18 states considering bills against drag performances

Published: Mar. 11, 2023 at 3:32 AM EST
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(CNN) - Republicans across the country are pushing legislation to outlaw or restrict drag show performances in the presence of children.

Advocates say the bills are discriminatory against the LGBTQ community and could even affect their livelihoods and businesses.

“Drag actually saved my life,” Timothy Sherwood, who performs as Kylee O’Hara Fatale, says.

For Sherwood, drag is more than just a job. He left a teaching career in Dallas to perform fulltime as Kylee O’Hara Fatale.

“Kylee showed me who my true kind of self was, my true voice,” Sherwood says.

That voice could soon be silenced in Texas, which is considering at least four bills seeking to restrict drag performances.

“If these bills become law, my entire livelihood is at risk. I don’t even want to imagine a life where I can’t be the person that I worked so hard to finally figure out who I am. To have that fully ripped away, that would be soul crushing,” adds Sherwood.

Texas State Rep. Bryan Slaton says the bills are designed to protect minors.

“I think it’s important to protect children from any adult that wants to sexualize them. Right now, the only group of people that’s trying to sexualize children are the drag performances,” Slaton says.

Drag has become a target amongst conservatives with shows and even literacy events, like drag queen story hour, sparking protests and targeted attacks from right-wing extremist groups in some states.

Texas is just one of at least 18 states seeking to restrict drag.

Rights groups say it’s part of a broader attack on the queer community.

“We’re seeing states across this country in a race to the bottom in terms of attacking LGBTQ+ folks. Over 400 bills attacking our community have been introduced and it’s only March of this year,” Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson says.

Many of the proposed bills would make it illegal for an establishment to host a drag show unless it’s classified as a sexually-oriented business.

Jay Anderson runs Anderson Distillery & Grill near Fort Worth, Texas.

“If somebody came in and said, ‘Today, you’re a sexually-oriented business,’ that would be it,” Anderson says. “I’d have to close my doors. Yeah, there’s no way.”

His business has already taken a hit when an attempt to host a family-friendly drag brunch featuring his son as a performer resulted in protests.

“This map basically tracks all the death threats we received. If this drag show causes me to close my business and I lose all the money I put into it but I save one kid who didn’t kill himself, I don’t care,” Anderson says.

Some critics say the bills are too broad and could target transgender people by defining drag as the act of appearing in public in a gender different than the one assigned at birth.

“The problem is that a lot of the public, especially in Republican states, isn’t able to make the distinction between what a drag queen is and what a trans woman is. Because I’m trans, it can be perceived as a drag queen in a public space. Like, what does that mean for my gigs?,” Dahlia Knowles says.

Knowles is a Dallas-based pop singer who performs under the name Lorelei K.

“I’m not impersonating a gender. This is my gender. The idea that I have to perform at sexually-oriented businesses whenever my act isn’t sexually oriented, it’s just, like, absurd,” says Knowles.

She worries the broadly-written legislation would categorize her as a drag performer simply because she’s a transgender woman.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. They’re trying to eradicate transgender people from the public eye. It’s not a debate whether or not I exist. I do exist. Like I’m here and the message that I’m receiving is that I’m not wanted here,” Knowles describes.