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Iconic Drag Performer You Should Know: Donna Personna

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Donna Personna, drag queen, artist, actress and transgender activist, is dancing in sequins everywhere you look these days. Sales Force Park will be featuring her and Banda Sin Nombre in a show one June 17th. She was recently stunning the crowd at SF Moma meanwhile her film Donna (directed by Jay Bedwani) is winning awards across the globe.

Donna Personna can be found at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge Fridays and Saturdays – All photos by Vita Hewitt

Her play that she co-wrote about Compton’s Cafeteria riot in 1966 is set to run again later next year. The riot’s are an episode in history about people that Donna was in community with. These events, often overlooked, are one of the first recorded acts of LGBTQ+ resistance in the US, taking place three years before the Stonewall Uprising. She’s all electric energy. This magnetic human is in her mid-70’s and show absolutely no signs of slowing.

Donna Personna lip synchs and dances to a packed house – Photo by Vita Hewitt

I first met Donna when I was teaching a class at the Haight Street Art Center. She’s a top notch story teller and human being. “You don’t have to like me.” She told us frankly. “I like me!” But we did like Donna. We loved her and so will you.

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How did your drag story begin?

I was born in Texas in 1946. My family moved to San Jose in 1947. I have lived in California since I was 1 year old.

In my twenties, I came to San Francisco and met the SF  hippie drag troupe: the Cockettes. While hanging out with them I appeared in one of their films: ‘Elevator Girls In Bondage’. I parted ways with them . In 2003 a documentary film came out about them and through the internet. I reunited with them. Rumi MisabuI, a founder of the Cockettes  held an art exhibition and produced performance shows.

I auditioned for one and was cast to perform drag. I was 59 years old then. That was the first time I dressed as a woman. I gave myself the name Donna Personna. I’ve never dressed as a male I continued performing and exhibiting my art since then. I’ve gone on to exhibit art 25 times professionally . and have been on more than 100 stages, including Lincoln Center Stage and most recently SF MOMA.”

What is your history with Compton’s Cafeteria Riot?

“As a teenager I came to SF from San Jose on a Greyhound bus to find a queer life.Too young to go to bars I came upon an all night diner: Compton’s . That was my first time seeing beautiful woman who I later learned were born male. They were transgender sex workers. They took me in as a friend and I heard their stories. They treated me like their little brother. That’s how I saw that they were wonderful souls who were merely attempting an authentic life. I left them knowing I was not brave enough to do the same . I believe a divine power put me there so I could tell their stories now.

I co wrote the play Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and it was produced in 2018 and performed in a diner to sold out audiences.

We are now creating our own diner in the Tenderloin at Larkin St down from Geary st. We plan to begin the run in January 2024.”

Where can people see you perform as Donna Personna?

“I am very much a drag performer still. I perform drag shows at Aunt Charlie’s most weekends. I also perform with ‘Banda Sin Nombre’, doing drag numbers , dancing and singing with the band.We will perform and appear at Salesforce on June 17 from 3pm to 6 pm at the park at the top there as a park of their Pride programming.”

Donna Personna dances her way off stage – Photo by Vita Hewitt

Learn more abut Donna Personna:

IG: @donnapersonna

Donna the film:

Banda Sin Nombre on Facebook:
Sales Force Park will be featuring her and Banda Sin Nombre in a show one June 17th


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Vita Hewitt

Vita Hewitt

Vita is a half Chinese-Malaysian, photograph taking, plant foraging, vegetable garden growing, astronaut impersonating, conceptual art creating Bay Area human. She loves exploring the intricacies of the Bay Area Art Scene.