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America's 'Drag Ambassadors' aim to register voters one brunch show at a time

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In front of a single lighted mirror, ‘Kylie Minono’ meticulously applies shades of foundation, powder, and eye and lip liner, transforming into her drag queen persona with each stroke.

“It’s exciting to be able to step into a world of hope and positivity with my drag,” said Minono, a nonprofit worker in San Francisco whose legal name is Kyle Levinger.

After years of stepping into drag for benefits and fundraising shows, Minono is bringing her act to the 2020 election campaign, joining the nonpartisan, nonprofit Drag Out the Vote organization to help register Americans to vote.

“With so much at stake in the federal election as well as state and local elections, to me it was so important to work with the community to get people to register to vote, to remind people to vote, because our votes are our voice,” Minono said.

The organization has recruited about 300 ‘Drag Ambassadors’ across 45 states. In some states, including California, its ambassadors will work at the polls on Election Day.

They are targeting their efforts at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) voters with drag shows, said founder Jackie Huba. The shows are both live and virtual, to tap into the significant online followings of some drag queens.

“Now here’s the sad fact: 1 in 5 LGBTQ adults is not registered to vote. And 100 million people did not vote in the 2016 election. We really need to fix this,” Huba said.

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Huba, who also performs in drag as ‘Lady Trinity’, drew inspiration from Jaremi Carey, ‘Phi Phi O’Hara,’ who featured on TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and led a benefit for Puerto Rico hurricane relief.

At a recent outdoor drag brunch show in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, Minono and fellow Drag Ambassador ‘Afrika America’ - both wearing face coverings due to the coronavirus pandemic - stepped onstage to encourage the audience to participate in democracy.

They pointed to posters with a digital QR code that allowed attendees to use their smartphones to virtually check their voter registration status and sign up if they were not already registered.

“You don’t even have to touch us. We don’t have to touch you, which is the best part,” said Afrika America, who when not performing as a drag artist works as a flight attendant.

Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Rosalba O’Brien

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