A vintage photo of a drag ball in Harlem from the 1920s. Atop the image is text that reads, "WE WON'T BE ERASED" in an art deco style font.

Our annual gala is quickly approaching. In just 47 days, we hope to see you in Charleston to celebrate the Roaring 20s as we recommit ourselves to fighting for a fairer future. I want to take a minute to tell you a little more about the theme of this year’s event. 

Click here to buy tickets to our gala!

LGBTQ nightlife in the 1920s emerged as a vibrant and clandestine subculture, finding refuge in the shadows of prohibition-era speakeasies and underground clubs. Amidst a backdrop of social repression and conservative norms, members of the LGBTQ community sought spaces where they could express themselves freely and authentically.

As we reflect on this history, it becomes crucial to acknowledge and honor the resilience of the trailblazers who paved the way. Countless LGBTQ people who came before us faced immense challenges and often risked their safety and livelihoods to create these spaces where acceptance and freedom flourished. Trailblazers like William Dorsey Swann, a man who defined what it means to fight for queer rights decades before the Stonewall riots. 

Swann was a black man born into slavery, and he’s the first recorded person in history to adopt the title of “queen of drag.” He and other former slaves would dress up in satin ball gowns and dance the night away at massive drag balls organized in the nation’s capitol – just blocks away from the White House.

They were fearless.


Two photos of William Dorsey Swann, the first American in recorded history to adopt the title "queen of drag." Swann poses with another man.


As you might imagine, the establishment didn’t like that. A committee of prohibition activists decried Swann’s drag balls as a scene filled with “male perverts” in expensive frocks and wigs.

Sound familiar?

The hatred we’re facing now stems from the same homophobia, transphobia and racism that Swann fought against at the turn of the 20th century. This hatred ebbs and flows, and right now we find ourselves in a time of unprecedented legislative attacks on our community. More than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country. 

In the decades following the Roaring 20s, LGBTQ nightlife faced a devastating setback as social conservatism gained momentum, driven by discriminatory laws and societal norms. We saw increased policing of queer spaces, crackdowns on LGBTQ gatherings, and the stifling of LGBTQ expression, forcing much of our community’s vibrant nightlife back into the closet, hidden from public view.

This is why our organization is so important. We’re experiencing the same thing that our ancestors faced, and we must fight harder. We will not be erased, and we will not go back into the closet.

Like our ancestors, we will be fearless in the face of hatred.

So thank you to all of our amazing sponsors who’ve lined up to make this Roaring 20s gala a huge success. Now, more than ever, we must stand united against hate. We must continue to organize, educate and uplift the most marginalized members of our community.

With your help, I know we’ll win.

Yours in Fairness,

Andrew Schneider
Executive Director

P.S. — These sponsors share in our vision for a better West Virginia, and we’re proud to have their support. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, email me at andrew@fairnesswv.org.