LGBT 'superhero' uses drag persona to help others
by Ilan Moskowitz
One of this year's community grand marshals, Bebe Sweetbriar, is somewhat of an LGBT superhero. Sweetbriar uses his drag celebrity, he explained, "to gain access to things that will help propel the LGBT community agenda, politically, socially, and artistically."
And like most superheroes, the alter ego of this larger than life character is no less interesting. Sweetbriar's real name is Kevin-Lee Junious. He's 51 and does not get caught up in the pronouns or gender politics of his creation.
"I use my birth name in my everyday life," Junious said, like any costumed crusader of their alter ego.
Junious identifies as a gay man, but when he's BeBe Sweetbriar, he's in a completely different mode. He said that even when he's referred to as male when he's in character, it doesn't shake him. The need for someone like Sweetbriar in the San Francisco community is too great for that, not to mention his love of the craft.
"Others might need that [strict reference to female pronouns] to keep them in that mode. To me it just doesn't matter," Junious said.
Junious's introduction to drag happened in 2006 when he saw Mercedez Munro win the Miss Gay San Francisco pageant.
"Watching her and knowing of the community service her title required prompted me to begin thinking that doing drag may be a way for me to give back to the community," he said.
Professionally, Junious is a force of nature. As Sweetbriar, his 2011 single, "Free To Be Me," stayed on Gaydar Radio's playlist for a whopping 14 weeks. He writes a syndicated celebrity interview column called Fame (interviewing the likes of Lady Gaga) for Edge Media Network, of which the Bay Area Reporter is a media partner.
He was chosen to represent Ciroc vodka during its effort to become more involved in the gay community. Rap star and entrepreneur P. Diddy (real name, Sean Combs) has a joint venture with parent company Diageo in the U.S. to market the alcohol.
"Just because someone is supportive or trying to market to the LGBT community as a good business move, doesn't mean that our community is one that they completely believe in. But P. Diddy does," Junious said. "I wasn't sure with him being a hip-hop mogul if he would be accepting of my presence. But he went out of his way, I thought, to make me feel welcomed and comfortable. He was very cool."
Gaining the incredible power of celebrity and mass exposure over such a short amount of time (seven years) might have blurred another man's goals and set his community service on a backburner, but for Junious, his drag persona is a mode of outreach and support to those around him. His first performance was at a fundraiser entitled Dymphna for his church, St. Aidan's Episcopal in Diamond Heights.
"With great exposure in fabulous dresses comes even greater responsibility," Peter Parker's uncle might have said if he was going to become a drag media sensation. But unlike most costumed heroes, Junious is far from being misunderstood in his outspoken support for LGBT equality and an end to discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. Aside from being a grand marshal in Sunday's Pride parade, Junious, as Sweetbriar, received a California Senate Certificate of Recognition.
He also went on to win Miss Gay San Francisco in 2008 and was Miss Desperate Diva 2008. Junious has raised funds for a variety of nonprofits, including the AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco and Larkin Street Youth Services.
On top of all this, Junious is readily available to help a worthy cause. He always finds the time to speak with gay youth to discuss issues such as coming out and their future.
"I approach the gay community using my drag personality to bridge the gap we have between subgroups in our community," he said. "They all love a drag queen."