Pride event organizers monitor drag laws ahead of celebrations

As various pieces of state legislation aiming to limit drag performances proceed across the country, Pride festival organizers are watching closely.
Drag artist Vidalia Anne Gentry speaks during a news conference.
Posted at 5:41 PM, May 12, 2023

Various bills trying to ban or limit drag performances are moving through state legislatures in the United States. By April there were more than20 bills that would threaten to limit performances for the decades-old art form, in state legislatures across the country. 

As Pride Month approaches in June, Pride festival organizers are finding themselves having to keep a close eye on various pieces of legislation in the hopes that they won't stifle plans to celebrate the LGBTQ community in states around the U.S.

Vanessa Rodley, who helps organize the Memphis Mid-South Pride Fest, told LGBTQ Nation, "At the end of the day, we can’t put on an event that then segregates a huge portion of our community, right? We just can’t do that. So you have to find ways around it."

"As soon as this [legislation] started making its way, I immediately started coming out with plans to be able to counteract that," Rodley said. 

A bill in Tennessee looking to ban some drag performances was put on hold. 

Ron deHarte, who is the co-president for the U.S. Association of Prides, said organizers are going to have to put in some extra work to stay on top of these various bills, the politics surrounding them and their progress. Some events have already planned to not include drag performances so that they don't have trouble with obtaining permits. 

Other events will keep drag performances indoors. 

InFebruary the organizers of Knoxville, Tennessee's Pride festival threatened to cancel the entire celebration if a state bill there to outlaw drag performances in public spaces was signed into law. Tennessee's Senate Bill 3 threatened to make any "adult cabaret performances" held on public property illegal. And if the space is considered to be one where a "person who is not an adult" could view the "performance," that would also make the performance illegal. 

It has been mostly states with conservative politics that have seen larger efforts focused at limiting or censoring drag events. These states have also seen more significantpushes to target LGBTQ rights in general. 

But the impact of Pride month for the LGBTQ community is significant, as are the events that go along with it. 

Over 20 million people around the United States are expected to attend Pride events each year. 

"So when you talk about the collective impact that Pride organizers can have, not only in their community but across the country, it is powerful," deHarte said.

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