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Tonight, D.C. residents will gather for the 29th annual High Heel Race, the city’s most visible drag event of the year. But as that tradition continues, D.C.’s oldest drag organization, the Academy of Washington, Inc., has announced it’s disbanding after 53 years.

The board of the directors yesterday announced the decision to close the organization due to recent financial struggles, Metro Weekly first reported. On its website, the Academy writes “after 53 wonderful years, The Academy of Washington, Inc. is disbanding. This was not an easy decision nor one that anyone wanted to make but a necessary one.”

According to an email sent to members last night, the corporate officers painted a grim picture of the Academy’s financial status in recent years, which led to its disbanding. “As many of you have been aware, the Academy of Washington has been on life support for several years,” the email, obtained by Metro Weekly, says. “It’s not working and there hasn’t been any movement forward at all — in fact, it’s been moving in the opposite direction.”

First established in 1961 as an organization to safely foster and cultivate the drag community (dressing in drag, at the time, was illegal), the Academy is the oldest drag organization in the country; it attracted around 200 to 300 members in its heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But in recent years, that membership number has dwindled to about 60 members, says Robert Amos, one of the Academy’s board members who performs in drag under the name Veronica Blake.

“If this had happened 30 years ago it would’ve been a bigger hit on the local drag community,” Amos says, “but today, almost every gay bar hosts drag events.”

Amos says that because society has become more accepting of LGBTQ culture, the need for an organization like the Academy of Washington, Inc. has become increasingly obsolete. For years, the Academy was known for hosting lavish and extravagant drag competitions, like the Miss Gaye Universe D.C. and the Miss Gaye America D.C. pageants. At its peak, Amos says the events would fill the Washington Convention Center with hundreds in attendance and so many in competition, they would have to break it up over two days.

“This year, we had trouble finding five people to participate,” Amos says.

Though the Academy of Washington, Inc. is still respected in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, there’s seemingly no need for an umbrella organization to foster the drag community through membership and events. “It’s much more open,” Amos says. “It’s OK these days to dress out in drag.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery