Commentary: The Pride Festival has been canceled, according to Pride Houston 365, but are appearances in the Pride Parade by drag queens on the chopping block now? They are if Republicans in the Texas legislature have their way.
According to the Texas Tribune, Republican Texas lawmakers have filed around three dozen bills targeting LGBTQ people as of early 2023. That is already more than they attempted to pass in the regular five-month legislative session in 2021. Many of the bills seek to limit or ban gender-affirming health care for trans kids. Others aim to limit classroom instruction about sexuality and gender identity. And some look to restrict drag shows and performers.
Multiple bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature this session aiming to make it illegal for a bar or restaurant to host a drag show unless it’s classified as a “sexually oriented business.” House Bill 643 was filed by State Representative Jared Patterson, HB 708 by State Rep. Matt Shaheen, HB 1266 by Nate Schatzline, and Senate Bill 476 by State Senator Bryan Hughes. All four are Republicans.
The attack on the LGBTQ+ community is disguised as protecting children from perverts. “If you want to be a sexually oriented business, that’s fine, but you need to play by the same rules as everyone else does,” Rep. Patterson said.
His bill would make it illegal for restaurants and bars to host drag shows unless they’re defined as a sexually oriented business — the same classification as a strip club. Under this bill, bars such as JR’s, Eagle Houston, Barcode, Tony’s Corner Pocket, and Robert’s Lafitte would be considered sexually oriented businesses.
“We’re trying to tailor a bill to say that the sexually suggestive drag shows where grown men wear women’s underwear and seek children to stuff dollar bills into their underwear, we don’t want that to occur in the state of Texas,” Patterson said.
State Rep. Matt Shaheen announced in January that he has filed legislation to categorize drag shows as sexually oriented businesses. “Because there is a growing trend to target children for these events in an effort to make them vulnerable to grooming, Shaheen has filed House Bill 708 which will prevent minors from attending these performances,” a statement from the representative’s office states.
Shaheen stated, “We will not allow the innocence of our youngest Texans to be stolen from these extremists. Anyone who condones such an act should be ashamed of themselves. I will always fight to protect children in the Lone Star State from being sexualized, which includes preventing them from attending these types of harmful events. We will not tolerate our children being exposed to explicit, hyper-sexualized content in any way in the great state of Texas.”
Not to be outdone by his homophobic colleagues, State Rep. Nate Schatzline filed House Bill 1266, which would ban so-called “family-friendly” drag shows. The bill would amend the Business and Commerce Code to include drag shows as sexually oriented businesses, meaning minors would no longer be able to attend.
“With HB 1266, Texas children will be prevented from being exposed to overly sexual content that will rob them of their innocence for the sake of furthering radical ideologies,” Schatzline said.
State Senator Bryan Hughes got into the anti-drag queen act by filing Senate Bill 476 in January. It is a rehash of all the vitriol against drag queens seen in the various House bills. Creativity apparently is not his strong suit.
And this is just in Texas. Sybastian Smith, Director of Organizing for the National Center for Transgender Equality, says there are about 32 bills that seek to ban drag shows currently in state legislatures around the country. “These bills are designed both to ostracize and shun LGBTQ people and trans people specifically from the public and also to embolden the people who harbor anger and hatred towards trans people,” she told LGBTQ Nation. “It is clear based on the similar bills we’re seeing across the country, based on the comments of Republican presidential hopefuls for 2024 that anti-trans rhetoric is becoming a core part of the far right.”
“These bills are framed as an attack against drag performers, but it actually seeks to criminalize the very existence of transgender people by labeling gender expression and gender-affirming clothing as ‘drag,’” Smith says.
Do you think they (Republican-controlled legislatures) will stop banning drag shows in bars and restaurants? Tennessee’s House Bill 9 and North Dakota’s House Bill 1333, ban drag from being performed on any public property, which would mean drag would not be permitted at Pride events or on public streets. If that occurs, rest assured that the powers that be in Austin are paying attention and will race each other to introduce similar legislation. Houston’s Pride Parade may become a drag-free zone.
Then what? Could a transgender person dressed in clothing matching their gender identity but not their sex assigned at birth be arrested if they did anything constituting a performance, such as lip-syncing to a song they were listening to while walking down Pacific Street?