When I was 7, I began sneaking into my mom’s room whenever I found an opportunity — like when she was doing work in the yard or running an errand. I would step into her closet and admire the vast collection of floral scarves, and then pick out my favorites to strategically drape myself in before sliding into my favorite pair of peekaboo slingbacks with 6-inch heels. (Good thing we wore the same size shoe back then.)
Ever since, drag and dressing in traditionally feminine clothing has been a part of my life. My love of drag took on greater meaning when I performed in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I was invigorated by stepping into heels similar to the ones that had inspired me over a decade before (this time, without having to sneak around). Over the years, I’ve developed my own drag persona, Sherry Duvall-Covington, who I perform as regularly. For me, the art of drag has always been about expressing different sides of myself and playing around with new identities, whether they're male, female, or gender non-conforming.
To say that I take the NYC Drag March seriously is an understatement. I start planning for the event a month in advance, since blending in with the crowd is not an option. I brainstorm the look and do a few makeup test runs throughout the week. The NYC Drag March is one of many events that take place in the city during Pride Month. And, as a queer person, Pride is by far my favorite time of the year. It’s a chance for my community to celebrate the strides we’ve made, while also recognizing and speaking out about how far we still have to go. It’s a time to reflect and act on the grave injustices committed against the LGBTQA community, but it’s also a time to celebrate our diversity, and to be totally unapologetic for who we are or who we love.
Here in NYC, one of the birthplaces of the gay rights movement in America, and home to several LGBTQA historical sites, there is no end to the different festivities one can partake in — the Dyke March, Trans Day Of Action, the Drag March, the Family Pride Picnic, the Pride Parade, and the list goes on. I’m exhausted just thinking about the options. But my favorite kickoff to Pride weekend is the NYC Drag March, which happens the Friday before the actual, main NYC Pride Parade. Since 1994, a gaggle of feathery, bejeweled, and fabulous queers take to the streets in a procession. The March culminates in front of Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which helped launch several LGBTQA advocacy organizations. For the finale, attendees sing Judy Garland’s anthem "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," and there’s not a dry eye in sight.
The Drag March was initially conceived as a response to the main Pride March, commemorating the 25th year anniversary Stonewall Riots, when organizers "thought that the drag and leather were no longer appropriate for the annual parade," according to Benjamin Shepard in Rebel Friendships. As he wrote, "They ignored the fact that it was trans people and drag queens who were the majority of the rioters at Stonewall." In the face of growing pressure to present a more "respectable" version of the queer community to the larger public, a group of people stood up to challenge that narrative, and remind us of the inclusive queer history. Those people are my heroes, and I hope to continue their legacy.
I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family and work in an environment where I can wear high heels to work (and I have). But that doesn't mean that I don’t still feel insecure or unsafe in public sometimes. The Drag March is one of the few times of year I feel empowered to walk down the street unapologetically loud and colorful — and feel like I’m with my people. The overall energy is overwhelming, and there aren’t any leaders, which is why it feels communal and friendly. As we join in joyful protest to the beat of bongo drums, we chant, we sing, we dance, and we look fabulous the entire time. I almost always make friends with those around me. And can we talk about the looks? Here, the higher the heels, the closer to God(dess)! More is definitely more, and while you can certainly come as you are (I’ve seen people in suits and ties), it’s always fun to throw on a little glitter or a bright pink wig. Or if you’re anything like me, you’ll do both.
This year, Severely Mame, a drag queen friend of mine, and I got ready on camera for Refinery29’s Facebook. We poured ourselves a couple of glasses of rosé and put together some serious looks by painting our faces with glitter and every color in the rainbow. This year, we wore vintage caftans on loan from my friends at Rhode Resort. Inspired by the vintage style, Mame and I both decided to go full Elizabeth Taylor. I went a little outside the box with my makeup this year, and painted on a teal base with bright pink eyes and lips to match. I finished the look with some fun pom pom jewelry, massive green earrings, and a floral headpiece I made a few years ago, which I spray painted black to match my platforms.
There was only one snag: Just after we marched in the rain and sung our hearts out in front of The Stonewall Inn, the straps on my platforms broke. Fortunately, I had a pair of comfy Birkenstocks conveniently stashed away in my purse, and although it was not the look I was going for, at least I was prepared! Later, my friends and I made our way to a famous New York piano bar and belted out a few classic show tunes into the early morning. By the time I got home, my makeup was a mess, and my feet were sore, and that's when I knew this year’s kickoff to Pride was an utter success. Hallelujah!
With every Pride, I try to look back and think about our progress as a community and what has yet to be addressed. Have we made strides? Yes. But horrible, unjust things continue to occur within and against the LGBTQA community. The continued pushback of protections for queer, trans and non-binary people, especially with regards to people of color, are issues that still need greater attention and legislation. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to fight for the entire community, and let our voices be known to affect real change.
I love the Drag March, because it’s a non-commercialized place to be who you are, however you identify, and you're encouraged to be loudly you. A flyer for the event once stated, "Drag is what one makes it. Dress for success? Dress down? Undress? Under dress? Under duress? Anyone can join in." And the Drag March really is just that — a place for the queer community to come together and celebrate, protest, and show off who we are, without apologizing.