In only five years, Oaklash has gone from a single, six-hour event to a full week’s worth of shows, panels, workshops and more. Showcasing everything from clowns on segue scooters lip-syncing to Britney Spears to the recent additions of a block party and queer film festival, Oaklash can today be seen as a synonym for the best of the Bay Area’s local drag and queer performance scene.
Co-founded by performers Beatrix LaHaine and Mama Celeste, the organization is presently both a popular annual festival as well as a vital year-round community. It is in the spirit of the latter that organizers now hope to pay the love forward in the form of a newly established Oaklash Disability Fund.
Open to chronically-ill and disabled queer and trans performance makers in need of critical support, the Fund plans to issue five grants of $1,000 this fall, followed by another round of grants in the spring. Eligible candidates who wish to be considered for the initial round have until November 11 to apply online. Available in an audio format as well as in large print, the application was conceived to be accessible to as many folks as possible. Oaklash is also committed to prioritizing diversity by committing 75 percent of these grants to BIPOC applicants.
Despite what Mama Celeste calls a “fairly narrow scope” as far who is eligible to apply, the East Bay drag queen told 48hills by phone that Oaklash has already received 45 applications for the five grants to be issued this fall.
“It’s far beyond what we’re able to support in terms of funding,” Celeste said. “That’s why we’re hoping we can get the word out to people who are interested in supporting these initiatives and seeing this work be able to continue beyond just these two small rounds of grants.”
At present, the Oaklash Disability Fund is relying on a donation from the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund (QNF), which recently dissolved and opted to split their remaining resources between two organizations: Oaklash and Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits.
“[QNF] were doing a lot of small grants throughout the pandemic,” Celesete explained, “so they offered us this money. Moving to year-round programming is a big emphasis for Oaklash, and the Oaklash Disability Fund is an extension of that. It’s also us putting our money where our mouth is in terms of creating the kind of community that we want here in the Bay Area.”
Another crucial detail: those selected to receive a grant from the Oaklash Disability Fund are getting funds with no expectations on how they will be spent.
“I think a thousand dollars of unrestricted money is a rare thing,” Celeste said. “The intent of doing an unrestricted fund like this, for this specific community, is so that these people can take time off. If you’re a full-time working performer and a person living with a disability who’s putting your body through the wringer all the time, then this is a rare opportunity to be able to say ‘no’ to things. We all need to do that. People deserve to not have to say ‘yes’ to every $20 gig. A thousand dollars might not seem like a lot in the scheme of things, but it might be rent. It might be enough to get you through the month.”
Actively seeking more donations and financial support in hopes of expanding the number of grants available next spring, Oaklash’s organizers are envisioning a future in which no applications are rejected. They’re certainly not there yet, though the Oaklash Disability Fund is nonetheless a major step forward.
The new fund also serves to reinforce the sentiment that accessibility will always remain a core focus for the organizers.
Noting that the pandemic provided many members of the disabled and chronically ill community with the chance to watch drag shows they’d previously never been able to attend, Mama Celeste confirmed that Oaklash’s return to in-person events does not mean those at home will be forgotten.
“We did a block party this year and we made sure that everything was recorded, that there was ASL interpretation, that we were working in ADA-accessible spaces—all these things that we now know how to do because of the time that we had during the pandemic,” Mama Celeste says. “We learned a lot and had a lot of time to think about those things and we’re trying not to cut back on that now.”
To learn more about the Oakland Disability Fund, visit www.oaklash.com/grants. Applications for the fall round of grants closes on Friday, November 11 at 11:59pm.