A performer during "Drag Night" held in Lamberton Hall on April 16, 2023. Spectrum’s annual “Drag Night” was hosted by ClannAnn, two professional drag queens, and featured student performances.(Hao li/B&W Staff)

Controversial bans on drag shows sweep the U.S.


Amid several states’ introduction of bills banning drag shows in the presence of minors, students packed into Lamberton Hall for Spectrum’s annual “Drag Night.”

The event took place on April 15. It was hosted by ClannAnn, two professional drag queens, and featured student performances.

At “Drag Night,” students could purchase “Marsha Bucks,” named after historical LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson, to throw to performers on stage. Spectrum club secretary John Blake, ‘24, said all of the proceeds went to the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Center in Allentown. 

“I feel like it’s really important to let people express themselves in whatever way,” Mak Spiotta, ‘26, said. 

She said the show was exhilarating and made her feel closer to the Lehigh community because it showed sides of Lehigh she had not previously seen. 

However, someone a few years younger than Spiotta in another state may not be able to have a similar experience.

Though legal in Pennsylvania, states including Florida, Texas and Kansas have introduced legislation limiting drag shows in front of minors by categorizing them as “adult cabaret performances.” Tennessee, Idaho and Arizona signed similar bills into law.

Tennesse Senate Bill 3, the first of the ban bills, was challenged by Friends of George’s, a nonprofit organization that produces drag-centric performances. 

The bill, which classified all female impersonators as adult cabaret performers, was temporarily restrained by U.S. district judge Thomas L. Parker on the grounds that it limits citizens’ freedom of speech. 

Blake said he thinks this wave of legislation targeting drag shows and transgender people are connected, both of which are a result of the LGBTQ community becoming more visible in the public eye. 

“It’s also probably because drag comes from the Black queer community,” Blake said. “I think part of that also probably has to do with silencing the voices of people of color.” 

Political science professor Holana Ochs said many of the bills being pushed through state legislators are based on fear mongering from politicians about the transgender community and drag shows, hiding behind the guise of protecting children.

“This is strategically a way they can conceal a hate-based ideology behind a legitimate sort of conversation about what’s the right thing to do,” Ochs said. “How do we help kids along their journey to understand their own identity?”  

Ochs said bills targeting LGBTQ individuals are an effort by the right-wing politicians to push out people who would vote against their interests. 

She said politicians are doing this to divert attention from their own actions and because they believe the LGBTQ community is an easy target. 

“The majority of people are against these bans, and the fact that they are being pushed through is anti-democratic,” Ochs said. “We need direct, nonviolent action.” 

Blake said he would not be surprised if there was a mass exodus of LGBTQ people from many of these states.

Pennsylvania is a swing state, and Ochs said if Pennsylvania residents do not want to see similar bills introduced, there has to be an effort by the people to elect politicians that will protect LGBTQ people. 

“I’m hopeful that we as a community will come together and say, ‘This is absolutely unacceptable,’” Ochs said. “You cannot threaten the lives of other people, you cannot erase people from existence, you can’t make it illegal to exist.”

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1 Comment

  1. Natalie Gable on

    This is a typical comment, to completely flip the conversation into us that want to protect our kids as “being abusive to black/ LGBTQ community” when to us it’s the opposite…why are you trying to groom our children? why are our children SOO IMPORTANT to perform for? why can’t they be 18, a reasonable thing to ask. Nobody is asking anyone to go away or not exist, that’s obsurd. We are asking for rules because a little child doesn’t truly understand what they are seeing

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