In what only last year was seen as a far-fetched proposition by a handful of conservative lawmakers, the effort to limit drag, a centuries-old art form that has deep roots in the queer community, has gained significant traction in recent years. months. Republican lawmakers in at least 19 states have proposed measures this year to restrict where and in front of whom drag performances can take place, and the governors of at least three states have signed such bills into law.
Most of the bills proposed this year aim to ban children from watching drag performances, though most drag shows take place in nightclubs and bars that already ban anyone under 21 from attending.
Supporters say the legislation is necessary to safeguard children against exposure to inappropriate entertainment, while critics argue that the measures generally paint drag as overtly sexual and unfairly target performers.
So far, only three states — Tennessee, Florida and Montana — have enacted the measures.
Tennessee was the first, in March. His law prohibits “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in places where minors may view it. It calls for first-time offenders to be slapped with misdemeanors, and subsequent offenders could receive prison sentences of up to six years.
A federal judge temporarily halted the law on March 31, hours before it was supposed to take effect. On Saturday, the same judge declared the law unconstitutional. Organizers in the state are preparing to comply with the new regulations, regardless.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation last month, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, that would ban dragging in the presence of minors. Although the bill does not mention gender “drag” or “impersonation,” DeSantis said at the bill’s signing ceremony that his intent was to limit drag.
Montana’s law is unique in that it specifically “prohibits drag story time in publicly funded schools and libraries” in addition to prohibiting the art form in front of minors.
‘The most difficult choice’
With what once started as heated protests, LGBTQ Pride Month celebrations have become, for the most part, family-friendly celebrations in recent decades. But in the face of dragging bills, that new and largely welcome reality has become a headache for Pride organizers this year.
Before Florida law was signed, organizers of Naples Pride announced in march that they would move their drag performances to an indoor adults-only venue.
The Naples City Council approved a permit for the group to hold the city festival in a public park in March, as it had done since 2017. But Callhan Soldavini, a Naples Pride board member, said the City Council later used a procedural mechanism to review the issue, prompting organizers to limit drag performances to adults only and move shows indoors.
Soldavini said the move was “the most difficult decision” the group had ever made, but that he wanted to “live to fight another day.”
“That did not happen without its fair share of tears and passionate discussions for several hours that lasted late into the night,” Soldavini said. “It’s been a very different year, to say the least, of Pride planning.”
Meanwhile, about 100 miles east of Naples, advocates hosting the annual Pride festival at Wilton Manors, an LGBTQ enclave just north of Fort Lauderdale, will require all parade participants to adhere to a “minimum dress code.” said Jeffrey Sterling, the CEO of Wilton Manors Entertainment Group, the nonprofit organization that produces the city’s annual Pride celebration.
Sterling said the group hasn’t released its dress code yet, but said it will require coverings for artificial breasts and an “amount of male covering” for male participants. Parade spectators will not have to comply with the code.
“Is it true that you could take less clothes to the beach? Absolutely,” Sterling said. “But the problem is that we know what the governor is looking for.”
Sterling added that while he doesn’t expect the day to go smoothly, canceling the event has never been an option.
“What about all the people, their sense of safety and security, when people like us and the bars and the city aren’t even willing to stand up for them?” Sterling asked. “What message are we telling all gay people in Broward County about how they should feel about themselves when the state is doing such a good job of making them feel like criminals for who they are?”
Not all activists agree.
Organizers in St. Cloud, a small town about 30 minutes south of Orlando, announced last month that they were canceling their annual Pride celebration, saying that hosting the celebration in the current political environment would “put our community at risk.”
Several states and an entire time zone away, organizers in Knoxville also announced they were canceling their annual parade in response to the passage of Tennessee’s drag law. Instead, and regardless of the fact that the law was repealed on Saturday, the activists will stage a protest.
“People should still be proud, but it’s less festive,” said Nathan Higdon, Knoxville Pride’s chief financial officer. “It will be a march. We continue to fight for our rights.”
Alan Nelson, executive director of the LGBTQ+ Community Center of Western Montana, which hosts Missoula’s annual Pride celebration, said that while the group’s festival won’t violate the new anti-drag law, he worries it could attract emboldened protesters.
Nelson said his group increased its security budget by about $20,000 in recent weeks. The group’s security apparatus will include contract police and private security companies.
“I’ve lived in Montana my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, frankly,” Nelson said.
200 miles away in Bozeman, Montana, a group of protesters reportedly disrupted the city’s annual Pride event last month, carrying signs promoting white supremacy and condemning the LGBTQ community.
The wave of anti-drag laws has even had a chilling effect on states that don’t have drag bans, or at least bans that explicitly restrict the art form.
Northwest Arkansas Equality, the organizers of the annual Northwest Arkansas Pride weekend in late June, announced last month that they would not hold events at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville as planned because the center prohibited the group from having performances. drag or drag storytelling events. in front of minors.
“No law or written Walton Arts Center policy prevents NWA Equality from hosting its full range of NWA Pride programming at this location, including drag performances attended by youth,” the group said in a statement at the time. “This decision is surprising, disappointing and inconsistent.”
While no Arkansas law restricts drag performances, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill in February to restrict “adult-oriented” performances. The law, which takes effect at the end of July, was originally targeted at drag performances but was changed after complaints that it discriminated against LGBTQ people.
At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, a state where lawmakers have not proposed any bills seeking to restrict dragging, Defense Department leaders canceled a dragging show that had been scheduled last week to celebrate Pride Month. Conservative politicians and pundits argued that taxpayers’ money should not be spent on such performances.
“Hosting these types of events at federally funded facilities is not an appropriate use of DOD resources,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement last week.
In addition to a wave of bills targeting drag performances, there has also been a rise in protests and threats against the art form. From early 2022 through March of this year, more than 166 significant protests and threats aimed at dragging out events across the US, according to the report by the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD.