While the art of drag is under attack in some parts of the U.S., Portland, Ore., is celebrating it and setting world records ahead of International Drag Day on July 16.
The city this week hosted the world’s longest continuous drag performance, clocking in at 48 hours, 11 minutes, and 30 seconds. Drag-a-Thon was held from Monday to Wednesday at the famed Darcelle XV Showplace nightclub, and it was certified as the longest by Guinness World Records. The previous record was 36 hours, 36 minutes, and 40 seconds, set six years ago in Melbourne, Australia.
The show featured performances from more than 120 queens, kings, and emcees, with more than 600 songs and 700 set changes. Participants included such famous performers as Peppermint, Eureka O'Hara, and Lala Ri. The event raised about $290,000 for the Trevor Project, which assists LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, including $50,000 donated by producer Wildfang.
RuPaul sent a congratulatory video that was played for the crowd. “My goodness. This is spreading the love and the joy of drag throughout the world,” RuPaul said in the video, according to Portland TV station KATU. “Oh, my goodness. Big kiss from Mama Ru.”
“This event has been a historic testament to the power of self-expression,” Emma McIlroy, founder and CEO of Wildfang as well as the producer of Drag-a-Thon, said in a press release. “I’ve produced a lot of shows over my career, but nothing like Drag-a-Thon. We’re overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the Portland community — there’s no other city in the world where we could have pulled this off.”
Additionally, she told local TV station KGW, “The only place that people are going to come out at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. to watch a drag show is Portland.” More than 2,500 people attended.
The show was a demonstration of support for drag artistry at a time when right-wing politicians are seeking to ban drag performances, especially in publicly funded venues or where they’re accessible to young people. More than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures around the nation this year, and some restrict drag shows. A federal court recently ruled Tennessee’s anti-drag law unconstitutional, but the state plans to appeal. Last week, a coalition of organizations, businesses, and individuals in Montana filed suit challenging that state’s anti-drag statute.
“This is the time for us all to stand together, let the world know that in America, we are free to be exactly who we are,” performer Bolivia Carmichaels told KGW.
The nightclub’s founder, drag queen Darcelle XV (offstage, Walter W. Cole Sr.), died in March at age 92 but had already approved the Drag-a-Thon. Darcelle XV was recognized by Guinness World Records in 2016 as the world’s oldest drag performer, and the club is the longest-running drag club west of the Mississippi. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now run by Cole’s son, Walter W. Cole Jr. The Portland City Council recently announced plans to rename a public square for Darcelle XV.
“Darcelle was proud of so many things, but mostly her Guinness World Record,” drag queen Poison Waters told KATU. “When she was in the hospital, she said, ‘Poison, I didn’t retire.’ She never wanted to retire. She was so proud of being the oldest working drag queen in the world. And of course when she passed away, the record went to somebody else. So the fact that we have a new one now that is still in her club, she said, ‘Don't let them forget me.’ How could we ever? And she said, ‘Remember, my name’s on the door.’ And now we have a new record to go right by hers.”
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat who represents a U.S. House district that includes Portland, issued a statement praising the record-setting performance. “Congratulations to Darcelle XV Showplace and every drag queen who participated to break the world record for the longest continuous drag performance,” he said. “It is only fitting Darcelle’s legendary showplace brings home this historic recognition.
“Despite hateful attempts to restrict or even ban drag performances across the country, in Portland drag is not going anywhere. We are proud to celebrate this incredible performance art and the entire LGBTQ+ community today and every day. Congratulations to all!”