By Denny Patterson
The 2020 presidential election is coming up, so you best be registered and ready to sashay your way to the polls! Drag Out the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, is on a mission to educate, register, and turn out voters by working with drag artists across the country to promote participation in democracy. With a strong history of activism, drag carries a long and storied history of impact on social justice movements across the United States.
Conceived in 2017, but formally established in 2019, Drag Out the Vote was born out of Jackie Huba’s determination to get the LGBTQ+ and allied communities engaged about voting. In realizing that one in five LGBTQ+ people are not registered to vote, and over 100 million people did not vote in 2016, Huba set out to find a solution. OutClique had the opportunity to chat more with Huba about Drag Out the Vote, how important of an organization it has become, and what more we can do to make people vote.
Denny Patterson: Hi, Jackie! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me about Drag Out the Vote. Can you begin by telling us more about the organization and how it got started?
Jackie Huba: I was never someone who was involved with politics. I think I only voted in the presidential election, and that was it. After the 2016 election, I started to learn more about what was going on in our country related to voting. I realized that 100 million people didn’t vote in 2016, which is a massive amount. Then learning that one in five LGBTQ+ people are not registered to vote, I was amazed. So, I got involved with some local stuff in Austin, Texas in terms of an activist group, then the inspiration for bringing drag artists into this, in 2019, I decided that I wanted to do something bigger in my activism. Like, something on a national scale. Voter registration and getting out the vote were the top things I thought I could work on, but what different twist could I bring to it?
It was really Jaremi (Phi Phi O’Hara) who was the inspiration behind that because in 2017. I worked with him on his big charity benefit for Puerto Rico hurricane relief. The Queens United fundraiser we raised $80,000, and Jaremi brought like 24 Drag Race queens together for a cause, and honestly, that had never really been done before at that scale. So, when I thought about voter registration and getting out the vote, what twist has never been done before, drag artists. Mobilizing drag artists all over the country. Not just Drag Race, but all drag artists helping to get out the vote.
DP: Why did you feel it was so important for you to start Drag Out the Vote?
JH: I just felt like I needed to do more than I ever have in this democracy. I realized that our democracy is not something that we should take for granted. Our democracy is something that we need to fight for; it is a very precious thing. So, that is what I have learned in the last four years. This may be one of the most consequential elections in our lifetime, and I want to do every single thing I could do to make sure people get out there and make their voices heard. It helps me get up every morning.
DP: So, we know how Jaremi got involved, but how did Brita Filter and Marti G Cummings become co-chairs?
JH: Our first kickoff event of 2020 was in Minneapolis, so I went to Chad Kampe of Flip Phone Events who did that event with Jaremi. I said, “Chad, I want to do a big Minneapolis event similar to what you and Jaremi worked on.” He was like, “Absolutely.” So, we conceived this big Drag Out the Vote event in January where we had 18 queens from Drag Race coming and Jaremi was to host. At the last minute, literally two days before, the other co-host had to drop out due to scheduling. I had known Marti, and she was already booked for the event, and we talked and she said she knew Brita Filter. Brita is a good friend, she just got on Season 12, and she’s an activist. Marti said this would be right up her alley, so she texted Brita, and Brita responded, “Yes, get me to the event.” So, she co-hosted with Jaremi, and it was amazing. Brita said to me she would like to help out in whatever way she can with Drag Out the Vote, so that is how she became a co-chair, and Marti became more involved from that event forward. They both do great jobs.
DP: How beneficial of an organization has Drag Out the Vote been?
JH: If you think about it, one year ago, it was me and a website. After talking to Jaremi and he’s like, “Yes, I want to help. I want to be a part of this,” and this was back in June/July of 2019 where I threw this idea at him. I cannot believe what we have accomplished, and I think a lot of it is because we have a very small, dedicated team who is working really hard. Now, we have over 230 Drag Ambassadors across the country that we have recruited and are a part of our team. We have forged these historic relationships with Secretaries of State who have never worked with drag artists before to get out the vote. We were on The Daily Show. So many things have happened, it’s been incredible.
