North Texas has been a flashpoint in the culture war over whether it is appropriate for children to attend drag shows, with a number of allegedly “kid-friendly” performances attracting supporters and opponents alike over the last couple of years.
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, a bill was passed by the state legislature that would ban “sexually oriented performance[s] … [from being held] in the presence of an individual younger than 18 years of age.” Gov. Abbott signed it into law in June, but it will not go into effect until September 1.
Some supporters of the law consider drag to be inherently sexual, therefore making it inappropriate for children.
Local activist Kelly Neidert, whose organization Protect Texas Kids documents and protests “kid-friendly” drag shows, told The Dallas Express in a previous statement that anyone who approves of children attending drag shows is “okay with children being sexualized … and exposing children to extremely sexual content.”
“I truly don’t understand how anyone should be okay with that,” Neidert said. “I don’t know how anyone [who] knows what the drag show is could be okay with that.”
Still, proponents of drag shows claim that they are just another form of entertainment that can make LGBTQ children feel accepted.
“We’re just trying to give a safe haven for kids [who] feel that they’re gonna grow up gay, or feel like they are gay, or feel like they’re trans,” local drag performer Emeka Bless told The Dallas Express on Saturday.
Bless performed in a “drag brunch” show at The View Dallas in the afternoon. The event was billed for people 21 and older.
“It’s not all about what you see in the media. We’re not after your kids or anything like that,” the drag performer said. “We’re just here to support everybody.”
Bless compared drag to cosplaying, arguing that it is just another avenue for people to express themselves in unconventional ways: “It’s liberating. It’s freedom of expression. … We like to put on makeup, wigs, and we just like to entertain a crowd.”
Not everyone shares the sentiment, however, as evidenced by the cancellation of a drag show at West Texas A&M University earlier in 2023. University President Walter Wendler shut down the planned event over its allegedly “demoralizing” impact on women.
“Drag shows stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood,” said Wendler in a March email explaining why he canceled the show, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. “Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.”
Still, it has been children’s attendance at drag shows that has really animated people on both sides of the issue.
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Six Flags Over Texas hosted a drag show last month that allegedly had children in attendance, prompting protests outside the amusement park. Around the same time, the mayor of Arlington voiced support for “all ages” drag events.
Some school campuses have also turned into controversial hotspots in the discourse, with a high school in Collin County recently catching flak for hosting an all-ages LGBTQ Pride event that included a drag show attended by children.
It is unclear what impact the upcoming law banning sexually explicit performances from being held in front of minors will have on drag shows in Texas, as the statute will likely face challenges in court.
Still, activists like Neidert feel the law should apply to drag shows and other Pride-related events.
“LGBTQ pride events are inherently sexual and should never be open for children to attend. … This isn’t about a lifestyle; it’s about the sexualization of minors, and it is abhorrent,” Neidert said in a previous statement to The Dallas Express.