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December 22, 2017

Was Philly drag queen's outfit really too 'ethnic' for South Jersey salon?

Controversies Drag Queens
Vincent Leggett Drag Queen Vincent Leggett/Contributed Art

Vincent Leggett says this is the costume he was wearing for his performance at Louis Christian Robert John Salon in Cherry Hill on Wednesday, minus the makeup. Instead, Leggett says he only had a small stripe across his face.

In his 29 years of life, Vincent Leggett says he's never experienced anything like he did Thursday after performing at a South Jersey salon.

Leggett, a Philadelphia-based drag queen, wore a Kwanzaa-themed outfit for his hosting gig at Louis Christian/Robert John Salon's holiday party, and apparently, that was a problem, he said Friday.

The owners of the Cherry Hill business maintain the issue was with the drag performance itself, saying that although they as gay men are very comfortable with drag, some of their guests were not. Leggett, however, claimed he was told the problem was with his costume for being too "ethnic."

According to Leggett, he and his fellow performers were told to wear whatever they wanted for the "all holiday party," just don't do all Christmas-themed outfits because most of the salon's clientele is Jewish. So for one of two costumes, he went with what he described as a tribal, Kwanzaa look, an ode to his black heritage.

He had hosted a gig for co-owner Louis Christian's birthday party at the salon about a month earlier, and since they paid well, he agreed to host its two-day holiday party.

Wednesday, the first night of the event, went great, Leggett said, and no one seemed to have an issue with his costumes, which featured a black top, tribal dress and a small line of makeup across his face.

"We were in the owner's office drinking and talking for 45 minutes," Leggett told PhillyVoice. "No one mentioned anything about the tribal look to me, ever."

It wasn't until the next day when Leggett got a call from the woman who booked him for the performance. She told him there was an "issue" with one of his costumes, he said.

"She said specifically they felt it was too ethnic and they thought it might offend some of the customers, and that maybe (the customers are) not as open minded and accepting," Leggett recalled, asserting that was the specific language she used.

Leggett almost couldn't believe it. In fact, he says he was so taken aback he assumed it had been a mistake. So, he called one of the owners, who Leggett claimed only solidified what the woman had told him.

According to Leggett, co-owner Robert John told him that the other owner, Louis Christian, had raised the point, saying they didn't want to offend anyone or "upset the apple cart."

"I am a black man, I don’t understand how a black man dressing in tribal is offensive," Leggett said. "This is my culture, this my heritage."

In a statement, John and Christian said they "loved" having Leggett for Christian's birthday party and consider him a friend, and asserted they were perfectly ok with drag.

"Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for all of our clients who were guests at our holiday party," the statement reads. "Once it became clear to us that some of the people in attendance were uncomfortable with the drag performance, we conveyed that to Vincent."

"This incident had nothing whatsoever to do with race or religion. It had everything to do with certain people being uncomfortable with drag."

Leggett provided PhillyVoice a screenshot of a message exchange with the person who arranged the performance. In it, the woman says the owners "felt it was too ethnic" and may offend some of the less "open minded and accepting" customers.

He also noted they had no issue with the costumes of the other drag queens who performed. In the same message exchange, the woman said the owners are looking forward to Thursday night's drag performance, and that they didn't want Leggett to take offense.

Leggett posted to Facebook Thursday, criticizing the salon and saying he wouldn't be back for the second night. The post has been liked more than 170 times and has been shared by friends supporting him. Antonio Montez wrote that it was "f***ed up," and fellow drag queen Mimi Imfurst urged fans to call the salon and complain.

The salon had posted videos of the performances on its Facebook page, but those were taken down Friday.

"This is the very first time that I've experienced anything like this. I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, I'm from the South," Leggett said. "I base my drag on tribal. Everyone in Philly knows that I do this. I have always been uplifted and complimented about it. This is the first time."