In the United States, more anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in 2023 than in the last five years combined.
Last year, 162 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed with only 19 becoming law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently tracking 449 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including anti-drag legislation of which there are at least 36 bills in at least 16 GOP-led state legislatures.
How Did It Reach This Point?
A notable catalyst leading to this barrage of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation was the school shooting that took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 last year, massacring 19 children and two adults.
Rather than answering to the state’s and country’s desperate plea for gun law reform in the face of over 350 school shootings since 1999, over 600 mass shootings last year and with numbers steadily climbing this year, Republican State Representative Bryan Slaton instead chose to file legislation “protecting kids from drag shows and other inappropriate displays.”
two weeks after 19 kids were slaughtered in a texas elementary school, texas lawmakers are finally banning *checks notes* drag queens pic.twitter.com/31hEmhrCMW
— matt (@mattxiv) June 6, 2022
This distraction tactic from the deadly issue at hand was very successful. Horribly so.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel of their “family values” campaign, somehow Texan Republicans tapped into a yet unexploited strain of cisgender heteronormative panic, with other Republicans in most Red states following suit.
Look Over There!
Last month, Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed SB003 into law, officially criminalising drag performances in a vague and therefore vast definition, setting a dangerous precedent.
In response, Rupaul Charles, world famous American drag queen and producer, host and judge of the Emmy-award winning reality
TV show in his name, “Rupaul’s Drag Race,” that has swept the globe, condemned this “classic distraction technique” as shielding governmental ineptitude:
— RuPaul's Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) March 8, 2023
Although Tennessee’s law does not mention the word “drag,” it changes the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee to include “male or female impersonators” who are classed as “harmful to minors” alongside go-go dancers and strippers.
Drag performances may not be performed within 1,000 feet of any where a minor may be present.
Republican Governor Bill Lee, who signed the bill into law, would himself have been criminalised under its definition, as an old photo circulated of him online dressed in drag in a public arena at his high school.
Specifically referring to “prurience,” the bill and others like it proposed, such as HB 643 introduced in Texas, erroneously conflate straying from the gender binary with “sexually oriented business.”
A number of bills, including HB 643, define drag as “performing” as a gender other than that which is assigned at birth. This essentially targets trans people, non-binary people or any one outside of the cisgender binary who is a performer, be it in music, sports, theatre or public speaking.
“EVERYTHING IS ABOUT POWER”: @theebillyporter speaks out on the LGBTQ+ community being targeted in some states.
— The View (@TheView) March 25, 2023
“Save the Children”
In conjunction with the vocal anti-trans and alt-right groups targeting trans people, it is largely Christian groups who pushed for the overturning of Roe v. Wade who are driving the Republican anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
Remember: The ADF/Heritage Foundation, the same groups responsible for the Roe v Wade case against abortion today, gives money and coordinates with the anti-trans Women's Liberation Front and other UK TERF groups.
Remember that when you wonder which side stands up for women. pic.twitter.com/39YCI39bU1
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) December 1, 2021
UC Berkeley philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler exposes the irrational fear fuelling this agenda to CNN:
“There’s a fantasy going on that children are being indoctrinated … Parents and communities want to exercise forms of censorship to stop their children from knowing about how the world is being organized and how different people are living their lives.”
Yet, the fact of cultural and social diversity belies these groups behind this fresh wave of queer panic.
A prominent trigger for their faux-concern to “protect the children,” is the growing interest in Drag Queen Story Hours.
The intent of these programs is to improve child literacy and engage in age-appropriate imaginative play that transcends the gender binary with “unabashedly queer role models.”
Politicians also disingenuously paint the whole art form of drag, which is as diverse in range as any other, as inherently age-inappropriate.
By implying this is due to the artform’s LGBTQ+ roots, they are perpetuating a harmful, and unjustly sexualised stereotype of the community founded upon homophobia.
Bendelacreme, US drag queen, and two-time Rupaul’s Drag Race contestant makes it clear that queerness isn’t “contagious” nor is queer culture and drag dangerous; on the contrary, for her it was life-saving:
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) March 27, 2023
Some of the laws would also be very difficult to implement pragmatically, as they extend the “protection of children” into censoring such material as Shakespeare plays that feature cross-dressing characters, movies ranging from “Some Like It Hot” to the “Nutty Professor” and the inescapable ancient legacy of drag and gender-nonconformity spanning millennia.
