The following list of the most influential drag icons includes drag queens, performance artists who heavily influenced drag culture and LGBTQ+ activists who fought to keep drag alive.
A fierce queen who started out in the 1980s, Miss Understood was New York City based and wowed the world of drag both on stage and on screen. Throughout her career, she made numerous appearances in famous films and TV shows including Sex and the City.
The Lady Chablis
The Lady Chablis was one of the first Queens to be accepted by a larger audience. She starred as herself in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (1997). She was also an actress and an author. She has been quoted as saying “I’m a female impersonator and it’s not to make fun or to kick and poke at the females. It’s my salute to women.”
Pepper LaBeija was both a drag performer and fashion designer. She took over the House of LaBeija from Crystal LaBeija in 1971 and was referred to as the “Mother” for 30 years. She was known as the last remaining queen of the Harlem Drag Balls and acquired over 250 trophies and awards during her career. Pepper LaBeija also starred in the famous documentary “Paris is Burning” (1990).
Crystal LaBeija founded the house of LaBeija and was a trailblazer in drag culture and race relations. In the 60s and 70s, she made appearances on the Manhattan drag circuit. She was one of the first African American Queens to be crowned queen of the ball. She starred in “The Queen” (1968).
Lady Bunny is the founder of Wigstock, which ran for about twenty years. She started her career alongside RuPaul in Atlanta and is one of the most famous New York drag icons of all time.
Australian artist, performer, club promoter and fashion designer, Leigh Bowery was known for his flamboyant costumes and incredible makeup. He inspired the likes of Boy George and Lady Gaga as well as many of the queens who have competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Divine was an actor, performer and drag queen. She worked as a woman’s hair dresser in her early life and performed in several films by legendary director John Waters. People Magazine have described Divine as “Drag Queen of the century”.
Mother Flawless Sabina
Mother Flawless Sabina was a pioneer for LGBT rights, particularly transgender rights, who was allegedly arrested more than 100 times for her activism. She also ran an underground drag pageant called The Nationals.
RuPaul has introduced a whole new generation to drag with his reality show since 2009. RuPaul’s Drag Race has received three Emmy awards and RuPaul is also an actor, model and singer.
Marsha P Johnson
Marsha P Johnson played a massive role in paving the role for drag queens today. She was an incredible, outspoken activist and a prominent figure in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Johnson was co-founder of STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries) alongside Sylvia Rivera and is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest drag icons.
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