Even before COVID-19 ravaged every aspect of American life, homelessness in Los Angeles was a major problem. The 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in January recorded 66,436 people in Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness, reflecting a 12.7% rise from the previous year.
“LAHSA does not like these numbers because we know first-hand that we have done so much to increase the effectiveness of our systems and bring tens of thousands of people inside,” said Heidi Marston, executive director of LAHSA. “This year’s results reinforce that our community must address the deep-rooted causes within larger safety net systems that stop people from falling into homelessness.”
Wrapping up our “Drag the Vote interview series, we Kiki’d with prominent party queen CoCo Cayne about LA’s chronic homelessness, COVID-based racism, and the political potential of drag performances.
Q. Why is this election important to you?
A. This administration has been the most anti-LGBTQ administration ever. The amount of damage Trump has done to gay rights is insane. Let’s talk about the trans community. He said they shouldn’t serve in the military anymore. Even saying trans prisoners should be housed by their given sex at birth. Could you imagine coming out as trans, living your life as trans, then you are forced to throw away your identity?
And 30 to 40% of homeless people are trans? That’s a huge proportion. Even just speaking about homeless youth, 60 to 70% identify as LGBTQ. That’s a huge amount. And for us to treat us as ‘less than’ is ridiculous to me.
They are letting adoption centers legally deny gay couples. I’m sorry, what does being gay have to do with the ability to raise a child? You can be fired to being gay as well. They are rolling all those policies back. And gay marriage! They are trying to undo so much of what Obama did.
Q. You’ve lived in Los Angeles for a very long time. What do you think is the most pressing issue affecting our city right now?
A. Probably homelessness. They are still so invisible and it’s gotten worse. I also think undocumented workers are very invisible as well and not protected as they should be. It’s a reflection of the Trump administration. It trickles down from the national level, to the state, to the city, to the local communities. I walk around WeHo and see so many people unsheltered. So many are so young. It breaks my heart.
Q. Homelessness is a big issue in LA. But you’ve also lived in San Francisco, where it’s a huge issue as well.
A. I feel like SF is trying to give it more attention. They are starting safe injection sites. It worked really well in Canada. There is medical staff on hand, they provide you what you need to do, and it actually saves taxpayer money because they don’t have to go around the whole city cleaning up all the drug paraphernalia. And if they need it they provide help, counseling, you name it. We could definitely think about doing that here. There’s definitely a lot of drug use in the homeless community. And I don’t blame them. They’re just humans like you and me. They are not bad people. A lot of them have mental illnesses. If they could work, they would, but they are incapable of doing something.
Q. Now you are the only drag queen we’ve interviewed that is Asian American. During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been an uptick in hate crimes against the Asian community. Is this something you’ve experienced personally?
A. To be honest, I’ve never wanted to think that way. I want to see myself as everyone else. But when this [pandemic] first started, I’d be at the grocery store and I’d feel people would just look at me longer. You could just feel it from the way they look at you, how they treat you, how they walk really far around you. I’ll be six feet behind a woman in line at Pavilions, and there was one time when she looked at me and said, “Do you want to stand back further?” I was for sure six feet back. Little things like that.
Q. So, now I want to talk a bit about CoCo. How long have you been doing this character?
A. I first started drag 15 years ago in college. I did college campuses at UC David, UCLA, some clubs. But I started this persona six months ago. I’ve had a residency at Beaches for three months now. It saved my life. I wasn’t in the best place, depressed, had suicidal thoughts. I didn’t have a great direction in life. This opportunity came to me and I couldn’t pass it up.
I know drag is different things for different people. It’s a form of expression, a form of safe space. It’s connected to everything: politics, sexuality, religion, and everything in between. For example, this week my performance at Beaches was political. I started off holding a candle and finding my light. Then, I unveiled a latex Trump head with blood on it and me carrying a knife. You interpret that how you want.
Q. What is your biggest hope for 2021?
A. Even more acceptance of who we are as individuals. I hope we find a vaccine and the COVID situation can be over. I hope we are more prepared for the next pandemic if there is one. I hope we allow refugees, whether they are gay or not, to be able to escape persecution. And let everyone know we are all immigrants except for Native Americans. I hope we just love more. Love, love, love.