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Donna Sachet was born Kirk Reeves in 1954, in South Carolina. Kirk’s young life was marked by a violent, alcoholic father, and a mother afraid to fight back. Kirk learned early on that showing his creative side could endanger his safety. But he also caught glimpses of strong-willed women who, like beacons, challenged and beckoned him to run. 

Kirk graduated from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, then headed to New York to work in retail fashion. He spent the 1980s there watching AIDS grew into a full-throttled epidemic. In 1990, just months after the Loma Prieta earthquake devastated San Francisco, Kirk got a job offer there. Kirk was ready for upheaval. He headed west.

Life for Kirk immediately improved – especially at the moment when he summoned his courage and performed in drag at a talent show. Donna Sachet was born.  

Since that time, Donna has entertained at venues as diverse as San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the foot of the Washington Monument, Broadway, and at the International Mr. Leather Competition in Chicago. She has performed alongside everyone from Lily Tomlin and Carol Channing to Britney Spears and Andy Cohen. More importantly, Donna has raised millions of dollars for various causes, for which she has won dozens of awards including the 2005 San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance Award, the 2011 Bank of America’s Local Heroes Award, and the 2015 Horizon Foundation’s Leadership Award.

Donna is most proud of her annual Songs of the Season musical cabaret show which for 25 years has raised money for the AIDS Emergency Fund. With Gary Virginia, Donna Sachet created the annual Pride Brunch, now in its 20th year, honoring the Grand Marshals of the Pride Parade and benefiting Positive Resource Center. In 2009, at a San Francisco Giants game at AT&T Park, Donna became the first drag performer to sing the National Anthem for a major league team.
In July 2016, Donna invited OUTWORDS to record her story at her stylish home just above the Castro in San Francisco. She talked honestly about her wretched childhood, and the freedom she finally found in the City by the Bay. And she sounded a wise warning against complacency within the LGBTQ community when it comes to our hard-fought gains: “United we stand. Divided, they get us one by one.”
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] We're going to start by stating and spelling your first and last name.
Donna Sachet: Hi. I'm Donna Sachet, D-O-N-N-A S-A-C-H-E-T.
Mason Funk: Okay. I wonder what that clanky-
Mason Funk: Yeah [inaudible]
Donna Sachet: I'll do that again?
Mason Funk: No. That part, we just need it for the record, but I hope that's not going to continue on. Yeah. Just try to spell your name again, just in case.
Donna Sachet: I don't know who that is down there. Hi. I'm Donna Sachet, D-O-N-N-A S-A-C-H-E-T.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Okay. Let's talk about where you were born and what kind of family you grew up in.
Donna Sachet: Well, I'm a product of the South, largely I grew up in South Carolina and Georgia. My parents were fiercely Southern, frankly racists. I mean, we never would move above the MasonDixon Line, but we moved a lot. It was not an easy childhood. I was one of three kids, three boys, and always have affectations. It didn't really work for that setting. In a way, I think all of this was present in me, and I had not expressed it fully.
Donna Sachet: [00:01:00] Often criticized for my walk, my voice, my accent, my talking with my hands, things like that. I took it up to being different, not necessarily the whole gay thing, but just different.I grew up in small towns all the time and had this desire to be in a big city. Where did that come from? When I got ready to go college, I applied all over the place. The only school below MasonDixon line that I loved was Vanderbilt. I went to Vanderbilt,
Donna Sachet: [00:01:30] pretty much an Ivy League school in the South, and the whole world sort of opened up. I was able to study overseas, first semester in Italy. Then got involved in retail, really after moving to Dallas first for graduate school. Then moved to New York as buyer for a big retail firm. It kind of rolled from there. I chose a big city, more urban life, and I was able to do it once I became an adult.
Mason Funk: [Inaudible] Okay. All right. Okay, I wouldn't do that anymore. I'll wait till I asked her the question.
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] You mentioned a difficult childhood, was it only when you got to the big city that you began to experience your sort of different-ness as something that you could explore and embrace in your own terms?
Donna Sachet: Oh, absolutely. My upbringing, I don't know if it's typical Southern, but I think it is to a large degree. The man is the breadwinner and he ruled the house with an iron fist. There was never any question of
Donna Sachet: [00:02:30] disobeying him because there was corporal punishment. He was a heavy drinker, and my mother was just cooperative with all of that, and let whatever happened happen.My older brother was kind of the ideal one. He went to the Air Force Academy and was the rugged man, and then I came along next and I was everything he was not. I think the only thing I could do was be a great student. I was very academically
Donna Sachet: [00:03:00] smart and that separated me somewhat. No, I didn't even think of expressing myself in that enclosed environment. Once I got off to college it took a while for me to realize I can do what I want to do. I didn't have a drink until my junior year of college because there was too much background.
Mason Funk: Is your family also very religious?
Donna Sachet: No. That's interesting. That was a big part of the South. Most people are either deeply involved in religion,
Donna Sachet: [00:03:30] or their families are, but I went to church. I actually looked at that for an escape at that point. I joined a Methodist Church that was very aggressive ... Does that sound going to bother us? I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I wonder if we can close the windows.
Donna Sachet: We can shut the two windows that are closest.
Mason Funk: I think it was cool enough [inaudible].
Donna Sachet: Oh, well, now I think we're past the heat most ...
Mason Funk: Okay.
Donna Sachet: Boy, that's pretty loud, huh?
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] I'm going to listen also just to see what it sounds like. If it seems like it's really ... We've dealt with this before, obviously, it just does it intermittently, so if it seemed like it's going to really affect the sound...
Donna Sachet: Well then, if so, I can go down and see what it is and have a word with them.
Mason Funk: Okay. That might be helpful.
Donna Sachet: Let's just see how intrusive it is.
Mason Funk: Let's see how it is and how much we're going to have to do.
Donna Sachet: That makes quite a difference once they're closed, I think.
Mason Funk: What's that?
Donna Sachet: It makes quite a difference once they're closed, I think.
Mason Funk: Oh, yeah.
Donna Sachet: Can you get that one?
Mason Funk: [Inaudible]
Donna Sachet: [00:04:30] Yeah, at the top of the one you've just lifted up with your fingers and it'll ...
Mason Funk: [Inaudible]
Donna Sachet: No. The top of the window.
Mason Funk: The top of the window.
Donna Sachet: Yeah. I'd hate to get up because I can't ...
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Donna Sachet: The inside, just pull it up ... There you go, like that.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Donna Sachet: Just, there you go. It's a little stuck.
Mason Funk: All right. Cool.
Donna Sachet: Very good. It's like password, sounds like.
Mason Funk: Yeah. For charades or something. [Inaudible] all right. It sounds perfect. It will also help because the cars are a little noisy.
Donna Sachet: [00:05:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: If we can do it this way. So let me ask you again about the religion piece.
Donna Sachet: Okay. As far as religion, I guess that's a big part of most Southern families. Ours was not tremendously religious. I don't think my father could have gotten away with a lot of things he did if he was. We did go to church. My father didn't, but my mother would take us to church. I even found that as an escape at one point, of finding a way to exercise leadership
Donna Sachet: [00:05:30] and be a part of a youth group. I even went so far as to get involved in Campus Crusade for Christ and things like that that I think probably filled the gap in my life that I wasn't finding anywhere else. Very quickly found that that was not the direction I wanted to go. Not because I was gay, just because I couldn't believe all that Christ stuff. It all seemed like fairy tales to me.
Mason Funk: I also was raised in a very ... I found a lot of refuge in youth church groups when I was teenager.
Donna Sachet: [00:06:00] But then frankly, I don't know if you've experienced this too, in those youth groups, it's a church-related youth group, and I heard one of the counselors was fooling around with boys. I never did anything, but I was aware of it and was aware of the overtures. That just smacked, there was such hypocrisy that I couldn't believe that.
Mason Funk: Right, yeah. We used to say all those Ted Haggards of the world. I sometimes think, and I don't know if you have any opinions on this, but I feel like on one hand, there's this very natural synchronicity
Mason Funk: [00:06:30] between gay kids and church youth groups and religion because, on one hand, there's a very kind of welcoming atmosphere. You get to sing, you can even be emotional, you're not criticized for being like ...
Donna Sachet: Sensitive.
Mason Funk: On the other hand, there's this, it will clash because they also say, "But if you're gay, it's not okay." Any thoughts on that.
Donna Sachet: Certainly, in my youth, there was no room for being gay. I don't know that
Donna Sachet: [00:07:00] I was battling with that as much as at that time as I was battling with not fitting in and whatever that meant. When the church group accepted me and we could be, as you said, emotional or sensitive, and theatrical, we would launch these plays and act out things, it was an opportunity to explore all of that safely with people that I felt comfortable with.
Mason Funk: They were kind of obliged to love you. I mean, I think it ...
Donna Sachet: I did find that was the first time I found leadership in myself. I will credit the Methodist Church
Donna Sachet: [00:07:30] and all of that background with that, at least. Because I found out how you could motivate people, how you could build a team, how you could create a product that you are proud of and deliver it and became conscious of audiences, I think for the rest of the time too [inaudible] the nervousness and getting over all that. There are elements of who I am today, I suppose in that.
Mason Funk: You said that sort of begrudgingly.
Donna Sachet: I don't want to give them too much credit, right. Because sometimes don't you ... I do believe you learn some things by contrast.
Donna Sachet: [00:08:00] I drink now, I'm a drinker, I go to bars. I love drinking, but I will always be very conscious of not overdoing it because my father was basically an alcoholic. I grew up with temper tantrums and violence and all that. You learn by contrast sometimes, not just by learning what you should do.
Mason Funk: Right, exactly. Negative examples can be as positive as ...
Donna Sachet: Strong at least, right.
Mason Funk: [00:08:30] Yeah. That was when, as you just said, you began to discover that there was some part of you that was both willing and able to get in front of people, whether it was physically in front or lead. That sounds like a very big part of your life. Do you remember those first few experiences of being a leader and how that felt?
Donna Sachet: Well, I think when you lead for the first time, or you successfully lead for the first time, it is energizing. It's powerful.
