Drag queen Honey Mahogany made her national debut in 2013 during season five of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This year, she won a different type of race. She’s now elected as chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, which makes her the first Black and first trans person to lead the committee. She’s also the first trans chair of any local U.S. Democratic Party at a time when trans rights have become a hot-button political issue in conservative states nationwide.
Mahogany got involved in politics when she saw the displacement of queer venues and people from San Francisco due to rising rents and other forms of gentrification. That includes The Stud, a now-shuttered gay bar in the region.
“As the city continues to gentrify, as more and more moneyed interests continue to move into San Francisco … this is sort of a tale as old as time, but poor people, people of color, and queer people have continued to be pushed out,” she tells KCRW. “It's also an important corner of the leather LGBTQ community of San Francisco. And the spaces here are really small and really expensive. And so it makes it hard for us to really carve out a future for ourselves here.”
Mahogany says she sees her election as a counter to the current political divisiveness and an example of the inclusivity that the Democratic Party represents. She adds that in a post-George Floyd world, there’s been an acknowledgment of the importance of diversity.
“We, as a Democratic Party, have had the opportunity to really bring folks in as the Republican Party has continued to get more and more insane, and really sort of ostracize itself and discriminate against more and more communities. … This time that I think we've had as a country to really look inside and reflect has also made us realize how important it is to center the voices of those who are most marginalized and most impacted by the systems of oppression that we've been carrying on our backs,” she says.
She continues, “So I think that yeah, people are looking towards the leadership of more women, more people of color, more queer people, and more trans people. So I think it's kind of a perfect storm.”
Mahogany says that through her position with the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, she wants to support people living on the streets by building permanent supportive housing and creating affordable housing for middle-income individuals. She’s also advocating for safe injection sites and community policing.
“Having more resources to offer people, having an ability to keep eyes on people, but also offering people help when they're ready to receive it, I think is really going to be key in terms of getting folks off the street,” Mahogany says.
Preparing for the recall election and the progressive struggle
California’s gubernatorial recall election is happening on September 14. Mahogany says the state Democratic Party is rallying around Governor Gavin Newsom through phone banking and connecting with stakeholders such as labor groups.
She notes that as time goes on, she can see the makeup of the Democratic Party swinging farther to the left, due in part to an embrace of progressive values such as universal health care among young people.
“Progressive values haven't really been given a chance. I think that there is a struggle within the Democratic Party itself … of more traditionalists and then more people like me, who I think are a little more progressive,” she notes. “I think we will see a swing to the left within the Democratic Party over the next couple of years. In fact, I think if … we survive this recall … Governor Newsom is actually going to owe a lot to progressives who really rallied the troops and helped turn out that vote.”
Why drag is political
Although she didn’t set out to make a political statement when delving into the world of drag, Mahogany says she quickly learned that anything having to do with gender can quickly become political.
“Drag has always been linked to activism and pushing back specifically within the LGBT community,” she says. “Historically speaking, there's been a lot of pushback, specifically around gender roles and the ways in which people conform to gender. And so the people who are oftentimes arrested by the police or discriminated against were often the drag queens or the femme people.”
She adds, “Just existing as a drag queen performing is, I think, a form of rebellion and a form of protest.”