Throughout her celebrated run on season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Symone used just about every opportunity to make a statement about and for Black and queer culture.
From her durag train and acrylic nail dress to rocking cornrows, afros, and braids to turning a campy runway theme about fascinators into a powerful statement against police brutality, Symone made a point to use her art and the massive platform of the show to say something, which undoubtedly attributed to her snagging the crown.
Symone is keeping that same energy post-Drag Race as she navigates the flush landscape of brand deals and endorsements since the show has become an Emmy-winning pop-culture juggernaut—a particularly perilous endeavor during Pride Month as many brands are understandably scrutinized for “rainbow washing.”
“What do they stand for? What are they trying to say? What are they doing? That’s very important to me,” Symone says of aligning herself with brands. “When I went on the show, I stood for something, and I said something. I don’t want to do just anything ’cause there’s a check attached to it. That’s a pitfall a lot of people fall into after the show, but I want to go with integrity.”
As fate would have it, one of Symone’s first campaigns coming off of Drag Race fell in step with her personal brand of being unapologetically yourself.
“I liked their philosophy about not being so structured. That really spoke to me because I had to break that within myself,” Symone says. “So if I can be a part of something to help do that for other people, that was, of course, something that I was very interested in.”
Boy Smells recently launched its second-ever Pride campaign starring voices in the LGBTQ+ community, including Symone and her fellow season 13 finalist Gottmik. Each of the campaign’s luminaries are assigned a limited-edition candle with 10% of online sales from that collection going to the Trevor Project, the world’s leading suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth, on top of a minimum $100,000 donation.
“I always go back to the kids in the rural parts of the country. That’s why [Pride is] so important, for those people who don’t see themselves in their small towns, they can see it on the TV or on their phones,” says Symone who grew up in Conway, Arkansas, before relocating to Los Angeles. “I was so ashamed of who I was. Coming on the other side of it, I want other people to see that and resonate with that and be proud of themselves at a younger age and not have to do what I had to do to get there.”
While being a beacon for queer youth living in restrictive and repressed communities, Symone is also pushing to set equitable standards for drag queens and queer artists coming behind her when dealing with brands.
“Don’t undercut us ’cause we do talk—don’t get it twisted,” she says. “We talk [to each other], and we know.”
“I also think that brands should realize that we call it Pride Month, but we live 365,” Symone continues. “So yes, be prideful in the month, but also show it the rest of the year. If brands were more willing to do that and show their support that way, I think more people would be okay with the idea of corporations [participating] during Pride Month. Show the love in the good and the bad times.”
With 2021 slated to be one of the worst years for pro-LGBTQ legislation and the fatal violence against trans women of color continuing, the bad times feel compounded against the backdrop of the pandemic.
But it also makes a drag queen like Symone winning Drag Race during a year like this and lending her voice to campaigns like Boy Smells all the more urgent.
“If anything, this time should’ve shown us it just doesn’t really matter. You deserve to live your life authentically. There should be no reason you shouldn’t,” Symone says. “All these laws and craziness that are coming out, people feel threatened—good. ‘Cause we’re not going anywhere. Pride is a good time, but it’s also a riot. It’s a protest against the foolery and buffoonery that is the system.
“Now people are really understanding what could be lost and taken away because everyone had to sit in their house,” she continues. “And when you have to sit with yourself and things get taken away from you, you find out what’s important.”