Tennessee’s recent bill that restricts and illegalizes drag queens may be seen as a step towards upholding traditional values, but it also creates harmful stereotypes and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community.
In support of the LGBTQIA+ and queens affected by this law, drag activists hosted “Day of Drag” in Calgary on April 1 aimed to celebrate diversity and show solidarity with queer people in Tennessee.
Faust Harder is a two-spirit, trans, Métis artist from Calgary. A two-spirit person refers to an individual “who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit, and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.”
“Any bill that is outlawing cross-dressing is super dangerous for trans people,” says Harder. “This incarnation of moral panic is a response or reaction from the right to the success of the gay rights movement.”
The bill went into effect on April 1, 2023 and states that “adult cabaret” performances will be banned from several places including public parks, schools, places of worship and anywhere in the presence of children.
Law Insider, a legal database, defines adult entertainment cabaret as a public or private establishment which features topless dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or erotic dancers. Anyone identified as a “male-female impersonator” performing in public will be fined $1500 and could face up to a year in prison.
The bill also states that people with multiple offences can face up to six years in prison.
The slogan of the event was “EVERYONE In Drag EVERYWHERE,” and on the streets of Calgary on April 1st the slogan became a reality. People in drag gathered at bookstores, malls, coffee shops, libraries, museums and restaurants to peacefully protest Tennessee lawmakers signalling gender-non-conforming people are here to stay.
The debate over drag in public spaces has spilled over into the world of politics; according to The Washington Post, in 2022 more legislation had been filed to restrict the lives of transgender people than at any other point in the nation’s history.
In 2023, there were 492 anti-trans bills introduced in the United States. Out of 492, 422 are currently active, 26 bills passed and 44 have failed.
“It’s part of this narrative in the U.S. and Canada from the alt-right that trans people are grooming children, that’s the core of their narrative. That they are being groomed to transition and mutilate their bodies,” says Harder.
Many drag queens use their platforms to advocate for social justice issues beyond their own community. They’ve been involved in protests against police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement and climate change. Some drag queens see their activism as an extension of their performance, using their platform to raise awareness and promote change.
Drag queens have faced criticism and opposition from political leaders and religious groups who view their performances as offensive and derogatory.
“All of these laws in the US are making it harder for already marginalized people to survive,” Harder says. “There’s no protection in a lot of states for housing or job discrimination if you’re trans. Essentially, the end goal for all of these laws are about making it illegal to exist as a trans person.”
Despite the controversy, drag queens continue to be a prominent and visible part of contemporary culture, with growing numbers of performers and fans worldwide. As the debate over their role in society continues, drag queens continue to stand up for themselves and attempt to fight for their rights and recognition.