When a video of a gay bar in Dallas hosting a drag queen show for children drew widespread outrage from parents and conservatives, it represented the latest chapter in a growing trend of drag shows for minors.
The show, which many deemed inappropriate for children, was the latest episode in a saga that dates back several years and started with the controversial ” Drag Queen Story Hour ” at local public libraries.
The Texas show prompted state Rep. Bryan Slaton (R) to announce he would introduce legislation prohibiting minors to be present for such events.
“All I’m suggesting is that we do not allow drag shows in front of children in the same way we do not allow strip shows in front of children in Texas,” Slaton told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “I believe it’s the same idea of decency and morals that we don’t let children have women dance around in their underwear and put money in their underwear. In the same way, we should not allow that with a man dressed in women’s clothes.”
But while Slaton’s concerns with the Dallas show prompted his legislative push, the issue of drag shows for minors has drawn concern from parent activists due to their increasing presence in educational settings, especially schools.
Earlier this month, a group of four Colorado elementary schools promoted an after-school celebration of Pride Month that included a drag queen story hour, and for one parent activist, there is a stark difference between the viral Dallas show and drag shows at schools.
“I see a huge difference between something happening on a weekend, that is not sponsored by a school, that parents decide they want to expose their children to, [and] the conversation around schools hosting drag queen performances,” Erika Sanzi, the director of outreach for the parent activist organization Parents Defending Education, told the Washington Examiner.
For Sanzi, the growth of the drag queen shows for children is emblematic of an activist movement, present within and without education, that does not believe in the innocence of children.
“There is a reason to be concerned that there is a faction … of people who are pushing a lot of this stuff … [that] just don’t buy into this idea of childlike innocence,” Sanzi said. “There’s definitely a group of people that is out there really trying to push the boundaries because they do not believe that children need to be protected or shouldn’t be protected from this kind of content.”
Drag Queen Story Hour was founded in San Francisco in 2015.
The organization proudly advertises that it “started out as drag queens reading stories to children in libraries and grew into a global phenomenon.” Defenders of drag shows and drag queen story hour say the programs are fun and harmless ways to introduce children to the gay and transgender movement.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Drag Queen Story Hour said it “provides age-appropriate programming, and we routinely receive praise from parents and educators who are delighted that we offer children safe spaces to express themselves and support one another.”
“Drag Queen Story Hour could not be more disappointed in disingenuous politicians who are trying to score points by attacking programs like ours, which use drag as a traditional art form to promote literacy, teach about LGBTQ lives, and activate children’s imaginations,” organization spokesman Jonathan Hamilt said. “Rather than address real threats across the country, like the devastating epidemic of gun violence, right-wing politicians are spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about, and inciting violence against, drag performers and LGBTQ communities.
“This is part of a coordinated campaign to deny the rights of LGBTQ people, who already endure disproportionate rates of suicide and homelessness, and legislate us out of existence,” Hamilt said. “Any attempt to criminalize our work is rooted in tired homophobic and transphobic hate and misinformation, and we refuse to give in to politicians who are too bigoted and boring to comprehend our vision for a world in which every child can be safe fully expressing who they are.”
But while Drag Queen Story Hour has been the most recognizable and organized drag event for children, some schools have gone further and hosted drag shows that involved scantily clad cross-dressers engaging in provocative dance routines, a practice that prompted one Pennsylvania school district to apologize after parent backlash.
The outrage from the Pennsylvania incident was brought in part by the fact that the parents of children at the school were largely kept in the dark about the event prior to its occurrence, something Sanzi said is a recurring theme.
“Oftentimes, parents don’t even know about this until their kid is, like, ‘Oh, yeah, there was, like, a guy gyrating in a G-string on the stage today at school,'” Sanzi said. “If you’re thinking of drag as … a dress and a wig, then I could see why you might think, ‘God, like, what’s the big deal?’ [But] that’s not what we’re talking about.”
“There’s a lot of skin showing there in very provocative positions. It’s hypersexualized dancing in a school or at an after-school club meeting that’s … taking place on school grounds,” she said.
Sanzi said that by “bringing this into the schools,” school administrators, staff, and gay and transgender activists had circumvented parents and brought LGBT content directly to children.
“In the name of inclusion and creating safe spaces and helping everybody to feel safe being authentic, they’ve now decided that half-naked drag queens onstage is the appropriate way to teach that lesson to my child,” Sanzi said.
“The average person out there just wants to be a good person,” she added. “They want to feel like they support people, [that] they believe in kindness and respect and tolerance. And that’s what they think they’re doing by supporting some of this stuff.”
Reporting by The Washington Examiner.