30 drag queens who have made history ahead of Pride Month 2023

For this year’s Pride 30, NBC Out celebrates the drag performers over the years who made their mark on LGBTQ culture and beyond.

Princess Seraphina (1700s).

Princess Seraphina, who was the female persona of 18th-century Englishman John Cooper, is widely considered the first English drag Queen. She predated modern use of the word “drag,” which some say is a product from late-19th century British theatre. Princess Seraphina was the female persona of an 18th century Englishman named John Cooper. She dared to walk around London at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offense. She was also known to the regulars at the underground clubs and bars called molly-houses, which were the center of London’s gay subculture in the 1700s. The court records of a trial where Cooper, who was subjected to scrutiny during the “sodomy” laws of that era, brought charges against an individual who threatened to expose him sexually and robbed at knifepoint are a major source for information about Princess Seraphina.

Madam Pattirini (1854-1931)

Brigham Morris Young’s drag alter-ego, Madam Pattirini, was born in Salt Lake City to Brigham Young. Brigham Young is the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. In 1901, an article in the Deseret News (the paper owned by the LDS Church) noted that Morris Young had performed as Madam Pattirini at the birthday party of Lorenzo Snow, then the president of the LDS Church. Morris Young was described as a “prime performer” in the article. He was praised for his “good voice and ability to maintain a female character.”

William Dorsey Swann (1860-1925)

William Dorsey Swann was born into slavery and raised in Georgia. According to historian Channing Joe, Swann went on to become the first American drag queen to self-identify as such, and also the first activist to lead an LGBT resistance group. Swann, who was born into slavery in Georgia, was charged with “keeping disorderly house” in Washington, D.C., which is a euphemism used to describe running a bordel. Newspaper accounts of the time claimed that he actually ran a drag-ball (or as the judge described it, “a hell of iniquity”) Swann was convicted of “female imitation” and sentenced to ten months in prison. Swann asked President Grover Cleveland for a pardon. While the request was denied it was reported to be the first time that an American took legal and political actions to fight the right of LGBTQ individuals to gather.

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