The worlds of drag culture and hip-hop do not often converge, but converge they did on Sunday morning when a bevy of Philadelphia drag queens from collective Philly Drag Mafia opened up for rapper Yazz the Greatest at the Anti-Defamation League’s Walk Against Hate at the Navy Yard. The performances went off without a hitch, but afterward, things didn’t go quite as smoothly.
Following the show, the Philly drag queens say they were scheduled for a photo opportunity with the locally born-and-raised rapper, a.k.a. Bryshere Gray, who has a recurring role on the hit Fox show Empire. Many of the attendees snapped selfies with Yazz, but in the end, the drag queens weren’t allowed to take photos with him.
According to Walk Against Hate board member Ian Morrison, better known by his drag name Brittany Lynn, event organizers, including walk chairman Brandon Morrison (no relation), pulled him aside and apologized.
“They explained that Yazz’s ‘handlers’ said that he wouldn’t take photos with us in drag,” says Ian, adding that they were told that a photo would only be possible if they changed out of their drag costumes and into street clothes.
Other drag queens we spoke with who were present for the conversation confirm Ian’s account, and some suspect that Yazz is afraid of having his image associated with drag queens. One person prominently involved behind the scenes at the event, and who asked not to be named in this article, confirmed that the drag queens were not permitted to take photos with Yazz.
Yazz has been dogged by online speculation about his sexuality since Empire became a hit. In early 2015, reports emerged that he had responded to the rumors by tweeting: “No I’m not gay. I could never be gay, let’s make that clear.” (A publicist for the rapper reportedly said later that the Twitter account in question was fake, and the account no longer exists.) In an interview with a radio station from the same period, he appears uncomfortable when the hosts repeatedly try to get him to address the question, with Yazz at one point proclaiming “I’m the most heterosexual man you’ll meet in your life” (start at 9:10):
“The photo op was a real incentive for us to do the event in the first place,” says drag queen Roxy Boom. “He’s on Empire, and a lot of us girls were really excited. And then we were told it wasn’t going to happen. I find it very odd. Why wouldn’t you want to take a picture with us? Well, we know why, but … It was a low blow for all of us.”
A source close to Yazz claims that the rapper wasn’t personally aware of the situation and suggests that the “handlers” might have made the call without his input. “He had security guys and handlers all around him,” confirms Roxy Brown. “We couldn’t get to him.”
Reached on Tuesday afternoon, ADL director of development Barbara Shaab said that this controversy has nothing to do with the ADL, which is an anti-bigotry organization.
“This is a matter that’s between the Philadelphia Drag Mafia and Yazz the Greatest,” she insisted. “It is not an ADL matter. But the ADL believes strongly that there should be a conversation between the parties involved.”
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