For the last few weeks, conservatives have been bemoaning the supposed dangers of allowing children to see drag queens perform in public spaces in reaction to a viral video of a family-friendly, drag-themed Pride event held at cocktail bar Mr. Misster in Dallas on June 4. In the 44-second video, a drag queen dressed in a red catsuit performs a dance number to “He Said She Said” by Ashley Tisdale as parents and their children cheer her on.
The innocuous video has prompted familiar online outrage, with the loudest criticism coming from Texas House Member Bryan Slaton, who released a statement on June 6 promising to propose a bill banning children from drag shows. If Slaton were to make good on his promise, it would be one of the most extreme restrictions on queer cultural expression in the country, and another disturbing step in Texas lawmakers’ seemingly relentless campaign to deny queer people personhood and safe spaces in the state.
Slaton’s reasoning behind the pledged legislation is vague at best. He refers to drag queens as “perverted adults’’ who are “obsessed with sexualizing young children,” an unfounded, hurtful, and dangerous anti-LGBTQ claim invoked frequently throughout history as a way to denigrate LGBTQ people and falsely criminalize identity and sexuality. This repellent argument was immediately rebutted by LGBTQ community members and allies, including famed Texas drag queen Alyssa Edwards, who gave Slaton a piece of her mind in a Twitter post, saying, “You, sir, have tweeted more about #drag than the loss at #Uvalde. Is this truly about children or politics?”
High-profile conservatives including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have also joined the calls to “protect” kids from drag culture, one of the queer community’s most celebrated and visible institutions; both promised to propose some type of legislation on limiting children’s attendance at drag shows. Conservative pundits like Candace Owens have gone so far as to claim that bringing children to drag queen story hours at libraries is a form of child abuse, despite any evidence of harm.
These sorts of proclamations stoke hatred and endanger LGBTQ people. Far-right, neo-fascist groups are responding to the dog whistles, showing up at LGBTQ events to aggressively disrupt them, wearing shirts that say things like “Kill your local pedophile” and sending extremist threats to organizers, forcing them to cancel their events out of concerns for their own safety.
Let’s make something clear: The Dallas drag event that catalyzed this moral panic was specifically intended for families — families who can decide for themselves whether or not to bring kids to the event held at the business. In a statement released to WFAA, a representative for Mr. Misster says, “we believe that everyone should have a space to be able to celebrate who they are. Mr. Misster is a place where everyone is welcome to feel accepted, safe, and included.”
A video of a drag queen doing the splits (and doing them very well, by the way) is hardly a sexual act. Rather, the outrage simply speaks to the viewers’ discomfort with people performing in clothes and makeup that do not fit their view of the so-called gender binary. Drag is an art form that can be geared to any audience, and anyone can participate in it, regardless of identity or background. So I have to wonder if it’s not about the fact that the queens were wearing skin-tight clothing or performing in a booze-serving bar for families, but really about seeing children and their parents embrace and celebrate something outside the presumed “norm.”
Attempting to shape the narrative by implying that drag is intrinsically sexual or that gay and trans spaces shouldn’t allow accompanied minors because it promotes sexual deviancy is textbook bigotry — not to mention counter to the conservative values of personal freedom. This framework is part of a larger attack on the LGBTQ community that’s been going on in this country since… forever. Because let’s face it, these kinds of sweeping statements are never made about similar facets of heterosexual, cisgender culture that are literally everywhere. No one’s advocating for the ban of rom-coms or Hooters or gender-reveal parties.
Slaton’s drag statement doesn’t just condemn drag queens who perform to audiences of all ages. He also writes that he is dedicated to designating “sex-change therapies” on children as child abuse, using medically inaccurate descriptions of age-appropriate transition care — a classic move by politicians targeting transgender children in their attempt to diminish trans and nonbinary people from society. By linking these two very different subjects, the Texas politician demonstrates an obvious misunderstanding, feigned or otherwise, of gender identity versus expression.
If Slaton and his ilk think of all gender nonconformity as drag, and they think drag is inherently sexualizing and deviant, then what’s stopping them from taking it a step further and banning trans people altogether? Texas has already taken steps to investigate parents who are supportive of their transgender children. To conservative politicians like Slaton, the LGBTQ community is just a monolith of corrupt, evil sodomites hell-bent on converting children to a sinful lifestyle, and if that sounds like an exaggeration, the Texas GOP recently rolled out a new platform that explicitly denounced homosexuality as “abnormal” and rejected trans identities.
So let’s just call Slaton’s stance what it is: homophobia mixed with transphobia, shaken not stirred. “Think of the children,” they say, but these are the same politicians who won’t protect children from mass shooters even when it happens in their own state, from neglect and abuse in the foster care system, or, in the case of immigrant children, from living in literal cages. But alas, people dressing up in fun wigs and lip-syncing to Carly Rae Jepsen songs are going to infect young, impressionable minds.
It was only a few decades ago that it was still illegal to be any kind of queer in the U.S., with queerness being treated as criminal — at best, as something to be treated medically. For children who will inevitably grow up to know themselves as queer or trans, these family-friendly drag shows and Pride events show them that LGBTQ adults exist and are celebrated. Despite what people like Slaton believe, diversity is an asset, not a threat.