AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nowhere else in the country had as many protests or threats against events with drag entertainers than Texas did this year, according to a national LGBTQ advocacy group.
Throughout the year, GLAAD kept track of at least 141 anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting specific drag events across the U.S. However, in Texas alone, there were 23 of these types of incidents recorded — the most of any other state. The next closest was North Carolina, with 10.
Equality Texas, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, shared those numbers with GLAAD after closely monitoring reports and tips.
“We know that we are currently living in an incredibly hostile environment, and that has a direct impact on our community,” Ricardo Martinez, the president and CEO of Equality Texas, said, “which is why it’s incredibly important to watch what you say and ensure the safety and protection of all Texans.”
This weekend, a protest at a North Texas drag show turned into a tense confrontation between two groups, including people armed with guns. It happened Saturday night in Grand Prairie, near Dallas. The event was an all-ages holiday-themed drag show held at a theater, featuring performances by alumni from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
The Dallas Morning News reported a group came out to protest, saying children should not be allowed to watch the show. A group of neo-Nazis joined the protest. Meanwhile, a group of counter-protesters, including some with rifles, came out to support the event.
Martinez and other LGBTQ advocates in the state are concerned the start of the legislative session next month could further raise anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
“We [as a state] are escalating the attack on LGBTQ people, and I think people need to be outraged about it,” Martinez said. “We cannot have another session like 2021.”
For instance, a bill already filed — House Bill 643 — would classify a drag performance as a sexually-oriented business in the state akin to a “sex parlor” or an adult video store. If this should become law, then the state would impose a $5 fee each time a business admits a customer for a drag event. The business would have to maintain records of that information for the Texas comptroller’s office for future inspection and possibly an audit.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. Jared Patterson, did not respond to KXAN’s requests for comment Monday, but he released a statement last month about the proposal.
“Whether it’s the sexually explicit books we’re fighting in schools, child gender modification, or obscene drag shows labeled as family-friendly,” Patterson said in November. “It’s almost unbelievable that some in society have moved in this direction.”
Tina Cannon, the president and CEO of the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses are prepared to fight this legislation when the new session begins on Jan. 10, 2023.
“Most of the businesses that we’ve heard from don’t really expect these to go very far,” Cannon said. “That said, that rhetoric is extraordinarily dangerous, and that’s really what we’re fighting against: to make sure that these types of bills don’t have the airtime to rally those who want to protest against us or show up at our events.”
Consideration of this kind of legislation is stirring up reaction with drag performer Nadine Hughes, who began performing in Austin 22 years ago.
“It’s disgusting. It’s gross to me, and it’s terrifying,” Hughes said Monday. “Because this is all I’ve ever done for 22 years. This is my job.”
She said this is what she wishes people would understand about her job, which takes her to gigs all across Austin and the country.
“It’s an art. It’s like theater. It’s dressing up,” Hughes said. “It’s literally playing a character to let people escape a reality of what their mundane life is for a few hours and come and laugh and have a good time.”