Our People: Justin ‘J.’ Clapp

Drag Performer, Activist, Educator

Justin Clapp, more commonly known as J. Clapp, is the interim executive director at the LGBTQ Center of Durham in North Carolina. Clapp also holds two other positions: one as a director at Duke University in the university’s Office of Access and Outreach, and the other as founder and chair of Pride: Durham, NC.

With the help of their drag persona, Vivica C. Cox, Clapp spreads the word of love and acceptance through his performances and special guest appearances, as just this past June he appeared on an NPR show called “Reflections On What Makes This Pride Month So Significant” where show host Michel Martin, along with Clapp and other LGBTQ figureheads, discussed a number of topics related to this year’s Pride celebrations.

Can you tell me about your position at the center?

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As the executive director of the LGBTQ Center of Durham, I have the privilege of working with some of the smartest, most talented and caring individuals I have ever faced. Yes, I spend a lot of time making sure the center functions and giving it direction, but I often think this position changed my life. So, every day I work to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Durham and surrounding areas, I am actually improving my life. To know that our Host Home Program works to end homelessness or our Gender Resources, Advocacy, and Support Program (GRASP) will help people navigate the world makes me feel so proud of our team. We also run Pride and have made it more accessible and inclusive since taking it over in 2018. There’s much to be proud of.

Is there anything unique about Pride: Durham, NC that you feel might set it apart from other Pride festivals you’ve attended or been a part of in the past?

I believe Pride: Durham, NC really strives to be different in how we keep it community-focused and regional all at the same time. We have struck the balance between sponsorships and feeling like home. Additionally, we have prioritized trans people of color in our headlining artists. We are very proud of the turnout we get while continually fighting for liberation in the ways we can.

How has not being able to hold a traditional in-person Pride celebration affected you emotionally?

I am so sad about it! We have worked hard to reinvigorate Pride, center the needs of the most marginalized among us and have a long-standing presence. This year, our third year planning Pride, is just so much harder.

What inspired you to become a drag performer?

My community. I started doing drag in high school and my friends got tired of me being passionate about it and doing nothing about it. They looked at me and told me to get going or stop talking about it. I never knew someone could be so lovingly annoyed.

How did you decide on your stage name?

That is one of my favorite stories! I was asked to perform professionally, and I knew the name I had would not work for me and the new persona I was creating for my transition from amateur to professional. So, I sat down with a couple of friends while visiting Nashville, Tenn. and someone asked me the question: “Who is a celebrity you would want to emulate if you could?!” Immediately I knew Vivica A. Fox was the one and the name just came right to us! It’s perfect.

What was your first performance and what was it like?

My first performance as a professional was at the Pinhook in Durham, N.C., and was an opportunity to open for Manila Luzon from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I had not yet learned how to style a wig, do makeup, sew or anything, but I went up there and performed the best I could, and the crowd LOVED every moment of it. Oh, it was a good time. Manila gave me good advice, and also showed me that we have to be  professional no matter what. She had just experienced a tragedy and still showed up and showed out.

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Where are you from?

Roxboro, North Carolina in Person County! I actually grew up on the land where my ancestors worked during slavery.

What are some of the ways you use drag performances and/or events as a platform to promote social justice?

Social justice is part of who the House of Coxx is. We use it to dismantle rape culture and promote consent in all spaces. Additionally, our work is used to promote anti-racism and gender equality. Our art does the speaking. Naomi Dix and Stormie Daie have hosted a vigil for Black Lives Matter. I have worked with local non-profits to raise awareness around gender equality and housing supports. We just exist with a mindset of being in the community and know that we can only exist with the love of the community.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing outside of work and your drag career?

For me, being in the river in the summer and playing video games is just my absolute favorite. You will find me playing too much Overwatch. Additionally, I am reconnecting with my love of cooking during this pandemic. I also love reading and going on walks with friends, having deep conversations.

What’s your home life like? Married? Single? Dating? Children?

One could say I’m dating.

What’s your favorite color?

All of them? Honestly, I love the orange, rose gold, coral range of colors.

What’s your favorite food?

SUSHI.

If you were visited by a magic genie who promised to grant you one wish, what would it be?

For this country to stop putting barriers between people and their harmless happiness.

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