Crystal LaBeija

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Crystal LaBeija
Cause of deathLiver failure
Known forFounded the House of LaBeija and Ball culture

Crystal LaBeija, originally known as Crystal LaAsia,[1] was a Manhattan drag queen who founded the House of LaBeija in 1977.[1] The House of LaBeija is often credited as having started "house" culture for drag queens.[2] After Crystal's death from liver failure in 1982, Pepper LaBeija became the second "mother" of The House of LaBeija. Kia LaBeija is the current "mother" of the House of LaBeija.


LaBeija worked and competed on the Manhattan drag circuit and was crowned Miss Manhattan. At the time, she was one of only a few African American drag queens to be awarded a "Queen of the Ball" title at a drag ball organized by whites. In the 1960s and 1970s, drag queens of color were expected to whiten their appearance to help their chances at winning competitions and they often faced racist environments.[3]

During the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant held in New York City Town Hall, LaBeija was upset with the bias and racism of the balls, as shown in the 1968 documentary film The Queen when LaBeija, Miss Manhattan at the time, accuses the hostess of rigging the process for a white queen Rachel Harlow, formerly Miss Philadelphia. In the memorable scene, Crystal Labeija disputes the judges and organizers, addressing the documentary filmmakers and defying the machinery of representation that she recognizes them to be complicit in. Labeija contests the system of the values that had been set up to judge her in the first place. She offers them a partial glimpse into a darker queer world than The Queen is able to capture.[4] Shortly after, Labeija's friend, Lottie, convinces her to host a ball for black queens, the first to be hosted by a House. The event was titled "Crystal & Lottie LaBeija presents the first annual House of Labeija Ball at Up the Downstairs Case on West 115th Street & 5th Avenue in Harlem, NY."[5]


She is mentioned by her protégée Pepper LaBeija in the 1990 documentary film Paris is Burning.[6]

Aja played LaBeija as part of the Snatch Game in RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars in 2018.

In June 2019, LaBeija was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.[7][8] The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history,[9] and the wall’s unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.[10]


  1. ^ a b Iovannone, Jeffry J. (June 29, 2018). "Crystal LaBeija: Legendary House Mother". Queer History for the People. Medium. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  2. ^ Street, Mikelle (August 19, 2016). "The Iconic Drag Queen Behind Frank Ocean's Endless". Vice.
  3. ^ Street, Mikelle (February 16, 2018). "5 Things to Know About Ballroom Icon Crystal LaBeija". Billboard. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Tavia Nyong'o. Afro-fabulations : the queer drama of Black life. ISBN 9781479856275. OCLC 1031956694.
  5. ^ "'Listen, and You Will Hear all the Houses that Walked There Before': A History of Drag Balls, Houses and the Culture of Voguing. London: Soul Jazz, 2011". July 16, 2013.
  6. ^ Paris is Burning. 1990.
  7. ^ Glasses-Baker, Becca (June 27, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor unveiled at Stonewall Inn". Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  8. ^ SDGLN, Timothy Rawles-Community Editor for (June 19, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor to be unveiled at historic Stonewall Inn". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  9. ^ "Groups seek names for Stonewall 50 honor wall". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  10. ^ "Stonewall 50". San Francisco Bay Times. April 3, 2019. Retrieved May 25, 2019.