Why the American right is afraid of drag queens

Activists from the far-right group Proud Boys rose to prominence in the United States for their anti-Black Lives Matter counter-protests and presence during the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. But lately they have are found another mission: to fight the drag queens.

Last June, during LGBT pride month, they disrupted several drag queen shows near San Francisco, Indiana, and Nevada. For the Proud Boys, children’s reading activities led by drag queens in some public libraries are pro-LGBT brainwashing orchestrated by would-be pedophiles.

This is also the opinion of many parents and conservative activists who regularly protest against these events with signs like “stop the sexualization of children”. Tensions are such that in Texas, armed left-wing activists recently had to defend the entrance to a restaurant where a drag queen was performing. The day before, the owner of the establishment had however specified that the show of Trisha Delish would not be erotic.

Mass indoctrination

For a long time, drag queens were not favored targets of the American right. The Drag Queen Story Hour association, which organizes reading sessions in libraries, has been in existence since 2015 and has about 30 branches in the country, even in conservative states. The drag queens who take part adapt their style to the age of the public and present themselves as “clowns, but prettier”, which deliver messages about respecting difference and celebrating self-expression. They read classics of children’s literature and sometimes books that explain that boys can also like mermaids and princesses.

But since 2020, politicians like Florida Governor Ron de Santis have been fiercely fighting what they call gender ideology, especially at school. From a few rare examples of teachers who want to teach the concepts of transidentity to 5-year-old children, De Santis and his fellow Trumpists denounce a mass indoctrination threatening all American children.

For the governor of Florida, who is playing for re-election in November and has presidential ambitions, it is also a strategy to mobilize an electorate galvanized by these subjects. The message is also relayed by associations such as Moms for Liberty (“moms for freedom”), which now has nearly 100,000 members determined to fight against anti-racist and pro-LGBT rhetoric aimed at children.

After videos of drag queens dancing suggestively in front of children in bars emerged on social media, De Santis said he was considering sending social services to investigate parents who take their families to such shows. . Likewise, Georgia’s elected official Marjorie Taylor Greene said in June that she would make a bill so that children could not attend drag queen shows. Local elected officials from Texas and Arizona have also mentioned similar projects.

Dangerous erotic shows

Originally, this panic is a reaction to the increase in the number of young people who identify as trans, as well as to the new radical movement to deconstruct the gender binary. Popular conservative activists on Twitter (notably the “Libs of Tik Tok” account) pick out the most absurd examples of these new social media trends (e.g., a TikTokeuse explaining how to use neo-pronouns like “ey/em or “glim/glims”) to give the impression that some sort of non-binary dictatorship is approaching.

From there, the rejection extended to anything related to LGBT issues. In 2022, Ron De Santis pushed through a law restricting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school. And for the past two years, many parents and local elected officials have been asking for the banning of books with themes on homosexuality, being even ready to cut the funds of municipal libraries which refuse to censor works, as is currently the case in Jamestown, Michigan.

A key architect of this panic is conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who inspired several laws against “critical race theory” at school in 2021, and has since expanded his campaign. This year, he suggested stoking fear against drag queens by otherwise naming: “Conservatives should start using the term ‘trans stripper’ instead of ‘drag queen’. It has a more shocking connotation and it helps to shift the debate towards sexualization,” he wrote on Twitter.

It doesn’t matter that drag queens are overwhelmingly gay men and not trans women, and that they don’t do striptease: the point is to make it look like dangerous erotic performances.

Paradoxically, these tensions come at a time when drag queens had become more sanitized, present well beyond gay bars, whether at company parties or various festivals. But part of the American right has not digested this development. For some, the fact that drag queens can be invited to read in libraries or public schools (as is the case in New York) is a sign that Western Judeo-Christian civilization is in danger.

“Less drag queens, more Chuck Norris”

In 2019, Sohrab Ahmari, a leading young intellectual of the new American right, was moved by one of these reading sessions for children and wrote an article calling for “to fight in the culture war to defeat the enemy”. His outrage had sparked a debate on the right, between those who believe that traditional values ​​should be defended within a democratic framework and those who believe that the progressive “woke” threat is such that some form of authoritarian reaction is necessary. The intellectuals of the second camp like Ahmari are admirers of Viktor Orbán, the president of Hungary who, precisely, does not hesitate to restrict individual freedoms to combat certain ideas, for example prohibiting gender studies at university.

Invited to a conservative conference in Texas last August, in the presence of several Republican senators and governors, Orbán had precisely spoken of the threats that progressives posed to “Western civilization” and presented his country as an example of a possible response: “My government stands for order without compromise. We’ve decided that we don’t need more genres, we need more military. Less drag queens, more Chuck Norris,” he said, referring to the American actor of martial arts films.

Despite themselves, the drag queens find themselves embroiled in a conflict where they represent the decadence of Western societies, thus becoming potential targets of insults and violence in the culture war which divides the United States.

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