We remember her as the lip-sync assassin who slayed her way to a runner-up finish in the ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but Peppermint is giving fans a whole new set of reasons to keep up with her on Instagram. She still glitzes up the drag stage, but in the last few years she has turned her attention to causes close to her heart by making strides both onstage and in the streets.
Peppermint, who was RuPaul’s first openly transgender contestant, quickly rose through the ranks as audiences fell in love with her honesty, bravery, and penchant for delivering unforgettable performances.
Television producers took note, and her accolades now include appearances in Ryan Murphy’s Pose, the CBS show God Friended Me, FOX’s Deputy, and TLC’s I Am Jazz. She also landed a role in The Go-Go’s-inspired musical Head Over Heels, which earned her the distinction of being the first trans woman to originate a principal role on Broadway.
The acting gigs didn’t come from her media fandom as a “Ru Girl,” though. She says she still had to go through the audition process just like everyone else, with plenty of rejections before she got her break in the industry.
“I was auditioning for Broadway shows and being rejected because I was too queer, or too trans, or too something,” she recalls. “Most of the acting credits are because I was submitted by an agent, and I stood in a long line of people and went back for callbacks. Nobody called me or texted me [to hand me the job]—every acting job I’ve gotten has been from an audition.”
She credits her success to the skills she learned while earning her acting degree from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, as well as all the years she spent performing in drag shows.
“Some of the technical skills I have are from all that time [at the Academy], but the rest come from exercising that knowledge on stage as a queen, and owning my own brand of performance. That’s what drag gave to me—the freedom to not feel so constricted,” she says.
Peppermint is proud to perform on stage and on television because it gives authenticity to the stories of people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s necessary to tell these stories because we are here; we are in the population. We’re part of your city, your neighborhoods, and your families. If art and media are supposed to tell the stories of what’s happening in life, you should try to tell those stories respectfully and with taste and honesty,” she says. “There are so many beautiful ways that inclusion can weave itself into tradition.”
And she doesn’t stop there. Peppermint also emphasizes the importance of seeing LGBTQ writers, casting directors, and others in positions of influence.
“We know that cisgender people can be great actors and can do queer roles justice, but when queer people are being victimized [in real life] by a lack of access to healthcare, job protection, or the ability to marry, [their] stories are a lot more crucial to tell. These people need to participate in the storytelling about their own lives,” she says.
Peppermint’s activism extends beyond Hollywood and into the political arena. She recently organized an impressive collection of her famous friends like Laverne Cox, Nico Tortorella, MJ Rodriguez, Bob the Drag Queen, and Sander Jennings to kick off the #WeAreHere movement, which raises awareness about important issues facing the transgender community. Although it began as a way to mobilize support around workplace discrimination and the recent Title VII Supreme Court case that threatened protections for LGBTQ+ people, #WeAreHere quickly morphed into an organized mechanism for these entertainers and activists to call attention to the ever-growing list of issues facing LGBTQ+ people, especially in the trans community.
Peppermint fears many people don’t know what’s happening in the nation’s legislatures because the news media are focused on the fast-paced news cycle and so many high-profile events.
“Part of the strategy behind the Republican Party and the people who are putting forth these bills is to remove protections that were enacted during the Obama administration,” she explains.
Peppermint believes that her call to activism stems from her drag roots. “Part of activism is everyday activism. We are advocating and adding to the movement just by being out and open and living our lives. [When I was] growing up in the ’90s, activism was part of queer life in general,” she recalls. “Drag entertainment was paired with HIV/AIDS activism, because it was such a crucial message to spread at the time. The administration was not talking about it, so the drag performers felt it was incumbent to say what needed to be said. That’s what drag entertainers can do. They can do these things without fear of losing their career.
“Now we are seeing all these things happening in 2020 that I never thought would have followed the Obama era,” Peppermint says. “It seems like I have to put that hat on and pick up where we left off. I don’t know if I’d be able to cope in a world where, on a daily level, our community is being attacked and rights taken away.”
Watch Peppermint as she continues spreading the word about #WeAreHere, and also participates in a new production called Nubia. It debuts this month in New York with six Drag Race alumnae, and will highlight the talents of entertainers of color. And a new album is in the works that includes the single “What You’re Looking For,” which dropped on Valentine’s Day.
Keep up with Peppermint on Instagram @peppermint247.
This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.