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Drag shows are no longer the underground phenomenon they once were. In fact, family-themed drag events are often held in many cities for younger audiences. But as the backlash and rhetoric against LGBTQ people have grown, so have the threats to the drag community. Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
Drag shows are no longer the underground phenomenon they once were.
In fact, family-themed drag events are often held in many cities for younger audiences. But, as the backlash and rhetoric against LGBTQ people has grown, so have the threats to the drag community.
More than 50 members of the far right white nationalist groups Proud Boys and Patriot Front marched in the streets of Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. They were protesting a local school's Holi-Drag Storytime event, where three local drag performers read children books and sing holiday songs.
School officials at Red Oak Community School decided to cancel the event, citing safety concerns.
Cheryl Ryan, Red Oak Community School Manager:
The world is getting more and more unsafe for the LGBTQ community. The attacks are constant and getting worse.
The fact that we are not able to successfully host this simple event shows the extent of the damage. We have to do better.
It's one of a number of drag story hours disrupted by far right protesters this year, including in Nevada, Oregon and California.
"Wake up, Bear," mumbled Mole.
Events like drag queen story times are intended to promote inclusion and diversity to younger audiences, but they have now become a target for right-wing media and politicians.
Tucker Carlson, FOX News Anchor:
Let's say you were interested in sexualizing children. And, unfortunately some people are. What would you do? You might have a drag queen story hour at a library or at school. That's where you would indoctrinate and sexualize children. It is happening across the country.
Some Republican candidates amped up targeted messaging before the midterms. In June, the GOP nominee for Arizona governor, Kari Lake, tweeted — quote — "They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the drag queens. They took down our flag and replaced it with a rainbow."
But those who track that rhetoric say the real-world consequences are clear. A new report by the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD found at least 124 instances of drag events being protested, threatened or attacked this year in 47 states. The report also found a total of eight proposed bills this year aiming to ban or restrict drag performances.
To discuss these threats and the legislation and rhetoric targeting LGBTQ people, I am joined by GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
Sarah Kate, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for joining us.
For those unfamiliar, can you explain a little bit about the culture of drag and the place that it holds in the LGBTQ community?
Sarah Kate Ellis, President, GLAAD:
So, drag has long been a place of joy, of protest, of expression. It is really an art form. And it has been a sacred space, actually. It's been a place where we have gathered as family, as friends. And it's been a place of joy. And now it's a place of terror, quite frankly.
It really has changed dramatically in a very short period of time.
When you started hearing some of this political rhetoric of people accusing people of grooming at these drag story time events, what did you think?
Sarah Kate Ellis:
I was honestly surprised by it. We'd heard that rhetoric before around marriage equality when we were fighting for marriage equality.
And I thought it was — it was done there, quite frankly. But over this past year, what we have seen is a very quick and steady assault against the LGBTQ community, both in words and in actions. And I think it really started during the legislative session this past year, when we saw over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills.
And we saw that starting to get traction, and build and build and build. And so a lot of that was against trans youth too, so really targeting the — the targets that have been from with — against our community have been around trans youth in our community, and now the drag community in our community.
You mentioned in that report, there's 124 instances, protests and attacks, that you have tracked. You have also said it's likely an undercount.
But just give us a sense of, what are we talking about with protests and attacks? You said there's terror in the community now. Why?
I think because of all of this rhetoric that we're seeing.
There was — there have been so many articles mentions and talk about the LGBTQ community in a really negative, nasty way.
And what happens here is that social media goes unchecked, and it takes those lies and that disinformation and it spreads like wildfire. It stirs up people and creates this environment that is very deadly. And I think we — it's really interesting, because we started doing this count right before Colorado Springs happened, because we realize that, if you pulled back and you looked at it holistically, there were so many attacks against the drag community, that it wasn't these isolated instances.
It actually was a coordinated effort against the drag community, against the LGBTQ community. And right before that mass shooting happened in Colorado Springs at Club Q, all of a sudden, it all came together that there were 124 attacks and protests against dread events.
And these events, just so you know, are light and fun., for my family, during COVID, we did drag bingo on Zoom as a holiday event, so that we all could get together and have some fun and some laughs and joy in a really dark time.
These are really fun events. And I think that now they're terrorizing us, so that we're scared. But we will never back down. We will never back down. We will never stop having drag events.
When you talk about the attacks and the threats specifically on these drag story time events, is it fair to link those to the ramped-up rhetoric that we have seen from far right Republicans?
You can see it directly, from what the far right Republicans are saying to what's happening on social media, because what happens on social media then is that it gets repeated, amplified and spread. And people start to organize attacks on social media against these drag events.
You can actually — we just put somebody — put a person that is specifically LGBTQ-focused in the Center for Extremism with the ADL, with the Anti-Defamation League, because we can see direct links from what's being said from politicians, to what then is said online, to then what — the attacks on our community.
So, yes, there's a direct line. And it's really sad. And these politicians understand that people accept LGBTQ people. The vast majority of Americans accept LGBTQ people. And they're trying to use us as political pawns to inflate their career, to raise money, for all their well-being, and with lies and mis- and dis-information.
The violence, of course, is a disturbing trend to see.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of GLAAD, we thank you for joining us to talk about it tonight.
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Amna Nawaz serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.
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