Amidst the banning of gender-affirming healthcare, US states are also trying to ban drag as a whole. This staple part of LGBTQ+ culture is under attack. Tennessee becomes the first US state to ban drag performers, such as drag queens and kings, from performing in public.
Drag performers are under Attack
In January 2023, Arizona Republicans kicked off the year with three separate bills criminalising aspects of drag performances. The Senate Bill 1026 would ban people from receiving state funds for drag shows ‘targeting minors’. The other two bills further limit drag shows. Lawmakers will prohibit ‘adult cabaret’ performances in public or in locations where a minor can view them.
Moreover, the state will classify all venues where drag queens and kings perform as ‘adult oriented businesses’. This means that drag venues cannot be located near schools, playgrounds, or even places of worship. The government in Arizona is trying to ban drag shows for children.
Whether these bills are going to become laws or not, the damage has already been done. Conservative politicians are using irrational and uneducated fears to persuade the population into a false narrative. Drag performers, almost all of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community, are not a threat to kids.
Tennessee bans Drag performers in public
In February 2023, Tennessee officially became the first US state to ban drag shows. Tennessee’s Senate Bill 3 was first introduced in November 2022. This new law could also impact future Pride events. Republican state senate Jack Johnson expressed his satisfaction with the bill. He said this new law ‘gives confidence to parents that they can take their kids to a public or private show and will not be blindsided by a sexualised performance’.
Unsurprisingly, in March 2023, the Republican Governor Bill Lee signed the anti-drag bill into law. Meaning that drag artists officially cannot perform in any public setting that could be accessed by a minor. Any ‘adult oriented business’ needs to operate at least 1,000 feet away from schools, public parks, playgrounds, and any place of worship.
Under Tennessee’s new bill, the state will treat a first offence as a misdemeanour, but a second offence would count as a felony. However, the language used in this bill is very broad. It refers to drag as ‘adult cabaret’ and drag performers as ‘male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest’. The broad language can potentially lead to gender non-conforming people being banned from publicly expressing themselves.
Support from Allies
Drag queens such as RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinx have spoken out against this ban. They sadly stated that they ‘had more faith’. However, the conservative right has increasingly gained more popularity regarding queer and trans issues. Now, we are left ‘fighting an uphill battle’.
On a more positive note, a group of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters have shown up in support of drag performers. Protesters as well as far right wing groups have targeted drag shows. Recently, neo-Nazis were among the hundreds of protesters at a drag queen story hour in Ohio.
These threats lead to LGBTQ+ friendly venues having to cancel drag shows. As a result, MMA fighters from the Ohio Valley MMA volunteered to work as security at the drag show. We need more allies to stand up for queer and trans rights. It is not enough to consume mainstream LGBTQ+ media, such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you do not stand up for all LGBTQ+ people, stop using our culture for your entertainment.
Meanwhile in the UK, people protested against a London pub’s drag show. However, hundreds came to support and defend the event. Right-wing group Turning Point UK rallied against The Honor Oak pub in Lewisham. Thankfully, allies of the community outnumbered them. These protests happened a couple weeks after a similar incident at the Tate Britain museum over a drag queen story hour event.
Why we still need Drag
Drag as an art form is vital to our society and so are drag performers. It is an exploration of gender identity. It allows us to express who we are and play with gender roles. Drag can become an extension of who you are, accessing a persona that you have longed to explore. It is a powerful tool in understanding yourself. Drag is not as cis and binary as a ‘man in a wig, dressed as a woman’. Drag is for all genders. However, many conservative politicians are framing it as a threat to children everywhere.
This narrative is false. It only serves to further their anti-LGBTQ+, more specifically anti-trans rhetoric. Most of these politicians have never even been to a drag show. They speak out of pure ignorance and lack of education. If they actually attended any drag performance they would realise that it is not a threat to anyone.
The Power of Drag
Drag can be life-saving. Many trans and gender diverse people do drag in order to express and explore their gender identity. Eureka O’Hara is a drag queen who came out as trans during the filming of We’re Here. She stated how filming the drag series inspired her to come out.
We’re Here is an educational and emotional reality television series that features RuPaul’s Drag Race performers Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and Shangela. They travel across the US and help individual residents put on a drag show in their local towns. The show consists of raw and unfiltered discussions on drag and other LGBTQ+ topics with many cis and heterosexual people who are willing to learn.
If we started to see queer and trans people as human beings, even for just one moment, we would see all the potential joy and beauty that could come out of it. Drag has existed since the 19th century. It is nothing new to dress up in what are traditionally seen as clothes of the opposite gender. However, conservatives have dragged drag into politics as part of their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
Why do conservatives view drag as a threat? The simplest answer is because of fear. They fear the potential drag can have on all of us. If we are allowed to explore our genders, power structures like the gender binary slowly start to crumble. Drag is a beacon of hope that one day we will erase the gender binary as a whole.
We are aware that this anti-trans political agendas affect our community. Therefore, we want you to know that we are here to help. If you feel particularly impacted by these news, please contact us or book a session with one of our counsellors. We are here for you.