How Drag Prepared Marti Allen-Cummings for the Political Stage

Activist, drag artist, and City Council hopeful Marti Gould Cummings.
Marti Allen-Cummings is urging lawmakers to prioritize health coverage for gig workers and others who rely on the marketplace for care.
Donna Aceto

Even as visibility for non-binary and trans people grows in the US, the political realm is still lagging in representation — but one candidate could make history in a big way in Upper Manhattan.

Out non-binary candidate Marti Allen-Cummings, a drag queen and LGBTQ activist running to represent the 7th Council District in Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, and Hamilton Heights, would be the first out non-binary person elected to the New York City Council. Becoming a drag performer has prepared them for all facets of politics, from organizing to identifying the issues within the community, they said. They are now ready to transfer these skills to the competitive landscape of New York City politics. 

 “My path to running is not typical,” Allen-Cummings said. “But that’s what I think we need right now because the typical status quo isn’t working right.” 

Their New York City Council bid is also inspired by the wave of inequities that resurfaced after the 2016 election cycle.

“We saw these injustices that have been going on in our country since the beginning come to a boiling point,” Allen-Cummings said. “I had this moment where I was like, ‘I’m wasting the opportunity to not only educate myself and learn about the issues but to use the platform drag has given me to educate others as well.'”

Allen-Cummings is facing a crowded field of candidates in the race for a seat held by term-limited City Councilmember Mark Levine, who is running for Manhattan borough president. Allen-Cummings is currently a member of Community Board 9 in Upper Manhattan, an advisor on the New York City Nightlife Advisory Board, and a board member for the Ali Forney Center, an organization providing housing and support services to LGBTQ youth.

To date, their campaign has an estimated balance of $111,000, following Raymond Sanchez, who has $150,282, and Maria Ordonez, who has $127,829, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

Allen-Cummings has pledged to support the trimming of “billions of dollars” from the NYPD and the allocation of those funds to housing, sanitation, environmentally sustainable/safe infrastructure, libraries, recreation, and medical care. They are also throwing their weight behind the full decriminalization of sex work and the expansion of protections for sex workers, including access to healthcare, paid sick leave, paid time off, and childcare benefits. The movement to decriminalization of sex work is a top queer issue in New York City, where trans activists have led reform efforts and out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman recently served as the upper chamber’s lead sponsor on legislation to repeal a discriminatory loitering law known as a ban on “walking while trans.” District attorneys in multiple boroughs — including Manhattan — have taken steps to scale back on prosecuting sex workers.

Allen-Cummings, who in the past worked as a go-go dancer, stressed that officials need to take protections a step further.

“It’s not enough for [Manhattan District Attorney] Cy Vance to say, ‘Oh [I’m] not going to prosecute.’ We need to fully decriminalize sex work because it’s work,” Allen-Cummings said. “Any form of sex work should be respected.” 

They are calling for robust safeguards for marginalized workers in other industries. Allen-Cummings, a gig worker, wants gig and freelance workers to have a $20 per hour minimum wage with adjustments for inflation and health insurance.

“I know that experience first-hand — what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck,” Allen-Cummings said. “Our city is increasingly built for the wealthy, but the everyday working people in this city are the ones who keep it running, keep it operating, and they are left out of the equation.” 

Along with addressing these inequities, if elected to the City Council, Allen-Cummings plans to strengthen support for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers by boosting access to gender-affirming healthcare, mental health services, housing, job creation, and training programs. 

Since coming out as non-binary in their 30s, Allen-Cummings hopes their story can help queer youth feel reflected in society.

“I remember growing up, I didn’t have any reference point of people like me,” Allen-Cummings said. “People that are trans and non-binary and genderqueer are everywhere. I hope that has helped some young kid out there who’s feeling alone or scared and let them be seen and feel like someone’s looking out for them.” 

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