Donna Sachet: [00:09:00] You begin to sense some of the same things that I sense now, some competition and some envy, "Who does she think she is?" All those elements, in a small way, were represented back then.I think that if you find a common cause, and you can find people to rally around a common cause, it can be very powerful and be very energizing. That time the cause was important, and later didn't seem so important, but eventually I found a cause that I could put my whole body and whole spirit and whole mind behind and find lots of partners along the way.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] Right. Because on one end you had probably felt, it seemed like you felt that lots of parts of you were just wrong. In some ways, it sounds like you were told in various ways that your essence was just wrong. Here, on the other hand, you were being celebrated, you were getting the chance to be seen as a positive role model. Do you remember that ...
Donna Sachet: [00:10:00] I think I hear what you're getting at. I think I would want to encourage all kids to be able to look outside of their immediate environment to find justification or support. In my family situation, we never stayed overnight with anybody else. Our family was very insular and so I was really under the thumb of a very powerful father.When I started to be able to escape one day of the week to church, on Sunday and go to church groups, I would stay after church to have a meeting, I'd stay after to lick envelopes, whatever it was,
Donna Sachet: [00:10:30] and find that self-realization within that group. I think that maybe is what you're getting at.I think that it's a shame that so many kids are limited by a very enclosed family, whether that's because of religious purposes or whatever that might be.
Mason Funk: It makes me think of Larry and Jim Swanson in my church youth group. Their parents were so strict and probably violent, and I think for them also it was, I could tell, it was like when they came to church, they could breathe.
Donna Sachet: [00:11:00] Wow. Even in the South, there's a ... I keep saying "the South," I did grow up in and I think I can speak pretty authoritatively, at least the Georgia, South Carolina, kind of the deep south. There's this whole thing of secrecy too. That you show up at church and you all look great. "What's that scratch on your face?" "Oh, I ran into something." No, it was actually my father that hit me the night before.We would have to have repairs done on the house sometimes when he would tear a door off or throw furniture around and they call in and say, "We don't know what happened.
Donna Sachet: [00:11:30] We got home and saw it." Oh, okay. Of course, you know. It was all kept quiet. That life of secrecy, first of all, not thinking you're worth anything, and then secondly, not being able to share with anybody who you really are, what's really going on at home. So many double lives. It was just very uncomfortable.
Mason Funk: Did you have anybody you know here that you could talk to at all in a kind of like a heart to heart with?
Donna Sachet: No. I think that was part of the product of where I am today, too. Because we moved every two or three years. People think military, but he's not military, hes just an opportunist. He did very well business-wise, but when you move every two or three years,
Donna Sachet: [00:12:00] you get best friends at school and then you're moving. "Oh, we'll write. We'll write," and we'll write two letters and then forget. We didn't do telephone in those times that much.Friendships were very ephemeral. I look back thinking, "That was my best friend. We did everything together." But what did we do really? Maybe we talked or something. No. No, I didn't have any real partners that way. My brothers were quite different, so I didn't really party with them. I was pretty alone with all that.
Mason Funk: [00:12:30] As the years went on, leaning into even closer to present, have you and your brothers found any kind of commonality in your relationships, or where are you guys at today? You have one older and one younger?
Donna Sachet: Well, I don't talk about it a lot. My older brother, I don't have any contact with at all. He's one that went to Air Force Academy, hes been married twice and he's had children. I have nieces and nephews, I don't even know who they are, because we're not in touch. He's still in the South and very much the pattern that my father had, I suppose. I don't know that much about him.
Donna Sachet: [00:13:00] Anyway, that's off the table really. Interestingly, my younger brother turned out to be gay. I think there's a pattern there many times with families, two or three siblings. He came out first through a violent episode, and that kind of probably kept me in the closet longer because I didn't want to add to the drama of the whole situation. He came out to California first. He lived in LA for a while. Finally visited me in Texas when I was living there in Dallas, and we finally had the conversation.
Donna Sachet: [00:13:30] He was like, "Of course, you are." I don't know why I didn't think I could find him not being gay. We did a few things together. Now he lives in San Francisco, interestingly.As I said earlier when we were talking off camera, there are just so many ways to be gay. I've chosen a very public life, a very specific life, in drag, it's tied to a lot of things. His life is, he's a gentleman. He's been married too. They live in the suburbs.
Donna Sachet: [00:14:00] He is in computer work. I doubt that he could name three friends he has that are gay. Most of my friends are gay. It's just a very different way of being gay.I did invite him to several things I've done that I've been very proud of. When I co-chaired the GLAAD Media Awards one year, I invited him as my special guest. It's a ridiculously expensive ticket, but I was able to get him in because I was the chair. He came and he said at that time, he said, "I had no idea really what you were doing or what this was all about. I get it more now. When he sees me on TV and stuff like that,
Donna Sachet: [00:14:30] but he doesn't necessarily want to be a part of it. It's different part, just as I couldn't imagine being in suburbs swimming in my pool in the backyard. We're very different that way.
Mason Funk: That's fascinating. That's really fascinating. Okay. We got you through college, we got you to Dallas, and you were working in fashion industry.
Donna Sachet: Right.
Mason Funk: Then at a certain point, it sounds like you must have been motivated to move to New York or somewhere else, but then eventually ended up in New York. Tell us how that happened.
Donna Sachet: [00:15:00] I started, my first job was really in Dallas. It was in fashion retail. Part of having a very limited childhood, we were not allowed to work. When the summers came, we had projects that were either home projects or something. We weren't allowed to be out of the house that way. I never had any concept of money or the work ethic or anything like that, I can't imagine. We need classes like that for people in college. Finally, in college, I had a checking account, but it was not even my checking account. It was my parents'. I had to pay for my books out there. One day, they wouldn't take the checks,
Donna Sachet: [00:15:30] I was like, "What? How does that work?" You have to have money and everything and I didn't have any idea. When I finally went to work in Dallas, it was a part-time job, I just took something in retail fashion, because I was out on my own. I was able to do it. I took a real liking to it. Beginning with men's business, but then I found the whole women's business was much more diverse and rich.When one of the big national stores opened in Dallas, I joined them specifically with the purpose of getting to New York through them, because there's several industries you have to work in New York at
Donna Sachet: [00:16:00] some point to be able to really say you've done it, banking or fashion, or whatever. Pretty quickly, I was able to move to New York and have a wonderful promotion and worked like a dog in New York for seven years that I was there.
Mason Funk: All right. I want to ask you... [inaudible] you mentioned, you said you started working in men's fashion and switched over to women's. I was wondering if as a
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] child growing up and maybe into college, did you have any female role models? Were you cognizant of women's fashion and women's beauty, and was there any part of you that sort of saw yourself in them at that point?
Donna Sachet: It's funny. I do so many interviews and various things of this kind, but very few people go where I think you're going to, trying to track some of the elements of who I am today. I have thought about that, because I did play with dolls as a kid and, especially being the creative side of it,
Donna Sachet: [00:17:00] I would get the doll and create clothes for them. That's one of the big stories that I do share sometimes, that my father caught me with that one time and he made me burn the dolls in the backyard and stick my hands in the ashes and the whole thing. That was just so wrong.
Mason Funk: Can you tell me that story as a stand alone story?
Donna Sachet: Sure.
Mason Funk: As opposed to kind of mentioning it in passing. I know it's deep and kind of personal, but it sounds significant.
Donna Sachet: Okay. As I said, I played with dolls as a child, and I didn't really think of this as a female thing. I just knew I enjoyed dolls and I enjoyed ...
Mason Funk: [00:17:30] Can you hold for a second?
Donna Sachet: That just happens when [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Yeah. I think we're good.
Donna Sachet: As I mentioned, I played with dolls since I was really a small child. It was not really that was a girly thing to do, I just enjoyed doing it. Especially, I wasn't able to own dolls so I'd make pipe cleaner dolls and make clothes for them out of paper and pieces of fabric I found.
Donna Sachet: [00:18:00] It was very minimal, but I just loved the creative process of it. I did watch black and white movies and think this is like Audrey Hepburn, big hats or something.At that time you were a kid, you're not thinking of this as a gay thing or anything. I'm just thinking it was fun. Somehow I knew it was probably not the right thing to be doing from my parents' standpoint. One time my father did find me in the backyard playing with a girl that was next door, we did this together sometimes, playing with dolls, creating outfits. He was just outraged and,
Donna Sachet: [00:18:30] I don't remember what happened with her, I guess she just ran home. He grabbed everything up. We created a bonfire in the backyard and he made me throw all the dolls that were, you know, again not store bought, these were loving hands, and I made them. They were characters in my life and all the dresses and the raw materials.He said, "Do you have anything else?" Of course, again, I never disobeyed him. I just lived in terror. I brought this box of scraps that I was going to make things out of. That all went in the bonfire, and then
[00:19:00] he took my hand and put it in the ashes. I mean, I remember it hurting, but I don't think it was fire. To really reinforce the lesson that this is wrong. There's something wrong with you. That was pretty dramatic I guess.
Mason Funk: Your shoulder [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Okay. I'll be careful.
Donna Sachet: Do you want me to do the last of the story?
Mason Funk: I think it was probably okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. Just the very last.
Donna Sachet: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:19:30] [Inaudible] not to shift. Okay. I'm sorry to have interrupted you, but going back now to you were saying-
Donna Sachet: All the elements tying into ...
Mason Funk: Yeah. You had enjoyed this as a child, and the question was going to be ... I'm just wondering if, like I said, if you hd a role model, basically, if there are people ...
Donna Sachet: I think ...
Mason Funk: Do you have a place to pick up the story? Okay. Carry on.
Donna Sachet: [00:20:00] Okay. I think there are elements from my childhood that I can sort of see the beginnings of a lot of this. Television, for a lot of us, was an escape. I remember largely it was black and white, but I loved those movies with Betty Davis and Joan Crawford and strong female characters. I can relate to their power and their clothes and their mannerisms. Some of that was the very stuff I was being teased for in school. "Why are you walking down the hall like that that?" "What are you strutting for?"
Donna Sachet: [00:20:30] To this day, I think it's powerful that my name is Donna Sachet, because my sashay is part of my signature. You claim it to make it powerful. At that time, I was like, why can't I hold my hips straight? Why am I walking funny? But then you watch those movies, and those women didn't just come down the staircase, they own the staircase. Well, I wanted to do that too, but I was a guy, and I was never going to be in the movies. It was so frustrating to see that gap between what I wanted and what I saw there. Like that movie, the one where Betty Davis was transformed.
