The Austin International Drag Festival brings performers and audiences from across the world to the Texas capital.
From Nov. 14-17, nearly 2,000 spectators are expected to watch the event according to Jamie Bancroft, president and founder of the Austin International Drag Foundation.
“Our main mission is to advocate for drag artists, but part of that is also (their health),” Bancroft said. “We want to see drag artists grow in their careers. Also, we want them to be taken care of in other ways in their lives.”
One organization that supports this mission is Kind Clinic, which provides sexual health services including STI and HIV testing, access to HIV medications PrEP and PEP and gender affirming care, said Christopher Hamilton, CEO of Texas Health Action, the nonprofit that oversees the Kind Clinic.
Bancroft said he appreciates what the clinic does for the community at large and for transgender individuals specifically.
“In the drag festival, of course we have a lot of transgender artists,” Bancroft said. “So, it’s important for us to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”
Bancroft said he takes pride in the amount of diversity represented at the festival. He said in contrast to larger shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the festival does not pigeonhole who can perform drag. He said drag queens, kings, hyperqueens — drag queens who were assigned female at birth — and bio kings — drag kings who were assigned male at birth — are all welcome to perform.
“We run the spectrum,” Bancroft said. ”We pride ourselves in having such a diverse array of drag art in the festival.”
This is the second year the health and wellness clinic has helped sponsor the festival. Clinic staffers table at the event and provide educational services to attendees, Hamilton said.
Because HIV still has a disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ community, Hamilton said there is still work to be done on educating people on the effectiveness of HIV medications. He said that because the festival attracts a largely LGBTQ population, sharing information about sexual health resources is very important.
Hamilton said 90% of the clinic’s patients are members of the LGBTQ community. Of the 38,739 people diagnosed with HIV in 2017, 66% were gay and bisexual men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There have been a lot of examples of drag performers doing activism around HIV prevention and awareness,” Hamilton said. “This seems to be a natural fit for our organization.”
At the 2018 festival, community members who knew about the clinic were supportive of their involvement, said Marcus Sanchez, Kind Clinic director of marketing and communications. Event staffers raised awareness of the clinic’s services among people who had never heard of the clinic, Sanchez said. He said it is important to have those conversations in a place where people’s identities are affirmed and supported.
Sanchez said the clinic strives to cultivate a spirit of kindness through their messaging and community presentations.
“We believe that creating a safe space for these communities in important,” Sanchez said. “That when they walk into our space, we make sure that they know that it’s a safe space, so they’re able to talk to us comfortably about the most intimate slice of their lives.”