Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives     


"It’s like, if I could choose my family, I would choose you."

Dawn Griffin -- born in Brooklyn, 1964 -- was the second woman to be chosen Queen of the United Ebony Council, reigning 1998-99. She was interviewed with a white friend, Greg Swales, in a breezy conversation that explored the changing role of women in drag culture, among other topics.


Growing up in Brooklyn with a name like Dawn, being African-American -- that’s cute. In the seventies, you had a lot “Sheniquas” and folks like that. “Dawns” were blond-haired girls who played guitars under trees. [laughs]. It just didn’t make sense. We couldn’t make a nickname out of it.

So it was a pretty name, but an odd name when you live in Brooklyn.

At 16 I had a girlfriend; we’d been going out for a year. I was on the phone to her, and she was a very whiny girl. She was on to the “You don’t love me anymore,” you know. I was engrossed in the conversation, “Yes, Jennifer, you know I love you,” until I realized that my mother was staring at me. Oh, God! [laughs]. That phone call ended real quick! So I had to explain to my mother and none of the standard lies worked. She looked at us sideways every time a girl came over after that.

The Ices, my drag family, are unique. We’re one of the few that has female queens. It’s a special thing when somebody asks you to be a member of their family. It’s like, if I could choose my family, I would choose you, which is really nice.

My drag name is Aglassa Ice. Aglassa is what Lena Horne would be if she had a sandwich. My mom listened to Nancy Wilson and Lena Horne and those women were elegant. So I do Lena and whatever else I want to after that.

Greg Swales: Most women used to run for the male titles -- the king or prince. Now they’re doing whatever they want. The drag queen has always been the pretty, glamorous title, so why not?

Dawn: Aglassa wants to be elegant and refined. Because I was always jeans and sneakers growing up. She’s the long-beaded gowns and the high-heel shoes and the purse that matches the shoes. She loves that glamour.

Dawn Griffin

   Dawn Griffin / United Ebony Council

Greg: You get that air of regality. Especially if you get your UEC crown on. She’s very statuesque.

Dawn: Because if you move it falls off your head!

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I’ve been involved in Gay Pride parades, but reigning was very different. The parade float was the most wonderful team-building event I’ve ever seen the UEC do. We had organizers; we had people that were good at ideas; we had people that wanted to do pieces; we had people who could only stay a couple of hours, but they came. We had the person who I called the chief procurement officer, one of the guys that you give a list and say, “I need this.”

We needed carpet rolls because we were doing Cleopatra’s entrance into Egypt. We got paint donated. They ran all over town. Everybody pulled together. It was raining and they all had to run and cover everything up the night before the parade. They’d never won a thing the entire organizational history; they wanted to at least get recognized. “Can we do this?” I said, “You can do anything you want. Have a blast. Wave at people.” They came in third in the float contest and they were on that high for weeks.

Greg: It looked like Cleopatra’s barge -- very regal, very grand.

Dawn: They had me sitting up in the back. Harry Altman made me Cleopatra’s headdress with the eye of Horus, the eagle in the back, all black and gold glitter. I had leopard gloves.

Greg: My leopard gloves.

Dawn: Our Ms. Unity is permanently in a wheelchair. He was in the front, dressed as King Tut. Ivana Tinkle was his drag name.

After the parade our host bar wanted us to come to see them, so even though everybody wanted to get out of costume they drove the entire float with us on it down Broadway, back to the bar. It was such a bizarre sight in the middle of Seattle. We were waving and hollering, and having a great time.

When I told them I was proud of them, I had tears in my eyes. I was very proud of them, because it taught them that even though they were a smaller organization, they can do anything they set their minds to. It made them more brave, to go forward and say, “We can do this.”

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives

Oral history interview with Dawn Griffin and Greg Swales, October 13 and November 4, 1998.
Interviewed by: Ruth Pettis and Walter Grodzik
Transcribed by: Teri Balkenende
Seattle, WA: Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.


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