Drag stars set to meet with House lawmakers on LGBTQ rights legislation

Three drag superstars will lobby House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle next week to advocate for greater protections for LGBTQ people and fight against a rising tide of hate and threats made against the community.

Drag performers Jiggly Caliente, Brigitte Bandit and Joey Jay will meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, part of a “Drag Lobby Day” organized by MoveOn Political Action, a progressive advocacy group.

“MAGA Republicans have been viciously assaulting the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community for far too long,” Nakia Stephens, the group’s campaigns director, told The Hill in an emailed statement. “Our bodies and lives are on the line, and we will not be silenced.”

Lobbying efforts will focus largely on the Equality Act, which would extend federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people by making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes, and the Transgender Bill of Rights, a landmark resolution that would strengthen civil rights protections for trans and nonbinary Americans. House Democrats reintroduced both measures last year, though progress on both bills has stalled since then.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, told The Hill in February that this Congress is “purely a building public support session” for the Equality Act. Plans to push that and other pro-LGBTQ legislation forward in the House will hinge on whether Democrats are able to regain control of the lower chamber in November.

All three drag performers will meet Tuesday with House lawmakers, including “lawmakers of vulnerable, battleground Republican districts — especially those with a high population of LGBTQ+ residents,” said Britt Jacovich, MoveOn’s press secretary. A rally is scheduled to follow the meetings.

Drag in recent years has emerged as an unexpected political flash point, with Democrats and Republicans divided on whether performances are appropriate for young viewers. Advocates have defended drag as a form of self-expression that challenges gender and societal norms and promotes inclusivity. They reject claims that the centuries-old art form is inherently sexual.

Lawmakers in at least two dozen states this year filed legislation meant to restrict drag events that take place in public or where they may be seen by minors, though nearly all of them failed to become law. Six Republican-led states in 2023 passed legislation cracking down on drag performances, but enforcement of four of them — in Florida, Montana, Texas and Tennessee — is blocked by federal court orders.

Most Americans oppose laws restricting drag events, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found, including more than a third of Republicans and nearly 75 percent of Democrats.

Attempts by Congress to curtail drag performances have been unsuccessful, though an amendment added by House Republicans last week to the National Defense Authorization Act would bar funding made available by the bill from being used for drag events. The amendment’s sponsor accused the Department of Defense — which banned drag shows on military bases last year — and President Biden of “pushing a sexual agenda” on service members and young children.

“The demonization of drag performers and hatred spewed by some of my Republican colleagues is both incredibly harmful to the performers themselves, as well as to any LGBTQIA person who expresses and presents themselves outside of the set of strict gender norms imposed by conservative politicians in Washington,” said Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), who is slated to appear at Tuesday’s rally.

“And here’s the sad truth: most of the lawmakers who scream and yell about drag queens on the House Floor or in Committee could care less about drag: they just want a clip on Fox News, and they know that anti-LGBTQIA hate is the easiest way to do it,” Crockett told The Hill in an email. “It’s all a performance; but instead of putting on nails and lashes, these queens are putting on their best Bigot Drag and lip sync-ing for their political lives in the hopes Donald Trump will tell them to ‘shantay’.”

More than 500 bills targeting LGBTQ rights, including drag restrictions, have been filed this year in state legislatures, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. At least 39 have become law, including nine new bans on gender-affirming health care and at least three new laws that prevent transgender students from using facilities that match their gender identity.

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