AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thundering applause and cheers erupted Thursday afternoon when one of the winners of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” asked a packed ballroom inside the Austin Convention Center to “make some noise for drag.” After such a boisterous start to their South by Southwest panel, three alumni from the popular reality competition show — Jaida Essence Hall, Symone and Gottmik — delved into a more serious discussion about the political pushback to drag happening now in Texas and several other Republican-led states.

Texas lawmakers introduced several bills this session that target drag performances in the state, including proposals to classify them as a sexually-oriented business akin to a “sex shop” and bar children from attending shows. These efforts mirror legislation that already passed this year in states like Arkansas and Tennessee.

Symone, who grew up in Arkansas and won the 13th season of “Drag Race,” answered a question about how these legislative proposals are affecting her mental health. During her response, she paused to fight back her emotions while talking about the LGBTQ people who remain in her home state.

“I think about all the people back home — like I saw drag sisters back home and them fighting it, and I think about how drag literally saved my life,” Symone said. “For [lawmakers] to try and take that away from someone who just it’s so important to see yourself, and I think drag queens are that for a lot of people. And so to take that away — I’m sorry — I think it’s a detriment.”

She recounted dressing in drag for the first time when she went to prom at 18 and how that made her feel like she could finally express herself.

“I just think about the younger people and how if that was how important [drag] was for me, how important it could be for them,” Symone said.

Hall, who took home the show’s crown during the 12th season, said the anti-drag legislation should inspire both LGBTQ people and allies alike to get more involved politically.

“Although this does affect me mentally a little bit, I do know that it’s my time to get into the fight,” Hall said. “I feel like it’s my time to stand up for people in my community who might be like myself, who might have needed somebody before them to stand up for them and be a voice. I think that if you can in your community if you can be a voice for people, there are a lot of people around us that might not have the power to stand up for themselves.”

At the same time this SXSW panel happened Thursday, a Texas Senate committee began considering several bills that would prohibit transgender children in the state from receiving gender-affirming care and treatments, like puberty-inhibiting drugs, hormone therapy and surgeries. At least eight states passed laws that ban this kind of care for kids, and dozens more are considering similar legislation. Supporters of these proposals said they

Gottmik, the transgender “Drag Race” finalist, said she would imagine all these debates might make children feel “so discouraged,” especially if they’re struggling with their identity as she did as a kid.

“I just feel for those kids so hard, and I would just say that you’re not alone,” Gottmik said. “Open that TikTok app and follow drag queens, and we are here. We are not going anywhere, and if anything, we’re just going to be louder than ever, honey.”

What they would say to lawmakers

The hour-long panel Thursday concluded with the moderator, Kevin Wong from The Trevor Project, asking the renowned drag performers what they would say to the lawmakers currently considering restrictions to the LGBTQ community in Texas and across the country.

Gottmik joked about how her first instinct might be to direct an expletive at them, but she said she has to think about how these legislators may either not know a transgender person or have very little familiarity with drag.

“Now I’ve just learned that no matter what rage I’m feeling, I just have to reel it in. I would love to just kind of be like, ‘Look how happy I am. Look at my art I’m doing, and look at the people I’m connecting with are real people,” Gottmik said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do. We’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, you passed a law. We’re gonna go home and go back in the closet.’ We’re going to still be here. I would just love to show them how happy and how we’re literally family, you know, as a community. That’s what I would love for them to actually see and experience.”

Hall added how much value she believes there would be for lawmakers to “spend some quality time with queer people.”

“Nothing you could say would equal spending time with real people and experiencing and realizing they are just like you — probably better people,” she cracked, “but just like you.”

Symone, however, warned about the repercussions she said would come from states passing laws that would restrict aspects of LGBTQ life.

“Just know that we’re human at the end of the day, and we have a right to exist, just like you have a right to exist,” Symone said. “If they can come for us, they can come for you, too.”