From Shit Marches to City Hall, My Conversation w/ Anna Conda

Photo by Mercedes Merjil

|| By Tom Temprano ||

So unnerved was I by all of the suits and cameras that the only thing I could do was make a terrible joke. I was at City Hall testifying before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on behalf of drag queen cum politician Anna Conda and her effort to join SF’s party regulation body, the Entertainment Commission.

With hands slightly shaky and face bright red I assumed the podium, talked about being a young queer nightlife promoter and political organizer and finally cracked my big quip: ‘When I grow up, I want to b­e Anna Conda.’ The audience laughed a little, some of the color returned to my face and I could finally step down.

I have seen the hurricane that is Anna perform at drag shows all over town. Anna has used her experiences in nightlife and her passion for her community to fuel a political career marked by a 2010 run for San Francisco Supervisor, her appointment as neighborhood representative to the Entertainment Commission (I think my joke had a lot to do with that) and most recently, her election the first drag queen president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, a progressive queer political organization founded by Harvey himself.

Everything Anna has accomplished is an inspiration to me and I consider it a privilege to call her my friend. So, for the first article in my new Nark Magazine column exploring the politics of nightlife and the nightlife of politics, I think she is the perfect fit.

We sat down on a Sunday in her backyard. After swapping stories about last night’s afterparties (hers were WAY juicier), and quieting our hangovers with a couple mimosas, we got to chatting.

Tom: Could we start off with a bit about your background before I met you. When did you move to San Francisco and how did you become a part of the drag culture here in the city?

Anna: I moved here about sixteen years ago from New York where I was one of the Boy Bar Beauties. It was really hard, no one wanted to hire me to be a drag queen – though I had the same problem in New York where people just didn’t want to hire me. I guess I don’t look very hireable. Eventually I got hired by Heklina and went to the Miss Trannyshack Pageant as a lark in 2004 and ended up winning. Then I still couldn’t get hired very much so I started Charlie Horse.

T: For those who never had the pleasure, can you describe Charlie Horse?

A: We were the antithesis of Trannyshack because we would hire anyone. In fact the worse you were the bigger star we tried to make you. If you made the audience gasp because you were just so insane then it was a hit.

T: Is that when you started the Take Back The Polk Marches?

A: Yeah, then we started marching up and down Polk Street because it was the site of the first Gay Pride and now it’s just a monster truck straight girl rally. A bunch of drag queens would march down the street saying ‘Take back the Polk, straight girls go home’ and all the girls would see us coming and would be like ‘yaaay’ and then they heard what we were saying.

The best one was when Prop 8 passed, a bunch of us pooped in containers, marched them down to the Federal Court and put them on the steps as a present for the judge who voted not to repeal Prop 8. The Take Back The Polk Shit March. We were inspired by Divine in Pink Flamingos and decided those justices needed a turd in the mail.

T: That’s so foul, I love it. So clearly you’ve had these inclinations towards activism for a while. Who in the drag community inspired you?

A: There definitely have been other political drag queens but I think just doing drag is a political statement so whether they think of themselves as political or not, they are. No one really made me an activist. I’ve been doing that since Pittsburg protesting against the first Gulf Wars in the 80’s. I always thought there should be more hippies…although I’ve changed my mind about that.

T: Totally, less is more.

A: Yeah, more punks, less hippies.

T: So can we talk again about what happened with Charlie Horse?

A: So Charlie Horse happened at the Cinch which has been a bar since the 1800’s. We were having a weekly punk rock party there and some new neighbors moved into condos and started complaining. At that time I didn’t know about permits and stuff, I just wanted to have a drag show and turns out the Cinch didn’t have an entertainment permit. So when the neighbors started to complain more the bar got fined something like $10,000 and we stopped doing the party.

T: What led you to run for Supervisor?

A: Raya Light [another SF drag queen] had said to me right before Charlie Horse ended ‘It doesn’t matter because no one will ever listen to us,’ and I thought – well that can’t be true, I think she’s just lazy. So I’m gonna go make people listen to me and I just went to City Hall and filed to run for Supervisor. I don’t think I even knew what Supervisors were.

T: I remember seeing the photos from the debates and the campaign trail and you went to a lot of the debates in face. Did you view campaigning as Anna Conda a political move unto itself or was it just a personal decision to be yourself?

A: It was mostly me doing what I was doing but I remember being asked several times “Why would you bring your drag name into this if you’re trying to convince people that you’re serious?” And I thought, why would I abandon my culture to make a better impression? I don’t really care about being electable. I don’t care if I ever get elected as long as I haven’t sold out.

T: What was your experience with actual voters?

A: Well, I had the element of surprise and I also had people’s prejudices against drag queens working in my favor. Everybody thinks we’re stupid so it was easy to impress them. All in all I thought people were cool. We used to do PB&J and juice outreach in the Tenderloin and it was great – especially because drug policy is such a big deal to me and being in the TL really helped me to connect with people who were suffering in our system.

T: You know you’re doing something right if the normals are afraid. It’s going to be a big year for nightlife. As an Entertainment Commissioner, do you see the pendulum swinging back to people having a favorable view of nightlife?

A: With the Entertainment Commission the first eight years were spent figuring out how to work with the police and adding regulations. Now is the time to stretch the legs of the Entertainment Commission. We need to invite the community to use nightlife as a tool and make it more integrated into the community. It’s always been that for me and it’s been a lifesaver. I think that the work is really just changing the dialogue and starting to get people to talk about nightlife in a different way. Instead of having the pendulum swinging I’d rather we open a new dialogue that will actually stick.

Catch Anna in action in her latest rabblerousing role as the recently elected president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.




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