News (USA)

How anti-drag laws are impacting Pride celebrations across the country

Boise Pride, Kids Drag, child drag event, cancelled
Photo: Shutterstock

Bills making their way through state legislatures across the country aimed at banning drag performances are creating a climate of uncertainty as LGBTQ+ Pride month nears.

In March, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a bill severely restricting drag shows on public property, making the state the first in the U.S. to pass such a law. Republican lawmakers in Florida followed suit in late April, passing a similar drag ban that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to sign.

Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Tennessee law, but that has not stopped local authorities from pressuring performers not to include drag queen in their shows, as out pop star Hayley Kiyoko recently found out. Meanwhile, in Port St. Lucie, Florida, a local Pride organization has already been forced to cancel its parade in anticipation of DeSantis signing the state’s drag ban into law.

In all, more than a dozen states have introduced bills aimed at banning drag shows. As a result, the Associated Press reports, the organizers of Pride celebrations in mostly conservative states are under pressure to censor their events, in some cases “editing” acts or canceling drag performances altogether.

“As soon as this stuff started making its way, I immediately started coming out with plans to be able to counteract that,” Vanessa Rodley, an organizer with Memphis’s Mid-South Pride Fest, said. “Because, at the end of the day, we can’t put on an event that then segregates a huge portion of our community, right? We just can’t do that. So you have to find ways around it.”

With Tennessee’s law still on hold, Mid-South Pride has reportedly booked more than 50 drag performers, but organizers like Rodley have had to come up with contingency plans should the ban go into effect in the coming weeks. Performers will reportedly not change costumes onstage and will not accept tips from the audience during their shows.

U.S. Association of Prides co-president Ron deHarte said that Pride festival organizers have been “doing their homework” to try to navigate laws that are often vaguely worded, while also having a tougher time getting permits from local city councils.

In Franklin, Tennessee, organizers of a Pride event have opted not to include drag performers in order to get permits for their events. Drag performances at a Naples, Florida celebration will be held at an indoor venue due to safety concerns. In Hutchinson, Kansas, festival organizers had to find a new venue for their drag queen story hour after a local business owner posted a video calling the event “depraved.” And in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, a three-member select board determined that a drag show violated restrictions on “adult entertainment” before the American Civil Liberties Union got involved.

But the tide of anti-LGBTQ+ hostility is also galvanizing the community. “I think people want to really make it known that they back us and that we should feel safe and protected in our community,” said Kayla Bates, a founder of ELGbtq+, which puts on a community Pride festival in Elgin, Illinois.

New York City’s Pride festivities, some of the biggest and most prominent in the country, are putting the focus on the transgender community and drag queens.

“They’re attacking these people because they’re less likely to stand up and fight back,” said NYC Pride co-chairperson Sue Doster, “which is why it’s important that we all come together in solidarity and speak up when we see these injustices.”

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Trans lawmaker Zooey Zephyr proposes to journalist girlfriend at queer prom

Previous article

The lawyers & plaintiffs fighting for marriage equality in India have no plans to back down

Next article