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Over the past year, we have seen more than 475 anti-LGBTQ laws introduced in dozens of states all across the country. From restricting healthcare for transgender youth to trying to erase LGBTQ people from public education and banning trans kids from playing sports in their schools, the non-stop wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation has never been more intense than it is right now.  

Included in the list of discriminatory and unjust laws we are seeing pass in states like Tennessee and Florida are unconstitutional attempts to ban performing drag in public spaces. These insidious laws come on the heels of more than a year of dangerous threats and attacks on drag queens across the country, including armed white supremacists showing up to intimidate performers and the firebombing of a donut shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Let us be clear: this coordinated assault on drag artists and performances is a direct attack on the freedom of expression and safe spaces for the LGBTQ community – following the deadly shooting of five individuals at Club Q in Colorado Springs last year. 

Drag queens are – and have always been – an important part of not just the LGBTQ community but American culture in general. From RuPaul’s Drag Race to The Birdcage, Tootsie, and Ms. Doubtfire, drag queens are performers who use their creativity and talent to entertain and inspire audiences of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations. These performers also play a vital role in promoting acceptance and tolerance toward the LGBTQ community.

Banning drag queens from public spaces sends a harmful message that their art and identity are not welcome. These bans are also designed to target LGBTQ people and force them out of public life by restricting the clothing someone is “allowed” to wear or how they express their gender identity. While these bans do not explicitly target the transgender community, it is clear that they are part of the coordinated legislative attack on LGBTQ people and could easily be weaponized against transgender individuals.

Discriminating against individuals based on how they look or what they wear is not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional. 

Freedom of expression is an inextricable part of the bedrock of our nation and critical to our collective democracy. Under the First Amendment, every American has the right to express themselves, no matter their race, gender, or who they are, and banning drag in public is an extreme form of government overreach and censorship.

As a member of a long-standing drag house in San Francisco, I can tell you very plainly that drag is many things, but drag is not a crime! For many LGBTQ individuals, drag is art. Drag is acceptance. Drag is expression. Drag is chosen family. And most importantly, drag is survival in the face of discrimination and persecution

We will not back down in the face of hatred and bigotry. We will not be pushed back into the closet. And we will not back down or be erased. NCLR will continue to stand up against discrimination and bigotry in whatever form and we won’t turn our back on anyone in our LGBTQ community – including our beloved drag performers

[NCLR was proud to help sponsor the Drag Up, Fight Back March & Rally in San Francisco to protest these anti-drag bills on April 9, 2023. We also stand in solidarity with the marches that have taken place or are planned in other cities around the country, including Palm Springs and Los Angeles. You can read more coverage about the San Francisco rally here.]

[All photos courtesy of Fred Rowe Foto]

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