Not only do I think pride is still important, I think it’s doubly important to acknowledge why we have pride and the people who gave it to us.
There’s this historic conflict between those who maintain that Black drag queen Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick at Stonewall and others who say it was a butch lesbian named Stormé DeLarverie. What a lot of people don’t know is that Stormé was also a person of color.
For me, I think it’s important to spread Black queer joy and acknowledge Black queer excellence and the achievements that have been made by my people, specifically meaning Black queer people.
I’m not someone who thinks pride is too corporate, but when I’m spending my gay dollars, I want to make sure I know where they’re going. If a company is in the parade, it may not always be a guarantee that they actively support our community. But it’s an indicator I can use.
Is it still okay to celebrate pride, given everything that’s happening in the world?
BtDQ: I think you can celebrate. You can mourn and celebrate at the same time. You can celebrate pride, by lifting up what Black queer people have given us. Whether it was Stormé or Marsha P. Johnson, the movement was started by Black queers.
Looking back on 2020, in, say, five years from now, what do you hope we will have achieved?
BtDQ: I hope the dismantling of white supremacy will have taken much greater steps forward. While I acknowledge that we have the loudest, most problematic head of state, let’s not forget that there are a lot of Trumps out there in the world, whose names happen to not be Donald Trump.
So, it’s my hope that those people are being taken to task for what they’ve done to communities of color and other marginalized groups. I think the pendulum is going to swing back. I really believe that the pendulum is going to swing back in the opposite direction.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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