Donna Sachet: [00:21:00] "Now, Voyager". She's transformed from this ugly duckling to this chic woman on a cruise ship. I mean, that was a dream for many of us. I often think about "Celluloid Closet," the movie that was made about the presence of gay characters. I think I gravitated to the women because they're powerful in these roles. Any gay character, who would gravitate to that? I mean, they were tragic, and they ended up hanging themselves or shot by somebody.I still was not dealing with the gay part of it as much as I was dealing with
Donna Sachet: [00:21:30] the gender-specific roles that we play. I think that continues today. I don't think I fully defined it. Why do I want to do the things I want to do? Because it feels good to me. At some point, we'll probably talk about this, but so many people put drag on. I feel like I let drag out. That there's this character in here that I sat on for so long and so many people around me forced down, and now I'm able to fully express that character.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] It's interesting to me that it sounds like it wasn't just the physical appearance of these women that was so compelling to you, it was the force of their personalities, their determination. Is that accurate?
Donna Sachet: Those movie roles, the actresses I admired, it was much more than just the physical. I'm sure the physical is part of it. I mean, those shoulder pads from Joan Crawford or the ...
Mason Funk: Hold just one second. Just start off with the shoulder once again.
Donna Sachet: [00:22:30] Like Joan Crawford with those shoulder pads. I mean, that's such a powerful image. Or even Audrey Hepburn, the simplicity of some of the stuff she would wear. She'd be so female in male clothes almost, in a French kind of way of doing it.I do remember the clothes. I do remember the physical a lot, but the roles are really what I did admire. They're the ones that came out on top at the end. Even if they were criminals, they were able to fool the police and fool the detectives and everything, and came out on top. Not always marrying Mr. Right or capturing Mr. Right at the end, but being in control. The power attracted me.
Mason Funk: [00:23:00] That's really, really interesting. Yeah. It is an interesting combination. If you compare an Audrey Hepburn to a Joan Crawford, there have hardly been two actresses more different from each other, but I can easily see how they both embodied very, very powerfully attractive characteristics, whether it's simplicity on one hand or it's the brute strike on the other.
Donna Sachet: [00:23:30] I guess it sounds so stereotypically gay and so many times we try to fight against those stereotypes. Some of those stereotypes are they are what they are, why don't we just acknowledge them and move on from there? I mean, I loved Elizabeth Taylor, I loved Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn.So many of those were typical. Judy Garland. Again, that was funny because so many times, she would be on stage with the tuxedo jacket on and no pants, just the hosiery, so the contrast of male and female. She would do the hobo with her face all marred up. But then when the camera zoomed in,
Donna Sachet: [00:24:00] it was Judy. I'm very stereotypical that way, I guess I still fight it a little bit, but I'm tired of fighting it.
Mason Funk: Touche. There's no way of fighting that. I think it's weird, because even I who am not a particularly big fan or know much about musical theater, but even I can relate too. Like that Judy Garland, when you see the eye, it's quintessentially Judy. It's like everything else is aware at that point. Of course, one of my favorite roles are Liza Minnelli and Joey Grey. My favorite one. One time I watched it on a beach vacation. She's like, you're watching Cabaret? That's just weird.
Mason Funk: [00:24:30] You moved to New York and you had a career, seven years, and you worked in a fashion industry. At a certain point, it sounds like you reached a decision to move West. What motivated that? What happened?
Donna Sachet: Well, I moved from Dallas to New York. I was in New York for probably seven years. I would say-
Mason Funk: I'm sorry, let me interrupt. Can you just set us in the timeframe of just what decade, reference points in your life?
Donna Sachet: [00:25:00] Okay, let's see. I moved to Dallas in the late '70s. I was there into the '80s. I guess the mid '80s, early '80s, that wasn't long, so maybe five years in Dallas, so I guess I would say early to mid '80s that I moved to New York. I spent most of the '80s there.As you know in the movement, our civil rights movement, that was a big part of it, but I was working so hard. I was unaware of it, I read about it, and I certainly was outwardly gay by then, or knew at least to myself I was gay, because I would go to gay bars and I was sexually active,
Donna Sachet: [00:25:30] but I was not active in the civil rights movement. First of all, I had very little time. Secondly, I just thought I've got a big position in a big store. I found out people were still ... There were rumors that went out and would ruin careers, even in the fashion business. I mean, you would think everybody could be gay, a wholesaler could be gay, but you couldn't be a buyer. I mean, there are a lot of things, a lot of double standards still. I put that all in a separate category. I was almost like a weekend warrior. I would go out in bars and tear it up on the weekend, but my work life was really the big thing.
Donna Sachet: [00:26:00] I remember reading about ACT UP and thinking, how could they interrupt the Catholic service? But then looking back on it, somebody had to do it, Im glad somebody did it because it brought the issue to the forefront. Gay Men's Health Crisis, that logo is so embedded in my mind and several times I thought, I have got an hour or two, I could volunteer. They probably need somebody to answer phone calls or something, but I never got off my desk and did anything. I was just really all about career. That probably led to my becoming exhausted with New York.
Donna Sachet: [00:26:30] I mean, there are some people that are just New Yorkers. I love a lot about New York, but it just became such a chore. I mean, towards the fifth and sixth year I was there getting a cup of coffee in the morning was just, fuck, could I just [inaudible] and ask for a ride?Also, money is important. In New York, how can you be happy and comfortable in New York without a pretty damn good income? I was working hard and I insisted on going to theater and going to stuff,
Donna Sachet: [00:27:00] because I loved the arts. I had a pitiful little apartment and it was unnerving that I was working that hard and had so little to show for it in a tangible way. At some point, I just let the store know that I was willing to take a transfer to another store, and I've done my New York experience.
Mason Funk: Let's touch on two things you mentioned. One,just talk about
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] what you were saying about how even in the fashion business industry in the 1980s, you still had to really kind of watch your p's and q's, and you were only out to certain people, you kept your sexual orientation under wraps. Can you just flush that out for us a little bit?
Donna Sachet: Well, when I was involved in the New York fashion business, at least during the '80s, the number one thing that jumps into my mind was Perry Ellis, who was one of the first designers that they said he was sick. We went to a one fashion appointment,
Donna Sachet: [00:28:00] and he was great and energetic, and the next one he was a little tired. "Always working too hard. He's a new designer." Then the third appointment, you knew he was on his last leg, sunken eyes and everything. Well, he had AIDS, and it took forever for anybody to officially say that. Once you said that, you were saying that he was gay and that they fought against that. All the PRs around him, it's like they didn't want to kill the label by all those associations. That would never happen today. I don't think ... I think we've come so far.
Donna Sachet: [00:28:30] There were other designers that were in my eye, I could tell they've got a country house, they must go to Fire Island. You knew they were gay, but it never came out at work. They were talking about dressing the lovely ladies and how are you? It was all very professional.In a way, I think it's good to keep your personal life personal and your business life business, but to not be able to say anything when you come into the appointment and say, "What did you do last weekend?" "I had a great weekend." "Okay. Let's get down to business." You couldn't talk about anything personal, and the line between an active gay person,
Donna Sachet: [00:29:00] especially if you're active like you're saying with Gay Men's Health Crisis or ACT UP or anything, and having a professional life was a big great divide.
Mason Funk: The necessity or the inclination to keep one's personal life, ones gay identity separate, was that largely conditioned by AIDS? Because it was such a thing at this time that if you say you're gay, AIDS was just so dominant in the conversation?
Donna Sachet: [00:29:30] I think in New York in the '80s, the thing that frightened me about being identified as gay, one part of that was AIDS. I think most of us, most of the people I knew that were in my social circle on weekends, we feared that AIDS was going to be the end of everything. That there were not going to be any more gay people because everybody was getting it. It was just so prevalent.I slowed down in my sexually active lifestyle because of that, and I certainly slowed down in any kind of associating with people I thought I might get it from. You thought at that time it could be door knobs or breathing, you didn't really know.
Donna Sachet: [00:30:00] That was part of it. Also, as I was saying, on television, movies, gay roles were just tragic. Nobody had a happy gay life, so who wanted to be that way? Like Boys in the Band, it was one of the worst ones. A seminal piece of theater, but just a tragic story. I knew many of those people that were just, you walk in, "You're wearing that? Oh, girl." It was just constantly putting each other down and denigration. Why would you do that when you're finally with your own people?
Donna Sachet: [00:30:30] I kind of fought that in a lot of ways. I didn't want to be sick. I didn't want to be gay the way that I thought everybody was gay. Even some of the bars, I'd go to bars sometimes and people weren't happy. They were just miserable. They were either hungry, they had to find somebody quick and have sex with them, or they were just irritated, the bartenders were grouchy. It's just didn't seem like a very ... It was the opposite of gay in any other sense than gay. It wasn't happy. It wasn't fulfilling. In New York, I think I made choices based on a lot of those factors.
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] Yeah. That's really interesting. It does raise the question as kind of a really basic question that people obviously discuss a lot, but in that year - this is just me asking you, do you have any thoughts on this: Why do we make it a hallmark of our community to be bitchy? Why do we make that like we're going to be gay by being bitchy and mean to each other and that will show the world, that would be the identifier? Where does that come from?
Donna Sachet: [00:31:30] Well, I do see elements of it in the movies. The things I was talking about having my own life or some of those powerful ladies, that's how they would destroy somebody in a boardroom and say, "Don't fuck with me ..." Don't put that on the air, I don't use that word. Anyway, powerful ladies have used words to destroy people, and so we're sort of playing with that. It wasn't playing so many times. I think the social circles that were just constantly putting each other down. You'd bring out a tray of drinks and it's like, "Oh, you're serving that?" Everything.
Donna Sachet: [00:32:00] Same thing in Dallas, at the end of my time in Dallas. Those people were very competitive. I remember one time having a floral arrangement, and I thought, I want to do flowers in my apartment. I thought I was being so great. Everybody that came in, out of maybe eight people, six of them said, "Oh, chrysanthemums, ugh." Because they're cheap or something. How could they ... You could never win. You come from that world where you're downgraded and you're not valued, and then you come to what you think is a safe social circle and that very thing happened.