Melissa McCarthy, an award-winning Hollywood actor is about to debut the iconic role of Ursula the seawitch, based on the legendary drag queen, Divine, in Disney’s live action film of The Little Mermaid.
Emphasising the hypocritical absurdity of these bills, she posted a grid of famous characters in drag from Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie and even Loonie Tunes on her Instagram framing the quote:
“You’ve been entertained by drag your whole life, don’t pretend it is a problem now.”
Nevertheless, this hasn’t deterred the efforts of the Republicans so far.
This last Christmas, the administration of Florida Governor Desantis moved to revoke the liquor licence of a Miami hotel for holding a Christmas-themed drag show inclusive to children, citing a bigoted 1947 state Supreme Court case.
Florida drag queens compare these laws and actions targeting the livelihoods of marginalised communities to tactics employed by Nazis in the 1930s:
“It’s fascism, it’s complete and total, unregulated, fascism,” says drag performer Mr Ms Adrien.
However, drag queens are standing against the tide of political extremism.
Rupaul’s Drag Race winners and queer icons are uniting to make a “high-heeled stand” against anti-drag politics with a high-profile telethon.
“The only place where men in dresses sexualize children is church,” says US drag queen and two-time Rupaul’s Drag Race contestant and winner, Trixie Mattel.
The Fascist Dog Whistle
The fascist tactics built into these laws are by no means coincidental. The politicians rely not only on law enforcement, but also on alt-right extremist vigilante groups to “understand” their ideological subtext and implement them.
In September of last year, a group of neo-Nazis decked out in swastika paraphernalia, gathered near a restaurant hosting a drag brunch in Pflugerville, Texas, holding signs reading: “Transvestite is not a Gender; it is a Mental Disorder” and “It’s Okay to be White.”
Their presence was reportedly in response to the Texas GOP Twitter account “alert” to the event, posted to their 71,000 followers two days prior.
ALERT: All ages drag show coming up in Pflugerville this weekend! Not only will children be exposed to overtly sexual activities but the event is advertised with alcohol sales. https://t.co/jx75cJ7Lhr #txlege cc: @Glenn_Hegar @txcomptroller pic.twitter.com/iu5gU6vQYd
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) September 16, 2022
As well as Nazis, regulars among these protesters are also the Proud Boys, described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism” who allegedly stormed the Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in favour of former US President Donald Trump.
The accumulation of these laws and the rampant media coverage that the subject of drag is garnering (especially on right-wing news channels), is, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), correlative to the increase of threats, protests and violent action against drag events nationwide.
GLAAD found 141 incidents in 2022 of anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting drag events, with the trajectory set to soar this year, as more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is proposed and passed.
In addition to this, Texan Republicans have proposed a new bill known as the “drag bounty hunter bill” that echoes the sanctioned vigilante bills passed (lead by Texas) that enabled civilians to police abortion, after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
This bill likewise encourages civilians to sue anyone who performs or hosts a drag performance in the presence of a minor, incentivised by a monetary award of up to $5,000 in “damages.”
A Burgeoning Dystopia
On the same day that Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the drag ban into law, he also passed SB001, which criminalises gender-affirming care for trans youth, defining treatment as child abuse.
Black trans women account for nearly three-quarters of the known victims despite Black people estimated to make up only 13% of the transgender community in the US.
These fatal numbers are shown to be correlative to the state legislatures passing a record number of anti-trans bills that are still rapidly growing.
There are now 47 states that have introduced 492 anti-trans bills, a 2,489% increase since 2015, of which over 110 look to restrict or ban gender-affirming care that studies have shown to be life saving.
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Despite this, a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors in Florida has been amended to mandate that physicians who provide this care face a third-degree felony.
The legislation would also affect custody disputes, classifying gender-affirming care as “serious physical harm,” allowing a parent to violate a custody order.
In addition, Floridian lawmakers have submitted SB 254 which allows the state to seize custody of Floridian children in and outside of state boundaries who they deem “at risk” of “being subjected” to gender-affirming care.
“I think that’s important, just to note how brazen the language has become — it’s genocidal rhetoric.”
Because of this, supportive parents of trans children are now having to flee the state to refugee states such as that which has been established in Minnesota:
This is massive.
Gov Tim Walz has just made Minnesota a trans refugee state with an EO!
He will decline extradition requests.
He will refuse subpoenas.
No resource can be used to enforce bans.
