History of Drag: LGBTQ rights, art and civil rights


Bailey Monteith

Jason Johnson speaks to students out of drag at the History of Drag event in the PUB on Feb. 27. Johnson spoke to students about the history of drag, LGBTQ+ rights and the Civil Rights Movement.

By Kaisa Siipola, Reporter

Learning about history doesn’t have to be a drag at EWU.

The History of Drag was hosted by Jason Johnson, a Spokane Drag performer whose drag name is Nova Kaine, on Feb. 27 in the PUB to educate students on the art prior to EWU’s annual drag show. The event was sponsored by the EWU Pride Center and Eagle Entertainment.

According to Eagle Entertainment Diversity Outreach Coordinator Shannalee McCarthy, 82 students were in attendance for the History of Drag.

“The History of Drag has been a workshop that has occurred since 2011 during the middle of February to the beginning of March. It has not been held every year since then. However, it is usually a well-attended event when EWU has been able to hold the workshop,” EWU Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership Director Stacy Reece said in an email to The Easterner.

Reece  added that the person who originally started the History of Drag workshop was former manager of the Pride Center, Sandra Williams, who wanted to create an event where people could learn about the vibrant history of drag queen performance and how it has been impacted by various social movements in U.S. history.

To be the first impression of what drag is to some of these people who have never been to a drag show, for me, that is my highlight of coming to EWU,”

— Jason Johnson, drag performer

Williams was the one who approached Johnson to do a presentation on his character and the history of drag after hearing him speak at Pride Parade in Spokane, according to Johnson.

Johnson has been doing drag for over 30 years and this is his eighth year as a speaker for the History of Drag and 15th year performing at the drag show at EWU as Nova Kaine.

When Johnson comes to Cheney he describes it as an entirely different audience because it’s a college town and people are from different areas, saying in Spokane he’s limited to the people who live there.

“To be the first impression of what drag is to some of these people who have never been to a drag show, for me, that is my highlight of coming to EWU,” Johnson said.

This is the fourth year that Pride Center manager Nick Franco has been involved with the History of Drag, and they think attending helps clarify some of drag’s misconceptions.

“The more that we know about things, the less scary they are,” Franco said, whose pronouns are they and them. “By coming and by being exposed to it, it kind of demystifies what it is and when you’re able to demystify something or make something seem or a concept or community seem more familiar you’re less likely to act in ways that are intolerant.”

EWU Pride Center employee Riley Bushard said that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what drag was even within the LGBTQ+ community and what it means for each person.

Johnson says a common misconception people have about drag queens is that they’re all gay or transgender.

“A lot of people automatically assume that drag queens are all gay and that’s not always the case because I know several drag queens and drag kings that are heterosexual and in heterosexual relationships,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that those interested in drag should reach out.

“If it’s something that they’re really interested in, I would tell them … don’t be disheartened, to stay focused, to keep your eye on the ball, it can be a very difficult industry because drag queens are very vicious to one another and they’re very vicious to people who are just trying to start out,” Johnson said. “The best thing is to find a drag queen that you admire, a drag queen that you respect and ask that individual to help.”

Bonnie Bair, a first year in the Occupational Therapy Graduate Program on the EWU Spokane Campus decided to RSVP to the History of Drag on Orgsync for multiple reasons.

“I have an assignment to experience a culture different from our own,” Bair said. “As occupational therapists, we will work with a variety of people from varying backgrounds and it is important to know how to be sensitive to their needs and understand where they’re coming from.”

Bair had only seen drag on television and in movies and wanted to understand drag history to enhance her knowledge.

As diversity outreach coordinator, McCarthy thought the event was a great way for students who haven’t been exposed to anything like this to have an opportunity to attend an introductory drag event that is laid back and not over the top. She commends Johnson for keeping students engaged and giving a thorough history about drag, LGBTQ+ rights and the Civil Rights Movement.

“It’s good to spread awareness and let people be themselves,” Bair said. “It’s pretty neat that it would be open to the student body and allow others to learn more about it.”

Johnson refers to drag as an expression of art and says drag is a theatrical production he enjoys performing in front of an audience.

“The big thing about drag is it’s fun,” Johnson said. “Every drag performer comes from a different history, a different background. Drag is something different to every individual that performs.”

EWU sophomore Casey Swim said that it’s cool that EWU is hosting drag events for people that may not know a lot about drag, such as herself.  

Bushard said that EWU hosting drag events shows that they support LGBTQ+ students on campus and it’s an interesting and fun way to break down gender norms, but it doesn’t ostracize people who haven’t started thinking about that stuff yet.  

Franco said that they haven’t received any feedback directly from students regarding the drag events hosted on campus.

“I do hear from students that they’ll be walking by a history of drag or drag show flyer, or any actually queer related flyer, and sometimes students will overhear other students making a funny comment, using a purgative term or slur,” Franco said. “So I think there is still some pushback that people keep to themselves or don’t make as big of a deal about it.”•

Correction: In the print version of this story, The Easterner incorrectly stated Jason Johnson’s first name.