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Columbus Pride Marks Culmination Of 'The Year Of Nina West'

RuPaul's Drag Race
Nina West came in sixth place in the competition show RuPaul's Drag Race this spring, and won Miss Congeniality.

Nina West, the drag queen sometimes known as Columbus activist Andrew Levitt, will serve as the Grand Marshal of Columbus's 38th Annual Pride Festival and Parade, happening downtown this weekend.

The honor is just the latest in West's banner year, but for her, it's the most important.

"It's overwhelming. I'm over the moon," West says. "I do believe it to be to be the biggest honor to happen to me."

That's saying a lot. Earlier this week, West won Columbus' Steven Shellaberger Illuminator Award for her work promoting LGBTQ rights, creating the Nina West Foundation and raising more than $2 million for related causes.

West ascended to national prominence this spring on the competition show RuPaul's Drag Race, taking sixth place and being crowned Miss Congeniality, a fan favorite the entire time. She appeared on the cover of New York Magazine as part of a featureon "the most powerful drag queens in America."

Hull Alley in the Short North has been temporarily re-named The Nina West Way. And to top it all off, she has the highest of Central Ohio honors: her very own Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams flavor, "Nina West's Dream Puff."

But leading the Pride parade is a different story, West says, because it's a celebration of her own community. 

“Time and time again, people have second-guessed and doubted the role and the validity of a drag queen to the LGBTQIA community," she says. "And I think this is a tremendous step forward.”

Hull Alley in the Short North was temporarily renamed in honor of drag queen Nina West, who is serving as Grand Marshal of the Columbus Pride Festival and Parade.
Credit Short North Alliance
Hull Alley in the Short North was temporarily renamed in honor of drag queen Nina West, who is serving as Grand Marshal of the Columbus Pride Festival and Parade.

Beyond the honor, though, West sees the position as a platform.

“My hope is through this opportunity, I’ll be able to lift up communities that are important to me, our female community, our people of color queer community, our LBTQIA youth, and continue to fight for the issues that are important to me, and to the community as well.”

Her spate of success comes as drag has been challenged. Two Central Ohio libraries recently canceleddrag-related events amidst threats and pushback from politicians. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder called on the Ohio Library Council to stop such events, calling them "a stunningly bizarre breach of the public trust."

West rejects that line of thinking.

"Drag is harmless," she says. "Drag is art, and drag represents a tremendous subcultural art form within our community and it should be respected and adored and loved."

West says part of what makes drag so impactful is its connection to the audience, its ability to be loud and proud in its viewpoint. And that, she says, is part of what puts a target on the art form's back.

"That's probably why it's enviable for many politicans who do not agree with drag, and think drag is ridiculous and problematic, is because there's power in drag," West says. "And drag queens, especially in the city of Columbus, wield a lot of power."

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.