Donna Sachet: [00:32:30] I did have a half share at Fire Island, so that was as deep into the gay community as I got, and thats pretty deep, I guess. We had some wonderful people that we went out there with. Half the house, you'd show up and, "Oh, you're wearing that swimsuit again?" "Oh, you're going there?" It's just all that negative. I think it still is a part of the world that we live in today, but I don't let my friends get away for very long. My close friends, I will stop them in the middle. "Why are you saying that to him? His haircut looks great."
Donna Sachet: [00:33:00] He just worked all day and he criticizes his haircut. It kind of takes air out of it. I think we need to stop ourselves sometimes more with that.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I never thought about it, but maybe we learned from those female role models, the Betty Davis and Joan Crawfords of the world, and thought that's the best way to be. Maybe it's protective, obviously, maybe it's self-protective. But then, obviously, it will only go so far and then gets a little bit ... It can be painful.
Donna Sachet: Right.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] Thanks for that chapter, that's really interesting. So you asked to be transferred.
Donna Sachet: Right.
Mason Funk: I assume they said, "We have a spot in San Francisco."
Donna Sachet: It took about ... for them to find a place when I was in New York and I asked for a transfer or was open for a transfer. I got to a certain level in the company, I couldn't just go anywhere. It had to be a big enough job that could pay me as much and all that kind of thing. When the San Francisco job came open, if youd been in my shoes, you think, here's a gay man working in the fashion business in New York, and San Francisco opened up, that wasn't going to stay open long.
Donna Sachet: [00:34:00] I didn't jump at it, though, because I didn't know San Francisco. I ... Oop, there's a gnat. Sorry.
Mason Funk: That's okay.
Donna Sachet: When I moved from New York to San Francisco, I didn't jump at it. I didn't know San Francisco very well. I didn't know anybody that lived there personally. I was coming from New York, which is like the East Coast, that whole thing of, this is the heart of fashion to what we call the branches. It was like the tree and that was one of the branches. I wasn't that excited about it, but I knew it was a big job
Donna Sachet: [00:34:30] and there weren't going to be those kinds of jobs very often. I did take it, and I moved out here knowing one person. I found one person I knew, and he had a little welcoming party for me and announced he was moving. I didn't know anybody here.It was a big chance, probably the biggest chance I took in my own life that I was in control of, ever. Because you're moved by a company, that's a promotion that's very exciting. This was a move because I wanted to change, and I didn't know if that was the right change.
Mason Funk: At this stage of your life, are you in a relationship with your parents?
Donna Sachet: [00:35:00] After I went to college, I was not close to them ever again.
Mason Funk: [Inaudible]
Donna Sachet: After I moved to college, I separated from my parents pretty much. Period. One was an escape. I I was free from the tyrant that had run my life. I guess I blamed my mother a lot, too, that she was so complacent to the whole thing. As much as she kept reaching out, letters and phone calls and says, "We haven't heard from you." What do you want to hear? I was just very bitter about all that.
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] You didn't jump at a chance, but you did move, your friend left. What year was this roughly now?
Donna Sachet: I moved to San Francisco in 1990. Of course, some people in New York too, "Did you just see the pictures, the earthquake they just had there? You're going to move there?" That was in the back of my mind too, but I don't know, I was just so ready for change.
Mason Funk: Hold on a second please.
Donna Sachet: What is that? Oh, a truck.
Donna Sachet: [00:36:00] It's 1990 when I moved to San Francisco. There were even New Yorkers who said, "Didn't you just see that earthquake that happened there? Are you crazy?" Maybe the rents were a little cheaper when I moved here. I was so ready for a change.I have to tell you, one of the big things I will credit with my transition is Armistead Maupin and "Tales of the City." Those books, somebody told me about them, the one guy that I knew here, he said there's this guy writing these books, and I started reading them. It was just this fascinating world that everybody kind of envisioned San Francisco as.
Donna Sachet: [00:36:30] Not just a gay mecca, but a mecca for creativity, for diversity, for new thinking, for challenging ideas, for intergenerational relationship. All those things attracted me. I remember reading the final book in that series on the plane as I arrived in San Francisco. Therefore, my first apartment was on Russian Hill. It had a Bay view that looked down on Alcatraz. Some of that was probably the dreamworld that was not going to be real.
Donna Sachet: [00:37:00] I lived there for a year, then moved closer in, and finally found the Castro. At least, it got me to San Francisco and, boy, I discovered a lot once I got here.
Mason Funk: What are some of the things ... Well, maybe I'll ask you this. I assume pretty soon after that is when you created Donna Sachet, I don't know if that's the right verb to use, but tell us about how that happened?
Donna Sachet: [00:37:30] Okay. My first year in San Francisco in 1990 was not a great year. As much as I wanted to get out of New York, I found it was a difficult transition, because now I was working in a store. I'd call New York with an idea and they'd say, "Calm down, we've been open for three hours." You're behind. Everything's behind. I was no longer the buyer for 60 stores, I was managing a large business, but in San Francisco, and there were a lot of negative things business-wise. I also was thinking I was just going to work just as hard as I had in New York and do a few things
Donna Sachet: [00:38:00] maybe in San Francisco. It's a city that's got so much going on, you wanted to do more. After that first year, difficult year, in San Francisco, I said it's me, it's not the city. This is a great place I'm living in and I've got to give more. I canceled my New York Times subscription, physically and symbolically letting go of that. I joined the Gay Men's Chorus, which was a big thing for me because, as I told you before, in New York, I never joined anything that was really openly gay. I started volunteering at Shanti, which was one of the AIDS organizations. A lot in one fell swoop,
Donna Sachet: [00:38:30] but it just changed my whole experience, my interaction with San Francisco. Actually Donna was born at San Francisco Gay Mens retreat. We used to take retreats once a year, twice a year to rehearse music and get to know each other. We'd be at a camp up in the woods. The Chorus, first of all, was eye-opening, because my experience with gay people had been frankly pretty negative, and you have to either be a tragic person in a movie thing or somebody in the meat packaging district in New York or lose your job,
Donna Sachet: [00:39:00] all of that. I joined this Chorus because I love to sing, and they were gay, and they sang. Some of them were rich, some of them were poor, some were students, some were successful, some were older, some were younger. I wasn't interested in all of them, sexually either. I began to have gay friends for the first time, and it wasn't all about that. The Chorus was great for me. At one of the retreats, they have this talent show contest, Saturday Night, and I thought, I'm just so tempted to do this.
Donna Sachet: [00:39:30] That person living inside me for all those years wanted to come out, and I practiced this Donna Summer number, lip-syncing, of course. I remember when I did it, I don't how I got the courage to do that, now I've done things today I'm wondering how I got the courage for. I didn't have a dress so I had this Asian robe, with the dragon on the back. I didn't have high heels, I used ballet slippers because I had taken some ballet classes. Isn't that ridiculous? I did buy a wig. I went out and did a Donna Summer number.
Donna Sachet: [00:40:00] I practiced it for many weeks and got it all down and I had a name, of course, I thought. I introduced myself as Donna Winter, because she was Donna Summer and I was white, she's black, Donna Winter, Summer. I was Donna Winter. That was my name at first. As I left the stage, they just exploded in applause. I heard this guy in the aisle say, "Look at that sashay." Everything kind of fell in place. Not, "Look at that stupid walk. What's wrong with you?" but, "Look at that sashay," with admiration. The applause for what I was doing,
Donna Sachet: [00:40:30] the character that had finally been released. So I changed my name to Donna Sachet right on the spot, and I will always give credit to the Gay Men's Chorus and Stan Hill who was the director at that time just saying, "We're here to learn music and do performances, but this is also an energizing self-realization group, and we're going to get to know each other." That's a lot in one story, isn't it?
Mason Funk: That's a great story. Fantastic. What song did you sing?
Donna Sachet: [00:41:00] When I think about which song I did at that retreat, Donna Summer, I don't remember the song. Really, I think. I know I'm not a great lip-syncer, so it took me a long time to learn it, but I did learn it, and everything went well enough to get the applause.
Mason Funk: What went into the learning? Obviously, you had to learn the lyrics and make sure that you could lip-sync well, but what else went into your performance?
Donna Sachet: That's interesting, asking what else went into my performance that first time, because where did it all come from? Again, as a kid doing school plays, doing church kind of things,
Donna Sachet: [00:41:30] in college, experimenting with drama club and everything like that. I really did look at it as a performance. I remember watching concerts on TV and Judy Garland would not just stand in one place. She would do this and then she'd do this. I had all that thing in my head. It was my first time to really experience it in public as the center of attention, and it was pretty powerful. I had to have to go left and go right. I had my own choreography, and of course, scrimped on that I'm sure, but again, successful enough to have caught somebody's eyes and gave me some applause.
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] Did anybody tell you either about that performance or other performances what it was, that almost intangible thing that elicited such an enthusiastic response?
Donna Sachet: I do think that when I perform, people recognize it as not an act. It is and it isn't. Especially, as I've said, more and more that I don't put drag on,
Donna Sachet: [00:42:30] I let drag out, that there was this character that was dying to be released. I think what people see on stage when I'm really performing at my best is this character. I love her, who is she? She is me, but she's not always allowed to come out or whatever. I think that people see genuineness in that way. That it was not an affected thing in that way. Even when I'm not in this, I'm still feminine in a lot of ways, it's just part of my makeup. I fought it for so long and I don't fight it anymore. If I want to sit with my legs crossed, if I want to read a women's magazine,
Donna Sachet: [00:43:00] I don't know, simple little things that I don't fight anymore. I think that genuineness comes out in a performance. Today's performances, that particular one was all about a coming out experience almost with the course. Since then, I think the most powerful performances I have and the thing that I can claim that I do well is take people out of wherever they are to a better place for the three or four minutes long. That's a powerful, powerful thing.
Donna Sachet: [00:43:30] I watched performers do that. Diana Ross in Central Park. I watched Barbara Streisand do a number where all the lights come in as if you're there with her. That's a very powerful thing, and if you can take thousands of people or hundreds of people, or ten people away from whatever is happening in their life there, thats very powerful. I have that power and I love using it for great purposes.
Mason Funk: Great. So, who is Jose Sarria?
