Advocates respond to backlash and legislative attacks targeting drag queens

Three days after the horrific mass shooting at a school in Ulvade, Texas took the lives of 19 children, Senator Marco Rubio bravely stepped up to take urgent action to protect our kids: he wrote a letter to an Air Force base in Germany opposing a Pride month event at which drag queens would read story books to families who chose to attend. Obviously, this is sarcasm, but Rubio’s letter really happened, and it perfectly illustrates the absurd, topsy-turvy world of U.S. politics in 2022: where lawmakers like Rubio step up anti-LGBTQ rhetoric while criticizing calls for reforms that would actually help protect children from an ever-increasing danger.

On Thursday, GLAAD posted a video interview with Drag Queen Story Hour board member and children’s book author Lil Miss Hot Mess, who was named in Rubio’s press release about the German base, even though she was not appearing, nor was the event hosted by her organization. While GLAAD’s interview with Lil Miss Hot Mess was recorded prior to Rubio’s actions, she responded to Rubio on Twitter, calling his comment “an attack…on the lives of LGBTQ+ people.”  The incident came exactly one year after Lil Miss Hot Mess was targeted by anti-LGBTQ activists for reading from her book on the PBS program Let’s Learn.

“There are LGBTQ+ people in every community—whether we are in drag, whether we’re reading at your library or not—we’re there,” Lil Miss Hot Mess told GLAAD’s Anthony Allen Ramos during the interview. “And kids have a right to understand and to learn about members of their community and the world around them.”

On social media, prominent drag queens such as RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars alum and Texas native Alyssa Edwards, weighed in.

Targeting drag performance is the latest extremist focus in a year where more than 225 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed around the country to ban evidence-based and lifesaving healthcare, LGBTQ and race-inclusive books, curriculum, and censoring classroom conversation.

In his May 27 letter to the Air Force and press release, Sen. Rubio inaccurately referred to drag queen story hours as “sexually charged content.” On June 4th, protesters harassed patrons attending an all-ages drag fundraiser for an LGBTQ youth organization at a Dallas gay bar. In response to viral footage of the protest, Texas Rep. Bryan Slaton announced he planned to introduce legislation banning minors from drag shows. On Monday, threats of violence led to the cancellation of a Drag Queen Story Hour at a Pride festival in North Carolina. The event was reinstated on Thursday after Equality North Carolina stepped in. Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini proposed legislation on Monday to charge parents with a felony and strip them of custody if they allowed their children to attend a drag show or reading. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference on Wednesday that he would explore using existing child protective statutes to fast-track a ban on minors watching drag queens. GLAAD is documenting Gov. DeSantis’ growing list of attacks and false rhetoric against LGBTQ people and youth in the GLAAD Accountability Project.

On Friday, Drag Queen Story Hour responded to the proposed legislation, in a joint statement with GLAAD and Transinclusive Group, which advocates to protect and defend equality for Transgender and LGBQ+ individuals in South Florida.

“DQSH provides age-appropriate programming, and we routinely receive praise from parents and educators who are delighted that we offer children safe spaces to express themselves and support one another,” read the Drag Queen Story Hour statement. “Any attempt to criminalize our work is rooted in tired homophobic and transphobic hate and misinformation, and we refuse to give in to politicians who are too bigoted and boring to comprehend our vision for a world in which every child can be safe fully expressing who they are.”

Tatiana Williams, executive director of Transinclusive Group, connected the latest legislative attacks with other Florida efforts to erase LGBTQ visibility like the notorious 'Don't Say Gay or Trans' law. 

"Banning drag shows out of a misguided fear that some youth might find a sense of connection with the LGBTQ+ community would be an invasion of parents’ rights to raise their children and support them as their authentic selves," Williams said.

These attacks—which quickly spurred legislation that could severely harm families—are fueled by misinformation and anti-LGBTQ hate. They follow a year in which anti-LGBTQ state legislators have worked overtime to ban LGBTQ books and subject matter from schools and ban access to lifesaving healthcare and school sports for transgender youth, all while ignoring serious existing threats to children. This week’s law proposed in Florida would criminalize not just LGBTQ families but any parent that thinks it’s OK for their child to sit on the floor of a library and listen with rapt attention while a drag queen reads to them from a picture book. Sabatini’s suggestion that the custody of parents should be terminated stems directly from Texas Governor Abbott’s directive to that state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to report on and investigate the parents of transgender youth for merely supporting their kids.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Zerlina Maxwell on Friday, actress, GLAAD board member and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Peppermint called the proposed legislation a “red herring” and a distraction strategy, pointing to gun violence as among the more pressing issues facing children and families in Texas and beyond. Peppermint also explained that drag has grown out of the LGBTQ subculture and is firmly a part of American pop culture that can’t be eradicated.

“Drag is very mainstream by now,” said Peppermint. “If you’re gonna try to shut down drag, you’re gonna have to do a lot more than go to your local gay bar. You’re gonna have to target pretty much every commercial, every television show, every brand product placement, all social media, because drag is everywhere. You’ve already lost the fight, darling.”

For media, please see the Drag Performance guidelines in GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide. An excerpt: "Today, drag performance is more popular than ever, and the term drag artist is being used to recognize that drag is an art form that is open to everyone. Transgender women, cisgender women, transgender men, and nonbinary people all perform as drag queens. Drag king shows have also existed for a long time, but without the mainstream visibility of drag queen shows. In drag king shows, performers dress in masculine drag and portray male characters."