Commentary: Drag, in the eyes of Republicans.

Multiple bills aim to limit drag in front of children. But how Republicans have tried to define "drag" ropes in more than they are admitting.

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The Senate Hearing Room in the Arizona State Capitol. On February 8, the Senate Government Committee passed a bill that would ban drag from being performed on public-funded grounds.

The Arizona Senate Government Committee yesterday saw another seat-filled room of protesters, civil liberties advocates, parents and drag performers who came out in opposition of state Republicans’ continued attack on LGBTQ+ rights.

Yesterday’s bill, SB1026, bans drag performances from being performed in front of children on government property, and takes away state money from groups—including schools—that violate the law.

The bill passed down party lines, and is just one of 11 others proposed limit and in some cases altogether eliminate drag or trans people from public spaces.

You can read the full list of bills proposed on Equality AZ’s website, which is a content partner for LOOKOUT’s “Eyes on the State" series.

But while every bill that’s been heard so far has been passed out of committees, two of the most vehement anti-LGBTQ+ senators who have proposed the most bills have admittedly never been to a drag show, nor even a Pride parade.

Sen. John Kavanagh, for example, said during a recent committee hearing that he supported drag in the form of “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

In yesterday’s Senate Government Committee, though, he then said the popular children’s movie was not, in fact, drag.

He also said he’s only seen Pride parades through Youtube. And declined an invitation from a fellow senator to attend a pride event.

Another senator questioned if movies like the Disney classic, Mulan, were to be shown in schools, would the school lose funding? Sen. President Jake Hoffman said he had never seen the movie, but it would not, calling the question ludicrous.

But in both those cases, drag is performed, at least by the definition written out in bill proposed by lawmakers aiming to limit it.

The double-speak from bill sponsors has made parsing through the bills and their effects a legal nightmare for attorneys ready to challenge the law, and political and legal reporters who are tasked with sifting through making the law understandable to the public.

And while most media outlets have focused on trying to cover the horse race of some of the bills proposed, there has been a problem with how Phoenix’s local media framed the context of the bills, said Gaelle Esposito during a recent LOOKOUT listening session.

Esposito said that from local to national news, there is a lack of historical context provided, and outlets like The New York Times and even the Arizona Republic publish stories that make it seem as if problems and issues are happening in a vacuum, rather than being created to enhance a culture war.

“We're not even talking about how transparently and openly, they manufactured this narrative,” said Esposito.

(Esposito also sits on the board of LOOKOUT.)

An example of what’s being manufactured? The definition of “drag.”

So, below we’ve gone ahead and laid out a basic Q&A of what drag historically and currently is, and then compare that to how drag is defined by Republican lawmakers.

What is the history of drag in the queer community?

The earliest culturally relevant form of drag in the streets was trans people, who dressed in clothing that matched their preferred gender identity. Often when people refer to the Stonewall riots, they point to trans women and drag queens, not often realizing that both—at the time—were considered similar to each other colloquially.

But drag is not just a queer term. Historically, it’s costuming.

Drag, in its most basic form, is simply dressing in the opposite — or even same — of your preferred sex. The purpose has always been to provide a commentary on gender norms and challenge gender binaries.

Does that make it sexual?

There are sexually charged drag shows, like Bushwig or Wigstock, both held in New York. Those are often the most extreme of performances that are meant to challenge cultural norms.

No legislator has been able to provide evidence that those shows are happening in Arizona, let alone in front of children.

So what is drag, by legislative definition?

The exact wording in almost every bill tries to define drag as:

“A single performer or group of performers [who] dress in clothing and makeup opposite of the performer’s or group of performers’ gender at birth to exaggerate gender signifiers and roles and engage in singing. “

What, broadly, fits into that category?

  • Blockbuster family musicals and plays such as Hairspray, La Cage Aux Folles, Kinky Boots, Some Like it Hot, Peter Pan, and many Shakespearean plays would have performers who fall into this category
  • Any trans performer

If these bills were to pass under this definition, what might happen?

We spoke with civil rights’ advocates and criminal justice attorneys and asked them to play out scenarios in which every anti-drag bill was passed and got enough support to override Hobbs’ vetoes.

Since all the bills related to drag are aimed at removing the performances from the view of children, not every drag performer would be effected.

However, they said, the bills are written so broad and vague that there are wide repercussions to even private businesses. Some common examples they gave if those bills went into law:

Since lawmakers’ definition of “drag” is so broad, it’s not inconceivable to play out a scenario where a high school that wanted to do Hairspray wouldn’t be able to perform it on school property, even if the school’s drama club fundraised to pay for it.

  • If someone perceives a trans person or drag performer in public sexually offensive, they can call the police to make an arrest.
  • It’s also not out of the question that protesters outside bars could call the police to arrest trans people or performers in drag because it was in possible view of children.
  • Popular drag brunches that happen on patios would be barred because children could possibly see them.
  • Drag performers and trans people at Pride would be barred from performing in public. They could be arrested and cited for marching in the pride parade.

But through all this, there is an important note: while supporters of the bill have said that the bills don’t effect every drag performer, because “not all drag” is provocative, sponsors of the bill have said in other settings that dressing in an opposite gender is, in itself, sexualizing children.

Other supporters of the bills openly ally themselves with groups like Gays Against Groomers and follow accounts such as Libs of TikTok, which have said that all drag performers are akin to pedophiles.

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