Donna Sachet: [00:44:00] Well, I've only mentioned one of the names so far, Stan Hill, with the Gay Men's Chorus. Jose Sarria is certainly a name that just rings loudly in my background. All of us that are doing what we do, talk about walking on the shoulders of those before us, I certainly walk on his shoulders. He was the first openly gay person to run for political office in the United States, and this was in the '60s. I think it was '64 or '61.What possessed him? When I think about my experience with my family, that I was so restricted, when I think about when I lived in New York, in Dallas
Donna Sachet: [00:44:30] when I self-restricted, and I didn't want to express that part of myself, here he was doing drag shows, populist and entertainer, and decided, "I'm going to run for an office. There are issues that aren't being addressed. The police are brutalizing us. People are losing their jobs. There are people that need housing. I want to run for an office. I want to be a voice."He had, of course, great, supportive people around him, but what big courage that took. I don't know if he even knew it at that time he's the first in the country to do it, but he certainly has that record now.
Donna Sachet: [00:45:00] In the '60s, basically the structure of San Francisco, the way that supervisors are elected has changed several times. Its sometimes voted on by district, which is easier because you get a smaller number of people to vote for you, or it's voted by the city-wide and the top vote getters get it. This time it was the top vote getters of the city, so the top 10, whatever. He entered and he scared people enough that several, a number of additional people entered just to crowd the race so he would not get one of the top votes.
Donna Sachet: [00:45:30] He got over 6,000 votes. At that time it's '61. You know those werent all gay people, certainly there are a lot of gay people who have never voted before, I think he rallied a certain base and a lot of supportive allies that said, "I don't care what he does. He's got some good ideas. There's some injustices." He did very well. To this day, my good friend State Senator Mark Leno always says, "Nobody in San Francisco runs for political office without checking in with the gay and lesbian community," because there is that force. There is that power that Jose tapped into.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] He ran for office and then eventually, and I don't quite remember the [inaudible], but around the mid '60s for the first time, I think he was involved in Black Cat Tavern, Black Cat ...
Donna Sachet: Saloon.
Mason Funk: Saloon. Somebody had the idea to start staging these drag shows as a kind of a political fundraiser, if I'm not mistaken. Do you know that history?
Donna Sachet: [00:46:30] Jose Sarria was known for performing at the Black Cat saloon, basically, to begin with. It was in North Beach. Drag performances have existed forever, we talked about it in going back to ancient Greece, so there's always been that angle. In modern America, it's a ...
Mason Funk: Thank you.
Donna Sachet: [00:47:00] In Modern America, I think drag has a different kind of entertainment value, and that was certainly what he was coming up to. He loved operas, and he did mock operas, which was hilarious. It started small. He was a waiter at that club first. Again, a product of the discrimination of the United States, he had been honorably discharged from the Navy. He wanted to be a teacher. He found out that the minute they found out you're gay, you'd lose your job, so he couldn't pursue what he wanted to do. He took a part-time job as a waiter or whatever.
Donna Sachet: [00:47:30] He had this idea to add something to the club. Occasionally, break into song, and then the next time he would come with [inaudible] wig on and do a couple numbers. He really helped create that drag experience at that club, then very quickly became known primarily for those shows. There were other people who performed with him, but he was really the head of it all. It began to turn into a political instrument, because people were still getting arrested, people were having their names published in the paper, that they're arrested the night before then losing their jobs, maybe losing their housing,
Donna Sachet: [00:48:00] maybe losing their personal lives, their wives or their families. There was no way to really be positively gay, it seemed like. With all that negative publicity, he was trying to raise money to bail people out of jail. He would get the group together after the show and go down to the jail and sing outside and they'd hear them in the jail cell. His big song was "God Save Us Nelly Queens" and they would sing. Always very campy and fun and positive, and maybe back to the same power I was talking about, when I am singing a song and I take people out of whatever miserable thing it is at that moment
Donna Sachet: [01:48:30] that they want to escape. He was all about that, getting away from it all. He turned it into a political tool in that it was addressing those injustices, particularly from the police and other discriminatory agencies. He quickly saw he could take a leadership role. The Tavern Guild, which had been formed to ally gay bars and businesses that realized they were a force, much as he had done to the election. They supported him in becoming the Empress of San Francisco.
Donna Sachet: [00:49:00] It was like an honorary title, ceremonial title in a lot of ways. It also guided a lot of public relations to him, a lot of people outside of the gay community would go to him as a figure head, as a spoke person. He was perfect for it. He became the first empress and very judiciously decided there will be a new one each year. He could have just sat on it forever, but he decided there will be a new one elected every year. He was appointed, basically. After that, every year for 50 years we've had a new Empress of San Francisco.
Donna Sachet: [00:49:30] For forty-three of those, we've had emperors, because emperors came a little bit later, but it still is a symbolic title. I credit it with giving me a lot of my experience with leadership, my recognition by the community, validity, because I was here, I moved here and in 1992 I ran for Miss Gay San Francisco. It was an imperial title, and I won. I won a pageant, the first thing I ever entered. Again, it was obviously so authentic that I was so ...
Donna Sachet: [00:50:00] I wanted it so badly. Suddenly, you have a title that you can use with things. You're not just doing drag shows. You're not just showing up somewhere, "She's Miss Gay." "Oh, yeah, I am, yeah, I am." Two or three years later, I ran for Empress. Much with Jose's encouragement and other pioneers at that time, they saw what I had. They saw the hunger. They saw the leadership potential. They saw the talent, I don't know what they saw. A lot of that they've built within me. I jumped up on their shoulders as I said before, walked on those and became the 30th Empress of San Francisco.
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] Fantastic. I want to go back.
Donna Sachet: A lot of information.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Especially I want to hear the story, the two main things you just mentioned was, first in 1992 being elected as Miss Gay San Francisco, and then the Empress. Tell me a little bit more in detail about the decision to enter the contest for Miss Gay San Francisco, where that came from inside of you, what your thought process was, how you gained the courage,
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] what you were afraid of? Just walk me through that experience in your shoes.
Donna Sachet: As I said I think my first public appearance as Donna was really with the Gay Men's Chorus in the safety of a retreat out of town, with brothers that I sung with. It was still bravery, but it was in an acceptable kind of format. When I came back to the city, I enjoyed it so much and now I had a name. I was Donna Sachet. I thought, now I want to do a little bit more. I found out there were clubs that had shows
Donna Sachet: [00:51:30] or there were gatherings, there were even dinner parties. People just dress up for the dinner parties. There were bars and stuff. I started getting dressed by myself and just going, you very quickly find people that are of the same mind. I got some good friends that were drag queens and also people that liked drag queens. That happened pretty quickly. Not deep relationships, but friends. They would tell me where the latest thing was. I want to be at that bar at that time. They're over here, which was helpful. You build your confidence in your presentation.
Donna Sachet: [00:52:00] Eventually, one of my good friends, Alexis Miranda, was the one that encouraged me to join the pageant. She said, "Girl, you need to join the pageant." I was like, "A pageant?" I'd pictured Miss America and all that, it would be perfect and it was huge thing. This was not so much about being perfect. It was about being affiliated with the Imperial Court, which was a wonderful organization that was known for civic minded fundraising and all that. Also, it was a competition. It was a pageant where you had day wear, evening wear, talent, and all that stuff.
Donna Sachet: [00:52:30] I entered it feeling like there was one thing I haven't shown them yet. I was going to sing live, so that was going to be my talent. I think that gave me the extra energy to enter, knowing that I wasnt going to be most beautiful, knowing that I wasnt going to be the most skilled with the interview because I've just only been doing it for a couple of years. I bet you they got wowed with the entertainment. I sang live for the very first time, and I don't know if there was anybody really at that time, well-known at least, that was doing that. That did set the judges back. I think there were seven or eight competitors, and I won. That was very exciting.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] What did you sing on that occasion? Do you remember?
Donna Sachet: Yes, I do. That was, I started ... I had three songs. I started one song, started lip-synching it and then I said like this, and the sound man changed it, and I did change it again, the lip-synching. Then I said, "Turn this on." They turned it on. It was "The Man I Love," so Judy Garland kind of song. It was a very theatrical setup, as you can imagine. It was a hit.
Mason Funk: Oh, man. Do you have the tape anywhere?
Donna Sachet: [00:53:30] Oh, no. That was before they made tapes. No. I don't think it was archived anywhere, but it's pretty powerful. There's always the negative side and positive side. Immediately after I won, I was backstage rushed by friends that were in disbelief too. This pageant has been around for many years, twenty years I think at that point, and I was so new to it all, "Who is this person that won?" It was very competitive. There were eight competitors. The one that was first runner up two years in a row, and she had just lost again, came up to me and she was very aggressive.
Donna Sachet: [00:54:00] I remember kind of being backed up against the wall. I don't know if she pushed me or just I was, and she was right in my face. She shook her finger over and she said, "You were late to the interview," because there had been an interview the night before, and I was late. "You were late to the pageant," and I was because I was taking a bus back in those days and the buses were late. "You don't deserve to be Miss Gay San Francisco." I don't know where it came from, but some of the theatrical part of me, some of the Joan Crawford in me or whatever,
Donna Sachet: [00:54:30] I said, "You're right, but I am," and I walked away. She melted into a puddle, I don't know. It's one of those dramatic things. It probably didn't happen exactly like that, but that's how I remember it.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I think I remember it that way. That's fantastic. What a great story.
Donna Sachet: You can tell with a story like that, people say, why do you do it so much? or, why do you continue to do it? Those affirmations along the way, who would do that and then go home and never do it again? It would be foolish. In school, when I was admired for my writing,
Donna Sachet: [00:55:00] you wrote more. If you did a project and got an A, I want an A plus. I suddenly was recognized for something that was a secret, a secret life inside myself. That affirmation kept coming, as I said, Miss Gay San Francisco, two or three years later, the Empresses are numbered and that's kind of an important part to that system, just as it is to some things. Empress Twenty-nine was coming up, and people were encouraging me to run because I was well-known enough by that time.
