A rundown of anti-drag legislation in the United States


Infographic credit: Simon Hereford.


Sweeping anti-drag legislation has been introduced across the United States banning or restricting drag performances. For example, Tennessee and Arkansas both successfully passed laws restricting performing drag in public spaces or in front of anyone under the age of 18 while many other states proposed similar bills. The laws passed in Tennessee and Arkansas both removed direct references to drag from their language, though their intent remains the same.

Many of the proposed bills classify drag as indecent and thus restrict their performances by claiming they are inappropriate for children. “Strategically positioning children as vulnerable is a tactic that folks have used to discriminate for the entire history of the country,” said History Teacher Kristjiana Gong. “The strategy of employing children is a really effective manner of getting around discrimination.” 

Gong also explained that targeted propaganda towards younger audiences is prevalent in the history of the United States. “Essentially, it goes back to Brown v. Board [where] one of the arguments for the importance of segregation was this idea that vulnerable children shouldn’t be subjected to sitting next to people [of different races].” 

The following are a synopsis of the various proposals throughout the United States:


Arizona introduced legislation that would classify drag events as “adult-oriented performances” and subsequently restricts public performances. Performing in drag in front of a child under 15 years of age results in over a decade of time in prison and registration as a sex offender if passed. The bill awaits a vote in the Arizona state House. 



Arkansas Republicans originally introduced Arkansas Senate Bill 43 in order to “classify a drag performance as an adult oriented business” and criminalize performances in front of anyone under the age of 18 years. However, the bill was amended to replace the term drag with performances that “appeal to the prurient interest.” The bill passed and was signed into law. 



House Bill 265 was introduced to ban public performances of drag in Idaho. The bill specifically mentions performances that involve “accessories that exaggerate male or female… sexual characteristics.” Businesses where drag performances take place have to take “reasonable steps to restrict the access of minors” or owe $10,000 to any minor or their guardian. The bill also bans the allocation of public funds and use of public facilities to performances deemed “sexual exhibitions.” The bill passed in the Idaho House of Representatives and will move on to the State Senate for another vote.  



Senate Bill 149 in Kansas calls on “expanding the crime of promoting obscenity to minors to include drag performances.” The bill defines drag performances as “gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth.” It adds drag performances to the list of acts that promote obscenity to minors — bringing it to a Class A misdemeanor and a felony upon a second conviction. 



Kentucky legislators introduced Senate Bill 115 which would classify any “live performance

involving male or female impersonators” to be classified as an “adult performance” and subsequently make their viewing illegal for anyone under the age of 18. Drag performers would face a misdemeanor upon their first two convictions and a felony after their third. Businesses found allowing minors to view drag events would face consequences such as losing alcohol, business licenses and “any other action deemed appropriate” by the state government. The bill will be voted on by the State Senate and if it passes will move on to the State House of Representatives.



Missouri introduced House Bill 1364 which explicitly bans the viewing of any drag events by any person under the age of 18. The bill defines drag queens as “a male or female performer who adopts a flamboyant or parodic feminine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.” If passed, the bill adds drag to the list of “adult cabaret.” 


The bill also bans what it calls “Drag Queen Story Hour” in which artists in drag would read story books to children. It proposes that the organization of such an event is considered a class A misdemeanor and the offending school must have its state funding slashed. 



Montana legislators proposed House Bill 359 which described itself as “an act prohibiting minors from attending drag shows.” The bill defines drag as “male or female impersonators” and groups drag performances alongside strippers and exotic dancers as “appeal[ing] to a prurient interest.” The bill also bans the performance of drag and other performances it deems inappropriate from publicly funded areas like schools and libraries. If the bill passes, private businesses that allow minors to view drag events may face up to $10,000 in fines and risk having their business license revoked. Places that receive public funding from the state would also risk losing that funding. 



LB371 in Nebraska aims “to prohibit an individual under 19 years of age or under 21 years of age from being present at a drag show.” Businesses that knowingly allow any under the age of 19 (or 21 in certain areas of the state) would be fined $10,000 per person in that category and their organizers could face misdemeanor charges. Additionally, the bill would ban any publicly funded institutions from presenting drag performances.



Oklahoma House Bill 2186 would make any “adult cabaret performance which is harmful to minors,” a felony crime which could earn the performer or organizer of the event up to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The bill also mentions drag story hours and specifically bans their organization and performance citing their “harm to minors.”


South Carolina:

Legislators in South Carolina introduced Senate Bill 585 which aims to ban drag performances by classifying them as “adult cabaret” and therefore banning such performances in public spaces. 



There are currently four different bills being proposed by various Texas legislators which aim to restrict drag performances. The various proposals would label drag performances as sexually explicit and businesses that host drag events would be labeled as “sexually-oriented businesses.” The proposed legislation all define drag as performing as a “gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth.”


West Virginia:

Senate Bill 253 would classify drag performances as “adult cabaret” and subsequently ban them in public spaces or anywhere that could be viewed by a minor. Performing drag would result in a felony occurring up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $20,000 


Although it remains to be seen which of these laws hold up in court, the message behind them elicits a bigger trend in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. “The law itself is meant to be a scare tactic… It’s saying like we in the state of Tennessee, want to discriminate against queer [and], particularly queer trans folks, or anyone who wants to express their gender identity in a complex [way],” said Gong. 

The proposition of these laws by democratically elected officials in a multitude of states, regardless of whether they pass, is a testament to the hostility towards queer people in the United States.