Gay, bisexual and trans men over the age of 50 received a history lesson on drag performances in the annual Mummers Parade and how thid has been revitalized in recent years. Ian Morrison, who performs in drag as Brittany Lynn, spoke Tuesday during William Way LGBT Community Center’s MorningsOUT Men’s Senior Social.
Bob Skiba, the community center’s archivist, began the event by speaking on the history of drag performances in Philadelphia. Drag has been a staple of the Mummers Parade for more than 100 years but Morrison spearheaded efforts to bring together the Miss Fancy Brigade, the annual parade’s first drag brigade, in 2012.
In 2015, that same brigade helped pave the way for diversity and inclusion in the 2016 parade.
“The Philadelphia Division was made up of all of the minority brigades to create change and [increase] diversity and awareness of different minority communities in the parade,” Morrison said.
However, some performers took part in blackface and other racially insensitive performances. Mummers officials reached out to Morrison to apologize and asked for advice on ensuring it doesn’t happen again.
As a result, all Mummers performers have been held to new rules. They are no longer allowed to wear makeup that makes them look like another race, and no more than 25 percent of their makeup cannot be yellow, black or brown. Additionally, performers were required to undergo sensitivity training.
Those guidelines proved successful in recent years. Morrison also received an accolade for his efforts in organizing the first drag-performance brigade. In 2013, the City of Philadelphia and the Mummers Fancy Brigade Association presented him with a citation designating March 15 as Brittany Lynn Day.
“My mom has shut up about me doing drag all these years,” Morrison said with a laugh about the citation.
Other Miss Fancy Brigade performers also addressed Tuesday’s group, including Marcello Brening Barrera and Karen Vonsay. Barrera, who is originally from Venezuela, spoke about his overall feelings while performing in the annual parade.
“For me, being in the Mummers Parade, not only as a gay man but as a foreigner, is being a part of Philadelphia,” he said. “That year [I began performing], I became — in my head and in my heart — a Philadelphian. I am a Mummer. I am a gay man in a dress in extremely cold weather in heels walking for two miles having the city look at [us] and applaud [us]. I had never gotten anything but love.
“That day, I am great.”
Vonsay expressed similar sentiments.
“I’ve been in carnivals. I’ve been a Disney character. I’ve been a superhero. When I got onto Broad Street and had that little glimmer of sunlight, that was it for me. I was smacking hands, holding kids, taking pictures, doing whatever I needed to do to make the parade great and have a good time.”