Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym stands with drag performers VinChelle and Poochie (Photo via the Philadelphia Gay News.)
By Jeremy Rodriguez
PHILADELPHIA — Eight Philadelphia mayoral candidates let their city know that they are not participating in the national war on drag performers.
Drag queens Brittany Lynn and VinChelle brought drag performers from around the city together for a PGN photo op with the mayoral candidates at City Hall. Other performers in the March 21 photoshoot included Dominique Lee, Eric Jaffe, Morgan Wells, Poochie, Rocceaux, Domingo Chiquito, Tina Montgomery, and Yari. Surrounded by portraits of former mayors of Philadelphia, they posed with candidates Amen Brown, Jeff Brown, Allan Domb, Derek S. Green, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Rebecca Rhynhart — all Democrats.
The event comes at a time when the drag community is under attack across the country. Events such as Drag Queen Story Time have been the subject of protests that have led to acts of violence, forced disruptions, and cancellations, including for events at the Cherry Hill Library and Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.
Furthermore, 15 states have either restricted or introduced legislation restricting drag performances. 2022 saw record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills filed nationwide — including restrictions in schools and in gender-affirming healthcare — and the pressure has not slowed in 2023.
“I think it’s really important to live in a city like Philadelphia that’s so welcoming to its cultural diversity and to show that to other cities and states, especially now when drag queens, LGBTQIA+ communities and marginalized communities are constantly under attack by new legislation,” Brittany Lynn said on organizing the drag performers with VinChelle.
Allan Domb was the first candidate to show up for the photoshoot. He said he is “a big supporter of every citizen of this city” and noted that he would’ve attended the photoshoot even if he wasn’t running for mayor. He went on to affirm that anti-drag legislation across the country would not discourage him from supporting every Philadelphian.
“I am going to be the mayor for every person in the city,” Domb said. “I don’t care if they’re Democrats, Republicans, or working parties. If they’re a Philadelphian, I’m for them.”
Jeff Brown echoed that statement, noting that “there is no better way to express that than being involved with everyone, enjoying life together and having fun together.”
“I think it’s important to show we’re going to stand up to [anti-drag legislation] because these are human rights and we have to stand up to anyone that tries to take away our human rights,” Brown said. “And as mayor, I will be fighting like hell to keep our human rights.”
Derek S. Green said that showing up for the photoshoot was important because it illustrates the progressive history of the city and that “we need to continue to uphold that mantle even as we’re seeing these negative things happen across the country.”
“Drag performances go way back to Shakespearean times,” Green said. “People are trying to enjoy themselves and provide entertainment. We should not be castigating people based on their lifestyle or based on how they want to express themselves. I think today shows that that’s not tolerated in the City of Philadelphia.”
When asked why she chose to attend this photoshoot, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez laughed and said she wanted to “be cool” before saying it was “a great opportunity to have fun while also promoting the intersectionality of what’s going on in the city.”
“This is an opportunity for us to elevate the conversation and really push back on all of these miserable people who have all this time to tell us what we need to do with our bodies and who we love and how we live,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “So it’s a pushback to all of that and we get to do it while having fun.”
Cherelle Parker said she decided to show up because she was “pissed off” about the anti-drag legislation around the country. While waiting for her photo op, Parker mingled with the drag performers and even received some beauty tips from them. While each candidate had to pick a card at random to determine the performer they’d photograph with, Parker also requested her own personal photo with all of the performers in attendance.
“There is so much diversity,” Parker said when asked why she wanted an additional photo. “I’m a Black woman. I know what it’s like to be put in a box because I’m Black and then I’m a woman. But if you look at the variations of style and grace and focus — on the costumes, the design, the makeup, the hair — everyone is different and beautiful in their own right and that’s why it was important for me so people could see us all together.”
Parker wasn’t the only candidate to make specific requests. Helen Gym brought a rainbow feather boa and a pride flag with her to the photoshoot.
“This is a celebration,” Gym said of her decision to bring the items. “I have long said that Philadelphia should be the loudest, proudest city in America and that matters right now more than ever. This is not just about props or fun. It’s really a strong statement of presence, of visibility, of joy, and of ownership of this space and in particular, this political space.”
Rebecca Rhynhart also had fun during her photoshoot, as she did power poses and other variations with the drag performer she selected. The candidate hung out with the performers after her photos were taken and even invited them to her inauguration party should she become mayor.
“I want to stand in support of the LGBTQ+ community,” Rhynhart said. “Around the country, there has been this real war against drag queens and it’s ridiculous and it’s horrible. In Philly, that’s not the case. So I wanted to say as a mayoral candidate, I stand with the drag queens here in Philadelphia and I stand for the right to be who you are. We need to be able to express that. Everyone needs to be able to express that.”
Amen Brown said he attended the photoshoot because he wanted to show that he is “for everybody.”
“[I showed up to] show this community that they have a friend in me,” Brown said. “I love everybody and to show up today in person to show them that I’m here for you is sending a clear message that [I’m] going to be mayor for the entire city, no matter who you love or who you go home to.”
Yari spent several minutes with Gym, whom she sees as a role model, after the candidate’s photoshoot. While the drag performer was candid on how she “stans” Gym, she noted the role all of the candidates played in this event.
“I thank every single one of the candidates for helping us break this glass ceiling and in return, I hope that we can also do our part to help them break their glass ceilings,” Yari said.
Once the photo shoots were complete, VinChelle reflected on seeing the event unfold.
“It was so beautiful to see and it gives me a little bit of hope that there is still going to be people that are on our side,” VinChelle said. “A lot of times, I’ve been thinking that a lot of people are against us, but it’s so nice to see that different mayoral candidates of all colors and all genders came to support the performers, queens and kings.”
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