• Interviews

RuPaul’s DragCon LA 2023: Celebrating the Healing Power of Drag

It’s been 15 years since RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on basic cable channel Logo TV. But it was only after shifting to VH1 in 2017 and, just this past year, to MTV – gaining millions of viewers along the way through mass global distribution and spinning off onto international editions – that the multi-Emmy winning reality competition show has truly cemented its pop culture status. And there’s a huge fan event to prove it!

Hot off the stiletto heels of RuPaul’s Drag Race 15th season, which saw Hawaiian transgender drag entertainer Sasha Colby crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar, the show’s host and co-creator RuPaul Charles hosted the annual DragCon at the Los Angeles Convention Center, last month. The fan experience was first launched in 2015 and has had iterations in New York and London.

Kicking off the weekend celebrations with the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, RuPaul stated: “This weekend our tribe came together for the most joyful and spectacular RuPaul’s DragCon ever. Once again, our talented queens from around the world showed us what love, light, and courage look like.”


Indeed, it was the world’s largest celebration of drag culture, drawing record single-day attendance, with 150 top drag queens from 12 countries showing out to fans’ delight. The ACLU recently created Drag Defense Fund, reaching nearly $1.4M (thanks in part to the $40,000 raised during the two-day convention), continues to support LGBTQ rights.

“It’s a blessing to get to showcase your art, your work and craft on such a huge platform,” told us Cheryl Hole, a fan favorite contestant off the British version RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, which premiered on the BBC in 2019. “To have queer voices and stories, to have visibility for our community and say ‘We are here, drag isn’t dangerous and we are doing the damn thing!’, I think that’s so great. We got some issues with our government at the moment. But I won’t stand for any nonsense. If we are not using our voice and our platform, what are we doing? Drag is always political. No matter what we do, we’re making a statement. But drag is also escapism. In a world filled with negativity and hate, you have to shine that light at the end of the tunnel. I love being that voice of positivity.”

Kylie Sonique Love, who first competed in 2010 and came back in 2021 to win the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, echoed a similar sentiment. “The show is important to the queer movement in that it has opened up so many doors in film, tv, and music.” Kylie recently kicked off pride season by releasing a cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” and merchandise to match. “It has so much impact on the world. Those who are used to having control are really scared when they meet queer people. They feel threatened by us knowing who we are, living our lives freely. To free yourself from all the craziness of the world was not part of their plan. So, of course we’re going to ruffle some feathers. But I it is super important to keep people on their toes.”


Elsewhere at the convention center, we caught up with Fenton Bailey, who founded the production company World of Wonder with Randy Barbato in 1991, which produces documentaries and programming for such networks as HBO, Netflix, and Bravo. Fenton was signing copies of his new book “ScreenAge: How TV Shaped Our Reality, from Tammy Faye to RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

What’s it like putting on this big convention in a post-pandemic world?

I love the event, just a sense of people coming together. What I’ve always loved about DragCon is that inclusivity, and just that spirit of celebration. It’s really good to have that after not being able to do it for a couple of years, I really missed it. It’s a profound reminder that we have more in common than what divides us. The message of DragCon, and actually drag, is welcoming everyone and celebrating individual expression and creativity.

The latest season emphasized that drag is not a crime. Did you foresee the anti-LGBTQ legislation?

First, I have to mention Tom Campbell, our chief creative officer, because that was filmed a year ago. But, I suppose, we could sense that there was this movement growing. There’s been a backlash against drag and queens. They’ve been in the shadows for so long. Now there’s a whole bunch of shows, which is a good thing. I guess it’s understandable that some people have a problem with that. I think that the power reversal has upset some people who used to being in power. The good news is that time only moves forward. And although there are those who tried to turn back the clock, those attempts lead to great suffering and tragedy. They will never succeed.

What is the secret behind the show’s success?

People thought, maybe, at first, that drag was a fad. But we always believed it is as an art form. It has a place at the cultural table. That explains its popularity. Ultimately, drag is universally relatable. You’re born naked, the rest is drag. Everyone’s born naked. Everything we put on is a statement about who we think we are, how we want to be seen as. Drag is universal in its appeal. I mean, most of the people who watch the show are not, do not, identify as gay.