On June 14, the Arizona Senate Republicans issued a joint statement expressing interest in writing a bill that would prohibit anyone under 18 from being “exposed” to drag shows. The proposed ban comes as a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws and attacks have the nation, with similar anti-drag laws being suggested in Texas and Florida.
DRAG QUEEN STORY HOUR TARGETED BY RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS
“Policies of ‘nondiscrimination regarding gender expression and sexual orientation’ are sending a message to society that we should disregard morals and values just to normalize these unscientific, broad, ill-defined and subjective terms, which set a dangerous precedent for our children that are too young to be exposed to such concepts,” the AZ GOP statement read.
Arizona’s likely bill sponsor, QAnon-promoting state senator Vince Leach, also suggested the future legislation could have provisions that would punish parents who bring their children or teenagers to drag shows with possible loss of custody. Far-right influencers like Candace Owens have made similar proposals.
DRAG EVENTS TARGETED
Drag events, specifically the child-friendly Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) have long been the target of the far and religious right. In 2015, DQST was started at the Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library in San Francisco and quickly gained popularity across public libraries, school clubs, and bookstores nationally and internationally. DQSH is intended as “a safe space for inclusive and LGBTQ+ families to encourage childhood reading and teach lessons on tolerance and diversity.” Fascist groups made it a mission to harass and disrupt DQSH and since it’s inception, these family events were met with counterprotests, violent threats, and neo-Nazi led dox campaigns.
The rate of anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization spiked over the recent years. Anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations and violence increased four times from 2020 to 2021 and this year is already on track to exceed the number of reported attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED).
Fascist groups like the Proud Boys recently stepped up their anti-LGBTQ+ harassment. This Pride season, Proud Boys stormed several libraries over their inclusive storytime events. On June 2, Cape Fear Proud Boys forcibly shut down an inclusive reading event intended for children ages seven and under at the Pine Valley Library in Wilmington, NC. New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputies helped to escort the Proud Boys into the library, who then screamed obscenities at parents and children and cried “bring out the drag queens.”
On June 11, a group of Proud Boys disrupted a DQSH reading session at the San Lorenzo Library in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area. The men made violent threats and shouted homophobic and transphobic slurs at organizers, parents, and children, while the drag queen host, Panda Dulce, had to be escorted away for safety. The incident, which was also stoked by anti-LGBTQ hate propagandist Chaya Raichik (aka Libs of TikTok) is now under an active hate crime investigation. The same day also saw 31 members of the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front arrested and unmasked in Idaho before they stormed a Pride event at the Coeur d’Alene City Park.
During the final week of Pride, at least three more child-friendly events were targeted by Proud Boys, including public libraries in Sparks, NV, South Bend, IN, and McKinney, TX. In a show of antifascist community defense, protesters blocked off the Proud Boys by forming a human shield at the Roy and Helen Hall Memorial Library in McKinney. The rainbow-filled crowd outnumbered and drowned out the hate group, allowing for families to safely attend the Pride-themed book reading event.
Sadly, the threat of violence caused some cities to cancel their Pride celebrations altogether. Family-friendly Pride events in Jasper, IN, Rock Island, IL, Nevada City, CA, and Keizer OR were canceled due to safety concerns.
In Tucson, AZ, The Littlest Bookshop was similarly targeted by far-right disrupters for hosting a free Juneteenth Pride reading session with Arizona-based drag queens Felicia Minor and Sassy C. Diazz. The Littlest Bookshop hasn’t even been open a year but already has a growing reputation for their wide selection of children’s books and welcoming environment packed into their small 800 square foot space.
Days before the Juneteenth event, the bookstore owners were already receiving hateful phone calls over the planned drag story hour. Once the DQSH book reading began, the phone rang nonstop in an attempt to interrupt the event. Outside, a small group yelled at parents and children attending the Juneteenth Pride event, also filming their license plates as they drove away.
“You need to repent or you’re going to hell. You guys are grooming the children. Leave the children out of this. Do you even do background checks? Do you even know the real name of this person? Do you know that he was at a strip club last night teaching sex trivia,” a woman later identified as Val Garcias shouted.
The night before the Juneteenth book reading, an Arizona “groyper” white supremacist, Kyle Clifton, filmed himself infiltrating another adults-only Pride event hosted by Felicia Minor, the same drag queen from the Tucson event. At Gracie’s Tax Bar in Phoenix, Clifton filmed the group of adults having fun at a 21+ bar and playing a sex trivia game.
“I chose this event because 11 hours from now, these two freaks will be reading LGBT propaganda books to young children,” Clifton says to the camera before filming the table of prizes that included various sex toys.
