Drag March for Change in June 2020 Credit: Vern Hester

An important aspect of drag that doesn’t readily translate to a mini-challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race is an artist’s ability to command a stage: whether that means lip-syncing in front of an audience, or marching in the streets. Chicago’s drag community showed up and showed out in 2020 at the crucial moments when we needed their unique perspectives and leadership abilities. 

In June, when civil unrest and public demonstrations were a consistent daily presence in the city, Black LGBTQ+ community activists organized the Drag March for Change, leading crowds on the “Boystown” strip in Lakeview to protest racial inequity in the neighborhood and beyond. Some of the organizing around the march resulted in the formation of the Chicago Black Drag Council, a group that helps empower both local drag performers and the wider LGBTQ+ community of Chicago by working toward restorative justice. 

In addition to changing the world, our drag community still had to get paid. By August many Chicago venues that host drag shows had pivoted to online or outdoor and socially distanced programming. Kudos to all those who found a way to lip-sync with a face shield in traffic, especially the performers at Uptown’s Baton Show Lounge and Hamburger Mary’s (RIP) in Andersonville. And don’t count out those who achieved reality TV fame: in January 2021, professional ice skater and season 13 Drag Race contestant Denali released Chicago Drag Excellence, a video by local trans-led film collective Transit Productions at Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere. Chicago Drag Excellence features a bevy of local performers beautifully captured as they respond to Crystal Waters’s 1994 hit “100% Pure Love,” including Drag Race alumnae, plus full contact information and Venmo/Instagram links in the credits. It’s a tribute to the Chicago drag world of the 2020s: a cinematic balm to lift our city’s spirits.