A number of prominent drag queens are taking extra steps to protect themselves following last month’s mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
While the motive for the shooting remains unknown, and the chief suspect, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, who has been charged with 305 counts of murder, assault, and hate crime enhancements, reportedly identifies as nonbinary, the general tone in the United States toward drag has been one of hostility.
That hostility was patent during the most recent election cycle, when many ambitious politicians attempted to exploit voter discomfort over gender-nonconformity — whether in the form of drag or transgender identity — to win elections and gain power.
Beyond electoral machinations, right-wing agitators have protested drag-related events such as Drag Time Story Hour, accusing drag performers of seeking to “groom” children or expose them to inappropriate “adult entertainment.” Businesses that hosted drag-themed events have been firebombed or vandalized, and lawmakers in Republican-led states, including Tennessee, Idaho, Florida, and Texas, have promised to pass either a ban on all public forms of drag, or prosecute parents who allow their children to attend drag-related events.
Amid the backdrop of this hostile atmosphere — not to mention general concerns about security in an age of mass shootings — several of the country’s top drag queens have increased security at their events in recent weeks.
“We’re trying to smile and make people happy for the holidays, and in the back of our heads we’re thinking, ‘I hope I don’t get shot,’” Jinkx Monsoon, the winner of season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the “All-Winners” season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, told NBC News.
Monsoon said that she has been using metal detectors and creating venue escape routes for U.S.-based events over the past year. But since the Club Q shooting, she has hired armed guards and has started to ban re-entry following the start of her performances.
A report released last month by the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD found that drag events faced at least 124 protests and significant threats of violence in at least 47 states due to protesters’ claims that drag is overtly sexual and inappropriate for children. Many of those events were often first targeted by right-wing media outlets like Fox News and the Daily Wire, or by social media accounts like LibsofTikTok or Gays Against Groomers, which have inspired some people, some of whom have been armed, to go to venues to protest drag-related events in person.
Recently, a drag show in North Carolina — which had been protested for weeks leading up to the event — was disrupted after the lights went out during a county-wide power outage. That blackout was caused by a person or people who shot up two power substations with a firearm, leaving 45,000 residents of largely rural Moore County without power for days. While there is currently no firm link between the drag show and the power outage, speculation has been rampant online, serving only to increase fear among some members of the LGBTQ community.
Opponents of drag have argued that the increased visibility of drag is either an effort to “indoctrinate” young people into supporting LGBTQ rights, and have conflated drag with transgender identity, arguing that attending shows featuring drag performers will promote “gender confusion” and gender dysphoria among youth.
While many drag performers — including the eight who spoke to NBC News for its article — agree that not every drag performance is appropriate for minors, they also argue that just because some shows may require age limits or parental advisory warnings doesn’t legitimize efforts to ban drag performances from the public sphere altogether.
“People need to look at us like they look at any other profession or art forms,” Yvie Oddly, the winner of Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and a cast member of season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, told NBC News. “There are some things that are not going to be made for the youth, but that does not mean that all of us are out here, like people seem to think we are, trying to ‘convert’ or ‘groom’ or whatever.”
Regarding security at her own shows, Oddly said her management company has requested extra security staff and will check patrons for guns and other weapons by patting them down before allowing them to enter venues.
Alaska Thunderf**k 5000, a podcaster and the winner of season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, said that she and her staff began plotting out escape routes for each of the venues where she’s slated to perform on her nationwide tour. She says that police squad cars have been stationed down the block from some of the venues she’s performed.
“It’s mortifying that we even have to think about these things for something as joyous and celebratory as a drag show,” Alaska told NBC News. “Why do we have to be worried about where the exits are and where a safe route to get to safety is? It’s terrifying, but that’s the reality of it.”
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