It’s not every night that you get to watch about 100 drag queens sprint down a busy D.C. street. But on Tuesday night on 17th Street in Dupont Circle, thousands of attendees watched queens race to the finish line at the 33rd Annual 17th Street High Heel Race.
What started as a drunken race between two drag queens has turned into one of the largest community events in the District. Contestants sprinted from JR’s Bar to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse – about one-tenth of a mile – dressed from head to toe in glitter, feathers and, most importantly, heels.
The race began at 9 p.m., but spectators gathered as early as 6 p.m. to grab a spot for the 7 p.m. parade of the most decked-out contestants.
This is the second year Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office has formally placed the High Heel Race on its own event calendar. Jimmy Alexander, a broadcaster who has covered the event for the past 15 years and became an emcee three years ago, said formalizing the event in the mayor’s office shows Bowser’s allyship toward the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a great way for the city and the gay community to come together, and it shows that the mayor and the mayor’s office really cares about the gay community,” Alexander said.
The annual event began in 1986 when two drag queens raced down 17th Street from one Dupont bar to another to drink schnapps. Since then, it has continued to take place the Tuesday before Halloween in Dupont Circle, which Alexander said is known as the District’s “Gayborhood.”
“As a gay guy, it really means a lot to me that I get to go on stage and welcome everybody,” Alexander said. “But my favorite part is seeing kids. I love that straight families come here, in fellowship with the gay community, that they come lock arms, and for one night, we’re all together.”
Alexander said the event challenges the stereotype that D.C. is all about politics and lawmaking. The dash allows people to express themselves in a way that doesn’t involve the latest happenings with President Donald Trump or other Capitol Hill news, Alexander said.
“It’s really sweet when you think about the fact that it wasn’t that long ago when you would have to hide who you are and have to hide being gay,” Alexander said. “But now, not only does the city want you to be loud and proud, but you have the mayor here, and different town councilmembers wearing lipstick or high heels, and it shows the real neighborhood feel of Washington, D.C.”