Special Event Consultant
History of Drag in Portland
Drag has been a staple in the Portland entertainment community for decades, with a strong presence of Black drag performers since the late 60s. With the formation of the United United Kingdom (UEK), the Black drag community secured its role in Portland’s Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) history. From pageant queens to bar queens, showgirls, emcees, event producers, and more, the Black queens of Portland continue to lead the way! Following in the footsteps of the UEK pioneers, the annual Hot Chocolate PDX remains the premier Black Excellence Drag Experience!
Did you know that Black and Latine trans women and drag queens are credited with starting the Pride movement? Did you know that the drag scene in Portland dates back to the 19th century?
This year, RACE TALKS: Uniting to Break the Chains of Racism honors the intersectionality of Pride and Juneteenth by hosting an event that centers and welcomes QTBIPOC to be in a safe space together and celebrate our legacy and future together. We offer a brief synopsis below about the origins of Pride and Juneenth and how Portlanders commemorate them. We hope that The History of Black Drag in Portland is an inaugural event, with many more years of celebration to come. We recognize that the contributions of Black people are the link between Pride and Juneteenth; we welcome information and feedback to this page.
Pride is celebrated throughout the month of June and has become synonymous with predominately white cis male and female celebrations across the United States and around the world, even though the origins of Pride began with Black and brown transwomen challenging for their place among cis queer and hetero society. Juneteenth is celebrated on or around June 19th, and this year, falls within Portland’s Pride celebrations. Pride encapsulates the many colors of the Queer Rainbow family, but Queer Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QTBIPOC) still struggle to find spaces where they are welcomed, seen, and safe.
The Black QT+ (Queer Trans plus) community has a long history as a vibrant part of American culture. Black writers and poets of the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s, such as Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Hurston; and musical entertainers, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Gladys Bentley were some of the most legendary lesbian, gay, bisexual, and gender non-conforming artists whose influence on American culture was far reaching and vital; and Bayard Rustin, who was quietly credited with being the brains behind the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, was a proud advocate and fighter in the Pride Movement.
During the early 20th century, most QT+ identified people did not have the choice to be open about their sexuality, as severe laws, restrictions, and homophobic public opinion actively suppressed their freedom.
The modern American gay rights movement began in New York City on June 28th, 1969. Police raided the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village pub and haven for the underground LGBTQ+ community. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans woman, is credited with throwing a brick, sparking a riot that expressed the frustration and anger of QT+ citizens subjected to oppressive systems of racism and homophobia. Marsha P. Johnson, along with other Black transgender activists, Zazu Nova, Jackie Harmona, and Latin activist, Sylvia Rivera, led the rebellion at the Stonewall Riots. They went on to form the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to support the trans community, who were facing insurmuntable discrimination, along with housing and health care insecurity under the rising AIDS epidemic.
In June 1970, one year after the Stonewall Riots, the first gay liberation marches were held in resistance to homophobic laws and bigotry. Thousands of people in the QT+ community bravely demonstrated their demand for equal civil rights, in cities all across the county. Several powerful QT+ organizations were formed and the Pride movement gained momentum. The original movement was a fight for housing, health care and other resources for transpeople, sex workers, and community impacted by the AIDS epidemic.
The first Pride celebration in Portland, Oregon was the “Gay Pride Fair” in 1975, held in the South Park Blocks. In 1977, the first “Gay Pride March” in Portland took place. Up to 400 people marched with signs demanding gay rights. Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt proclaimed this “Gay Pride Day;” however, Pride marchers were met with 200 anti-gay rights antagonists; many anti-gay Christian church members in Portland tried to recall the mayor, because of his support for the gay rights movement.
Portland’s Gay Pride events continued annually, and by the early 1980s, organizers renamed the celebration Lesbian and Gay Pride Week. In 1997, the name was changed to the Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans Pride Parade to be even more inclusive. By the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic was a crucial issue tragically affecting the QT+ community. People of color represented a disproportionate number of people with AIDS, yet the fight for gay rights and AIDS activism was largely centered around whiteness. In 1983, a white attendee at the Portland Pride Parade wore blackface with an Aunt Jemima costume, further illustrating the chasm racism presents between the fight for QT+ rights and the fight for racial justice in the same community. While large victories have been achieved for LGBTQ+ citizens over the decades, maintaining and achieving further equality and justice remains a continuing fight, especially for QTBIPOC. The threat of hard-won civil rights being rolled back by bigoted lawmakers, the tragic reoccurrence of hate crimes, oppressive laws, ignorance and bigotry are a grim reality that overlaps both LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. At the forefront of celebrating QTBIPOC Pride is resilience, excellence, and love and the demand for justice and equality remains strong in our spirit. RACE TALKS is committed to serving and creating a safe space for the QTBIPOC community, and educating cis BIPOC and QT+ white folx to be better allies. Please refrain from performative participation of Pride, and instead, attend RACE TALKS quarterly affinity conversations; participate in the monthly QTBIPOC program offerings in your local community; and please write your Congressional officials to pass federal QT+ protection laws.
