Drag artist and activist Marti Gould Cummings announced he's running for New York City Council in the 2021 election.
If elected, Cummings would be the first drag artist to be sworn into public office in the state of New York, and the second in the country following the victory of Los Angeles-based drag queen Maebe A. Girl, who was elected to the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in April. José Sarria, who made history in 1961 for being the first out candidate to vie for office in the country, was also a drag performer.
Over the last decade, Cummings has built a name for himself as a public servant and performance artist. A founder of the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats, a community group that engages people in the area to organize and advocate for progressive issues, Cummings also sits on Community Board 9, serving on the Senior Issues Committee fighting for senior residents in the neighborhoods of Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, and Morningside Heights.
A member of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Nightlife Council, Cummings and his husband Blake both serve on the Board of Directors at the Ali Forney Center, the largest LGBTQ community center in the United States geared toward helping queer youth who experience homelessness. For the out candidate, his work in drag has always been “rooted in activism.”
“Drag in itself is a form of political action,” he tells The Advocate. “My work not only in drag but in NYC politics has led me to run for city council because as we approach the 2021 election for city offices, we need queer representation. Queer people deserve a place at the table in city, state, and federal government. I love my community, but we have issues that need to be addressed. And I’m ready to continue using my voice as an elected representative to effect that change.”
According to Cummings’s campaign website, the issues he plans on tackling include affordable housing, NYPD relations, bike lanes, immigrant rights, bilingual access, high asthma areas, and violence against the LGBTQ community.
“I am a strong believer that change really begins at the local level,” says Cummings. “City races are important because the work done locally affects day to day life for the people in our community. We will work to ensure our streets are safe and people are protected. Too many people have been injured or killed walking or on bikes around our city and I want to continue the work being done in City Hall now to ensure that people are safe. We also must work on environmental issues, to combat not only climate change but the secondary health issues arising as a result of our climate neglect. Our neighborhood has a high rate of asthma and cancer and we have to work to combat the causes and ensure each person is able to receive the care they need. I also will work to bring our community together to improve police relationships and ensure all people feel equally cared for. We must also support the economic opportunities for those just starting out..”
Having grown up on a small farm in Maryland, Cummings moved to New York at 17 to pursue a career in the performing arts. Once he found drag, the artist says he learned “how to stand in front of others and hold my own.” Since finding a respected spotlight in the drag world, Cummings has made numerous appearances on television. Earlier this year, a performance of his went viral after he performed “Baby Shark” for a toddler.
“Drag has always been political and rooted in activism,” he states. “I am choosing to take that to the next level. Drag queens are people too — we just know how to do a killer eyeliner better than most — and I am ready to not only be known as the drag queen candidate but as the candidate who will work for each and every single person to ensure they have a livable wage, affordable houses, safe streets, and the ability to thrive in the greatest city in the world.”
As far as Trump goes, Cummings makes no qualms in voicing how to combat the president's divisive messaging.
“I believe that Trump is a white nationalist who uses his ego and narcissistic persona to scare people,” he explains. “I would tell Trump Republicans or people who voted for him to dig deep into their hearts and do what is right. We need to put our country and humanity above our party politics. Trump does not care about humanity. I believe in the goodness of people, and I believe people who voted for him can do the right thing by voting against his agenda. Let's be on the right side of history: The side of goodness, humanity, and love, and not on the side of hate, division, and bigotry.
“Trump also uses people's fear of things they don’t understand, such as the queer community, to win votes, which is why visibility is so critical. At all levels of government, we must encourage people who do not look like our traditional elected officials to run for office. That’s how we will improve equality."