The following week, both Clifton and Garcias joined serial anti-LGBTQ+ harasser Ethan Schmidt to follow the same drag queen to a third event, stalking them to another family-friendly book reading. Garcias and Schmidt berated the hosts and attendees calling them “groomers,” and “satanists” before being escorted away by police. Online, the bigots then encouraged their followers to leave negative reviews on the businesses who hosted the Pride events. Days later, Clifton was approved for a channel on CozyTV, the streaming platform white nationalist, Nick Fuentes.
The ARIZONA REPUBLICANS’ LIES PUT LGBTQ+ People IN DANGER
It’s no coincidence these attacks are coming amid a flood of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Matching the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ violence, 2022 has also seen an increase in the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Arizona proposed the third-highest total of anti-LGBTQ bills and successfully passed transphobic bills limiting trans youth healthcare and restricting trans girls and women from school sports.
Before the Arizona Republican Party announced their plans to write anti-drag laws, local lawmakers clearly expressed their open disdain for the LGBTQ+ community. Sen. Wendy Rogers has regularly called LGBTQ+ people slurs and “groomers,” while also posting dehumanizing “jokes” about trans people being murdered. Rep. Paul Gosar is notably one of the key figures who spread outright lies about the Uvalde, Texas school mass murderer being transgender and blamed the massacre on an innocent trans woman. The transphobic lies broadcasted on Gosar’s verified Twitter account contributed to the dangerous rumor that quickly led to a violent attack on a trans teenager in El Paso.
Only a few days before Republican leadership’s released their anti-drag joint statement, the Arizona Republican Party sent an official fundraising email featuring a cisgender burlesque dancer who has been frequently and falsely labeled a drag queen.
“This is a fight for our future!!! We can either make sure our future generation of Arizonans receive an age-appropriate, worthwhile education… Or we can let their youth be filled with Gender Bender strippers and Woke Teachers’ Unions who want to indoctrinate them,” the AZ GOP email read.
The fundraising email also referenced a family-friendly drag queen brunch in Dallas, TX that had recently been targeted by various right-wing extremists (and again promoted by Chaya Raichik/Libs of TikTok). Protesters shouted violent threats and slurs at parents and children attending the Dallas Pride event while others followed and harassed the drag performers. Self-described Christian fascist John Doyle was caught on camera telling the Texas sheriffs to go inside the drag event and execute the attendees.
“Take a look at what recently happened in Dallas, TX. And then, be sure to support the party that stands with PARENTS RIGHTS before far-left Democrats that want to expose your children to drag shows,” the AZ GOP fundraising email continued.
In their anti-drag joint statement, Arizona Republicans singled out a family-friendly Indigenous Pride event at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Native Drag Night featured Indigenous LGBTQ+ performers like Pyraddiction and Tomahawk Martini lip-synching and dancing to classic pop songs. The GOP characterized the event as “provocative” and claimed the performers were wearing “scantily clad attire.” While these terms are puritanical and subjective, footage from the event shows the Indigenous queens fully clothed and covered.
An attendee at the Heard drag show who spoke to LCRW also finds the Arizona GOP’s characterization to be ridiculous. They expressed worry due to recent right-wing attacks but were also thankful for the safe space the drag queens provided and the joy the event brought to their son.
“It’s hard because it’s affecting everyone I love,” they started. “I got emotional at how happy [my son] was. He loved the queens, they reminded him of The Matrix. It was exciting for him. Kids were having fun and had confidence in dancing and singing along. It was a nice, special experience which is something important for me to have with my kid.”
THE ANTI-DRAG RADICALIZATION OF KARI LAKE
Trump-endorsed Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake naturally jumped on the anti-drag hate campaign. The “Kari Lake War Room,” the official campaign Twitter account for Lake, responded to the Dallas drag show:
“Let’s make this abundantly clear. This is grooming. This is child abuse. Maybe that’s acceptable in Dallas, Texas. But it will not be tolerated in @KariLake-led Arizona.”
Again, on June 17th, Lake made another anti-drag statement which resulted in her former friend, drag queen Barbra Seville, to call her out as a “hypocrite.” Seville released a series of photos and private messages showing Lake had previously hired Seville for entertainment and attended drag events. On multiple occasions Lake can be seen partying and posing with drag queens. Seville alleges that Lake’s children were in attendance for some of their drag performances. As covered at the top of this article, the Arizona Republican Party is now openly discussing plans to write a bill that could remove custody from parents who “expose” their children to drag queens.
The Texas GOP recently unveiled their updated official party platform to reject any recognition of transgender people and characterizes gayness as “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is working to ban all Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming healthcare while Texas GOP leadership are fighting for child services to investigate the parents of trans children. LGBTQ+ teachers in these hostile states have been subjected to harassment and firing. States like Arizona, Texas, and Florida are working to criminalize being anything but straight and cisgender.
Far-right Oath Keeper lawmaker Wendy Rogers defended Lake’s now proud anti-drag stance:
“Kari Lake rejected drag queen indoctrination of our children and promises to protect Arizona children from grooming. I don’t see the problem,” Rogers tweeted.