‘Ban on Drag’ Bills threaten LGBTQ+ Rights

Cassandra Hagen, staff writer

Recently, there have been various controversial and contentious “Ban on Drag” Bills that are being proposed in a variety of states across the U.S. These bills are under a copious amount of scrutiny as many of them come closer to passing into law.

These bills intend to prohibit, restrict or outrightly ban drag performances done in the presence of children. Republican supporters state the intent of these bills is for the protection of children, elaborating that drag shows stand as inappropriate. In addition, some strong backers of the bills claim that drag performances are a threat to children and expose them to sexual themes and imagery that are inappropriate. 

These bills surrounding banning or restricting drag performances in 11 states are currently working their way through the legislature, including states such as Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Carolina, West Virginia and Texas. 

All-age appropriate drag performances are becoming more common, such as drag brunch performances and Drag Library Hour for children. Push back from LGBTQIA+ advocates and drag performers all over the country stated that these bills do not intend to protect children, as reported by CNN. After years of positive public perception of drag performers and the trans community growing, these legislative efforts have inspired a strong reaction from both political parties.

Most recently, a bill passed in Tennessee on Feb. 23 prohibiting “adult-oriented” entertainment on public property and limiting it to age-restricted venues only. The bill defines “male and female impersonators” as adult cabaret performers and outright bans “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors,” as defined in Tennessee’s obscenity law. The bill broadly defines drags shows as anyone who is dressed in clothing that is associated with the gender they were not assigned at birth, bringing up a multitude of concerns regarding the implication and enforcement of this legislation in the future. 

Alongside this, the day following the state’s new drag ban, Tennessee lawmakers passed another bill that banned gender affirming care for trans youth. USA Today reports that this bill bans any medical access for gender affirming care for people under the age of 18 and is requiring anyone currently receiving medical treatment to stop by March 2024. 

The distinct effects of this bill will directly affect the futures and livelihoods of drag performers and LGBTQ+ individuals in Tennessee. However, CNN reports that conservatives claim that drag shows can inadvertently affect the well-being and mental health of children. Arkansas Republican Senator Gary Stubblefield said during floor remarks in January, “When you take one of these little kids and put them in front of drag queens that are men dressed like women, do you think that helps them or confuses them in regard to their own gender?” Supporters of all-age drag shows contest this, however, as they can provide a crucial support system and network for LGBTQ children, and they can benefit from being introduced to gender identity and expression.

With the passage of the bills in Tennessee, LGBTQ+ advocates warn similar bills will continue to be signed into law in more states and be proposed by even more.