Drag performers and drag events have been under attack since Texas, Florida, and Arizona lawmakers moved to ban youth-friendly drag programming earlier this year. In recent months, at least a dozen drag events have caused outrage beyond Texas and Florida, whose governors are known for restrictive and punitive laws. In June, the Proud Boys stormed a San Lorenzo, California, library hosting a Drag Queen Story Hour event. Just last week, protestors stormed another Drag Queen Story Hour event near San Francisco, a similar protest broke out outside the same event at a suburban library in Maryland, and protestors in Utah gathered at a family-friendly back-to-school drag event for Brigham Young University students.
“Our organization has always had opposition from the start, and being a queer person in general, we get harassed constantly,” said Jonathan Hamilt, the executive director for Drag Queen Story Hour. “I get death threats and hate mail on a daily basis and have been physically assaulted twice in the past two weeks.”
While no legislation has formally been introduced or passed yet, youth-friendly drag events across the country have received threats and harassment and have been subject to investigations from the state. Supporters of youth-friendly drag events, like Drag Queen Story Hour or family-friendly drag brunches, say they will not let the hate get to them and will continue cultivating a safe space for youth and LGBTQ+ families to experience drag.
“The story we want to share is all the amazing and diverse programs we’ve offered to kids and their families across the world since 2015,” Hamilt said. “We are working with the Anti-Violence Project on updated digital and physical safety protocols to better ensure safety for all our storytellers and everyone that attends our events.”
Last week, library staff and trustees of Downers Grove Public Library in Illinois received threats and harassment after they announced plans to host a drag-themed bingo event for teenagers on Oct. 11. The event is open to seventh through 12th graders, but Republican congressional candidate, Keith Pekau, has been motivating his followers to denounce the event. Another queerphobic group mobilized its followers to email library staff and trustees and protest the event, in addition to another drag event at a bakery and cafe in Chicago.
“We understand that this program might not be for everyone—just as all programs, books, services, and other materials from the library will have different audiences,” said Julie Milavec, the library director at the Downers Grove Public Library in a joint statement with staff. “We understand that not all topics will appeal to everyone, and may even be controversial to some, however we want all members of our community to see themselves respected and reflected in the library’s collection, in our programs, and by our staff.”
Critics claim that youth-friendly drag events “groom” young people into being complacent around sexual predators or indoctrinates them into becoming LGBTQ+.
“This is indisputably false,” the library statement says in response. “A second concern repeatedly voiced to us is that we are purposefully introducing sexual content to children. This is also completely untrue. This performance will not be sexual in nature.”
Drag events are typically a creative celebration of self-expression and identity, and youth-friendly events are especially careful to avoid revealing clothing, erotic behavior, or any sexual material. The events typically include drag queens in costume, singing, and dancing.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said his proposed youth-friendly drag ban would take away parental rights. While DeSantis has not called for the special session that state Rep. Anthony Sabatini has asked for in order to introduce anti-drag legislation, the governor filed a state complaint in July against R House, a Wynwood, Florida, restaurant, for having minors in attendance during their weekly drag brunch.
The complaint claims R House “corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency.” An investigation by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation was conducted in which agents visited the business. As a result of the investigation, R House could lose its liquor license and be put out of business if judged to be in violation of local laws and codes.
“We are hopeful that Gov. DeSantis, a vociferous supporter and champion of Florida’s hospitality industry and small businesses, will see this as what it is, a misunderstanding, and that the matter will be resolved positively and promptly,” R House owners wrote in a statement.
Since then, R House drag brunch has continued every week.
In Texas, state Rep. Bryan Slaton also said he would file a bill next session to ban youth-friendly drag performances. While a bill has yet to be filed, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said his office will investigate Mr. Misster, the Dallas-based bar that hosted a youth-friendly drag event in June. The event sparked a protest and fervent harassment of the drag performers.
Mr. Misster did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation.
On Aug. 28, Anderson Distillery and Grill in Roanoke, Texas, hosted a family-friendly drag brunch that similarly attracted online hate mail and protesters at the event. Bailey Anderson, the owner’s son and a drag queen known as Trisha Delish, hosted the event. Anderson has been performing for five years and said having support from his family and community is incredibly important, despite all the vitriol sent their way. His parents have been to many of his shows and have always had fun, so they wanted to offer the experience to their patrons in a family-friendly manner.
“Queer kids exist, and there is not a lot of space for them within the scene,” Anderson said. “I’ve known I was gay since before I even knew the word for it, and I would have loved to have been to events that show queer people existing freely.”
In anticipation of the event, critics flooded the bar’s email inbox and phone lines with hate messages. Anderson and his parents were concerned there could be the potential for violence at the event if protesters did attend, considering that Texas is an open and permitless carry state.
“You never know how the other side is going to handle it,” Anderson said.
They reached out to multiple local police departments to see if they could send off-duty officers to surround the event, but every office declined due to staffing issues. Shortly after, the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club reached out to Anderson and offered to help maintain peace between protestors and guests. The antifa volunteers helped families walk to their cars to avoid being harassed and helped the drag queens enter the venue without harassment.
Anderson estimates there were about 20-30 protesters, but over 100 people were in attendance at the event with 200 people wrapped around the building waiting in line to enter.
“It was incredible to see so much more love and support for the show,” Anderson said. “We outweighed them by so much. I’m really glad we went through with it that day.”
Anderson hopes more youth-friendly drag shows happen across the country and that it remains a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth and families, especially in the wake of increased LGBTQ+ youth suicides.
“It’s really important to show kids and families that drag queens are not scary and they’re professional performers,” Anderson said. “Queer people can be happy. If I can help save just one kid from suicide by showing them that you can be happy and that things truly get better, then every bit of flack and hate we’ve received was completely worth it.”