Drag, the art form that mixes contouring, comedy, athletics and charisma, will be celebrated Saturday Aug. 27 at Power Plant Live! during the annual Baltimore Drag Awards.

The show was launched in 2018 at the Creative Alliance by Ryan Butler, who is known by his drag queen name, Brooklyn Heights, and Betty O’Hellno, another drag queen.

Since then, the awards have expanded to a new venue, with 20 categories and 100 nominees. The categories cover everything from best performers to best venues, providing an opportunity for the entire industry to be recognized. And the number of voters has increased from 2,500 last year to more than 2,800 this year.

Butler and his husband, Jerimiah Nieves — who goes by the drag name Iyana Deshanel — are credited with launching recurring drag brunches in 2017 at the now-closed Points South Latin Kitchen in Fells Point. Their shows have been imitated throughout the region.

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The Baltimore Banner asked Butler 10 questions about the event and other aspects of the craft he has been doing for the past nine years.

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Banner: Why did you create this event?

Butler: The event was originally created for the whole community to come together for one night with no nonsense and be our best selves from head to toe!

This year’s theme is Sex Sells. Explain why you choose that theme?

The word sex has been so taboo for so long, just like drag has been until recently. Now that drag is such a big part of mainstream media, why not sex?

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What is the worse injury you have sustained?

I threw my back out in 2019 and I still don’t think it’s fully recovered.

What is the biggest tip you have received?

I hosted a “F Cancer” celebration during the pandemic and the husband of the person we were celebrating tipped me $1,000 for making their partner happy for the first time in months.

If you could say one thing to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, what would it be? (DeSantis, a Republican, recently signed a controversial bill that prohibits public school teachers from offering classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity).

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Dude, grow up.

Who is your favorite drag queen of all time?

Roxxxy Andrews is drag. Hands down.

What is the best venue you have ever performed?

That’s a tough one! I always said if I had the resources, I’d reopen Town [Danceboutique] D.C. and The Hippo.

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What diva do you idolize and emulate?

There isn’t one diva. I idolize strong women who don’t listen to anyone but themselves. Women who don’t apologize. Women who know they’re bold, blunt and beautiful.

What is the toughest thing about drag?

I’d say the toll it takes on your body as well as the factor to stay booked.

What is the biggest misconception about drag?

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There are individuals who were born in a different time than I was. When I meet those people and they ask me, “So you want to be a girl?” I have to remind myself that some people don’t have the same education that we have today.


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John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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