Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Anti-drag legislation is an attack on the LGBTQ+ community

As multiple states begin to restrict drag performances, the rights and safety of transgender and nonbinary people are under attack
Justin Surgent/ Daily Collegian (2014)

Recently, at least 11 states threatened to restrict drag shows, which is an extension of the slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed within the past few years. Tennessee is among the most notorious in enacting oppressive anti-drag legislation within the last few weeks, and for its anti-trans laws.

There have been laws which restrict gender expression for centuries. One of the first was enacted in 1863 in San Francisco, where people were prohibited from being in public places if they were wearing clothes that were “different” from their assigned sex. Other laws like this became common in the late 19th century.

In 2022 alone, 29 out of 315 anti-LGTBQ bills were passed into law, with hundreds of others being introduced in state legislatures. Restricting drag shows and gender expression takes it a frightening step further, and The Guardian describes it as nearing “draconian restrictions.”

Tennessee has adopted 14 anti-LGBTQ bills since 2015, more than any other state according to Human Rights Campaign. Last week, a bill was passed in Tennessee that restricts “adult cabaret performances” in public or in front of children. The bill also specifies that the “performances” cannot happen within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks or places of worship.

Critics of this bill in Tennessee say the language is ambiguous, making business owners and performers wary of the extreme range of responses people will have. Despite little constitutional clarity, the punishments are significant. In the first offense of violating this law, people will face misdemeanor charges with fines up to $2,500 and/or up to a year in jail. Further violations could result in felony charges resulting in up to six years in jail.

This bill passed alongside anti-trans legislation which prohibits trans teens from accessing gender-affirming care. Anti-drag legislation hurts the LGBTQ+ community, although particularly transgender and nonbinary individuals. The bill in Tennessee states performances by “male or female impersonators” are prohibited, language which is both incredibly discriminatory and vague. This completely disregards transgender people, who are certainly not impersonators.

Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is prevalent in many environments today, and often extremist messages filled with falsities are pushed out. Stephen Miller, a former Donald Trump advisor, reportedly spent around $50 million on distributing anti-trans ads, many which spread misinformation about gender affirming care. The hate messages stigmatize and dehumanize LGBTQ+ people, emboldening conservative legislators to be vocal about their discriminatory beliefs and enact them into law. This has threatened the safety of LGBTQ+ persons, with research suggesting  domestic terrorism is increasing along with this hate-speech and legislation.

Conservative and far-right advocates for racist and anti-LGTBQ legislation work under the guise that they are “protecting” their children. It is really the fear of “white Christian heterosexual” values being threatened that guides their discriminatory legislation. There is a very narrow and normative definition of gender that these individuals believe people must be assigned to. Queer people who challenge these gender binaries are met with real attacks on their freedom and safety.

Under this “protect the children” veil, we have seen critical race theory being denied in public education curriculum, abortion rights and bodily autonomy being violated in the overturning of Roe v. Wade and complete restriction on gender-affirming treatment in numerous states, with further implications for health care providers.

We can combat hate speech by supporting LGBTQ+ stories that are shared online, reporting platforms spreading anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and misinformation, and putting pressure on advertisers that spread hate speech.

Legislators must work to protect the LGBTQ+ community through protecting access to gender affirming care and abortion. California became a sanctuary state for transgender youth seeking gender-affirming treatment. The recent attacks on drag performances are a threat to transgender and nonbinary people. We have power and we must support the rights, freedom and safety of our LGBTQ+ community through advocacy.

 Juliette Perez can be reached at [email protected].

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