By Liam Hofmeister, inside editor
Carmen Baskette, 9, walked through the room in her own version of drag. She was wearing a silver wig, top hat and Sharpie-marker moustache drawn onto her upper lip. Her mother, Rev. Molly Baskette of First Church Somerville, matched Carmen’s facial hair style with a marker moustache and goatee as she spoke to the crowd in church robes.
“Welcome to you if you are queer, straight or a little bit of each,” Baskette said. “Welcome to this safe space where you welcome to be who you are, inside out.”
Friday, Oct. 16 marked the beginning of the fifth annual Drag Gospel Festival, a weekend sponsored by First Church Somerville, Old South Church and The Imperial Court of Massachusetts emphasizing the United Church of Christ’s acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Over 100 guests packed into the backroom stage of Club Café in the South End for a drag show hosted by New York-based drag queen Sapphira Cristal.
The show began with live performances of gospel classics from Cristal and Serenity Jones, the drag-queen-in-residence for First Church Somerville. The pair rifted their way through a rendition of Dottie Peoples’ “He Can Work It Out.”
“There is a great drag tradition with music,” Marlin Collingwood, a member of First Church Somerville, said. “But gospel music has been the root for drag.”
After Cristal and Jones came Gigi Gill and Kiera Diamond, drag queens from Salem and Lynn, respectively, who performed in a more traditional drag style. Instead of singing live, both lip synced and danced to audio tracks.
Gill performed Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” in a kimono while snapping a hand fan open and closed throughout the song as she lead a 10-piece choir through the crowd.
Rather than focusing on her showmanship, Diamond stayed true to the purpose of the drag festival as she pointed people out of the crowd and asked for money.
“Come on people, it’s for charity,” she said.
The Drag Gospel Festival raised funds for the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, a Somerville community group which offers housing and support to foreign lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals seeking asylum from persecution in their own countries.
“They come with next to nothing and cannot work for a period of time that can last for up to two years,” Polly Laurelchild-Hertig, executive director of the task force, said.
Because of this, the group attempts to provide for all expenses of the asylum seekers.
From the night at Club Café, over $2,000 was raised for the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force. However, the Gospel Fest does not end with a drag show – it ends with a drag service.
On Sunday, Oct. 18, nearly 250 people gathered at First Church Somerville for the Drag Worship led by Baskette with her marker moustache and Associate Pastor Jeff Mansfield wearing blush, blue eye shadow and red lipstick.
Serenity Jones was the key player as she led the choir of men and women in light drag through the service. However, when Mansfield began to speak, a man stood from the crowd, climbed over church benches to the front of the room and heatedly said, “You paint up Jesus Christ like a prostitute.”
The man was referring to the poster for the Drag Gospel Festival, which depicts Jesus wearing earrings and makeup reminiscent to that of Mansfield.
Mansfield calmed the stranger and said, “He is not a prostitute. [This] is the face of some of God’s children.” The man proceeded to leave the church.
The service continued as it would any other Sunday with the tones of drag added in. At the end of the ceremonies, church band Project Soul played a version of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” and Mansfield encouraged all in attendance to celebrate
Between the drag show and the Sunday morning collection, $7,275 was raised in total to support the asylum seekers. Despite the success of the weekend, James Adams, the man behind Jones, acknowledged that people have inhibitions toward the LGBT and drag community.
“This is a hard pill to swallow when you’re talking about transgender people and drag queens,” Adams said. “Why am I standing here in a dress and what does it mean? [Drag Gospel Festival] puts legs under our statement about what it means to be open and affirming.”
Baskette supported Adams’ words and felt her actions, and those of First Church Somerville, were for the greater good of human rights and charity.
“Live so justly that Westboro Baptist wants to picket your funeral,” Baskette said.
Photo by Gemma Bonfiglioli