Drag the Legislature; the Right Targets Drag Performers

Words by Josue Ramirez

Edited by Abigail Vela

The art form of Drag and its place in the history of our community is important. Drag can be so much; entertainment, educational, political, a form of gender expression, and an artistic celebration of one’s community. There are many types of drag, and contrary to what many conservatives believe, drag is not inherently sexual. Despite this, the anti-drag fervor that the right is using as their next political target has already been pushed into law in some states. At the Texas State Capitol, legislation regarding drag performance has been introduced, and miles away at home in the Rio Grande Valley anti-drag sentiments have shown up in insidious and dangerous ways. 

Legislay

Tennessee has become the starting point for the legislative attacks against drag. A bill passed in Tennessee on March 22nd restricts “adult cabaret performances” in public or in the presence of children and bans them from occurring within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, or places of worship.” An additional nine states, including the Lonestar State, have introduced broad anti-LGBTQIA+ bills restricting drag performances.

Colorful Instagram feed tracking “Good Bills” and “Bad Bills” on LGBTQIA+ issues.
Equality Texas’ Instagram feed brings awareness to LGBTQIA+ legislation— courtesy of Equality Texas’ Instagram.

In Texas, advocacy organizations like Equality Texas are keeping an eye on the 2023 Legislative Session. They have a list of Good and Bad Bills around LGBTQI+ issues, with a total bill count of 142 Good Bills and 140 Bad Bills. A slew of the bad bills’ purpose is to police businesses and “punish small businesses for creating safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.” 

As reported by the Texas Tribune, HB 1266 by Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, would broaden the definition of sexually oriented businesses to include establishments that allow performers to wear clothes or makeup that exhibit a “gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth.” 

This would impact all spaces that host drag and theatrical performances by imposing additional taxes, fees, and restrictions. Moreover, the law would ultimately label drag as something that is sexual in nature and, therefore, at the surface level and in the eyes of conservatives— something that is bad.

However, men dressed as women for entertainment only seems to be a problem if queer and trans people are the ones in the dress. Schatzline is shown in a video from his past where he donned a “little black dress” and ran around with his scene mates. Ironically the representative’s performance would be considered drag since he was “wearing a dress for entertainment purposes.” 

Ultimately it is not about protecting children but continuing to limit self-expression and demonize queer and trans bodies. These attacks against the LGBTQIA+ community are not just in the halls of the Capitol but in our communities. While homophobia and transphobia have always been present, these values are presently being fomented by zealots and right wing strategists.

Under attack in the RGV

On February 19, 2023, South Texas Equality Project (STEP), a Rio Grande Valley-based LGBTQIA+ advocacy coalition, hosted a PRIDE event at the Landmark in Alamo, Texas, called Amor es Amor

The event’s goal was to “create an all-ages, inclusive space for members of the LGBTQ+ community, to promote visibility, and provide an opportunity for attendees to learn more about and connect to local resources.” It included a resource fair featuring local organizations, fundraisers for LGBTQ+ scholarships awarded annually, and a drag show.


Pink event flyer with large red text that reads “Amor es Amor” and 4 individual images of RGV drag queens.. Additional pink text showcases activities.
Amor es Amor event flyer courtesy of STEP’s Facebook.

The festivities, which were open to the public, attracted a person who, according to a statement by STEP, “ was going up to children and filming them without parental or child consent.” According to the organization, the individual also “filmed the drag performers in a manner where he repeatedly got close to the lower parts of their bodies.” 

After several complaints to the venue, the individual was escorted out. The harassment, however, did not stop as the individual took to social media to spread the false narratives through the pages “RGV Truth” and “Citizens Against Sexualization of Children” (CASC). 

According to STEP, a doctored video was created to give the impression that a clothed performer was exposing their genitals, which did not happen. Despite this, the footage and event are being used to spew hate against the organization and the LGBTQIA+ community. It is also spawning organizing efforts by conservatives sharing with larger networks and assembling at municipal, county, and school board meetings for public comments. 

STEP has seen this firsthand. It was partly the reason for the statement released through their Facebook page on March 15th, which “[addressed] some of

the misinformation and fabricated lies being spread online and to city and school boards.”

In addition, LGBTQIA+ advocates showed up to the City of Alamo City Council to counter their damaging misrepresentation by members of those groups.

Despite the situation, STEP remains committed to supporting and protecting the LGBTQ+ community of South Texas. As a community, we need to recognize that these attacks on drag and the queer and trans communities, in general, are fueled by fear, misinformation, and by relatively few. 

We must stand with STEP, the queer community, and drag performers against legislative and political persecution. Lawmakers and representatives at all levels should see these attacks as they are and not give into the public antics and political circus of conservative zealots. 


Support STEP with a
donation here. 


Support Drag Performers and the ACLU in their fight against harmful legislation
here.  



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