Donna Sachet: [00:55:30] My roommate in this house actually was thinking of running too. She said, "That will be hilarious. Let's both run. We're living in the same house, we're competing against each other. We'll make a big game out of it." I said, "I appreciate that, but I'm going to let you have twenty-nine. I'm all right for triple X." That was my little side joke. I waited another year, and I got myself a lot more prepared to do it. Still never totally prepared, but I ran the next year. It is a public election. The other one is a pageant, the Miss Gay is a pageant, so it's a judged pageant,
[00:56:00] interview and all that stuff. The Empress of San Francisco is a public vote. All you have to do is prove your residency in San Francisco, San Mateo and you can vote. I mean, there have been sometimes thousands of votes, sometimes hundreds of votes, it depends on the weather, sometimes it's a single day we do it. You ran a campaign for a couple of weeks and then you have a voting day. We don't do mail in voting that they do elsewhere.
Mason Funk: It's just a matter of time.
Donna Sachet: Yeah, I'm sure.
Mason Funk: [00:56:30] You say you have a couple of weeks of campaigning, how did you campaign?
Donna Sachet: Well, I think when I did it, it was three weeks of campaigning. Once you're accepted by the board-
Mason Funk: Please say when I ran for Empress. When I ran for Empress there were lots of different policies on board. You had to be approved by the board, and then you had three weeks from that point to run up to election day. I was approved and then had this plan for different things. I'd watched other campaigns since I've been in San Francisco. Many people did posters
Donna Sachet: [00:57:00] or had a couple of fundraisers that you got people to that got to meet you. You could do a number of things. I even looked into billboards, but they were a little expensive for me. Again, something about fashion merchandising, maybe entertainment when I was a kid. There were some things in my head. I knew a signature color would be a bit powerful. If you were in Castro trying to get people to vote and you and your campaign staff were all in red, wouldn't that be ... You find them easily. We had red umbrellas, red balloons. That was a gimmick, I mean, all those kinds of things.
Donna Sachet: [00:57:30] I also loved talking to people, either as a small group or even individually, about the court system. Because I was so proud of what Jose had started and that I could maybe be a part of that. I loved sharing that story, and so a lot of that one on one voting was important. Surprisingly, I was only the second unopposed Empress candidate at that time. Evidently at that point, I had sort of set it up. People felt confident that I was going to win and it scared some people from running. It made it a little bit more difficult to run, actually,
Donna Sachet: [00:58:00] because if you're unopposed, why do anything, but you want to do it anyway. I had so many things already in place. I pretty much ran the campaign as if I had two or three competitors.
Mason Funk: What did being Empress involve? What were some of the responsibilities?
Donna Sachet: Being an Empress involves a lot of things to different people. First of all, there's an umbrella organization that's been around for that long. For thirty years there'd been empresses, so there's a system involved. They want you to play a certain role and that was important to me to know what that role was and fit into that.
Donna Sachet: [00:58:30] It also can be a jumping off place for leadership in general. Once you become Empress, you have the opportunity to meet a lot more people or be a lot more visible. That was a part of it. I also wanted to use that as an opportunity to introduce larger San Francisco in general to this beautiful, wonderful gay community that I was a part of. I think in a lot of ways we were still separated. There was a lot of, that's the Castro and it ends right here or something.
Donna Sachet: [00:59:00] When I was Empress we did a number of things that were for larger organizations, whether it was Meals on Wheels, for instance, nothing to do really with gay. There are plenty of gay people that are involved that go, but I try to build bridges together with that. Other entertainment venues, going into concerts, in drag or going with my crown on sometimes even. Herb Cain at that time was a big news person in a newspaper. He wrote a daily column. He's known as the dot dot dot journalist. He wrote all about society and funny stories and stuff, some were political but mostly characters and San Francisco life.
Donna Sachet: [00:59:30] He mentioned me a couple of times in his column, and I thought I'm on the right track, because I was building bridges with the gay community and the larger San Francisco community.
Mason Funk: That was something that was important to you personally?
Donna Sachet: Yes, because I think that I-
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about, the building of bridges.
Donna Sachet: I think building bridges between the gay community and the larger San Francisco community and maybe the larger national communities has always been important and often overlooked. We love our community.
Donna Sachet: [01:00:00] I love my community. I think there's such beauty and diversity and supportiveness and the fundraising ability, the causes we've championed are great, and were kind of a secret. Of course, the system is even a secret. People don't even know it exists. We're in 70 cities across Canada, United States and Mexico. We don't do a good job of getting that word out. We can benefit from tying into other organizations. They can benefit from hearing what we do. We can trade best policies and practices. We can get leaders together that can be dynamic.
Donna Sachet: [01:00:30] It's all positive. I think that as I gained more confidence myself, I was more confident in bringing what I had to other leaders and not being intimidated by them as saying, "Interesting. I've got something to offer too." and I think we did.
Mason Funk: All right. That's fantastic. Now one of the questions I have is, I read some mentions of this, that another place where bridges had to be built was between the non-drag gay community
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] and the drag queen community, the drag community. But sometimes the traditional, or whatever you want to call them, the mainstream gay men haven't always embraced or shown a lot of love for the drag community and vice versa. Is that accurate or is that slightly off? Can you kind of explore that with us?
Donna Sachet: I've watched the gay community and the drag community grow and change a lot in twenty-five years
Donna Sachet: [01:01:30] that I've been involved. I have to say that any organization is molded by its membership, by its leaders, and the times its in. I don't know that I would be as successful or as happy in the world that Jose Sarria lived in, with his opera singing in North Beach with largely straight audiences laughing at you, in a way, but still getting your message across. There are all these Ru Pauls Drag Race people now that are really
Donna Sachet: [01:02:00] putting drag in every living room across America, which is great, but is only one slice of drag. There are so many ways to be gay, as I said several times in my interview. There are so many ways to do drag. I think I chose the Imperial Court as the first avenue for me. I've grown beyond that and certainly do additional things that many of them are not comfortable doing. You have to find your true expression of it.
Mason Funk: [Inaudible] are you okay?
Donna Sachet: I'm okay.
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] Okay. You have to find your true expression of it.
Donna Sachet: You have to find your own true expression of it and maybe before, as I was talking about being genuine and coming across as a performer as genuine. Maybe that's part of it for me. I early on would go to a show that I knew was a ... Okay. This show, they always do crazy numbers and they throw their wigs off and everything, and I would try to do that. But that wasn't me, it wasn't authentic. I would go to another show and they would say, "Now be careful when you get there because lesbians do not like drag." Well,
Donna Sachet: [01:03:00] I found out pretty quickly that lesbians didn't like drag when it was making fun of women, making fun of them basically. You go to events where gay men were putting down drag. Maybe they were putting down the fact that drag queens would fall into gutter and be a mess and had to be gotten in a cab or something. There are elements of drag that are unappealing to some people. I think there's a way to be a leader, to be a voice within the drag community and be accepted and respected by the larger community,
Donna Sachet: [01:03:30] but it's not always what people are looking for. There are plenty of drag queens that you probably talked to that are leaders in the community but are not interested in half of the things I've just talked about. I talked about them because they are authentic to me. I will continue to pursue them because I think they're valuable and they give me satisfaction. When I get an invitation to the city hall for a mayoral swearing in, I'm there. They give me a seat and I'm happy to be there. Because I am part of San Francisco and I want to take my whole community with me.
Donna Sachet: [01:04:00] That one chair with that one drag queen in it is representative of a slice of the whole city. I've had several people, many people over the years say, "Thank you for being here for us, Donna." They get it. The other people that say, "what is she doing there?" They don't get it, and there are always those.
Mason Funk: Right. When they say, "what is she doing there?" What exactly are they commenting on?
Donna Sachet: Well, I think you see even in Ru Pauls Drag Race, we've seen the competitiveness between drag queens, and that was very evident
Donna Sachet: [01:04:30] when I first started doing drag. A funny story, one of my first shows in the Castro, I was finally invited to be in a show. Sometimes you go to an open show and just turn in your tape and be the last performer. Tape, that's really giving away my age. You turn in your music and ...I was invited to be there. Let's say the show was 8:00. I showed up at 7:30. I was ready to go and I was just looking around. I'm like, "Where is everybody? What's going on?" I looked, they're supposed to [inaudible] or something. About 8:30, maybe 9:00, the rest of the drag queens came in, frowns on their faces, theyre rolling, they go right through the bar all the way to the back to get dressed.
Donna Sachet: [01:05:00] Well, I came in to say hello to everybody. I love being in drag and I love being that person. This aspect of it was performers paid to do what they're doing, in and out, done, boom, and bitch you on the microphone. I began to question whether that was really the avenue for me. If I did not have enough confidence at that time, I may have given into that either done what they were doing and not liked it, or just given the whole thing up. At that point, I'd identified myself to the community
Donna Sachet: [01:05:30] and found enough that I can have fun at it, and if I was the only one doing it that way, I would still do it that way. I was singing live and they'd be like, "Why are you singing?" "Because I can sing and love to sing." Again, self-realization, being authentic, that was a big part of it for me.
Mason Funk: When people ask you why do you sing live, is it just because ... Why do they ask you that?
Donna Sachet: When people ask me why do you sing live or why is she there, I try to interpret it the best way
Donna Sachet: [01:06:00] that maybe just they don't understand it. They're just asking open ended questions. I know that there are some people who would ask it for reasons of jealousy, "Why am I not there and she's there? Or, "Why is she singing and I can't sing?" Or, "Oh, we're going to have a special microphone now. She's too much trouble." There are a lot of reasons for asking that. I think those who get it are the ones who say, like those people I was telling you before, when they see me there they know that I'm taking our community into the city hall with this.
Donna Sachet: [01:06:30] One of the most powerful things is the raising of the gay flag at city hall every year right before the gay pride events start. The mayor inevitably is there, it's on the mayor's balcony and its facing Civic Center and he sends the flag out. Sometimes it's a brief thing, sometimes he's barely there. Many times there's a reception in the mayor's office, there's a little speech, there's television, there's reporters and everything. How many drag queens go to that? Me and whoever I bring with me. Because it's not the best thing for a lot of people, and it does not interest a lot of people,
Donna Sachet: [01:07:00] I suppose. To me, that is part of my responsibility. I want to show our community that we belong, and I want to show that community that we're part of this big beautiful mix, that's San Francisco.
Mason Funk: When you talk about being authentic, I guess my question is what does that mean in the context of performance of drag performance? What if someone who is not being authentic, how are they different from you, in your opinion? This is just your opinion.
