Right now, Mummer brigades in Philadelphia are fluffing up their parasols and putting a shine to their golden slippers as they get ready for the New Year’s Day parade.
For the second year running, the Miss Fancy Brigade — a troupe of drag queens performing on the local circuit — will join in the annual tradition. They promise to be bigger, better, and more fabulous than last year.
In November 2012 — practically the eleventh hour — Ian Morrison was asked by the Fancy Brigade Association to cobble together a group of drag queens to act as masters of ceremonies for the Mummer competition in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. With just six weeks to prepare, Morrison, who performs as Brittany Lynn (towering almost nine feet tall in heels and wig), barely put together a workable show.
“Now we have it together, now we know what we’re doing,” said Morrison, who has been working with the Fancy brigades all year. “Last year was growing pains. We’re pulling it together this year.”
The queens will even have their own band this year — a brass ensemble called the Philadelphia Freedom Band that will march up Broad Street.
While the Mummer tradition appears to flaunt cross-dressing, the parade used to be more explicitly drag, which it has lost sight of it in recent years.
“They’ve always been part of the parade,” said Bill Burke, vice president of the Fancy Brigade Association. “I’ve been in the parade 56 years. When I first started out, there were drag queens in the parade. So I was used to that. The new generation didn’t know all about this.”
The inclusion of drag queens for the second time in a bedrock Philadelphia civic tradition is a boost for the gay community, said Morrison. This year, he has widened the parasol to include “drag kings” — women who dress as men.
“Now we’re a permanent part, hopefully, a permanent fixture with this,” said Morrison. “You can’t keep the queens out of a parade.”
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the Philadelphia Freedom Band was misidentified as the Pride Band. We regret the error.