RuPaul’s Drag Race has broken a lot of boundaries, but it still has one major first to go: crown a transgender queen its winner.
And Brooklyn-based competitor Peppermint hopes to be the one to take home that her-storic win.
Peppermint has had a roller coaster ride from week to week, but she’s excited that “dinner is being served” in terms of her trans representation on the show, as well as in culture in general — even in the midst of an anxiety-inducing political climate for all minorities.
“A lot of what’s happening today with minorities [is where] we can draw on the past,” she told PEOPLE at a recent event for Logo’s Fire Island. “I think we’ve learned our lessons, so we can do things a little smarter and we can get to solutions a lot quicker. And so I’m thankful for that. Even though there’s a lot of work left to be done, I’m very, very optimistic that it’ll be finished in my lifetime.”
Case in point: Peppermint is choosing to look at the bright side of the recent moment when Survivor competitor Zeke Smith was recently cruelly outed as transgender by fellow castaway Jeff Varner during a tribal council.
“It’s very rare for me to be affected [like I was by that moment]. And I was in deep,” she shared. “That moment was a first in so many regards.”
“But,” she said, “by the same token, very quickly, I really wanted them to move to a sense of forgiveness. I’m really invested in how LGTBQIA+, but specifically how transgender people are represented in everyday media. Yeah, there’s a lot of PSAs, there’s a commercials, there’s those token moments — but this was something that was so real and raw and very visceral.”
She continues, “For Zeke, it’s something horrible, but for the rest of the world it’s such an opportunity for all of those people who are Survivor fans in places like North Carolina who do not think we should have the rights we deserve. So this is the opportunity, and I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to kind of capitalize on that — at least have a silver lining.”
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One who seems always able to find a silver lining, Peppermint previously opened up on Drag Race about the sense of love and community she unexpectedly found after surviving a violent attack in high school. After the episode aired, “A lot of people reached out in support and solidarity,” she reported. “Sadly, stories like that are not as unique and rare as we would like them to be, but I’m happy to hear that this is not necessarily as common for younger people, so maybe it’s not as common today as it was 20 years ago.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Fridays (8 p.m. ET) on VH1.