In early March, Tennessee became the first state to ban drag shows in public places.
The state’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed a bill that banned “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in locations where it can be viewed by minors, including “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers.”
Critics of the law, which went into effect April 1, say that categorizing drag as “adult entertainment” automatically deems them sexualized performances. They also argue the language surrounding “male and female impersonators” is inherently anti-trans.
At least a dozen other states are considering similar anti-drag legislation. It was a topic of discussion at the recent taping of the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” finale.
For Season 15 contestant Aura Mayari, the anti-drag law hits close to home. “I am from Tennessee,” Mayari told TheWrap. “I always say, just keep your head up. There’s a whole community behind you. We’re not gonna be p-ssies and step back and not fight back. Again, I’m here. And I’m always going to continue to use my platform to voice my opinion and fight for our rights.”
“Drag Race” songwriter Leland echoed Mayari’s words. “I live between LA and Nashville. Going to Play Dance Bar in Nashville, very much a gay bar, helped shape me. It also helped expose me to what my dreams could be and what my life and career could be. So I’m very close with a lot of the local queens in Nashville. I’m so inspired by them. They are not backing down. They are sticking true to who they are.”
Check out more responses from “Drag Race” judges, contestants and allies backstage:
What message would you give your fellow artists and entertainers who are performing in states where they’re facing persecution?
Michelle Visage, judge: We’re not gonna let anybody takes us down. We are out here. Your elders are out here fighting, walking the walk, talking to talk and we are doing this so you can be you. People would not tell sculptors or painters to stop their art, so how dare they make a drag queen stop their art? And by the way, it’s their source of income. It’s how they pay their bills. How dare you think you can take it away? When really what we’re doing is wagging the dog. And we’re trying to take the attention away from what really matters in this country like racism and anti-Semitism and hunger and poverty. The list goes on: eldercare, medical care, college tuition, the list can go on what we should be focusing on.
Ross Matthews, judge: If you’re facing opposition out there, there is so much more love and support for you than there is opposition. And if you look out your window and you don’t feel like there are open arms for you, there are. We’re here, and we’ve got your back.
Carson Kressley, judge: People that are buying into this manufactured fear of drag, I think if they see these artists out there performing and seeing what they do, they’d be like, “This is amazing. This is joyful and lovely and wonderful!” Why? Why are people trying to scare us? I think that truth is on our side, and it’s going to take a matter of time to reeducate.
TS Madison, judge: You have to stand up and march. Fight for your people. You have to use the influence that you have in your community to get your community out to vote.
Irene DuBois, contestant: No matter how alone you feel in this moment, no matter how hard the walls are closing in around you, everybody that you see living successfully has felt that way at one time. And it’s when you start giving yourself permission to live authentically — who you know yourself to be on the inside — the doors begin plying open.
Princess Poppy, contestant: I think it’s targeting trans people and gender non-conforming people, unfortunately. Laws are meant to be broken. If it’s unjust and unfair, break the hell out of it.
Amethyst, contestant: You know that drag is not a crime. You know how powerful drag can be. So don’t let the naysayers bring you down.
Salina EsTitties, contestant: Don’t be afraid! They want us to be scared and crawl back into our closets. That’s not gonna happen. Our closets are closed. Baby, we are out of them and we’re not going back in!
Jax, contestant: Keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t let other people make you feel invalidated. You’re entirely valid in what you’re doing; right now it’s even more important. And don’t let them try to shut you down. It’s ridiculous what is happening right now. Don’t let your lawmakers distract you.
Malaysia Babydoll Foxx, contestant: Keep pushing, keep fighting. You know, we’ve come a long way. And obviously, they see the impact that we have, and they trying to end us. But at the end of the day, just keep showing them that what we do is all about love.
Sugar, contestant: This fight is not over. We got to keep on giving the gay, giving the glam, and giving the glitz. If they don’t like it, they can go suck grandma’s toe.
Spice, contestant: Drag is fun. It’s no different than any other art. It’s fantasy.
Marcia Marcia Marcia, contestant: Art is born out of truth. And a lot of time politics are born out of lies. So just keep living your truth, expressing your truth and showing the truth of queerness and the truth of being a queer person in our country. Because a lot of people are gonna try and knock it down.
Robin Fierce, contestant: Keep the strength, keep the faith in whatever it is that you believe. And really just make sure that you are still speaking out and also being safe because we don’t want anything in those states to happen to you.
Loosey LaDuca, contestant: Drag has always been a political act. But now because there are laws that are targeted towards us, continuing to perform is more of a political act. And we all are aware that these laws are just a veiled way to target the trans community. We are all aware of that. Which is disgusting. I know that these laws are anti-trans. The trans community is being used as a scapegoat for the actual issues that are happening in this country. Trans people, queer people, drag queens are not killing people and we all know what is.
Luxx Noir London, semi-finalist: Keep doing it because they don’t want to see us. They want to see us back down. They want to see us put in a corner and we will be doing a disservice to all the people who fought for our rights today to just go back into hiding and not live outwardly proud.
Mistress Isabelle Brooks, semi-finalist: For anyone out there who was fighting the fight, visibility’s the most important thing. Whether you’re a queer person or an ally, being visible, being yourself and not letting people continue to put us down is one of the most important things because when you live your life in fear, the brother and sister next to us are going to live their life in fear.
Sasha Colby, semi-finalist: We are all protesting every time we get in drag. We are all happily protesting and that’s all we have to still do. Because we’re not going anywhere.
Anetra, semifinalist: I think it’s important to be knowledgeable of your surroundings and where you are. Still continue to do your art, still continue to evolve and grow in your craft but also just be aware. It is kind of dangerous right now. We want to continue to spread love continue to spread your art but also be smart.
Jinkx Monsoon, Season 5 and All-Stars 7 winner: We have your back. And have an escape planned. I hate to sound nihilistic, but we’re already working on ours just in case.
Orville Peck, musical artist: Find a community, whether that’s friends or the greater community of LGBTQIA or whatever it might be, find a community that you can feel you’re not alone doing this. And when that fails, because oftentimes you have to sometimes pray with these moments on your own, just know that you are not alone.
To that end, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” MTV, and World of Wonder have donated to the ACLU’s “The Drag Defense Fund” in support of the ACLU’s LGBTQ+ rights work. You can learn more about the Fund here.