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17th Street High Heel Race Returns to D.C. in Full Force

What do impractical exercise clothing, D.C. queer culture and the Tuesday before Halloween have in common? The annual 17th Street High Heel Race in Dupont Circle.

Dressed in decorated costumes, High Heel Race frontrunners dash towards the finish line. Photo courtesy of Mila Hill.

What do impractical exercise clothing, D.C. queer culture and the Tuesday before Halloween have in common? The annual 17th Street High Heel Race in Dupont Circle.

After a cancellation last year due to the pandemic, Dupont Circle’s annual High Heel Race returned on Tuesday, Oct. 26, for its 34th annual event, with more than 100 participants and thousands of onlookers.

Along 17th Street, many businesses decorated their storefronts with rainbow colors in support of the queer community, while restaurants with outdoor dining were booked for most of the night. 

The night began with a parade by Cheer D.C., a volunteer cheer squad, and D.C.’s Different Drummers, an LGBTQ marching band. Crowds gathered to watch drag queens strut down 17th Street and listen to pop music hits before the race.

Even with the possibility of rain and a temperature below 50 degrees, music blasted and drag queens put on a show. Logan Stone, a local drag queen, even performed a rain-themed medley that included Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from the acclaimed musical “Funny Girl.”

The first High Heel Race was in 1987, and the event has only gained popularity since then. David Flaherty and Kevin Paul have attended the race for years, and this year they dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West and one of her Winkie Guards from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Within our lifetime, this was something that we just did and got in trouble with the police and today the police are here and taking a picture with us,” Flaherty said about the history of the race. “That happened within our lifetime.”

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Now, over 30 years since the first race, the event has cemented itself as a staple of D.C. queer culture. Today, it attracts runners, spectators, volunteers and families from across the country. The event is also sponsored by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

In 2020, the High Heel Race was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Howard University graduate student Delan Ellington chose to run this year because of the cancellation.

“I decided to run this because it’s a part of D.C. queer history,” Ellington said. “I’m a grad student in the research department researching Black queer history. I’ve been in D.C. for five years and I was like, ‘I don’t know when the next time it’ll happen.’”

Tanya Coles has volunteered for the event for five years, and her brother ran in this year’s race.

“It’s always been something that I wanted to do. It’s so exciting, just the whole exhilaration of everyone together in harmony,” Coles said.

The race is more than just a staple in the D.C. queer community; it is also a chance for local businesses to welcome new customers, and for Mayor Bowser’s office to promote important programs. The mayor’s office also offered COVID-19 vaccinations on site.

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The 17th Street High Heel Race will return next year on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Copy edited by: N’dia Webb

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