The Rev. Neil Thomas

Before marching in the Pride Parade on Cedar Springs, Cathedral of Hope to hold a solemn ceremony of support

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

Although Texas Senate Bill 12 — better known as “the drag ban” — is temporarily on hold as it awaits a full court hearing, the legal threat to people who perform drag still hangs heavy. On Sunday, Sept. 17, Cathedral of Hope seeks to lighten the burden by blessing drag performers at its 10 a.m. service.

Security will be tight, according to the Rev. Neil Thomas, because of expected threats.

Drag Sunday, as the church is calling the event, is a response to “the Texas lawmakers who concoct fabrications about Texas drag performers and their art form,” the church wrote in a press release.

The Rev. Neil Thomas on the CoH float in a previous parade.

Lambda Legal attorney Shelly Skeen called SB 12 unconstitutional because of the vagueness of the new law’s language. Unclear is whether the ban applies to touring Broadway shows like Tootsie that played at the Winspear Opera House this summer or just to the Rose Room cast, which also has performed at the Winspear. In fact, the law’s wording is so vague that it could include cheerleaders — especially those like the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders — or country music singers like Dolly Parton.

It is unclear whether the law’s ban on body enhancements or devices includes cancer survivors who may be wearing prosthetics. And it is also unclear whether the law affects the transgender community. Given the tone of other legislation that passed, that answer would be yes.

It could even include religious leaders: What if Thomas and another pastor at Cathedral of Hope, the Rev. Andria M. Davis, were to wear identical robes to a service? One of them could be charged under this law, since the assumption is men and women dress distinctly.


• Drag as an art form and method of self-expression has been around for centuries. The term was coined during the era of Shakespeare when men would dress up to play women’s roles in the theater.

• Drag performers have been a vital part of the LGBTQ community for decades. Drag queens were a central presence at the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, fighting for their rights and the rights of their communities.

• Drag is the primary queer performance form — it is of the queer community, by the queer community and for the queer community. However, because of its emphasis on self-worth, self-expression, social commentary and community care, there has always been a large audience for drag both inside the gay community and outside the queer community.

• Drag performers are artists who use exaggerated clothing, makeup and personas to entertain and express themselves, often in the context of performance art or entertainment. The transgender community comprises individuals whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, and they may or may not have any association with drag performance. While some drag performers may identify as transgender, the two communities are distinct, with drag being a form of artistic expression and entertainment whereas transgender identity pertains to one’s gender identity and personal experience.

• Drag is like any other performance and visual art form: The audience for drag can include children and families, and some performances are for the NC-17 viewers. Like going to the movies, individuals and families are free to make the decisions about what art they consume and view.

• We all agree: We want our children to be safe and supported. Drag, as seen in the forms of library story hours, theater, music and even church worship services, does just that.


Thomas claims it’s he who would be charged. “I wear drag every Sunday,” Thomas said, “So technically, I would be illegal.”

And while Thomas jokes about his clerical robe being a form of drag, the possible consequences are serious.

Those convicted of this crime could face a year in prison, and the venue hosting their performance would be subject to a hefty fine.

Similar bans have been enacted in Florida, Montana and Tennessee, and all of those laws are on legal hold as well.

Thomas said the special blessing service at Cathedral of Hope on Sunday will serve several purposes. First, there will be a second offering taken: Thomas explained although the law is temporarily on hold, that could change any minute, and the church would like to be able to support anyone affected by the law, whether charged with an offense or taking a financial hit because of canceled drag brunches.

The service will also bring awareness to the issue.

“I’m concerned about someone in full drag walking from their car to a venue to perform,” Thomas said, adding that even walking from a car in the church’s parking lot to the church could present a problem. Although the lot is on church property, he said, the law is about presenting yourself wearing an article of clothing or device associated with the opposite sex in front of a minor.

Would the church be exempt under religious exemptions? It should be, although those exemptions seem to only apply to right-wing churches, Thomas said.

Next, the church wants to offer emotional support to anyone affected by this law. “As people of faith, we know this has been driven by religious bias,” he said. “We want to send a message to the broader church.”

In addition to sending a message to churches who support this discrimination, Thomas wants to send a message to those in the drag community that they are loved, and their art form is appreciated.

The LGBTQ rights movement was started by drag queens and members of the trans community. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them,” Thomas said, stressing that Sunday’s service is a way to honor that history rather than ignore it.

He also wants to highlight the fact that “there’s a strategy to divide and conquer the LGBTQ community,” explaining that the strategy is to make the LGB community, particularly gay white men, take a selfish view of rights and cut off support for the transgender community, women and people of color.

“The move is to divide us,” Thomas said. “We need to come strongly together. We need to be stronger than ever.”

Groups including the DFW Sisters, the United Court of the Lone Star Empire and Dallas Bears will participate in the blessing ceremony. Thomas said anyone who participates in drag is welcome and the general public is invited to share support and appreciations for the drag community.

Local, state and national elected and appointed officials have been invited to attend, and Thomas said he hopes state Sen. Royce West, in particular, would attend. Royce, long considered a staunch ally of the community, voted for SB 12. But when confronted by members of the LGBTQ community, the senator recanted his vote and apologized, saying he had not really understood the role drag has played and continues to play in the community.

“This would be a wonderful opportunity for him to meet and interact with the drag community,” Thomas suggested.

Following the service, members of Cathedral of Hope will march in the September Pride in Dallas Parade on Cedar Springs Road.