It’s Drag Night in Namibia and The Loft for You, a venue in the country’s centrally-located capital of Windhoek, is filled with revellers. The diverse crowd, which ranges broadly over age, race, sexual and gender expression, filter through the doors eagerly. Once they pass the various intersectional Pride and civil rights groups’ flags, they are delighted by a cast of charismatic performers. Between the sultry, shimmying performances, exploding with queer joy, activist Omar van Reenen takes the stage.
“What we are doing here today is massive,” they say. Behind them hangs a rainbow flag bearing the word ‘Peace’. The venue is near capacity. The crowd, which is the largest to attend Drag Night Namibia since its inception in 2020, is electric. “Taking up space in a born-free Namibia,” Omar continues. “This is what our liberators fought for. Because their blood waters our freedom, too!” The crowd erupts into cheering applause.
Anyone familiar with drag scenes from almost anywhere in the world would feel Omar’s words. Throughout its history, drag artistry has been tied to subversive, queer politics which challenges heteropatriarchal power systems and advocates for LGBTQ+ equality through the radical and often playful subversion of gender norms. For decades, the drag club has been a natural home for activism.
“In its essence, drag is a political statement,” says Rodelio Lewis, the founder and CEO of Drag Night Namibia who also hosts the events as his drag persona Miss Mavis Dash. “It’s very satirical at times, but also most of our performers take this so seriously. It is a political statement every single time they step on stage or step out in drag.”
This is especially true in Namibia, where the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for civil rights has ramped up significantly over the last few years. For a country which is so small in population (only 2.5 mil), the number of legal challenges to state-sanctioned homophobia has been astounding. In fact, this evening’s event falls between two Supreme Court hearings related to the advancement of LGBTQ+ civil rights that have been years in the making.
On March 3rd, the court heard a challenge to the state’s refusal to recognise same-sex marriages concluded in other countries, thus disqualifying families with foreign-born spouses of queer Namibians from claiming domicile to live and work. Days later, on March 6, the Supreme Court heard a case regarding the parental rights of same-sex families. The outcome of these cases will have monumental implications for queer Namibians and their families for generations to come.
The country’s small but dedicated civil rights movement, which is largely spearheaded by young people, has not only rallied around these legal challenges, but also around spaces like Drag Night that cater to other sides of the queer experience – that of joy, community and celebration. As Rodelio reflects, “It’s one part of the puzzle of this fantastic collaborative effort from queer and allied organisations in the movement for equality and inclusivity.”
For many who attend, especially those engaged in activism, it’s a meaningful experience. “With all the painful stuff that’s going on in the fight, it’s good to be in a safe space with our people,” says Daniel Digashu, who is a litigant in the previously mentioned marriage recognition case. “I broke down a few times, because it’s so special,” he continues. “I feel like we deserve that, that bit of happiness.”
Centuries into its legacy, drag still provides a vessel for LGBTQ+ folk to experiment with and express their gender, while also mobilising for the ever-present need to fight for civil rights in Namibia and all over the world.
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