Bebe Sweetbriar is ready to entertain you now.
Most Monday evenings at Toad Hall, a bar in the Castro, Sweetbriar hosts a viewing party of RuPaul’s Drag Race Show. But on this night, it was a celebration for her upcoming birthday.
Like the lipstick worn on her lips, M-A-C Viva Glam Matte Red lighting illuminate the venue as she walks on the eight-foot stage in a glittery, black head-to-toe ensemble. She begins to boogie around the place in the “Dreamgirls” rendition of “One Night Only,” engaging the crowd as they dance and sing-a-long with her.
Beneath the wig, makeup, and costume, Sweetbriar’s real name is Kevin Lee Junious, a drag performer and activist, originally from Sacramento but now living in the Mission District, who is well known in the San Francisco gay community for using his Sweetbriar brand everywhere he can.
“Bebe Sweetbriar was literally born in church,” said Junious. “It was purely by accident.”
Junious attends Saint Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Diamond Heights that had an annual music production called Dymphna, named after the Christian saint, in 2006. The show was “Dymphna Idol,” inspired by American Idol, and the director, Matt Gray, wanted a drag queen.
Junious said no one wanted to play the part, so he volunteered with no prior experience performing.
He took on the role as a drag queen contestant and created his name from an episode of “Will and Grace.”
“I was watching the show and there was an episode about how porn stars get their name,” said Junious. “Bebe was the name of my first dog. Sweetbriar is the first street I grew up on that I can remember.”
Junious debuted Bebe Sweetbriar with a lip sync version of Whitney Houston.
“It was a hit,” said Tommy Dillon, a pastor at Saint Aidan’s. “The church has given birth to a Drag Queen.”
After “Dymphna Idol,” Junious began receiving requests from people that saw the premiere of Sweetbriar.
“People could not believe I hadn’t done it before,” said Junious.
He resigned from his job as a regional manager at a real estate management company to pursue drag full time.
Sweetbriar elevated in the course of nine months, winning the Ms. Gay San Francisco Pageant and the Ms. Desperate Diva Pageant in 2007.
“He has given his life and left corporate America to take this risk to be an ambassador for the gay community,” said Father Dillon.
Junious said professional drag is an entertainer in costume.
He compares Sweetbriar to Ellen DeGeneres, an American comedian, television host, actress, writer, and producer.
“She’s funny, I try to be funny as a host as well. She hosted the Oscars, I have hosted events. She’s been in movies, I’ve been in movies. She does a talk show, I have a podcast,” said Junious. “I just happen to be in costume all the time.”
Not only does Junious host at Toad Hall Monday evenings as Sweetbriar, he writes for “Left Magazine,” “Gloss Magazine,” and “Edge Media Network.”
“I want Bebe to be thought of as a well rounded personality that can be called upon to do anything,” said Junious. “For me that do this as a living, you can’t sit there and wait for people to contact you about opportunities. You have to create them for yourself.”
Among the many things Junious does with his brand, his two daughters see him as their father first.
“I thought it was really cool,” said Cydney Junious, a 22-year-old receptionist at 24 Hour Fitness in Sacramento, about her father becoming a drag queen when she was about 12 years old. “At that age I was already accustomed to the Bay Area and San Francisco lifestyle so it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. I just hadn’t seen it on my father.”
“I’m supportive, period. But it’s something you have to get use to,” said Alessandra Junious, a 26-year-old call center agent in Austin, Texas. “It was interesting to see what he had in his closet. It was fun to play around with the wigs, purses, and dresses.”
Junious’s daughters said geographic distance make it difficult to see their father on a regular basis, but they feel close to him.
“He and I have an open relationship,” said Alessandra. “I can’t be any more proud of him as a person being comfortable in his own skin, living his life, and doing things that help with the advancement of others.”
“Me and my dad have this bond that is unbreakable,” said Cydney. “Whenever I have a problem or a business question, I pick up the phone and call my dad. He is Bebe but he is 100 percent my father at the end of the day.”