Drag Dismay

Addressing drag show bills across the United States

The expression of your identity is what makes you unique as an individual. It changes what others think of you, but more importantly it lets you be who you are, and helps you convey who you are to the world. Identity affects your mental, physical, and emotional health. But what happens if your identity is being attacked?

Just last week, Tennessee’s governor signed Senate Bill 3, which would effectively do this for thousands of people across the State. Now known as the “Tennessee drag show bill,” the bill has been taking news outlets by storm. It says that “a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property– or where it can be viewed by minors– can be charged with a criminal offense.”

While the bill’s contents may sound confusing, the purpose is all too clear– it targets self expression, and more specifically, drag queens. 

“Drag is a gender-bending art form in which a person dresses in clothing and makeup meant to exaggerate a specific gender identity, usually of the opposite sex,” as MasterClass puts it. 

While the bill’s sponsors say the purpose wasn’t to target drag queens, many such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), who has been protesting the bill, believe it does this unintentionally. 

Tennessee pride officials say that with this bill in effect, they will have to cancel their pride festivals, such as Knox Pride, which 66,000 people attended last year. The funds for this event help survivors of domestic abuse, young people experiencing homelessness, and fund food pantries. So, not only is this bill affecting LGBTQ individuals, but also underprivileged people in the community. 

“We wouldn’t be able to have drag performances, and that’s a huge part of us celebrating who we are and our community, is having that performance aspect and standing in solidarity with our drag brothers and sisters. It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” a member of the Knoxville pride community said in a WBIR article.

And Tennessee isn’t alone– 12 other states also have bills against drag performers. These states include Arizona, Texas, and our very own Nebraska. 

In Nebraska, Bill LB371 was first introduced in January of 2023. The bill states that anyone under the age of 19 shall be prohibited from attending a drag show. Senator Dave Murman is the one who authored the bill, and said that it will help “Protect the children.” 

However, Senator Murman also admits to having never attended a drag show performance. He claims that drag shows are inherently sexual and not fit for children, but in reality many drag shows are centered around being safe for children;, for example, the Drag Queen Story Hour founded in San Francisco in 2015, where drag queens read children stories at public libraries. 

Not only is this bill discriminatory, but it is also vague. 

“The broadness of its language would make parents guilty of a misdemeanor if they took their 18-year-old child to a show about Joan of Arc, a play in which a woman passes herself off as a man,” UNL Assistant Professor of Law Kyle Langvardt explained.

So far, the bill has not passed, but been indefinitely postponed, due to Senator Megan Hunt, the first openly LGBTQ person elected into the Nebraska State Legislature. 

But with bills just like it rising up in multiple states, it is important that we stay educated on them and do our best to take action against them, so that people can continue to express themselves, no matter who they may be.