Mason Funk: [01:07:30] What do they do that gives the audience the awareness that this person is somehow not really genuine? What's the difference?
Donna Sachet: The difference of being authentic and not being authentic is really, in my opinion, and I don't know if I should even hazard it. I do see people sometimes that are in drag that can't wait to get it off. Why did they get into it anyway? They're so uncomfortable. The minute they do their numbers they're out of there.
Donna Sachet: [01:08:00] Why did they do it? They're doing for different reasons and I'm not even sure what that reason is. Or there are people that do it so quickly and so haphazardly like, did you know that you're going to be on stage with lights on you and you forgot to do eyelashes? I don't know. Attention to detail and theatricality. Or someone that does the same number everyday. Oh, she's done that number there, she goes again. That sort of thing. Carelessness or laziness with it all. It's not good or bad, or not better or worse.
Donna Sachet: [01:08:30] It's done for different reasons and that's not my slice of drag. As I said, there are so many different slices of drag. I admire people like Heklina that created this whole club culture that she's able to get a whole cross section of people that come. They come to have fun, they come to see people be crazy and have blood on stage or simulated acts of wrestling, and crazy things. That's what Trannyshack became known for. I tried to do that for a little while, but it wasn't me. I didn't really feel authentic in it. Those people are authentically in that world.
Donna Sachet: [01:09:00] I admire people like Juanita More who does not surround herself with drag queens. She surrounds herself with beautiful boys and men. She's the queen of that whole world and that's her way of doing it. She gets a lot of credit for it. She throws the biggest pride party every year.Each of us, I think, are finding our way and we're not waiting for somebody else to define it for us or to acknowledge it. We just do it and if the following comes, great, if it's a small following or large following, but I've got to be true to myself.
Donna Sachet: [01:09:30] Isn't it weird we talk about being authentic and then a man putting on a woman's demeanor. Again, that goes back to what I've talked about, not putting drag on, but letting it out. Some of it is an act, I mean some of it I want to be able to go to a home in Pacific Heights. I've been to the Getty Mansion, for instance, and was one of the fundraisers for Mark Leno. To get that invitation, first of all, was like, "Whoa." One of my pinch me moments, I call them. That something happens and you're just like, "Did I just get ...?"
Donna Sachet: [01:10:00] It was a series of things, and yeah, I went to the Getty Mansion. The door is opened and there I was. In that situation I feel beholden upon myself to behave a certain way, to dress a certain way, to be a certain way and fit in with that. At the same time, I was in drag. I was bringing that element. It was largely welcomed, but not totally welcomed. I go to the opera every year. The first year I went was terrifying. Why did I put myself in that position?
Donna Sachet: [01:10:30] I was doing it, again, to take our community. That's the big social event of the season, as it is in many cities. To be able to go and be dressed beautifully and know opera and enjoy the show and speak to people during the intermission and all of that, it was very empowering. After the first year of having a number of socialites look at me with the daggers to the last couple of years, speaking with Nancy Pelosi and speaking with the wealthy and Charlotte Myer Swig and knowing that they realized that I'm bringing something legitimate.
Mason Funk: [01:11:00] Right. I want to explore a little more of , as opposed to putting on drag, letting your drag out. How did you phrase it?
Donna Sachet: I don't put drag on, I let it out.
Mason Funk: Let it out. I guess the basic question I want to ask you is:
Mason Funk: [01:11:30] Is it only a public thing or when you're at home by yourself, I don't know if this is appropriate to ask, so tell me if it's not, if you just don't want to answer, but I just wonder what it's like to be you and when you're at home do you just go around on pajamas and T-shirts like the rest of us? Or do you ever go out in public not in drag? How does it work?
Donna Sachet: Well, I think of what you're getting at is you're interviewing today, Donna Sachet. Certainly there's a person behind that persona
Donna Sachet: [01:12:00] that I created and that community has supported that is private, and I do keep that private. I probably have a handful of friends, four or five friends who if they come over, I wouldn't even think about getting dressed for them. We're going to sit here and watch TV and eat popcorn or something.I'm so proud of the character that I've created and the power that it potentially can have. That it would be, to me, disingenuous and even sort of a betrayal to be invited to cut the ribbon at the Farmer's market and say, "Oh, I don't have time to do drag. But I'll go, they invited me.
Donna Sachet: [01:12:30] " They didn't invite me, they invited Donna, so I'm going to deliver that. It is a very public persona of conscious exterior that I've chosen to share with the community. I know good and well that the horn rimmed glasses, blonde kid behind there is not the power, this is the power. If I want to use that power for the good, which I'm always trying to do, I've got to deliver that whether it takes an hour or two or takes a little bit of time
Donna Sachet: [01:13:00] and maybe I'm tired afterwards. All that is worth it. Does that kind of answer [inaudible]
Mason Funk: Yeah. Is it fun, is it an ongoing source of fun to pick out clothes, pick out looks, do your own makeup and kind of costume maybe, I don't know if you continue exploring new looks or finding new looks? It seems like it would be really fun to me.
Donna Sachet: You've got a little drag in you, too. Being Donna is a lot of fun.
Donna Sachet: [01:13:30] I have this little thing I do. Sometimes when I'm most nervous about to leave the house, I get all ready and I look at the mirror that last time and I'll say, "Hi. I'm Donna Sachet, and you're not." Because I'm the only Donna. I've done things that nobody has done and I've done things that ... I still have things that I want to do. That kind of harnessing that power, but ... I lost my train of thought with your question.
Mason Funk: Is it fun to continue-
Donna Sachet: [01:14:00] It is fun. As much as it is fun to be Donna, there are times I'm exhausted. When I finally retired from full-time work with retail, there were times when I was still working full-time. Id get on the train to come home, I'd realize I've got something at the Edge in thirty minutes and I would take my tie off in the train. That's as far as I could get. I had to run up the hill and, fortunately, I'm close to the train station, but I sometimes run literally up that steep hill, running, I start to take my clothes off as I open the door. I sometimes would compare to Superman
Donna Sachet: [01:14:30] and Clark Kent. There was no phone booth I could change in that quickly. Then you get into it and I'd be like, "Oh, God, why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? You walk in the bar, "Donna!" and suddenly it's all wonderful. It is an effort sometimes and it is exhausting sometimes, but the rewards have certainly been there for me so far. You mentioned trying new things, that's part of the fun of it. Trying different expressions of myself and events. Like you're saying, trying to reach out to attend to other events.
Donna Sachet: [01:15:00] Recently, I was a judge at the cable car bell ringing contest in Union Square, which to me, that's like the quintessential thing. Cable cars, Union Square, me being there. I was asked by somebody that had seen me do some performance somewhere and it's sort of a Civic Center responsibility. I love doing that kind of stuff. I know a lot of people, Joanne Hayes-White, the Chief of the Fire Department was sitting right beside me and we were comparing notes.
Donna Sachet: [01:15:30] I already have sort of a place in there, so it's really engaging and fun to be a part of that. There are plenty of those I'd still want to do. For a while there people say, "Donna, you'll cut the ribbon at the garage door opening." I mean, I love that because it's ... Maybe it's silly, but it's sort of an official responsibility. Mark Leno has called me the first lady of San Francisco before in a comic but respectful way. I love that role.
Mason Funk: [01:16:00] Do you have any aspirations at this point for yourself in terms of things you'd like to do in a role of Donna to just ... I mean, I know you sang the national anthem at the professional baseball game, the Super Bowl, or other events, or just other ways to give back to your community. Are there things that are on your mind?
Donna Sachet: It's funny you're asking something that, again, very few people do ask. I think most people want to talk about where you are and all the stuff you're doing now.
Donna Sachet: [01:16:30] I'm not a great planner, so when somebody asks, what are you going to do next? What's left on your list? I guess we all have bucket lists. Some of those things on my bucket list are certainly tied to my community and my community work, but some of them are personal too.I'm really working right now on getting to the White House as an invited guest, not touring the White House like everybody does. They have those things where it's a signing of a document or President Obama has invited the gay and lesbian community several times or reception of an officer,
Donna Sachet: [01:17:00] the green room or something. That is on my bucket list. That's kind of personal for me, but it's also powerful because so many people know me in San Francisco. They saw me there, they'd be like, "That Donna, look at her now," I think, so those sort of things. Frankly, I don't share this with a lot of people, but I have been thinking in the last few years about an exit strategy. I've been doing this for twenty-five years, and recently I've given up a couple of things that I did annually. Like I said,
Donna Sachet: [01:17:30] co-chair of the contest for ten years. When it gets to the tenth year, I'm like, am I standing in the way of other people doing this? One of those, my co-chair, my co-emcee and I both decided ten years, that's it. We saw it coming. We told the group that, "Okay, guys, we're out of here." They've brought in some new emcees that keep trying, some are working and some are not, but it does open the door for another person. How much longer can I do all that? How much fun can it be on that eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth year?
Donna Sachet: [01:18:00] I'm looking for ways to exit gracefully. Beverly Sills became a friend in New York when I was there, and she was the quintessential exit to me. She had a news conference. She announced, "I've sung every role in every opera house in the world. I sang, I'm done. Now I'm going to manage the New York City opera." But she didn't sing in an opera ever again. She went out on top, everybody remembered that beautiful moment that hit that high note.
Donna Sachet: [01:18:30] I don't want people to say, "Oh, she's here? We'd better put her on." I don't want to be there. How do you know when that happens? I don't know. I'd rather be in charge of it rather than have it done around me.
Mason Funk: You'd rather get out of there too soon than a little too late?
Donna Sachet: Yeah. Does that sound too vain?
Mason Funk: Not at all. It sounds very understandable, plus you've given so, so much, at a certain point it's got ... I imagine [inaudible] going to be like, well, unless someone was just like, I can't live without that adulation. It sounds like you're in a different place than that?
Donna Sachet: [01:19:00] Well, I want to back up a little bit too, because sometimes, even when I see the film that was made about me, the hardships and everything, a couple of times when I've seen it with an audience, I thought, there are people in this audience that were in jail, that were threatened with their lives, that live on the streets. I've never done any of that. I mean, how hard has my life been? I had a terrible childhood, but I have developed a beautiful, wonderful existence now. I never want to be interviewed and be like,
Donna Sachet: [01:19:30] she thinks she's all that or something. I've been through some hardships and I've done some things, but many, many people would have done far more than I have. That's why I'm glad you're interviewing so many people. As I said, I walked on the shoulders of so many people before me, but I'm here because of so many people around me that are supporting me. I want to play that role in some way to the next generation that's coming up. I have to figure out what their parties are too so that I'm not just saying come do what I've done. What do you want to do? How can I help you do that? It's a big responsibility.
