High school is a drag, but it doesn’t have to be. — Queens of the Castro
When I went to high school I couldn’t wait for it to end. I knew what it was like to be bullied by my peers. My “bullying” came in the form of blackmail. “Do this or I’ll call your parents and tell them you’re gay.” Nothing felt worse than knowing what my parents would do to me if this call was made. I would have been humiliated and disowned. Living under the constant fear of being outed was horrifying. I wondered if this kind of treatment would ever change for high school students.
Finally, a change is coming. It’s starting at Mission High School in San Francisco, California. I’d like to introduce you to three brave drag queens known as The Queens of the Castro. They are Honda Hybrid, Darla Gayle and Jenna Talia. Through the use of drag performances they are helping the students learn about the gay community and bringing tolerance and understanding to high school students.
Abby: Honda, would you please tell us about The Queens of the Castro and your goals?
Honda: I’m a high school math teacher at Mission High School. And when I started working here, I became the faculty adviser to The Gay Straight Alliance. We started drag shows at my high school to promote tolerance and understanding of the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bi Sexual, Transgender and Questioning] community and to fight bullying. And then when I met Darla and Jenna, we decided to expand the drag shows to other high schools in San Francisco and across the Bay. We are continuing the same movement across the district to create safe spaces for all students who identified LGBTQ in San Francisco and the Bay, and eventually the whole United States.
Abby: Now call me conservative, but hasn’t that been met with a little bit of resistance?
Honda: I’ve only actually had one student’s parents call me and ask why I have a rainbow flag in my classroom and why I dress in drag. But that’s the only direct resistance that I’ve encountered in my seven years as a high school teacher. Oh, I’ve also had some conservative articles written that I’m not teaching math, I’m teaching students how to be drag queens.
We started out as a 200-person show in a small theater. It was an invite only for teachers at the high school. We realized that often we didn’t reach everyone that we wanted to reach, like it was preaching to the choir, so now we do it for the whole entire school and faculty. It’s a cultural assembly that honors different identities and different groups of students and people. Students have vocalized that they don’t want to go to the drag show because they don’t think it’s appropriate. We wouldn’t allow students to say that about the black students assembly. So we encourage all students to attend and to learn about the LGBTQ community through our show.
Darla: We also make it educational. We have videos and LGBT history that we display throughout the show as well.
Abby: So The Queens of the Castro is a non-profit organization?
Jenna: Yes it is. This is how the whole name came about. We were sitting around when The Housewives of Orange County TV show came out. We’re just going, “It would be amazing if we could just have The Queens of the Castro be a reality TV show.” So it started out as a joke, and then the more we thought about it, the more this idea of bringing this drag show to other high schools came about. We started thinking, “Why don’t we call ourselves The Queens of the Castro, and make it into a non-profit?” We started from the ground up, and we’ve become the non-profit that we want to work with.
Darla: Also, two years ago The Queens of the Castro started giving out scholarships to LGBTQ youth within the San Francisco Unified School District. This year we’re going to be opening that up with the money we raise from our show on March 1, 2014, to all of the Bay Area school districts for the students to apply.
Abby: How does the student qualify for a scholarship?
Honda: Students must show involvement in their high school’s Gay Straight Alliance (or similar club/projects) and must have clearly defined post-secondary goals. To date, we have honored three high school students in San Francisco with scholarships.
Abby: Okay so scholarship doesn’t have to go toward buying school books. It could be used for someone starting a business?
Honda: Right. Starting a business or going into something like an occupation that they’ve really dreamed of having and they need to buy supplies or a uniform or anything like that.
Abby: How much are the scholarships for?
Honda: The first three scholarships that we’ve awarded were all for $500. We hope to compound that considerably through more fundraising efforts.
Abby: Well, let’s talk about your fundraising efforts. You have a big show coming up on March 1st. Who is in the show and where will it be held?
Darla: We have seven RuPaul’s Drag Race girls that are going to be in the show. We have Kelly Mantle, Tammie Brown, Yara Sophia, Gia Gunn, Shangela, Honey Mahogany, and Jiggly Caliente. Plus we have local queens such as Heklina, BeBe Sweetbriar, Grace Towers and Cookie Dough. And we have a hula hoop artist, she does a residency at The Supperclub, and her name is Erin Shredder. At our show we will also have the students from Mission High School do a performance and a fashion show. They’re going to be providing their own clothes that we were given a $2,500 grant from Southern Exposure. And so the students are actually creating their own costumes for that fashion show right now.
Abby: Will The Queens of the Castro be performing?
Darla: Yes. The Queens of the Castro are going to be opening the show. The teachers at Mission High School and maybe a few other schools will be getting others to perform as well.
Abby: Do you take clothing or jewelry donations?
Darla: That’s a good question. About a year ago, we actually had a High Heel Drive, where we had people donate high heels and clothing that could be used for drag queens. And we have a thing that we call the “Drag Box.” It’s something that we’re going to utilize to pass around to the various high schools that will have high heels, drag clothes, wigs, and makeup that the students can use to get into drag for their shows. So we do accept donations of clothes, heels, makeup, and wigs.
Abby: Will you be accepting donations the night of the show?
Darla: That’s a good idea, yes.
Abby: I think we can help you with that.
Jenna: Just to elaborate a little more about it. One of the things we realized is that we’re getting so much attention from other high schools, and even some elementary schools have reached out to us – we haven’t really done one at an elementary school yet – but we started realizing that it is going to be a lot of work to just have the actual Queens of the Castro and help them build the drag show from scratch. So when he’s talking about drag in a box, we’re going to have pretty much the supplies and provide it to them. All they have to do is come up with a performance and the people who are going to be participating. But in terms of clothes, wigs, makeup, and couple of volunteers to help them do their drag face, we’re all going to help provide that as well as educational videos they can use in their show.
Abby: When you say educational videos, what are you referring to?
Honda: One of our members is a colleague of mine; she’s a history teacher. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48) that requires all history curricula to include history of LGBTQ people. She is working directly with the LGBT museum in San Francisco to compile a history throughout the decades of the LGBTQ movement. And then to also gather oral history from people during those same decades speaking to their experiences being identified as LGBTQ, but also being involved with the drag queen or drag king community. So we’re going to reveal some of these videos at our March 1st show. The videos will also be incorporated into the history curricula at various high schools in San Francisco Unified.
Abby: Outstanding. How do people that wish to attend the fundraiser on March 1, 2014, “High School is a Drag: But it Doesn’t Have To Be” get tickets?
Darla: Just go to http://queensofthecastro.brownpapertickets.com/ And also Facebook.com/queensofthecastro
Abby: Is this going to be bleacher seating like at a high school assembly or chairs facing a stage?
Honda: It’s an actual theater. It’s one of the largest theaters in San Francisco, actually. It holds about 1,600 people. It’s very beautiful inside.
Abby: And this is at the school?
Honda: Yes, at the Mission High School Theater. The address is: 3750 18th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Abby: I would like to thank you Honda Hybrid, Jenna Talia and Darla Gayle for not only talking with me but for taking strides to bring about change. I know it isn’t easy to be the example. I appreciate what you are doing to help others from being bullied. Thank you!
For more on Shangela, Tammie Brown and Kelly Mantle: