All-Ages Drag Event Spurs Outcry Over Impact on Children

Drag queen Brigitte Bandit speaks with a child during a story time reading
Drag queen Brigitte Bandit speaks with a child during a story time reading at Cheer Up Charlies in Austin, Texas. | Image by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

An upcoming all-ages drag event sponsored by Austin Public Library has sparked public outcry, with critics calling out the taxpayer-funded partnership and the potential impact engaging with drag can have on children.

Annual Family Dragtivity Day is currently scheduled for March 2. It will be held at Cheer Up Charlies in Austin and feature both men and women in drag costumes reading to children.

Michelle Evans, who is running for chair of the Williamson County Republican Party, said she finds the upcoming event deeply troubling, not just because a taxpayer-funded entity is sponsoring it, but because of the long-term effects that could result from such exposure to children.

“I’m concerned about how this impacts children’s view of biology and reality, but also these men — and in this case a woman — who dress up in these outlandish costumes that present to children this very pornographied view of women where it is these insanely large prosthetic breasts and clownlike makeup with huge hair,” Evans said in an exclusive interview with The Dallas Express. “How insidious can this be? If we normalize this for children, we are normalizing that misogynistic view of women.”

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, all-ages drag shows have prompted protests all over Texas in recent years. Some drag performances without children in attendance have even drawn derision. The president of West Texas A&M University canceled a planned drag show on the campus last year, calling such performances “derisive, divisive, and demoralizing misogyny.”

Others, however, claim to see drag as a non-sexual form of artistic expression with roots that trace back to the age of William Shakespeare, according to a recent editorial piece published by PBS.

“Many drag opponents cite nudity in their objections. Every performer makes different choices, but drag queens often wear more, not less, clothing than you’d see on a typical American woman of the 21st century, at a public beach or on network TV,” Associated Press editor Jeff McMillan claimed.

“Their costumes tend toward extravagant, sometimes floor-length gowns. Drag queens may use false breasts, wear sheer costumes, and use makeup or other means to show cleavage and appear exaggeratedly feminine. The difference, performers note, is that opponents of drag see sexual deviance in the cross-dressing aspect,” he added.

Defenses of drag shows are now also increasingly steeped in freedom of speech arguments following a 2023 Supreme Court ruling that paused a Florida law barring children from attending a performance that “simulates nudity, sexual conduct or specific sexual activities … [or] lewd conduct.” However, the nation’s highest court did not shut the door on future litigation.

“The issue arises here in the context of a First Amendment overbreadth challenge, which presents its own doctrinal complexities about the scope of relief,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a concurring opinion.

The justices noted that children under the age of 18 are permitted to attend movie screenings that hold an R-rating when accompanied by an adult. The court also held that the subject matter of these films can be at least as potentially harmful as drag performances.

A Texas law seeking to bar “sexually oriented performances” faced a similar judgment when a federal court ruled that the law as passed violates the First Amendment.

“Not all people will like or condone certain performances,” U.S. District Judge David Hittner wrote. “This is no different than a person’s opinion on certain comedy or genres of music, but that alone does not strip First Amendment protection.”

Both the Texas and Florida laws were denounced by pro-drag activists as seeking to proscribe drag performances and marginalize LGBTQ people.

Regardless, the upcoming all-ages drag event in March has some on social media up in arms.

“This is a big push to use our tax dollars to teach children that sex is performative,” wrote one X user.

“Why the push to ‘expose’ children to this?? Just [a] bunch of no talent men, scantily dressed & beyond theatrically made up who lip sync while doing splits & kicks. I wouldn’t take my child to a strip joint either before you throw some phobic word around,” wrote another.

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