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) March 9, 2023
Desantis: Future President of the United States?
Florida has been the pioneer of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, best known for its unfamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill that censors LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom, signed into law last year by Ron Desantis, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination rivalling Trump.
The law is now expanding into the ninth grade, as voted through last Friday, with students and teachers being forced to misgender and deadname students who do not identify with the gender or sex assigned at their birth. They would also be forcibly outed to their parents.
The anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is even carrying into higher education, expanding into white supremacy as Desantis signed the “Individual Freedom Act,” more commonly known as the “Stop-Woke Act.”
The act prohibits educational institutions and businesses from teaching anything that might elicit “guilt” such as critical race theory or queer theory.
Unaware or in deliberate ignorance of the tragic irony, Desantis states: “We want education, not indoctrination.”
The spokesperson for Florida Governor Desantis, Christina Pushaw called “Don’t Say Gay” the “anti-grooming bill,” peddling the malicious and false conspiracy theory of the sexual deviance of the LGBTQ+ community.
These bills and accompanying rhetoric recycle Anita Bryant’s bigoted 1977 “Save Our Children” campaign in Florida, which villainised LBGTQ+ people, arguing “homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks, they must recruit the youth of America.”
Concerningly, Desantis is thought to be leveraging this fear for his presidential campaign. As Brandon Wolf, press secretary for the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, put it:
“Everything he does is about what can further his own career ambitions … it’s clear he sees the anti-LGBTQ movement as his vehicle to get him where he wants to go.”
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Williams Institute survey finds that more than half of LGBTQ+ parents considered moving out of Florida because of “Don’t Say Gay.”
Further indicating this trajectory of an American dystopia, a disturbing development has also emerged in the state of Kansas.
Yesterday Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a transgender student athlete ban was overridden, officially making Kansas the 20th state to ban transgender student athletes.
Children are required to participate in school activities according to the gender assigned to them at birth.
The horrifying details of this ban, however, cite the requirement of children to undergo genital inspections in cases of dispute.
Concerns have been expressed not only regarding the violation of the bodily autonomy and well being of children, but also the dangers of further weakening child protection in a dynamic that already has notable problems with child abuse.
This is what I mean when I say the accusations of child grooming from transphobes is complete & utter projection https://t.co/4qjLaBDE7V
— Strewth 🏳️⚧️🏳️🌈🍅 (@StrewthQueen) April 6, 2023
In a surprising turn of event that took place on Trans Visibility Day (March 31) in response to a lawsuit filed, a judge, appointed by Donald Trump whilst in office, blocked the Tennessee’s law restricting drag performances that was due to come into effect on April 1, calling it “vague and overly-broad,” also acknowledging how it clashes with First Amendment rights.
The plaintiffs released a statement citing a victory for LGBTQ+ rights.
FOG is dedicated to championing the freedom of expression for not only ourselves but for everyone across TN We stand in solidarity with all drag performers, the LGBTQIA+ community & our allies as we continue the fight for justice self-expression & the pursuit of happiness pic.twitter.com/4b1IBHBfWk
— Friends of George's (@GeorgesShowtime) April 1, 2023
Further, a judge in Texas has overturned a ban prohibiting books containing LGBTQ+ and racial content from public libraries, according with the plaintiffs’ claims that their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated in the books’ removal.
Despite these wins, there is still concern that if taken to the Supreme Court, these anti-LGBTQ+ bills may hold up with the judicial make-up of the Supreme Court now right-wing leaning and having already reversed what were thought to be protected human rights, with threats to reconsider more, including marriage equality.
However, against this slew of fascist legislation and rhetoric, the LGBTQ+ community and their allies stand strong in protest and freedom of expression and are not looking to back down any time soon.
Today, the FL House will vote on a bill to expand Don’t Say LGBTQ, ban parents from telling schools how their child should be addressed, & allow anyone anywhere to challenge a book in FL’s schools.
Outside, hundreds of students from across the state are arriving to protest. pic.twitter.com/G8wSwgjhDd
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) March 31, 2023
Editor’s note: This article has been updated on April 6, 2023, to include the recent development of Kansas lawmakers overriding a governor’s veto on a bill to check the genitals of kids playing sports.
The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Protest of the Religious Discrimination Bill by LGBTQI+ Activists in Sydney, Australia (Feb 12, 2022). Featured Photo Credit: Nikolas Gannon.