Black drag performers have been around since the inception of drag, according to Space City drag queens Chloe Crawford Ross and Blackberri.
Chloe and Blackberri are the organizers of “Uniquely Shaded In Black,” a portrait that showcases the talent, beauty, and legacy of Houston’s Black drag queens.
“I don’t think everybody knows the history of drag,” Chloe Ross tells OutSmart. “That’s why Blackberri and I chose to memorialize it.”
To kick off Black History Month on February 1, Chloe and Blackberri shared their creation on social media. “Uniquely Shaded In Black” was shot by photographer Angelo S. Ortiz Vega, and includes seven drag performers whose careers span over 40 years. From left to right, the photo features K’hem Trailz, Leilani J. Ross, Dynasty Banks, Tommie Ross, Hu’nee B, Chloe Crawford Ross, and Blackberri.
“Uniquely Shaded in Black”—which has already garnered hundreds of likes on Facebook—was arranged to uplift and give visibility to Black LGBTQ drag performers, Blackberri says.
“Black drag performers are often put into a box, and because of that, don’t always get as much recognition [as our non-Black counterparts],” Blackberri admits. “This is why we decided to showcase our girls.”
Tommie Ross has performed as a drag queen since 1979. The Miss Gay USofA 1988 winner says she was inspired to do drag by the Black entertainers she saw at her first drag show—Tasha Kohl, Donna Day, Naomi Sims, and Hot Chocolate.
“Those entertainers had been around for a long time,” Tommie says. “And [Black drag performers] have been around since drag was invented.”
Chloe, who celebrates 10 years of doing drag in June, launched her career after watching Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Older queens have told me about their experiences doing drag back when laws were different,” Chloe says, adding that in the 1960s, drag queens had to wear three articles of male clothing to avoid being arrested by police during gay bar raids. “Their stories are unbelievable.”
Anti-LGBTQ police raids at gay bars occurred all over the country during the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, according to History. And, in addition to drag performers, these raids also targeted transgender women and gay men wearing feminine clothing, and transgender men and lesbian women wearing masculine clothing.
“They went through all of that, and now drag performers are on television shows,” Chloe says. “I hope the older generations feel proud, because they’re the ones who started this and got us this far.”
Blackberri, a fashion designer who has done drag since 2016, has traveled across the country to perform. After seeing nationwide talent, she concludes that Space City drag queens are the most diverse.
“Houston drag queens can do it all,” Blackberri says. “We are jacks of all trades—singers, dancers, and performers. We deserve our chance to shine.”