In the 2016 election, approximately 100 million people did not vote. Currently, one out of five LGBTQ+ adults are not registered to vote. In the 2018 midterms, youth voter turnout had a historic high of only 35 percent.
These facts, now boldly displayed on the Drag Out The Vote website (DragOutTheVote2020.org), were shocking and disheartening to the organization's founder, Jackie Huba, when she first learned of them.
But rather than sending the successful marketing executive into a deep depression, the disturbing statistics actually lit a fire in Huba to set forth and try to change them. But how? Well, with drag of course.
"It started with Jaremi Carey -- obviously Phi Phi O'Hara from Drag Race," recalls Huba of first meeting the performer back in 2012, while she was doing book research. "I was on a drag cruise with him, and he's one of the first people who put me in drag, so we've become very good friends."
She explains that a few years later, Carey recruited her to help with a drag fundraising event he was spearheading in response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated much of Puerto Rico in 2017. The one-night event ended up raising over $80,000 for the cause.
"And so that stuck in my mind -- the power of bringing drag artists together," says Huba. "Obviously, we all know with Stonewall and so many different ways in LGBTQ history that drag artists really are at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQ equality across the country. If there's a fundraiser or a charity to be had, you know, drag artists are the first folks that people call!"
Not that the power of drag, or pop culture in general, is anything new to the keynote speaker, bestselling author, and customer loyalty expert with over three decades of experience. In fact, Huba often employs fabulously unconventional methods to illustrate powerful life and business strategies in her work, like in her books, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics and Fiercely You: Be Fabulous and Confident by Thinking Like A Drag Queen.
"It was a lot," admits Carey of the hurricane relief fundraiser. "It was one of the most stressful things I've ever done, but it needed to be done. It was 100 percent worth the stress. I'm a big believer in 'practice what you preach,' and I'm always telling my following, 'You have a voice. Please don't feel you don't have a voice, and that you can't use it'... like when I ask people to retweet a petition or, 'Hey, I'm gathering supplies for Black Lives Matter, can you guys just share this.' You never know who it's going to reach."
"And it all started off with just one single tweet," Carey continues of the benefit's beginnings. "I put it out there like, 'Hey, we as Drag Racers make stupid amounts of money -- why don't we give it up for one night, just one night, to raise money for the people of Puerto Rico." And it just caught on like wildfire, because everyone just kept retweeting it and sharing it. And it was really cool to show people that like, you just have to believe that you can do this -- and you can!"
Though Carey recently announced his plans to retire his well-known drag persona, he did dust off his Phi Phi garb for a few last hurrahs when Huba asked Carey to be a part of Drag Out the Vote. But fans needn't worry. The multi-talented actor, singer, and visual artist says he's not necessarily quitting drag altogether, but simply retiring his Phi Phi persona. And, as his nearly half-million Instagram followers (@PhiPhiOHara) can attest to, his creativity certainly seems to exceed the confines of a single character. In his post-Drag Race life, Carey is now well known for his seemingly boundless array of amazing drag and cosplay transformations -- like his recent Harry Potter character photo series that went viral.
When The Advocate spoke with Carey, he was excited to release a new series in celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the nineteenth amendment in August, which finally gave women the right to vote. In the project, Carey portrays 32 different women in history who've had an impact on American politics. "I'm starting off as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which I think is going to be epic."
Of course, Carey is also hopeful the series will help draw additional attention to Drag Out the Vote.
"I'm super excited about this drag ambassador program," says Carey of Drag Out the Vote's component that recruits and trains local drag kings and queens to help educate and register folks to vote in their own communities. "Because the thing that I think that is really cool is there's so many people out there, especially the young audience that want to get involved and they want to help but they just don't know how to. And I think when we give them an outlet like this, or a program that they can become a part of, it feel like they're actually being listened to. I think that's really, really cool to do -- because I didn't have this when I was a kid."
Carey says he too was staggered by the dismal statistics on youth and LGBTQ voter turnouts -- which is why he says he's especially proud of how information and education-based Drag Out The Vote is.
"And facts are important!" he exclaims. "My main thing with Jackie was like, you know, I think it's great that we share retweets and do all this stuff, but I think it's even more amazing that we're sharing actual facts -- because anybody can share something on the internet and people are like, 'Oh, this is what happened.' And we're like, 'Well, with further research, you'll realize that's not the full story.' Yeah, so I think it's really important. And [Drag Out The Vote] is really good at getting out current and accurate information."
Drag Out The Vote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works with drag performers to promote participation in democracy by educating and registering voters. For more info, or to learn more about becoming a drag ambassador in your area, visit DragOutTheVote2020.org.