Here, Mahogany speaks about working in politics as a black trans woman, the need for increased representation, and why RuPaul’s Drag Race is the perfect training ground for a career in politics.
How did you enter politics?
I never thought that I would be in politics or grow up to be a mayor or anything like that. It wasn’t really in my vision for myself. I was a social worker and I was working a lot with my community, the LGBTQ community, and seeing first hand a lot of the displacement that was hurting folks. For some people it really was a matter of life and death. I thought it was incumbent on me to do something about that. I wanted to help people and get at the root cause of some of these issues. Like, how do we prevent displacement through gentrification? Because it’s an ongoing trend and it’s not something new and it’s devastating our communities. I learned through organizing that politics and policy were an incredibly important part of conservation and making systemic change. So that’s what motivated me to get involved.
Often, the idea of LGBTQ+ people holding office is a novel idea not only to wider society, but queer people themselves. We’re not used to seeing out-and-proud LGBTQ people involved in politics. I’m wondering, when you first set out to enter politics, did you face pushback or doubts from within the LGBTQ+ community?
I never thought about it that way, in terms of us not having out role models involved in politics besides, you know, Harvey Milk, that were widely known. And he was murdered. But I think that is true. We are currently all breaking boundaries and creating change so that future generations do have role models to look up to. I do think I have faced some pushback from within the LGBT community. My nightlife and LGBT community by and large have been very supportive and encouraging. But there are some folks who see any politician as being a sell-out and no longer harboring radical queer politics. That is challenging. Because I have always considered myself very progressive, left-wing, and radical. And have always advocated for policies that align with that viewpoint. It is sometimes hurtful. Although I do understand that there is a need for folks who are constantly upset and pushing back up against authority of any kind. I guess I try not to think about it too much. Because I realize their role and I do recognize it’s an important role. But compromise is an inherent part of politics. And it might not be as ideologically pure as being an activist, but when you are holding office your perspective and who your community is widens. There’s just more to take in and consider.
Did your time on RuPaul’s Drag Race, particularly the cut-throat atmosphere of being on a reality show, prepare you in any way for politics?
I guess so! Politics in many ways is a show of its own. There’s a lot of pressure, there are tight timelines and deadlines, and there are lots of different voices screaming in your ear and people trying to sabotage you behind the scenes. So it’s very much like Drag Race. [Laughs] Drag Race really gave me a trial by fire of being in a high-pressure situation and being forced to survive. And also being forced to deal with a public that is both loving and can be—what’s the word I want to use here—very unforgiving at times. So I do think it was good preparation.
Do you have a group of other trans people in politics supporting you?
I mean… there are a lot of gay men in politics in San Francisco. [Laughs] There aren’t a lot of lesbians elected in San Francisco currently, there aren’t a lot—well, there aren’t any other trans folk elected currently. There is a sense of community for sure, I don’t want to say that there isn’t. And I think gay people, in general, have been very supportive of me and I definitely value that. I think San Francisco, just like everywhere else, still has work to do in building a diverse body of leadership.