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Republican states target drag performers

Bills seek to restrict shows, label venues as ‘adult-oriented businesses’



Steven Raimo performs as Veronika Electronika. (Photo courtesy of Steven Raimo)

A number of bills targeting drag performers are popping up in majority-Republican states across the nation. 

At least 14 states have introduced bills that would restrict drag queens from performing in public spaces and in venues viewable by minors. Some of the proposed legislation would require venues that host drag events to register as “adult-oriented businesses.”

These bills are the latest legislative attempts targeting LGBTQ rights, particularly transgender rights. Other proposed legislation across the country includes access to gender-affirming health care and banning kids from being able to play gender-affirming sports. 

Shawn Stokes, a drag queen who performs as Akasha Royale and is based in St Louis, said he’s “embarrassed” these bills have been introduced in his home state and across the country.  

“We have plenty of other things to do. We have a failing educational system,” he said. “We are just wasting a lot of time.” 

In Missouri, legislators are considering several bills, including one described as changing “the definition of a sexually oriented business to include any nightclub or bar that provides drag performances.” Another bill would classify “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” as adult cabaret performances. Performances on public property or viewed by minors could result in a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a hefty fine.

Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has endorsed a similar bill in her state.

In Tennessee, a bill would classify “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” as adult cabaret performances and would ban performances on public property. Shows would also be banned where minors could be present. 

A rural county in Tennessee has already approved regulations on drag performances — the Giles County Agri-Park Board Committee passed a slew of restrictions in early January, including banning “male or female impersonators” from the park, the Tennessean reported. 

Steven Raimo, a Nashville-based drag queen who performs as Veronika Electronika, said legislators are trying to “eliminate the art of drag.” 

“They want to put fear in entertainers,” Raimo said. 

Raimo predicts venues will stop hosting drag performers because of the risk of retribution. 

“One of the restaurants that I do our brunch and bingo show has big glass windows that look onto a public street,” he said. “I could potentially be arrested in violation of this law because anybody of any age could walk past the windows and see the show.”

Raimo added he would be much more careful in choosing where he performs because of the ambiguity of the bill as it stands. 

And it’s likely the bill will pass in Tennessee, according to Kathy Sinback, the executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill Feb. 9, and the state House of Representatives also has a companion bill in motion that would require drag performers to obtain a permit. 

“It is moving so quickly,” Sinback said. “These [anti-drag bills] are their top priorities this session.” 

Bills could target transgender people 

Because of the vagueness of the bills and classifying drag performers as “male or female impersonators,” advocates fear this proposed legislation could attack transgender people. 

“This is in fact a transphobic bill, even more so than it is a drag-phobic bill,” Raimo said. It’s a very important piece of this story that I don’t want to be lost.”   

Trans people in Tennessee could be viewed as “male or female impersonators” by law enforcement because people cannot change the gender marker on their birth certificate, Raimo said. 

“So if someone’s singing karaoke in the bar, and they do a little twerking, maybe that’s harmful to minors all of a sudden. It can be interpreted so broadly,” Sinback said. 

Even in states where it’s unlikely to pass, ‘damage’ is still done

Richard Stevens performs as Barbra Seville. (Photo courtesy of Richard Stevens)

The Arizona Senate is considering legislation that would prohibit federal or state funds from being allocated to places where drag shows are hosted. Another bill, similar to those in Tennessee and Missouri, would classify drag as “adult cabaret performances,” and would ban shows on public property. 

It’s unlikely the bills will be passed into law in Arizona given Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is in power, according to Richard Stevens, a Phoenix-based drag queen who performs as Barbra Seville. But still, “even if it’s not made into law, damage has been done,” he said. 

“Their mission in a lot of ways is accomplished,” Stevens explained. “They’ve now connected grooming and pedophilia and attacks on children to drag. People who weren’t thinking about drag a year ago are now paranoid of drag.”

Stevens was once friends with Kari Lake, a Republican who continue to claim she won last November’s Arizona’s gubernatorial election. Stevens subsequently became a vocal Lake critic after she criticized drag queens and claimed they are “grooming” children.

The classification of drag performances as “sexual” is also an archaic perspective, Stokes said. 

“This narrative that drag queens are predators or groomers is absolutely false,” Stokes said. “Going to a drag show with your kid in a public place is no different than taking your 12-year-old kid to a PG-13 movie.”

“It’s 100 percent fearmongering. It’s demonization,” Stevens said. 

This is a common thread in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric — the false narrative that all LGBTQ people are out to get children, said Misty Eyez, the director of the women’s program and transgender services, and the manager of LGBTQ competency training at SunServe, an LGBTQ services organization based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

“It’s not a new story that LGBTQ individuals are stereotyped as … a threat to traditional values or morality,” she said.  


The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke



President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’



J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions



U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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