As queer spaces across the country struggle to survive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, West Hollywood is investing in a novel way to support its local nightlife. The city could become the first in U.S. history to appoint an official drag laureate.
West Hollywood City Council is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss a finalized proposal to create the groundbreaking position, according to the LGBTQ+ newspaper East Bay Reporter. The proposal reportedly describes the position as “an ambassador to West Hollywood businesses, especially the businesses in the city’s historic LGBT district” who will be tasked with advancing “arts and culture in West Hollywood.”
“The Drag Laureate would serve to highlight and promote the contributions of drag artists to West Hollywood,” the document reads.
Council members Lauren Meister and John Duran brought the idea to the five-member body after the idea of a drag laureate was first proposed in San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy three years ago. San Francisco has yet to bring the suggestion to fruition, but Meister claimed that she and her colleagues felt it was a “great” way to help businesses impacted by coronavirus.
“Right now, what we need to be doing is supporting our local businesses, our small businesses, our legacy businesses and our LGBT businesses more than ever,” she told the Bay Area Reporter in October.
Several bars and nightclubs in the heart of West Hollywood, one of America’s most densely populated gayborhoods, have been forced to close their doors as a result of the pandemic. These include Flaming Saddles, Gold Coast, Rage, and Gym Bar, many of which have remained in operation for decades. They were joined by Oil Can Harry’s in nearby North Hollywood, which opened in 1968.
Several of these spaces were tied to landlord Monte Overstreet, as them. previously reported. Club owners claimed that Overstreet, who refused to comment on the allegations, refused to negotiate their rental agreements when COVID-19 forced them to shut down and was unsupportive of their efforts to remain afloat.
In addition to offering an extra lifeline to West Hollywood’s ailing business district, Duran said the drag laureate position helps to acknowledge the role that drag has played in the city’s history, even prior to its 1984 incorporation.
“Drag [has been] synonymous with West Hollywood for the past 100 years,” Duran, who lost his reelection bid in November, told the queer travel website GayCities last year. “Chicago gangster Mickey Cohen set up the first drag club on our Sunset Strip in the 1930s as a form of entertainment. Little did he know he was helping birth the LGBT community’s presence in West Hollywood.”
West Hollywood City Council unanimously voted in October to move forward with the drag laureate position. If the official plan is greenlit on Monday, the council plans to seat a candidate in the position by November.
Barring roadblocks, applicants for the position will be permitted to apply beginning on August 30 with a final deadline of September 30, according to the Bay Area Reporter. Interested parties must submit a three-minute video showcasing their work and are required to demonstrate that they possess “a significant connection to the City of West Hollywood.” This could include volunteer work or organizing events in the city.
The officeholder, who will serve in the position until October 2023, will reportedly receive a $5,000 per year stipend. Drag laureates are required to attend city functions and business mixers as a representative of the council.
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