By Adriana Navarro,
Special to the AFRO

It was all over in a matter of seconds. That’s how long it took for John Kim, 28, to sprint five blocks down 17th Street in a pink leotard, fishnets, a flowy skirt and tall stiletto boots.

The victory marked the third time Kim has won the 17th Street High Heel Race, an iconic event in Dupont where folks in drag or in costumes race from S to P Street in heels. Kim had fashioned an outfit after a certain starfish who lives under a rock under the sea. 

“My feet are more tired from walking down and back, but I feel great!” Kim said after the race, drenched in sweat.

The 17th Street High Heel Race began in 1986 after a friendly wager between drag queens, bartenders and community members sparked a race in heels to visit the LGBTQ+ bars along the street, according to the mayoral proclamation. The tradition continues today as a way to celebrate the diversity of D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community.

Franklin Wilkerson, 52, began attending the event around 1995 and says it has changed and grown significantly since the earlier days.

Angie White (right), 56, of California and Franklin Wilkerson, 52, of Washington, D.C., meet up once again at the 17th Street High Heel Race. White has been attending the event since 2009 and Wilkerson since about 1995.

“A lot of people are more accepting as far as other communities,” Wilkerson said. “[There’s] a lot more participation with other communities.”

Council members and the mayor also show up more, he said.

It was Mayor Bowser who called the queens, kings and other participants to the starting line, including Angie White.

In the crowd of colorful costumes, Wilkerson’s friend stood out in her crimson dress, green face paint and dazzling gems lining her cheekbone.

A California resident, White, 56, had flown across the country to attend the event with Wilkerson, as she had done since 2009. This year would be no different as she prepared to run with the queens and kings.

“Today I prepared by having a drink of rum punch and some water, and doing this makeup took about two or three hours,” she said. 

Rather than donning heels, White decided to gear up with yellow Crocs, the heel strap activated and ready to go in “sports mode.”

“I will not run in heels, these drag queens are ruthless,” White said.

The event also attracted students from the nearby Howard University like Bryte Gant, 21. The group was shooting black and white film pictures of the queens for a project, said Gant.

Karamo Brown, 42, of Houston, Texas, serves as a guest judge at the 17th Street High Heel Race.

“I’m happy because I saw the guy from Queer Eye,” said Gant, referring to Queer Eye star and Karamo Show host, Karamo Brown. “I wish that I had known about this sooner.”

The pandemic impacted the race just as it had other social events, prompting organizers to instead host a virtual retrospective video in 2020 over Facebook Live. By 2021, however, contestants were once again lining up at the starting line.

Sheria Wooden, 39, a teacher from Silver Spring, Md., made it out to the event for the first time this year, hoping to support people in the LGBTQ community. 

“I think it’s really something to even run in heels because I can’t even walk in heels, so just the unity that comes with it,” she said. “I feel like each drag queen or woman that’s running, they’re not doing it to compete- [they’re] showing the D.C. area that we’re human, we want to love, so that’s pretty much what I’m expecting to get out of it. It’s not about competition, it’s about unity.”

As Kim, the reigning victor, is not planning to run next year, a new champion will undoubtedly be crowned in 2024.