Imagine being such an American drag pioneer that your drag name was simply The Queen! William Dorsey Swann was born into bondage, and after the Civil War became Washington D.C.’s greatest drag queen.
Historian Channing Gerard Joseph is working on a book about the incredible trailblazer. The Queen wasn’t just a fabulous force in the local scene. She was a fierce fighter for our rights over a century before Stonewall. Via Professor Joseph’s article in The Nation:
In 1896, after being convicted and sentenced to 10 months in jail on the false charge of “keeping a disorderly house”—a euphemism for running a brothel—Swann demanded (and was denied) a pardon from President Grover Cleveland for holding a drag ball. This, too, was a historic act: It made Swann the earliest recorded American to take specific legal and political steps to defend the queer community’s right to gather without the threat of criminalization, suppression, or police violence.
The Queen was known for hosting fabulous drag banquets and balls, which did not sit will with local authorities. In 1888, The Washington Republican reported on a raid that led to the arrest of The Queen and twelve friends.
Did that stop them? Of course not! Nothing is going to get in the way of a good drag ball, trust and believe!
Read more: The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave (The Nation)
Image: public domain via Channing Gerard Joseph