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U.S. lawmakers targeting drag won’t stop with queens, says performer Jinkx Monsoon

Drag and Broadway star Jinkx Monsoon says it’s time for allies to speak out against laws targeting the LGBTQ community.

“I wish that people who call themselves allies to suppressed, oppressed and marginalized communities got involved when the situation didn’t affect them,” the performer said on The Sunday Magazine.

“Right now, it feels like people wait until it’s their rights on the line to really speak up. And the thing is, their rights will be on the line — it’s not going to stop with drag queens.”

The two-time winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who recently starred in Broadway’s Chicago, is speaking out against a slew of bills across several U.S. states that aim to limit where and to whom drag artists can perform.

“If we don’t do everything in our power and if we don’t unify against a growing threat like this to our freedom, to our liberty, to our autonomy — if we don’t do everything we can to combat it — it will just continue to grow,” Monsoon said.

A Tennessee bill, which was to come into effect Saturday, would ban what is described as “adult cabaret entertainment” by “male or female impersonators” that is “harmful to minors” from public property or locations where children might see the performance. 

A drag queen raises her fist in the air at a podium.
Drag artist Vidalia Anne Gentry speaks during a news conference held by the Human Rights Campaign to draw attention to anti-drag bills in the Tennessee legislature, on Feb. 14, 2023, in Nashville. (John Amis/The Associated Press/Human Rights Campaign)

The bill is widely seen as targeting drag performances. Drag is not inherently sexual and does not typically involve nudity. Performances for children — such as drag queen story time performances at libraries and schools that have ignited protests in the U.S. and Canada — are tailored to be age appropriate.

Performers violating the law would face a potential misdemeanour charge, or a felony for repeated offences. 

On Friday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law just hours before it was set to go into effect, siding with an LGBTQ theatre group that filed a lawsuit claiming the statute violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker wrote that the state failed to make a compelling argument for why the new law was needed, adding that the court also agrees the statute is likely vague and overly broad.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who also signed a bill restricting access to gender-affirming care for minors, has defended the legislation saying it will protect children. Citing “public welfare,” an amendment before Friday’s court decision changed the date the act was to become effective from July 1 to April 1.

Speaking to CNN in early March, Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson, who sponsored the Tennessee legislation, said the bill was not targeting drag performers or transgender people.

“It does not ban drag shows in public. It simply puts age restrictions in place to ensure that children are not present at sexually explicit performances,” he said.

Monsoon said the “scariest” part of the Tennessee legislation is the breadth of its language.

“It’s written in such a way that it could be interpreted by so many different people, in so many different ways, that they could use it to criminalize trans people just for walking down the street,” she said.

Hundreds of bills targeting LGBTQ community

Advocates say that bills focused on drag, like the one in Tennessee — and hundreds of others targeting gender-affirming care, access to bathrooms and enforcing book bans — are an attempt to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people, transgender people in particular, and roll back years of legal gains.

More than a dozen states have introduced anti-drag bills, according to tracking by the American Civil Liberties Association. While some bills refer to adult entertainment, others explicitly mention drag performances. 

WATCH | Hundreds of laws targeting LGBTQ proposed in the U.S.: 

u s lawmakers targeting drag wont stop with queens says performer jinkx monsoon 1

Country divided: The emergence of transgender refuge states | About That

4 days ago

Duration 15:34

U.S. politicians have introduced hundreds of bills targeting transgender people and their rights. Where are they protected? Activist Erin Reed joins About That with Andrew Chang to talk through a map she created to help.

Across the United States, right-wing activists and politicians claim that drag leads to the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

“We’ve always been fighting this fight in America. It’s this just asinine, ludicrous thing of our country boasting freedom and liberty and equality for all when that has never, ever once been true,” Monsoon said.

“And when you challenge people on that hypocrisy, you’re called anti-patriotic — which is also asinine and backwards, because I’m literally asking for what our country promises.”

‘That’s what I’m supposed to be’: Jinkx Monsoon

Monsoon, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them out of drag, rose to fame after winning their season of reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013. Last year, they were crowned the “Queen of All Queens” after winning RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. During her turn as Mama Morton in Chicago earlier this year, the production saw its highest-grossing non-holiday week ever.

Performer wearing a black pant suit, with a black lace bodice.
Monsoon on stage during their run as Mama Morton in Chicago on Broadway. They told The Sunday Magazine that drag got them through difficult periods of their life. (Jeremy Daniel)

She first discovered drag at age 15. Monsoon described it as a way to feel more powerful and express femininity. It also opened opportunities for theatre roles she wasn’t typically considered for earlier in their life.

“The second I saw a drag queen, I went, ‘Oh my gosh, there I am, that’s what I’m supposed to be,'” she said.

“Drag got me through the harder parts of my life because I had an outlet to be 100 per cent myself. Even if it was a stylized version of myself, it was me turned up to 100.”

Now, as politicians target the art form that not only formed her professional career, but personal identity, Monsoon worries about the impact that will have on young people trying to find themselves.

“The idea that there’s people trying to rob that from other young queer people, it just boils my blood, because drag queens paid it forward and paved the way,” she said.

“The trans community at large paid it forward so I could be who I am today. And I want to do that for future generations.”