Banning drag destroys the futures of today’s youth

Tackling the stigma against drag and understanding why drag is so important for children everywhere


Alicia Tan

A digital art piece of a drag queen being silenced.

Alicia Tan, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA – “Children are our future.” This is a common phrase used by lawmakers across the nation as they make decisions on behalf of the citizens who chose them as representatives. However, state legislators across the nation have completely disregarded this very phrase as they pass new legislation that directly attacks today’s queer population.

On Thursday, March 2, 2023, Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed a bill into law that restricts drag performances. Specifically, the new bill restricts “adult cabaret” as defined by Tennessee state legislators. While adult cabaret had previously been defined in Tennessee as including topless dancers, strippers, exotic dancers, and go-go dancers, the new bill added male or female impersonators to that list. The law now bans adult cabaret performances on public property or anywhere else it could be viewed by a minor. This means that drag performers in Tennessee are now banned from performing in front of minors.

Several proponents of the bill have defended it by claiming that the law is not meant to harm drag performers specifically.

“For clarification, this bill is not targeting any group of people,” said Tennessee Senator Jack Johnson. “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.”

However, what Johnson and many other Tennessee representatives fail to recognize is that not all drag is sexually explicit. There are family friendly drag shows that many kids enjoy and take comfort in as a time to relax and bond with their family and community. Drag shows that are sexually explicit are specifically labeled as being explicit, and there are typically age restrictions placed on these performances.

Although Tennessee is the first state to ban drag, they will most likely not be the last. Other states, including Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and more, are also considering bills that will place similar restrictions on drag in their states. But the issue goes beyond state consideration. What happens after drag is banned in states? Will the ban become nationwide?

If they actually cared about children, there would be a lot of other things put into place and talked about right now… The weaponization of this art form is just disheartening.

— Alaina Ahn, Los Al senior

One of the most frustrating and frightening things for the LGBTQ+ community right now is the blatant violation of first amendment rights happening to drag performers in Tennessee. Drag performers are being restricted from exercising their own craft and free speech based on these new regulations. Drag is an art. Drag is performance and vibrancy and expression. It’s singing, songwriting, dancing, styling, and more.

However, groups of Tennessee legislators who are meant to represent the wills and beliefs of their voters, as well as protect the citizens they are representing, would rather group together a diverse community of performers under one sexually explicit label than support the citizens of their state who are simply expressing their beauty and confidence through their performances. We allow people to keep dancing and singing and styling as long as they conform to a cisgender-centric norm. Legislators are not trying to protect children; they are simply pushing conformity onto a vibrant community and trying to make them feel ashamed of their beautiful art.

The stigma against drag and the stereotype that all drag performances are sexually explicit is bigotry. Drag is an art, and it means more than just the fun of the performance. The growing popularity of drag in the United States has become a powerful tool to help destigmatize the LGBTQ+ community and promote inclusion.

Drag performers are trailblazers for all queer individuals, not just performers. Drag performers are powerful role models, idols, and leaders for today’s youth. Drag performers on TV, in public, and on stage teach every child about the importance of self love and acceptance while also encouraging a more inclusive nation. By restricting drag from children, Tennessee legislators are also stunting the growth of their state’s youth, and by proxy, the country’s youth.

They think our love, our light, our laughter, and our joy are signs of weakness. They’re wrong because that is our strength. Drag queens are the marines of the queer movement.

— RuPaul, famous drag queen

Placing restrictions on drag doesn’t just harm adult drag performers, it also directly attacks the younger drag community. There are drag performers under the age of 18 who are no longer allowed to practice their own art under this new law. In a country that claims they are protecting children, today’s queer youth are being restricted, oppressed, and treated as though their own beauty is something ugly. This bill comes around the same time as another law that was just passed in Tennessee banning gender-affirming health care for minors. Both laws are a direct attack on queer and transgender youth. 

If we keep attacking our nation’s children, our country will never grow. LGBTQ+ youth are already at high risk of suicide and depression. A study by the Trevor Project discovered that around 1.2 million LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 18 seriously consider suicide every year. Attacking one of the most vulnerable populations in the nation spells disaster and displays the true lack of regard lawmakers have for queer children.

Born into a world of diverse and beautiful people, the children of today watch as inclusion and compassion are shattered by lawmakers who restrict and harm a vivacious community filled with individuals who have already spent their lives marginalized by their own country.

Children are our future, and because of this, we should be protecting them from real threats rather than attacking them under the guise of shielding them from performers creating beautiful and bold art.

To learn more and show your support for drag performers across the nation, visit the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drag Defense page.