While most of us expected to walk into the clubs “purse first” for 2020 Pride, that of course, wasn’t possible due to coronavirus concerns. But thanks to performers like Bob the Drag Queen, there were still many ways to celebrate. Almost immediately after self-quarantine began in March, drag queens across the country took up the mantle as ambassadors for the LGBTQ community, providing fans numerous venues from livestreaming shows on Stageit to Brandon Voss’ pre-taped VOD Digital Drag specials. Queens not only gave their community an outlet to pass the time, but also made us still feel connected to each other even though we’re physically apart.
But June was not all about celebration. The month before, George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis P.D., reigniting a long overdue social revolution over police brutality. As a Black entertainer, Bob the Drag Queen is no stranger to political and social activism, and she has continued in 2020 to use her platform as the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 to inspire, teach and, of course, entertain.
From HBO’s heart-tugging hit We’re Here (starring alongside other Drag Race alums Shangela Laquifa Wadley and Eureka O’Hara) to MTV’s Drag My Dad series to the YouTube chat show The Pit Stop to her popular Sibling Rivalry podcast with best friend and fellow Drag Race winner Monet X Change, to her brand new comedy special Bob The Drag Queen: Live at Caroline’s, Bob has stayed biz-y. But as another Pride month comes to a close, she took some time to talk to L.A. Weekly about LGBTQ rights, getting arrested for them, educating the “Karens” and everything else going on in the world right now from her home in New York City.
LA WEEKLY: How are you doing Bob?
BOB: Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m sad. I’ve been in quarantine for three months now, so there’s no way I could quickly answer the question of how I’m doing, there’s just been so many things going on in the past three and a half months.
Yeah, definitely. So since this is part of a series of Pride Q&A’s, I’ll make my question a little more specific — can you talk a little bit about what Pride in 2020 means to you and what you’ve done for Pride so far?
Right now, I’m focusing my Pride on uplifting black Queer voices, which isn’t really a new practice for me, but it feels like now other people are also listening. Queer voices of color essentially put Pride on the map, and now folks are like, ‘and as a second thought, we think that these people should be uplifted’…finally.
Speaking of the roots of Pride, can you talk a little bit about your past activism before 2020? For example, weren’t you arrested in Times Square while protesting for marriage equality?
I did get arrested fighting for marriage equality in Times Square — actually it was Bryant Park a block over. But I do want to be clear that I was planning on getting arrested, and that is a lot different than what people are going through right now. Planning on getting arrested is quite frankly a little bit easier than the other way around.
I was with a group of radical Queers who were teaching about how you get arrested for activism and how you space your arrests apart, you don’t ever get arrested more than once every six month… They really facilitated activism and [helped] people like me who wanted to use all that comes with being a young, loud drag queen, as opposed to someone who just goes out to the street to go on a peaceful march and ends up getting tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets.
In 2020’s fight, what do you think are the most effective ways to resist?
That’s different for different people. For example, let’s say you’re an influencer, you’ll probably have a louder voice to broadcast to your 3 million Instagram followers. If you’re a person who is high risk, you may not want to go to a march because there’s a chance that you could contract COVID-19 and have some serious health issues.
Something I don’t have access to is a white racist mom. One of the best ways you can protest is basically being in the house of a Karen, and getting her to stop being a Karen. I don’t have a white racist mom, but someone out there does who has the ability to influence how their parents think when operating in the world. That is a really fierce privilege. I have some cisgender straight men in my family who have problematic views regarding gender and Trans women. That’s when I use my privilege to reach out to them.
So what has been working for you in terms of resisting in today’s climate?
I’ve been using my online presence and I’ve been really focusing a lot on Black joy because I was noticing there was a lot of black tragedy. Peppermint, who’s a good friend of mine and a drag queen and a Trans activist and a black Queer icon, created the three-day Black Queer Town Hall [with me], available on YouTube. We donated to the Okra Project, which is a nonprofit here in New York City that works towards food security and making sure that black Trans people have literally the bare minimum, which is food. They start from there and then build up from that level. Sometimes we forget how hard it is to have access to that stuff because we’re so used to having it, but there are actually lots of people in this world who are not only being oppressed and being marginalized, but are also just hungry.
What do you think needs to happen next?
I think knowledge is power, education is key. I think that we have to keep having these very uncomfortable conversations with our family, with our friends. The conversation has to continue. Listen, there is no equality without the loss of power. Someone is going to have to lose power. That is really uncomfortable for some people to actually think about, but in order for marginalized people to gain power, white, cisgender, straight, people are going to have to lose some and that’s just how it is.
Is there anything you haven’t been asked in previous interviews, especially by a white writer like me, that you would want to talk about or share?
You know, I haven’t really considered that. I know there’s been stuff I’ve been asked where I’m just kind of like, geez, please stop asking me questions. And sometimes not even because they’re offensive, sometimes I’m just sick of answering that question. But maybe that’s also because I do a lot of interviews. I’m pretty new to being a celebrity, even though I was [first] on TV years ago, so for me I realized that a big part of being a celebrity is answering the same questions over and over and over again. For me right now, it is: “what is Pride?” I just feel like this year in particular, I’ve been asked that question so many times, and to me [the answer] feels obvious, but maybe it’s not.
So what is the answer to you?
To me, the answer is that Pride is something that comes from within. You’re going to use the confidence you received from others, but eventually at some point you will be able to garner it yourself. The Color Purple is my favorite movie because it’s the most pure love story in the world. In the end, [the character Celie] didn’t change the mind of her abusive husband, she didn’t even get Shug ever, they didn’t have an amazing lesbian relationship. In the end, she learned to love herself and that’s how she was happy.
I do want to talk a little bit about your career, because even though we’ve all been on lockdown, you’ve had a pretty busy 2020 so far: you have your Live at Caroline’s comedy special, your Sibling Rivalry podcast with All Stars 4 winner Monét X Change, two episodes of RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race, a hosting gig for World of Wonder’s digital series The Pit Stop and season one of HBO’s documentary series We’re Here.
I love keeping busy. It’s a big part of how I’ve been able to stay with it through this quarantine.
The drag community has definitely done an amazing job at keeping the LGBTQ community together and giving us something to do during this pandemic.
I agree, and that’s honestly a credit to some really amazing creative queens who I look up to. I love Monét X Change, she’s my best friend. Jackie Beat [is] constantly creating work, Peppermint is one of my dear friends. These are people who I look up to and who are like constantly working and creating.
And not to put pressure on folks to feel like you have to be constantly creating and working, but I know that’s how I cope and that’s how I get through it. It’s been helping me, but that’s not to say it’s for everyone. There’s a pressure that you got to come out of quarantine speaking Spanish, 20 pounds lighter, snatched to the gods with the biceps like Popeye, with a Master’s Degree having raised $35,000 in charity. You don’t have to do all that. Try your best to come out feeling good.
“Condragulations” on getting picked up for season two of We’re Here on HBO. Any idea yet what that show will look like in a post COVID-19 world?
We haven’t been able to [even start] the conversation yet because it’s just so up in the air. On top of mending the racial divide in our country, we are still on the mend from COVID-19 and quarantine. There’s just so much healing to do in the world. Not just social, but also economical and structural. The world is upside down right now and that’s why I’m giving a lot of grace and dignity to people as they figure things out.
Any advice to people who are particularly feeling upside down and turned around right now?
Allow yourself to feel and be nice to yourself. Be nice to yourself in the way that you’d be nice to someone else who was going through stuff. If you had a friend going through a lot, you wouldn’t give them a hard time for going through it. You’d be like, it’s ok you’re going through it. So offer yourself the same grace and dignity that you’d offer to others.