All sides speak out on proposed Alabama drag show ban
Alabama is the latest state attempting to pass new laws that prohibit drag performances. The bill, which was filed last Thursday is similar to the Tennessee’s recent anti-drag legislation. Supporters say the legislation safeguards children. Opponents say the law discriminates against the LGBTQ+ community. APR student Poppy Jacobs spoke with people who were voicing concerns even before Alabama’s law was introduced.
“It's complete art. And that's what I don't think that, you know, some folks, if they're not part of the community, like it's hard to explain and have them understand like, what, what we mean by that is our art,” said Lotus. She’s a member of the Birmingham community. Lotus is a realtor, local performer, and she’s a drag queen. She’s one of the many members of the drag community that would be affected by Alabama’s new legislation.
“It leaves it open to discriminate not only against the drag community, but also the trans community,” said Lotus. “It leaves it open for there to be this vitriol disdain for what I do… And I just don't appreciate that… It makes me feel uneasy that there are people in power who feel like they can dictate how I can express myself.”
Alabama’s legislation comes as part of a number of anti-drag bans sweeping the US. The first of these was signed in Tennessee by Governor Bill Lee back in March. A federal judge blocked it over concerns it violates first amendment rights. Alabama’s new measures legislation targets “topless, go-go, or exotic dancers, or male or female impersonators. They’re commonly known as drag queens or drag kings. The new anti-drag effort in Alabama is an amendment to the state’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act. That measure prohibits the distribution of obscene material to minors. Sydney Duncan is an attorney at Magic City Legal Center at Birmingham AIDS Outreach. She says these laws have no basis.
“Even the, the, the legislators who have offered these bills to begin with have often, never been to a drag performance,” Duncan asserts. “They've never met a trans person. They don't have the context to even legislate these things.”
This is not the first law that has been passed recently regarding the LGBTQ community. Those letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning. Alabama lawmakers voted in April to outlaw gender-affirming medications for transgender children. That law has been temporarily blocked due to legal challenges. Duncan spoke about the recent influx of legislation-- which she says do more harm than good.
“One of the things I wish that those who are in support of these laws would stop and slow down and, and consider for laws that would limit trans access healthcare or drag performances,” said Duncan. “If they had ever heard of personally in their lives a situation which would've been solved by one of those bills, or if they had ever heard of friends who had heard of situations that would have been solved by those bills, then the answer is time, after time, after time again, no.”
Rhetoric asserting drag queens are predators has also been prevalent in discussion over the legislation. Fears that children are being exposed to entertainment of a sexual nature is of significant concern and is a driving force behind support of the ban.
“It just seems like there is no place for this sort of out outright, you know, sexualization of these children, said Dr. Lou Campomenosi is the president of the That’s Common Sense Tea Party Campaign in Mobile. I spoke to him before Alabama introduced its anti drag show. He said he’d support whenever it was proposed.
“We believe that people should be free to do whatever they want to do without interference from the government. Okay. But we also recognize that, that what the LGT people want to do seemed to be going against the, the natural flow of biology,” said Campomenosi.
The new Alabama legislation will prevent children from witnessing what some are calling inappropriate shows. Campomenosi believes this legislation to be a significant step following the previous ban on gender-affirming medication in Alabama.
Dr. Campomenosi echoes many conservatives’ view that all drag queens are out to harm children. The Williams Institute at UCLA carried out a national survey in 2022 on the number of LGBTQ individuals on the sex offenders list. They found that in most categories, queer versus cis-gender offenders were recorded at similar rates. Cis-gender people identify with the gender identity they were assigned at birth.
Advocates for the LGBTQ community are asking their critics to face the reality that these bills actually hurt children.
“Children need to see themselves celebreated,” said Lotus. She’s the Birmingham drag queen we met at the start of our story. She discussed how targeting the queer community as predators may cause young queer people to shun the LGBTG community.
“And if they see themselves being shunned and they see them themselves… if they grow up continually thinking that something's wrong with them, then you know… you have so many youth, who consider contemplating suicide and hurting themselves because they feel like they have to punish themselves for how they feel on the inside,” said Lotus.
The survey by the Trevor Project says nearly half of the LGBTQ community seriously considered suicide in the past year. Rates were notably high concerning individuals of color. Lotus stressed having a space for young people questioning their sexuality is important in preventing suicide rates from continuing to rise. She explained that interacting with members of the LGBTQ community, including drag queens, will not encourage children to change their sexuality, but instead helps those who are queer to feel less alone.
“I don't understand the, the whole jargon of how, you know, being a drag queen and someone seeing a drag queen is gonna automatically make them gay because honey, I'm gonna tell you right now, I definitely knew that I was long before I even knew that drag existed,” said Lotus.
Conservative views in politics aren’t the only thing pushing these restrictions forward. Organized religion appears to be playing a considerable role in this debate. Dr. Lou Campomenosi expressed concern that drag cannot coexist with Christianity due to the “sexual” nature of drag performance.
“The fact of the matter is that Alabama has already taken steps to protect children from the harmful effect of hormones and these drugs to assist in this transgender movement. And, I think because we’ve already laid the predicate makes absolute sense to carry it one step further to where we’re not allowing these drag shows to go on,” he said.
Drag queens such as Lotus want Alabama to be a place in which drag queens can express themselves. She says she’s aware that this is something the community may have to fight for under the new legislation.
“To me, this really goes back toward, you know, Stonewall," Lotus asserted. "And when you think about it, like people who started the riot at Stonewall, like we're taught that, you know, dressing in drag and, you know, being a, a trans person, like you could be arrested for that.
Stonewall was a series of protests and clashes between the gay community and police in New York in 1969. The event often seen as the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the US. The site has since been declared a national monument for its historical role.
Pride month is held in June in Alabama.