Last week, Montana became the first state to pass a law prohibiting public schools and libraries from hosting drag reading events geared toward children. Violations of this law can result in hefty fines and potential work termination.
According to House Bill 359 (HB 359), “drag story hour” is described as an event led by a drag queen or drag king who reads books or leads other programming in the presence of minors. The law defines drag artists as performers who adopt a “male” or “feminine” persona that is “flamboyant or parodic,” with “glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.”
Any public school or library that violates HB 359 can be fined up to $5,000 and staff members who break the law can be suspended from their jobs for up to a year; subsequent violations can result in employee termination. Critics argue that this broad definition of “drag story hours” is an unconstitutional attack on the First Amendment that can be used to target nearly any individual who dresses in a way that conservative people find offensive, regardless of their behavior. The act does not make any mention of sexual behavior or conduct in its definition of drag reading events and drag performers — a unique characteristic that separates this law from other anti-drag legislation around the country.
But from coast to coast, states across the country are introducing their own bills targeting drag performers at large. Tennessee criminalized drag performances in the presence of minors in February. And in the Texas legislature, lawmakers are reviewing a measure targeting any municipal library in the state that holds “an event at which a man presenting as a woman or a woman presenting as a man” reads a book to a minor. Under this bill, the state would reserve the right to defund any public library that violates this law.
Below is a list of anti-drag bills currently under consideration in each state.
Alabama — In April, lawmakers filed HB 401, which proposes amendments to the state’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act. The amendments include a clause specifically targeting drag performers.
Arizona — The state has advanced two anti-drag bills that restrict public “adult cabaret performances,” SB 1030 and SB 1028, which could lead to fines of up to $150,000 and a two-year prison sentence for those who break the law.
Arkansas — SB 43 adds restrictions to “adult-oriented performances,” prohibiting these events from public spaces. The law specifically places regulations on performances involving “purposeful exposure, whether complete or partial” of “prosthetic genitalia or breasts,” a clause that can be invoked in some drag performances.
Colorado — HB23-1135 would make “indecent exposure” in the presence of minors younger than 15 years old a felony. While supporters of the bill argue that state LGBTQ+ organizations have not raised concerns with this bill, critics claim that the law could be used to restrict drag performances.
Florida — Unsurprisingly, Governor Ron DeSantis signed his so-called “Let Kids Be Kids” bill package which includes HB1438, which is meant to “protect children from sexually explicit adult performances in all venues — including drag shows and strip clubs.”
Idaho — Legislators in Idaho advanced HB 265, which restricts live performances involving “sexual conduct” in public spaces. The bill incorporates coded language that could be used against drag performers in its definition of “sexual conduct,” specifically referring to any performances using “accessories that exaggerate male or female primary or secondary sexual characteristics.”
Kansas — Lawmakers introduced SB 149, a measure that expands the state’s definition of criminal obscenity in public to include drag performances in the presence of minors.
Kentucky — State senators passed SB115, a bill that bans “adult-oriented performances” in public spaces. Initial violations of this law would be classified as misdemeanor offenses, but eventually escalate to felony charges.
Missouri — Legislators introduced HB1364, a provision that criminalizes “adult cabaret performances” in public, including drag shows. The measure also includes restrictions on drag story hours.
Minnesota — SF933 was introduced to the state legislature in January. The bill would categorize drag performances as adult entertainment, prohibiting minors from attendance and restricting the locations for drag events.
Nebraska — If passed, LB371 would ban anyone in the state under the age of 19 from attending a drag performance.
North Carolina — Lawmakers introduced HB673, which places limitations on adult entertainment performances featuring “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.”
North Dakota — In April, Governor Doug Burgum signed HB 1333 into law, a measure that prohibits “adult-oriented performances” in public spaces, or “any business establishment frequented by minors.”
Oklahoma — State senators advanced HB 2186, which bans “adult cabaret” performances in public spaces or anywhere in the presence of minors. Violators can be charged with a felony, a fine of up to $20,000, and up to two years in jail.
South Carolina — Lawmakers introduced SB585 which specifically refers to “male or female impersonators” as part of “adult cabaret.” These performances would be restricted from public areas, and violators can face a fine of up to $1000 and a two-year prison sentence.
Tennessee — In March, Governor Lee signed a bill that bans public “adult cabaret performances.” These performances include “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.”
Texas — Texas Senators passed both SB12 and SB1601 which prohibit minors from “sexually oriented performances,” as well as any library event where “the person being dressed as the opposite gender is a primary component of the entertainment.”
West Virginia — Legislators introduced SB253, which criminalizes “adult cabaret performances” on public property. People convicted can be charged with up to $25,000 in fines or a five-year sentence in a state correctional facility.