Juneteenth is celebrated on or around June 19th, and commemorates the two-year extension of enslaved labor that Blacks in Texas were forced to provide because white people did not convey the news that the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved Blacks in the Southern States. It is celebrated by Black Americans across the country; however the federal government just recently acknowledged it as a federal holiday.
In Oregon, the Juneteenth Oregon Celebration was founded 50 years ago by the late and beloved community leader Clara Peoples. The celebration of Juneteenth Oregon dates back to 1945 when Peoples introduced the tradition from Muskogee, Oklahoma, to her co-workers at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland. Upon moving to Portland in 1945, Clara Peoples was surprised to learn that the Juneteenth holiday was unknown in this part of the country. She introduced the holiday to her co-workers at the Kaiser Shipyards during their break beginning the first Juneteenth Celebration in Oregon.
Later Clara helped to initiate Portland’s annual citywide Juneteenth celebration in 1972. Juneteenth Oregon’s celebration starts with a parade, followed by the festivities which includes live music and entertainment, art, food, educational booths, cultural booths, community resources and a children’s play area.
We urge our community to learn about and support local Juneteenth celebrations in their community by patroning Black owned businesses and attending local celebrations. Please refrain from performative activities such as purchasing corporate products that highlight Juneteenth marketing, in an attempt to solicit business away from the Black community. To truly support Juneteenth, please urge your Congressional officials to support and pass a reparations bill.
Our goal is to keep the past in the present, to celebrate and connect us all with the people and events that have helped define each McMenamins property. To that end, we research, interview and compile materials to identify and commemorate our properties and their surroundings.
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Pride Northwest, Inc’s mission is to encourage and celebrate the positive diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans communities, and to assist in the education of all people through the development of activities that showcase the history, accomplishments, and talents of these communities.
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Q Center is Portland’s LGBTQ2SIA+ Community Center.
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JOIN US AT MCMENAMINS KENNEDY SCHOOL THEATER AS WE CELEBRATE
THE HISTORY OF BLACK DRAG IN PORTLAND
WHEN: June 16th Doors at 6:00 PM, Program at 7:00 PM
WHERE: McMenamins Kennedy School Theater 5736 NE 33rd Ave
ABOUT THE EVENT
RACE TALKS: Uniting to Break the Chains of Racism, McMenamins History, Poison Waters and local Black drag queens, along with local organizations are teaming up to present The History of Black Drag in Portland, an intersectional Pride and Juneteenth event that will explore the history and contemporary experience of Black drag in Portland; hosted at the McMenamins Kennedy School Theater on June 16, 2022. This event features fabulous drag performances and a special forum to learn about the intersection between the history of BIPOC and QT+ communities. We are emphasizing QTBIPOC in-person attendance because there are few Pride events that are centered around Black and brown queer folx in Portland.
IMPORTANT FOR IN PERSON ATTENDANCE
Due to a high resurgence of COVID in Oregon, and the high predisposition QTBIPOC folx have to COVID, RACE TALKS is taking preventative precautions to ensure this is a healthy and safe space for all of us.
Please Bring the following:
- State ID or Driver’s License; if drinking, you will need to show the bar legal ID. Minors must have a student ID or be verified by their adult.
- Valid Vaccination Card OR COVID test results within the past 72 hours; a limited number of COVID tests will be available for on site testing before entry.
- Masks are required in the theater, unless you are consuming food or beverages, or taking pictures. Masks will be made available.
- We are serious about this. A failure to comply will result in a forfeiture of entry.
- You must submit a community supported request form to RACE TALKS. Follow the instructions on the form. We will need to verify you before we put you on the guest list.
HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE
QTBIPOC Community members – All Ages – Receive a FREE community supported ticket. It includes admission and a $30 food and beverage voucher.
- NOTE: You must submit a community supported request form in order to receive your ticket. This offer is good for one ticket per person for in-person events. One ticket per household for virtual events.
- To ensure a seat, youth must also submit a form for their own ticket.
Community Organizations serving QTBIPOC – There are two ways to participate:
- Promote the event to QTBIPOC community members. See our Social Media and Press Kit for promotional materials.
- Reserve a row at the event.
- Contact RACE TALKS to reserve a row in your organization’s name.
- Your organization will receive up to 8 guest seats specifically for QT BIPOC members. Each guest will receive free admission and a $30 food and beverage voucher at the door.
- Submit the names of the people attending or we can fill the seats.
- If you plan to fill the seats, please be sure to have your members complete our community supported request form. You will be the verifying source for each person, so no further verification will be required of them.
Virtual Participation – HOST A WATCH PARTY for your friends and family. Take photos and share with us!
DONATIONS, SPONSORSHIPS, VOLUNTEER
This is a fundraiser event for RACE TALKS! We provide monthly in-person and virtual community programming that focuses on building community through educational events and facilitated dialogue. Help keep our programming free and reduced.
There are three ways to support us: