Watch CBS News

All-Asian San Francisco drag troupe the Rice Rockettes wary as LGBT intimidation spreads

All-Asian S.F. drag troupe wary as LGBT intimidation spreads
All-Asian S.F. drag troupe wary as LGBT intimidation spreads 03:31

SAN FRANCISCO -- An all Asian-American drag troupe says the recent rise in anti-drag sentiment -- including an attack on one of their own -- has made them extremely cautious about where and when they perform.

For Estee Longah, it takes time to reach perfection.

"I like to take two hours," Longah explained as she applied the finishing touches of her make-up. "You sort of get into the rhythm of doing it."

The two hours of preparation representing nearly two decades of her career as a drag queen, and her onstage alter-ego.

"She is a feisty failed make-up diva/d-listed old Hollywood icon who is stuck doing two-bit gigs, because she lapped too many directors in her time," laughed Longah, who did not want to reveal her true identity for privacy.

But Estee Longah is more than just a performer and drag queen. She also a grandmother and mother to the group called the Rice Rockettes. Billed as the San Francisco's premiere all-Asian-American Drag troupe, Longah founded the Rice Rockettes 14 years ago.

"Back in the day, the number of Asian drag performers in San Francisco was very small. You could probably count them on one hand," she remembered.

In 2009, they booked their first club event with a dozen Asian-Americans in drag sharing the stage.

"It was wigs flying everywhere! There was confetti, people falling, people doing all sorts of things. It was pure chaos, but it was fun," said Longah.

The fun times built into a following when the Rice Rockettes made a national appearance in 2011 on "American's Got Talent." Today, they book more than 50 events every year.

"It went from this niche in the gay neighborhoods to this big national thing," Longah said.

But drag has gotten new found attention, which has recently come with new found problems with the rise in anti-drag sentiment.

Last June, one of their own members, Panda Dulce, became the target of hate and harassment during a drag story time event at an East Bay library last summer.

"She was doing the gig by herself, when the Proud Boys stormed the place. They were shouting homophobic slurs and making threats," said Longah.

CBS News Bay Area reporter Da Lin covered the story and spoke to Panda Dulce.

"They were taunting me, calling me a groomer, an it," said Dulce during a virtual interview. "I didn't feel safe, because one of them was wearing a shirt with an AK-47 on it. And it said, 'Kill Your Local Pedophile.'"

The confrontation has not stopped the Rice Rockettes from performing, but it has made them more careful about the events they choose.

"There is violence against gay people, violence against our Trans-sisters. Assaults still happen," said Longah. "I'm more insistent of queens not being by themselves, and having people with them for gigs, and I don't take on certain gigs because of it. We are on heighten awareness."

And today, when they do make appearances, she feels they must be more than entertainers, but spokespeople and advocates for their art.

"We need people in our community to help, speak out against hate and racism, and support drag queens. We are just trying to do our jobs and exist," said Longah during an event in Sunnyvale.

"My wish is just let people live their lives, they are trying to work, they are trying to go to the bathroom, they are trying to play sports," she said. "If it is not your cup of tea, don't try to control their life based on your beliefs or ideals. Let them be. Just move on."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.