October 11, 2018 at 8:33 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Mayor’s office takes over 17th Street High Heel race


High Heel Race, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from last year’s High Heel Race. This year’s race is slated for Oct. 30. (Washington Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

Reports surfacing over the past few weeks that the D.C. government would be taking over the city’s annual Halloween High Heel Race on 17th Street, N.W., near Dupont Circle were officially confirmed this week when the city launched a new Facebook page to promote the event.

“Mayor Muriel Bowser presents The 32nd Annual 17th Street High Heel Race,” a large headline on the Facebook page says.

Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, told the Washington Blade that the city’s decision to take over the event, which draws thousands of spectators and more than 100 drag queens competing in the race, was the culmination of D.C. government involvement in the race for many years.

“The mayor was really excited about this when we talked about it a year ago because this shows her support of the LGBTQ community and its diversity,” Alexander-Reid said. “And I think this is going to go a long way towards making sure this event lasts and continues, she said, adding, “I know Mayor Bowser loves this event and I know she’s proud to present it.”

David Perruzza, the former manager of the 17th Street gay bar JR.’s, which became the lead organizer of the race in 1999, said every mayor since that time arranged for street closings and police presence as the event evolved from a small spontaneous race among drag queens to one of the city’s largest outdoor street events.

Perruzza earlier this year left JR.’s to open his own gay sports bar in Adams Morgan called Pitchers.

With the event being free and open to anyone wishing to participate as a spectator or runner, organizers didn’t have the ability to raise sufficient funds to pay for the costs normally associated with street closings and police presence. So for years, according to Perruzza, the city and the mayor’s office stepped in to pick up those costs.

Bowser has attended the race during the past two years and has served as one of two honorary grand marshals both times. During the 2016 and 2017 high heel races Bowser stood at the starting point of the race at 17th and R streets and gave the official signal to begin the race.

“It’s fantastic every year,” Bowser told the Washington Blade shortly after the 2016 race ended. “You see people come from all over our region to celebrate the diversity of our city,” she said.

Shortly before the 2017 race began, Alexander-Reid told the Blade that 2017 marked the first time the mayor’s office became the official sponsor of the High Heel Race. “Now it’s the mayor’s high heel race,” Alexander-Reid told the Blade on Wednesday.

But Alexander-Reid is quick to point out that the event remains a community event with the community playing a key role in helping to make it the success it has been for so many years.

Perruzza, meanwhile, has said he will be working with city officials as a volunteer to ensure that the event runs smoothly on Tuesday, Oct. 30, when the race is scheduled to take place at 9 p.m. As has been the tradition in past years, beginning at 7 p.m., spectators clad in Halloween costumes will join the drag queens planning to enter the race in an informal “parade” up and down 17th Street.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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