Dupont Circle’s 17th Street flooded with cross-dressers and spectators Tuesday night as more than 30 drag queens came out despite the cold and drizzly weather to participate in an October tradition.
D.C.’s annual High Heel Race takes place each year on the Tuesday night before Halloween, allowing men to dress in short skirts and strap on their high heels while they prepare to sprint down 17th Street between P and Q streets. The race is a famed social gathering for local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups and is in its 18th year.
“It’s a huge social event for the gay community,” said Oscar Soto Jr., a volunteer from JR’s Bar and Grill, a local restaurant that sponsors the event. “This is my third year here, and it grows every year.”
Crowds started developing along 17th Street around 6 p.m. to watch the drag queens parade down the street to show off their outfits. At 9 p.m. sharp, a pistol shot began the race and the drag queens ran a two-block dead sprint north towards Q Street.
For some racers, crossing the finish line was unimportant. A crowd distraction or an irrecoverable tumble in their high heels made racers take their time to reach the finish line.
Participants said there are no real losers in this race and the competition is more about merit and costume. The racers who actually do the sprint finish in about 90 seconds. When the race concludes and competitive urges wane, the track turns into a gigantic street party and the surrounding bars and restaurants pack themselves full with thousands of spectators prior to and after the race.
Metropolitan Police officials and about 50 volunteers from J.R.’s Bar and Grill said they easily managed the easy-going crowd Tuesday night. MPD Sergeant Brett Parsons said that they usually expect more drag participants, but thinks the weather discouraged some from showing up to the event.
“A few decided to pull out of the race,” he said. “Because the rain ruins their … gear.”
The race’s gold medal went to a drag queen dressed as a nun in a full-body spandex costume, who was swallowed up by admiring throngs following his finish and could not be reached for comment.
However, a participant whose costume was based on a woman version of Phildelphia Eagle Terrell Owens said he enjoyed himself, despite finishing dead last.
“I did well I thought,” he said. “Because only sexy queens race in the rain.”
A few GW students from The Out Crowd, a student organization that serves lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students, also attended Tuesday’s race. In prior years, GW students have participated in the actual race, such as in 2004 when GW entered three now-graduated students from The Out Crowd group.
“It is mostly a fun thing for the gay community, for visibility, “But it is a social event and a positive activity for members of (The) Out Crowd who are confused or self conscious about their orientation,” said Jennifer Proctor, former political director of Out Crowd.