Ahoy matee! Get your sailor suits on and be ready to dance, not clear the decks! PQ got some time with Samuel Thomas, Principle of Local Queen, to talk about this year's Big Gay Boat Ride, how drag and Local Queen is having an impact on both the drag and LGBTQ+ community at large. The local group is still Portland Proud, but is getting attention far beyond the borders of our beloved Pacific Northwest.
ProudQueer: According to your website, this is the sixth year of Big Gay Boat Ride (BGBR).
Samuel Thomas: 2018 is the first year that we have officially partnered with Pride Northwest (Portland Pride), we've always had a warm relationship with them and have always partnered with local charities to support the community while providing a fantastic party! Our stalwart partner has been the Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, but in past years we have always included a second charity, this year it just made sense to partner with the biggest event of the summer, PRIDE!
PQ: What reason did Local Queen have to start the BGBR?
ST: There was a boat party once before during Pride, it was a lot of fun but not very well attended, a year later they were gone and at that point we also saw the "writing on the wall" for Red Cap Garage's massive block party. So we wanted to provide a Sunday day party for the community to see drag performers, but also enjoy the river, sunshine and dance! In 2013 we launched the first Big Gay Boat Ride and it sold out so quickly we knew this was a niche that the community wanted!
PQ: What can we expect this year which has changed from previous years?
ST: We have always tried to make this a community event. Our focus has been on local drag performers with one or two national names mixed in. This year we have Bendelacreme who was the fan favorite for RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3, and also wanted to focus on the music so we brought Joslyn Fox to DJ the lower deck that has been ignored in the past.
PQ: I see you'll have a raffle benefitting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. What made you wish to partner with them?
ST: The Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have been a partner with Local Queen since we used to be called "Genderf**king Takeover,” they are one of our favorite charity organizations and have a fantastic mission! When we started the Big Gay Boat Ride we wanted to include them in some way and a raffle was the best option to keep them moving around, visible and having FUN! They have also blessed the event in past years and are a highlight we support every year!
PQ: Local Queen is celebrating, or is close to celebrating, eight years. How has the organization grown?
ST: We started in 2010 after some friends were attacked while in drag... our mission has been to support drag and the #LocalQueen community EVERYWHERE, we started in predominantly "straight" venues on Portland's West side. We've continued to expand to bigger events, not only in Portland, but also around the USA. We just got back from Boston, and the #LocalQueen hashtag we created just passed thirty thousand uses! We Also encourage individual cities to add their airport code to our hashtag for additional local prides. Right now we have been featured in cities from Portland to Berlin. Our goal is not to just celebrate Portland's vibrant drag community, but to bring visibility to drag everywhere that might not be featured on National television or even local programing. I think it's important for our local communities to feel as if they are part of something greater! In the age of social media it sometimes feels like we are ALL connected on a base level. At the same time we've been building the #LocalQueen brand long enough that internationally we have a physical connection to it. From travel to promotional events we have been covered from Portland to Berlin for a reason and it's a very engaged community!
PQ: Bendelacreme is the headliner for this year's event. Some people were disappointed when she graciously stepped off this season of RuPaul. Why do you think that was? What do you think it says about her character and as a person?
ST: She was an underdog when we first brought her to Portland for our Hello/Hello party with Jinkx Monsoon... and since drag race she's been a huge success. She bowed out in a way that no other queen had done - and to be honest she sold out our Big Gay Boat Ride nearly as fast as Bianca Del Rio did! She's controversial to be sure, but what is drag if it does not invite controversy? Bendelacreme is a fantastic performer, and a Northwest treasure, we are honored to bring her back!
PQ: I know you won't reveal but there are two surprise guests. Any hints?
SF: Who said two surprise guests? We just said surprises! We already announced MIZZ ECSTACY INFERNO as making her comeback, and she performed on the first Big Gay Boat Ride. We've also announced drag king LITTLE TOMMY BANG BANG as returning. For anything else, you'll have to be aboard the boat to find out.
PQ: What successes have you taken from previous years? What not-quite-successes are you not repeating?
ST: The Big Gay Boat Ride has always been a success. Our first year we undersold the tickets just to be sure to sell out, and that was great. Every year since we've tried to keep the ticket costs low to not only pay for the event but to provide a decent wage to every performer involved! Our lowest point was with SHANGELA two years ago, we only sold 80% of the boat that year, but at this point everyone is kicking themselves for missing out on it since Shangela has gone on to be a huge success! We've also had issues with the boarding line, but each year it gets better, and we try to give people some entertainment...but loading 400+ people on a boat in 30 minutes is hard work! So every year is successful, but each year we make it a bit better!
PQ: We see drag getting younger and younger, such as the 10 year old queen--or is that princess?--Desmond is Great. What do you think this means in terms of drag for the next generation?
ST: We LOVE the young drag community, what we would like to see is Oregon finally getting with the times and getting rid of their antiquated OLCC laws. We need venues that provide space for ALL performers, from 10 years to 105 years. We would LOVE to provide more all age spaces but until the state of Oregon catches up - we can only provide for the community they allow. Being a "pride event for everyone" means we need space for EVERYONE and we have not found that yet except for events like PrideNW but it's a complicated question that takes more than a few minutes to answer.
PQ: Some detractors, even within the drag/LGBTQ+ community, feel perhaps drag is getting too mainstream. How do you feel about that sentiment?
ST: Why would ANYONE complain if drag went mainstream? We literally have LGBTQ bashing events happening every year in Portland and beyond. We have a bigot in the White House and an administration that hates us. So, to be blunt, fuck the haters. Our entire goal is to take drag mainstream and to fight for a better future. People that complain that it's "too mainstream" are probably "too comfortable" with their own lives to care about the community.
PQ: What are you looking forward to in terms of this year?
ST: This year we launched #NowThatsDrag, a ridiculous weekly show that focuses on the local drag community as well as providing a launching space for new drag talent. We are showcasing the "Now That's What I Call Music" compilations at Tonic Lounge every Thursday. Each week showcases local and national drag talent while also doing a #ShuffleTrack competition for people to sign up and lipsync to songs from the album of the week. It's been a huge success and keeps us on our mission of supporting #LocalQueen talent! We also have events in Nebraska, Texas, Washington and more that we cannot wait to announce!
PQ: Next year marks 50 years of Stonewall. Drag performers, and people who identify as transgender, were at the frontlines of the Stonewall Riots. Does Local Queen & BGBR have any plans for 2019? Any particular way in which you'll celebrate that legacy to gay history & liberation?
ST: Local Queen has ALWAYS been proud to celebrate our history, its one of the reasons we have worked with the Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence since the beginning! We are firm believers that drag is for everybody, and we continue to support performers from across the spectrum. Our hashtag #LocalQueen was never meant to be focused on one aspect of the community but instead to showcase that everyone can be a QUEEN. Stay tuned for our 2019 event line ups around the country, it's not to be missed!
PQ: It's Pride Month! What are you most proud of, as a member of the LGBTQ+ Community?
ST: How could we be proud without our community! Portland has the OLDEST WORKING DRAG QUEEN with Darcelle XV, plus everything from bearded drag to classic queens! We LOVE our LGBTQ+ community and everyone it represents.