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] That's great. Perfect. What part of the grander, larger, broader LGBTQ community, let's say here in San Francisco, what part or what issues are you most concerned about in terms of things that are not going well, things that we need to-
Donna Sachet: Civil rights movement or just the whole in general?
Mason Funk: Any portion of our community or, for that matter, the city as a whole, where people are struggling.
Donna Sachet: [01:20:30] I think in San Francisco, the LGBT community is at a crossroads in many ways. We just celebrated this great victory with the Supreme Court in marriage as being legal at a federal level. It's not secure. It could still be overturned as lots of people that didn't like it, but that's a big milestone. You kind of feel like you take a breath there. There is still so much misunderstanding and so much, frankly, hatred that I don't run into as much as some,
Donna Sachet: [01:21:00] because I do live a life that is a little bit more elevated because of the people around me and the things I'm asked to do. There are people whose lives are threatened every day, the transgender community especially. They can't find jobs, they can't find housing, they are disrespected by everybody around them and their lives are in jeopardy, they are victims of violent crime, and in smaller towns, just being who I am would be just anathema to anybody else. There's a lot of battles still to be won.
Donna Sachet: [01:21:30] I think that the interaction of the larger community and the LGBT community is key. Many people don't agree with that and don't want that to happen. They want us to be the gay community and everybody else doing something else. There's a beauty in living in the Castro. Is that bothering you?
Mason Funk: Yeah, that's true. [Inaudible] There you go. There's a beauty in living in Castro.
Donna Sachet: There's a beauty in living in the Castro. They call it a gay mecca or a gay enclave.
Donna Sachet: [01:22:00] I love being able to stroll down the street and know people and go to check my mail and go to the bank and say hello to everybody. There's another big beauty in going to a home in Pacific Heights and being down there and having my issues aired and addressed. I think, as Jose Sarria often said, "United we stand, divided they get us one by one." In his world it meant "get us" as in get arrested or lose everything you own
Donna Sachet: [01:22:30] and be thrown out your family and everything. In our world today, maybe it means united we're stronger because we need to find allies and get people that believe in maybe not doing what we do, but our right to do it. I think there are plenty of straight allies that don't get enough respect that are important to us.
Mason Funk: What has the drag community been able to contribute uniquely by being the drag community?
Donna Sachet: [01:23:00] I never want to lose sight of joy and entertainment and celebration. The gay community throughout my life has represented that largely. I think no one does it better within the gay community than the drag community, because we do offer, is it an escape or is it just a moment of silliness and brilliance? I mean, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, for instance ... Sorry.
Mason Funk: There you go.
Donna Sachet: [01:23:30] The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, for instance, are a brilliant example of an irreverent, crazy group. Why do they go to the trouble they go to? That white makeup is not easy and it's hot in the sun, those outfits. But they represent something revolutionary and in your face. They raise a tremendous amount of money and they challenge ideas. They show people they've been steeped in religion that maybe can't do it anymore. There's a different way to be spiritual or be appreciative of life.
Donna Sachet: [01:24:00] I think in a lot of ways, drag does that for people. The [inaudible], "You cannot, cannot tell me I cannot." What do you mean you cannot? We tiptoe over that line. Sometimes we walk boldly over that line. If we can do it for other people, almost vicariously that can be satisfying. When I talk about the power of singing a number, one of my favorite songs I sing is David Friedman's We Can Be Kind. The words are so powerful. It starts with I can't solve the world's problems, hunger, homelessness and all these.
Donna Sachet: [01:24:30] What can I do? What can I do? Well, I can be kind. One day at a time, I can do little things along the way and that builds up to something. So many people lose sight of that and just give up or they are afraid or they live in fear. There is power in everything we do. When you walk out of the house, which way you turn, who you talk to and who you choose not to talk to, how you talk to them. Those little decisions I think really do roll up. In drag, most people in the gay community
Donna Sachet: [01:25:00] and many people in larger community, they see drag and they smile. Now where that smile is coming from, whether it's laughing at us or with us or towards us, is another matter, but joy is part of being in drag.
Mason Funk: Great. That's wonderful. I have three final questions that I always ask at the end of each interview.
Donna Sachet: Why are there buses?
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] I don't know why there are buses. To a young person, you can even imagine yourself, who is just about to summon up his or her courage and just step out into the world and be him or herself, coming out one way or another. If that person calls you up and says, "Donna, what one piece of advice or wisdom or insight would you share with me?" what would that be?
Donna Sachet: [01:26:00] I'm the last person to ask for advice because I'm so fearful of that. I am a product of a very unique situation, unique series of circumstances, and I am where I am today. I question sometimes why ever... But there are people that can't make those decisions that I made, and I really feel strongly that you have to look at your situation. If somebody were to ask me, how do I follow my heart
Donna Sachet: [01:26:30] and my parents won't let me do anything, I don't have an answer to that. You're living under your parents' roof. I'm not going to ask them to be homeless or go to the street. They've got to get through that. They've got to find the path through that, and then one day go to college or get out of that family situation and find a way.If there's a man in his 50s and says, "I've always wanted to do what you do and I went to your show. I just can't believe I never did it. I think I'm going to do it. What advice can you give?" I can't give him advice. I can tell him what I've done. I can tell him my experience, but he has to decide, does he have to give up his wife?
Donna Sachet: [01:27:00] Does he have to give up the whole social, maybe a financial situation? Those are very personal and deep decisions that people have to make. Harvey Milk often said, "Come out, come out wherever you are." In a general sense, sure, that's true. We're more powerful if everybody came out. We'd be much more powerful. But every situation is different. I don't believe in outing stars, I don't believe in forcing people to make decisions. I want to share my story and share things that have worked for me and affirmations
Donna Sachet: [01:27:30] that I've gotten once I've come out, but I can't tell you what to do. I think it's dangerous to give advice.
Mason Funk: Great. Great. You're one of the few people who just said, I just don't give advice. Good for you. Secondly, what is your hope for the future?
Donna Sachet: My hope for the future is pretty large. I think that there are so many negatives right now that ... Fear is the biggest thing. I just think there's so much fear and there's so many people that are tied into that
Donna Sachet: [01:28:00] and realize we can motivate people with fear. We can get fear behind them and scare them and everything. Drag scares people. I've never understood that. I sometimes laugh about children and dogs used to react very strongly to me. Maybe it's all the red and big hair. The dogs would go and the kids would start crying. Maybe it's a visceral thing, I don't know. When you're grown up you're your own person. Why would this scare you? I'm a man in a dress. What is scary about it? But, that's a kind of fear. There's so much fear in the world.
Donna Sachet: [01:28:30] If we would just kind of open the lines of communication and dialogue and sit down with somebody and get to know them, you might not like them because you don't like their opinions, or because they have bad table manners, or because they're rude. That's all fine, but you cannot dislike them because they're doing drag or because they're gay, unless they're making a move on you and that makes you uncomfortable. There's so much more that unites us than divides us. I think that is one of the most powerful lessons
Donna Sachet: [01:29:00] I have learned as I tried to reach out to a larger community. To go to city hall and to go to the opening of the opera and to sing in a major league game, and people's fears sort of melt. They're like, "What was I afraid of? She shook my hand and that wasn't bad."Get over that initial hump. I'm still challenged by it. I love the leather community. I'm a part of it and I've done a number of things with them. There are parts of it I still don't understand, but I'm not shutting it off. I have friends
Donna Sachet: [01:29:30] who I love to have dialogue with, I love to go to discussion groups with. There are people that are supporting a presidential candidate right now that it just seems so illogical and I can't even imagine it, but I'm not going to stop talking to them. We've got to be open to dialogue, because I don't know it all and maybe they know something, "Oh, my goodness. I can sort of see that."My hope for the world is better communication, more open dialogue to put fears to rest.
Mason Funk: Great. Great. Lastly, what do you see as the value of a project like OUTWORDS?
Donna Sachet: [01:30:00] When you first called me about OUTWORDS, it sounded like an idea Ive heard bubbling up from a number of people, but you've done something with it. In the Imperial Court, we often talk about recording, sit down, have a recording, maybe a video, but also audio of just like, when was your first coronation? What was your bird? What happened with the crown? Just silly stories. In that silliness, in those little memories, things come up
Donna Sachet: [01:30:30] that will never be remembered if they're not done that way. The historical society here in San Francisco has some audio recordings. You can hear Harvey Milk's voice. You can hear Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin talking to each other with their voices because they were recorded. That's powerful. Those were little snippets of things. You, it sounds like from what I understand with the project, are going out avidly seeking stories and pieces of history, but also open to where did that happen, who knows about it, who was the leader,
Donna Sachet: [01:31:00] but who was also just there when it all happened? We don't even know to this day who was at Stone Wall. I mean, if that's the seminal event that launched the gay rights movement. There are people that say, "It was mainly street kids," "Oh, it's mainly trans-sexual," "Oh, no, it's mainly minorities, but we don't know. We really don't. I think people seem to advocate that they know. There are a couple of people that will physically say, Silvia Rivera, "I was there so we know that," okay. History can be lost so quickly and so easily,
Donna Sachet: [01:31:30] and the longer you're in it, the more you realize twenty-five years is not a long time. There are people that say to me, "Donna, you were uncontested Miss Gay." No, wait a minute. It was eight contestants for Miss Gay. I was uncontested for Empress. Silly thing, but details are lost. I admire OUTWORDS for saying the stories are out there, the people are still out there, but time is short. Let's get out there and record them in a comfortable situation so they're comfortable sharing their story.
Donna Sachet: [01:32:00] I'll tell you you've been very easy in that way. You made me comfortable so that I'm more willing to share the story. I want it to be right. I want it to be accurate.
Mason Funk: Great. I thank you for your trust.
Donna Sachet: Thank you.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Goro Toshima
Date: July 27, 2016
Location: Home of Donna Sachet, San Francisco, CA