As Brita Filter explains it, the scene that unfolded at this year’s Women’s March was straight out of an episode of Pose.
The 34-year-old drag queen and former New York City Entertainer of the Year joined thousands last Saturday on the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest President Donald Trump’s administration. The march, which was first held just weeks after he took office in 2017, is intended to raise awareness about how current policies negatively affect various marginalized groups: women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.
But one pack of demonstrators stood out to Filter on that 20-degree day: a group of men who were harassing a young queer man, calling him names and telling him that he “was going to hell.” As she witnessed the hecklers spewing “every slur you could possibly imagine,” Filter says she began to think back to her own childhood, when she herself was ridiculed for being different—before she could even understood why.
“When I was a little boy, I remember the first time someone called me a ‘faggot’ in the fifth grade and how that made me feel,” she tells NewNowNext. “I felt like I needed to stick up for my younger self by saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going to let this affect me the way it did a long time ago because, truly, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me, mama.’”
So Filter did what any drag queen worth her salt would do in this situation: She intervened, breaking into a performance for the throngs lined along the street. “You aren’t going to mess with a 6-foot-4 man in a giant dress,” she says. “I’m like a Disney character essentially, and you ain’t gonna fuck with Mickey Mouse, sis.”
The impromptu one-woman show was captured by her videographer, who accompanied Filter to the march along with her boyfriend and her manager. In a nearly two-minute clip uploaded to Instagram, Filter sashays in a bright red dress and six-inch stilettos while twirling a rainbow flag in her hand. As she worked the crowd, onlookers began to chant, “Love trumps hate!”
It was the kind of moment born to go viral, and it did, racking up thousands of views and hundreds of comments on social media over the weekend.
But what made the standoff particularly memorable, at least from Filter’s perspective, was that one angry woman with a microphone began to “read” her as she spun and shimmied for marchers gathered with phones in hand.
“You’re not a woman!” the protester bellowed from the distance. “Someone is confused! Somebody is confused! You are sick, you are twisted, and you are disgusting. You have a penis! You have a penis! You do not have a vagina! You are sick, sir. Your five-o’clock shadow is showing.”
While the woman’s remarks were meant to wound her, Filter couldn’t help but find them funny. “It was almost like she was a ball commentator,” she says. “I felt like Billy Porter was on the microphone.”
But beyond its unintentional parallels to the hit Ryan Murphy–produced FX drama, Filter calls the moment “empowering.” After the masses dissipated, she says, women approached her, telling her, “We love you. Don’t listen to them.”
Meanwhile, Filter was able to catch up with the young man who’d been harassed at the end of the march to pose with him for a photo. In it, they are holding a sign that reads “Lock Him Up” as they stand under the Trump International Hotel in D.C.
Filter, who was recently announced as a contestant on the 12th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, hopes the attention the video received will serve as a reminder to other LGBTQ people—specifically those in the drag community—that they have a responsibility to use their platforms for good. In her mind, drag queens are more than just entertainers.
“We have microphones in our hand every day,” she says. “If we’re not using our popularity for change, then we’re not doing it right.”