Attacks on drag are attacks on the LGBTQ community overall

“It’s only a matter of time.” For many of us in the LGBTQ community, it’s a too-frequent fear — the prospect that violence will be committed against one of us for being who we are. It was one of my first thoughts upon hearing of the callous and hateful murder of Laura Carleton, the owner of Mag Pi Clothing in Cedar Glen, Calif. Carleton, a straight woman, was fatally shot Aug. 18 by a man who confronted her over an LGBTQ Pride flag displayed at her shop. Her assailant was later killed by police.
Can’t happen here? Think again.

Texas had the third-highest number of anti-LGBTQ incidents across the entire country over the last year, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit. The report found at least 356 incidents motivated by anti-LGBTQ hate across the U.S. from June 2022 to April 2023 — 305 incidents of harassment, 40 incidents of vandalism and 11 incidents of assault, according to the report.

The report found 30 incidents reported throughout the state of Texas — again, the third highest number compared to the rest of the country, just behind California, which had 42 reported incidents, and New York, which had 35 reported incidents.

These included acts of online harassment and vandalism. Carleton’s murder, which happened after multiple incidents of vandalism, shows such incidents can and do escalate into physical violence.

These incidents do not exist in a vacuum. This year has seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures: More than 500 were introduced, with more than 75 of them becoming law.

About 1.8 million Texans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the second-highest such population for any U.S. State, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. During the 2023 session of the Texas Legislature, more than 140 anti-LGBTQ bills came up for a vote.

While we can and should debate public policy on its merits, what cannot be denied is that with these bills has come the normalization of some truly disgusting and hateful rhetoric. One of them is Senate Bill 12, which was set to take effect Sept. 1.

Under SB 12 — popularly known as the “drag ban” bill, despite it not mentioning the art form by name — anyone caught performing acts referenced in the bill — and that includes performers of all art including cheerleaders, country music singers and theater actors — can be prosecuted and face up to a year in prison.

The venue where the performance takes place gets slapped with a stiff fine, too.

Fortunately, after federal lawsuits by the ACLU, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and other groups, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the law, saying the vague, ill-defined, and discriminatory legislation “as drafted violated the First Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution in all likelihood.

Judges have already blocked similar laws in Florida, Montana and Tennessee, where drag bans are now on hold.

Let’s be clear about the facts:
• 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 others and to 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 communitiesare 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 be comprised of children and families (i.e. The Walt Disney Company) and 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 that 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.
And, now, you may come and see that for yourself. On Sunday, Sept. 17 at 10 a.m., Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, will hold a special drag and inclusive worship service event as we celebrate and embrace DFW-area drag performers by offering them a special blessing.

This will be a community celebration attended not only by drag queens who have contributed to all our lives in joyous and inspiring ways but also by local, state, and national elected and appointed officials, who have been invited.

Following the service, we will proudly march in the September Pride in Dallas Parade. .

Rev. Neil G. Thomas is the senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope of Dallas, a member congregation of the United Church of Christ.