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Nation's first 'drag laureate' kicks off Pride in San Francisco


When you win a Nobel Prize, you become a Nobel laureate. The country also has a poet laureate. Many states have poet laureates. And now there is a drag laureate. NPR's Chloe Veltman recently joined the country's first drag laureate on her inaugural public appearance, unfurling a Pride flag outside San Francisco City Hall.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Getting D'Arcy Drollinger ready for her first official appearance as San Francisco drag laureate is a production.

D'ARCY DROLLINGER: I do need to get my nails on. So...

VELTMAN: The artist, nightclub owner and newly appointed government official stands in the living room of her San Francisco apartment as two helpers grapple with a set of bejeweled, custom-made artificial nails.

DROLLINGER: What was that one? That's a...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's a middle finger.

DROLLINGER: That's a thumb, honey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Wait. That's a thumb.

VELTMAN: Wedged into a pair of white patent stilettos and a tight, pink skirt suit, Drollinger eventually steps out of the house and into a very busy week.

DROLLINGER: I am speaking at the San Francisco Arts Commission. I'm also, in the same day, speaking at the entertainment commission. I'm also going to speak at a high school. I'll be in the parade with the mayor.

VELTMAN: San Francisco Mayor London Breed says the city's LGBTQ task force proposed the creation of the drag laureate position around three years ago, during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

LONDON BREED: The creativity, the joy that a drag laureate brings - because we've been through a really hard time.

VELTMAN: In fact, Breed says one of D'Arcy Drollinger's selling points as a candidate for the job was her track record as a spreader of sparkle. The nightclub owner pivoted during lockdown to create a food delivery service.

BREED: Meals on Heels.

VELTMAN: Performers in drag from Drollinger's nightclub delivered meals and cocktails to San Francisco residents with a side order of lip-syncing.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Come on. You're just joining me, right? Come on. We're all dancing.

VELTMAN: But Mayor Breed says the recent attacks against drag performers, as well as a rise in anti-drag legislation in different parts of the country, now make the appointment of a drag laureate particularly crucial.

BREED: In some of those communities where something like this wouldn't be considered acceptable behavior, there's a kid that's thinking, oh, my goodness. She's like me. I can be myself without fear.

KYLO FREEMAN: It's scary right now. The backlash is real.

DROLLINGER: That's Kylo Freeman. They're the force behind Drag is Divine. The ad campaign aims to raise awareness and funding to help fight anti-drag laws. Freeman says they're excited to see local governments highlight drag culture in such a visible way. In West Hollywood, officials plan to appoint a drag laureate later this month.

FREEMAN: I think it's a real step forward to have these roles in place, giving us folks that can speak on behalf of the community at a large scale.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Pull it. Pull it. Pull it. There we go.




VELTMAN: At San Francisco City Hall, D'Arcy Drollinger assists the mayor in the traditional unfurling of the Pride flag and makes her first official speech.


DROLLINGER: Drag is activism. Drag is joy. Drag is instrumental to bringing people together. Drag is fabulous.


VELTMAN: Afterwards, Drollinger cheerfully admits she's not quite prepared to meet the demands of her new job. For instance, being on one's feet at long-winded civic functions isn't super compatible with the wearing of three-inch stilettos. But the nation's first-ever drag laureate says she's willing to improvise.

DROLLINGER: Sometimes you have to lip-sync to whatever song gets turned on.

VELTMAN: Because that's what trailblazers do.

Chloe Veltman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.