DP: The Drag Ambassador Program launched in early August. Can you tell us more about the program?
JH: The goal is to have drag artists in cities and towns across America. We are going to have folks in all 50 states because they know their communities. They know how to best get the vote out and talk to people in their communities. We can do things at a national level, but it is very important for folks who are in those communities to know how to best get that community engaged. So, that is why we wanted to have people in these states and cities across the country who are out there doing the work because the best way to convince someone that they need to register and vote is if you hear it from someone that you know. That’s the whole strategy behind it.
DP: Why do you think drag queens and drag artists have such influential platforms?
JH: I think drag has always been political. You look at Stonewall and trans women of colors who stood up and said, “No more!” and then that was really the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights fight. You know, we have the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco who are fighting as activists to great treatment for HIV/AIDS. Drag has always had its place in politics, and drag artists are loud. They have a platform. Whether it’s a microphone at an event, club, or bar, or online with their digital platform, people listen to them. I think for those drag artists who want to get even more political, want to get people to vote, and want to use their platform to help democracy. Those are the kind of folks we love working with.
DP: It is mind boggling to know what over 100 million people did not vote in the 2016 election. Why do you think that is?
JH: That is a great question. I think people sometimes think that their vote doesn’t matter, and you can actually break that down even further because young people, 18-29, are the folks who come out the least in terms of age segments. I think for young people, they think this is something that can be worried about later. Their vote doesn’t matter and it won’t impact them. We also hear that they think it’s hard to vote. A lot of the younger generation is like, why can’t I vote or register on my phone? You can’t register online in all 50 states, there are a lot of states where it is hard to register to vote. So, I think for a lot of people, it depends on what age they are, but for the younger people, we need to educate them on what they need to do.
DP: What more do we need to do to change the perception that your vote does matter? That voting is a privilege and that it is incredibly irresponsible not to vote.
JH: One of the things that people need to understand is that the issues you care about, if you really believe in getting those addressed, you need to look for candidates who are going to change those things. Specifically, for the LGBTQ+ community. We still have issues with equality and violence against trans women, especially women of colors. If you care about those issues, the only way we are going to get them changed is by getting candidates in there who believe in those issues like you do. So, this is our appeal. We are a nonpartisan organization and we are not going to tell you who to vote for, but we do say if you care about these issues, that’s why you need to get involved. Nothing is going to change unless we make our voices heard and vote in folks who are going to deal with those issues that you care so much about.
DP: Do you think today’s political climate will have an impact on voter turnout?
JH: We are seeing a lot of people who are so interested in what’s going on in the world. I mean, just look at the Black Lives Matter protests where you see young people really coming out and standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement. I think that outpouring of activism is tremendous. President Obama actually had a great quote earlier this summer when he was talking about the protesting. Protests are a great way to make your voice heard, and you have to couple that with voting because that is the other piece of the puzzle in terms of getting the change you want to see.
DP: Will Drag Out the Vote stay active after the November election?
JH: Absolutely. There’s an election every year. It’s not just the presidential. So, yes, we hope to bring drag artists out every single year. This is an ongoing thing. Voting is something we should be doing every single year.
DP: What are some upcoming events we should be on the lookout for?
JH: We have a lot of Drag Ambassadors who are doing a lot of different activations in their cities and states, so if people visit our social media and website, we will list all of those. We amplify what the Drag Ambassadors are doing, and honestly, at the end of the day, they are the ones doing the most. We will also be doing phone and text banking as well.
DP: Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap up?
JH: Everyone should register to vote at our website, www.DragOutTheVote2020.org, check your registration, and you should make a plan on how you are going to vote. Whether requesting an absentee ballot or going to the polls, make sure you have everything you need. Also, know what the hours are for early voting. So, make a plan!