REPUBLICAN STATES TARGET DRAG PERFORMERS
A number of bills targeting drag performers are popping up in majority-Republican states across the nation.
At least 14 states have introduced bills that would restrict drag queens from performing in public spaces and in venues viewable by minors. Some of the proposed legislation would require venues that host drag events to register as “adult-oriented businesses.”
These bills are the latest legislative attempts targeting LGBTQ rights, particularly transgender rights. Other proposed legislation across the country includes access to genderaffirming health care and banning kids from being able to play gender-affirming sports.
Shawn Stokes, a drag queen who performs as Akasha Royale and is based in St. Louis, said he’s “embarrassed” these bills have been introduced in his home state and across the country.
“We have plenty of other things to do. We have a failing educational system,” he said. “We are just wasting a lot of time.”
In Missouri, legislators are considering several bills, including one described as changing “the definition of a sexually oriented business to include any nightclub or bar that provides drag performances.” Another bill would classify “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” as adult cabaret performances. Performances on public property or viewed by minors could result in a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a hefty fine.
Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has endorsed a similar bill in her state.
In Tennessee, a bill would classify “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” as adult cabaret performances and would ban performances on public property. Shows would also be banned where minors could be present.
A rural county in Tennessee has already approved regulations on drag performances — the Giles County Agri-Park Board Committee passed a slew of restrictions in early January, including banning “male or female impersonators” from the park, the Tennessean reported.
Steven Raimo, a Nashville-based drag queen who performs as Veronika Electronika, said legislators are trying to “eliminate the art of drag.”
“They want to put fear in entertainers,” Raimo said.
Raimo predicts venues will stop hosting drag performers because of the risk of retribution.
“One of the restaurants that I do our brunch and bingo show has big glass windows that look onto a public street,” he said. “I could potentially be arrested in violation of this law because anybody of any age could walk past the windows and see the show.”
Raimo added he would be much more careful in choosing where he performs because of the ambiguity of the bill as it stands.
And it’s likely the bill will pass in Tennessee, according to Kathy Sinback, the executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill Feb. 9, and the state House of Representatives also has a companion bill in motion that would require drag performers to obtain a permit.
“It is moving so quickly,” Sinback said. “These [anti-drag bills] are their top priorities this session.”
Because of the vagueness of the bills and classifying drag performers as “male or female impersonators,” advocates fear this proposed legislation could attack transgender people.
“This is in fact a transphobic bill, even more so than it is a drag-phobic bill,” Raimo said. “It’s a very important piece of this story that I don’t want to be lost.”
Trans people in Tennessee could be viewed as “male or female impersonators” by law enforcement because people cannot change the gender marker on their birth certificate, Raimo said.
“So, if someone’s singing karaoke in the bar, and they do a little twerking, maybe that’s harmful to minors all of a sudden. It can be interpreted so broadly,” Sinback said.
The Arizona Senate is considering legislation that would prohibit federal or state funds from being allocated to places where drag shows are hosted. Another bill, similar to those in Tennessee and Missouri, would classify drag as “adult cabaret performances,” and would ban shows on public property.
It’s unlikely the bills will be passed into law in Arizona given Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is in power, according to Richard Stevens, a Phoenix-based drag queen who performs as Barbra Seville. But still, “even if it’s not made into law, damage has been done,” he said.
“Their mission in a lot of ways is accomplished,” Stevens explained. “They’ve now connected grooming and pedophilia and attacks on children to drag. People who weren’t thinking about drag a year ago are now paranoid of drag.”
Stevens was once friends with Kari Lake, a Republican who continue to claim she won last November’s Arizona’s gubernatorial election. Stevens subsequently became a vocal Lake critic after she criticized drag queens and claimed they are “grooming” children.
The classification of drag performances as “sexual” is also an archaic perspective, Stokes said.
“This narrative that drag queens are predators or groomers is absolutely false,” Stokes said. “Going to a drag show with your kid in a public place is no different than taking your 12-year-old kid to a PG-13 movie.”
“It’s 100 percent fearmongering. demonization,” Stevens said.
This is a common thread in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric — the false narrative that all LGBTQ people are out to get children, said Misty Eyez, the director of the women’s program and transgender services, and the manager of LGBTQ competency training at SunServe, an LGBTQ services organization based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
“It’s not a new story that LGBTQ individuals are stereotyped as … a threat to traditional values or morality,” she said.