Many drag performers are no strangers to hateful, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
“For a lot of us, this is nothing new,” said Jacob Green, also known as Muffy Fishbasket, a drag queen in Illinois. “A lot of us grew up being bullied, harassed, threatened, abused.”
However, a growing effort to threaten, protest or attack drag performances have left some haunted with fear, while others are furious.
“Ever since [the Pulse nightclub shooting], actually, any and every single time that I enter a new venue or any venue in that sense, I always just look around to see an exit route, or to see where I should be going if something like this would’ve happened,” said Catrina Lovelace, a drag queen in New York.
“No matter what people do, say, try to intimidate … we'll always be here,” Green said. “We're here. We're queer. Get used to it.”
“The only way we can create change and we can make the world a better place, is by speaking up and speaking out,” said Buff Faye, a drag queen in North Carolina.
Drag performers say their events are spaces where both the LGBTQ community and allies can laugh, sing, and dance free of judgment.
Although recent threats have put drag performers, event hosts, and law enforcement on high alert, many say they refuse to hide.
“At the end of the day, that's what they want,” said Catrina Lovelace. “They just want to make us be feared enough that we wouldn't even want to step out of our house.”
Threats across the country
After months of far-right and conservative political attacks targeting the LGBTQ community and drag shows, LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD found that more than 120 drag shows have reportedly been threatened, protested or attacked in 2022.
One of the most recent cases occurred in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Sunday. A bomb threat was emailed to local news station WBTW, according to reports from the station.
The email reportedly threatened to kill performers and attendees of a popular drag show brunch and used language popularized by conservative and far-right politicians and conspiracy theorists to demonize the LGBTQ community with false accusations of pedophilia.
“Drag queens have become the new boogeyman,” said Buff Faye.
The incident occurred just two weeks after the Nov. 19Colorado Springs shooting, where five people were killed and many more injured when an LGBTQ bar that hosts drag shows was attacked.
The alleged perpetrator is facing 305 charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and bias-motivated crimes.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning concerning anti-LGBTQ hate following the shooting, citing a pattern of domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks and have cited previous attacks as inspiration.
“We have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker,” the warning read. “Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence.”
Homeland security officials are advising those at risk to engage in federal programs and resources dedicated to addressing and preventing active shooters, bomb threats and more.
The DHS has said it's working with law enforcement agencies in local communities across the country “to keep Americans safe,” but some drag shows are also taking their safety into their own hands.
Party rages on, with extra precautions
“I tried to cover my costs with food and with the entertainment, I never thought that I would have to have an armed security person or anyone at the door to create safety at a drag brunch,” said Buff Faye.
Buff Faye said she’s been reaching out to private security firms to hire security during the holiday season, and is also reaching out to the Charlotte Police Department and the DHS to find out what resources are available during this time of heightened threats.
Many drag shows are investing in security guards, training for event hosts on emergency management and safety precautions, and more to keep their fans safe.
Hosts and performers say they feel safer knowing how to hide, how to attack and how to defend oneself in the case of an emergency.
The Club Q shooter was taken down by bar patrons themselves – two military veterans, with the help of a transgender woman and others who fought the attacker. For some, it’s a sign of how important protecting and standing up for community members can be.
Instead of having officers present at drag events, some hosts are taking alternative routes.
There is a long history of criminalization and abuse of the LGBTQ community at the hands of law enforcement, which some show hosts remain sensitive to, Green said.
“We've had our preliminary meeting with venue management to make sure that we're all on the same page,” said Chris O. Biddle, a producer at Bim Bam Boom Productions, which hosts drag events. “We have a follow up meeting scheduled with a member of the local law enforcement, a friend of the show, who will come in and teach us about evacuation tactics, to make sure that we could keep our patrons safe.”
The ‘magic’ of drag
Drag has a rich history, one of both criminalization and resilience. Past laws against cross-dressing and gender nonconformity were alive and well in the early to mid 1900s. “We aren't too far from that, you know, it's like three steps away,” Green said.
Several bills have been recently introduced against drag shows in states like Florida, Arizona, Texas and others.
But drag performers say those who are against drag shows, must never have been to one. For them, it’s a space for positivity and inclusion.
“For a couple of minutes, an hour or two, whatever the case may be – I just want everybody to forget all their troubles,” said Catrina Lovelace. “For me, what a drag show is, is just a celebration of life.”
Drag performances come in many forms. Family-friendly drag queen story hours have become popular across the country, while adults-only shows lend themselves to laughter, outfit changes and more. “This is all just costumes and makeup and it’s fun,” said Buff Faye.
She continued, “When you start breaking down the fear of gender and expressing yourself and telling yourself, ‘anyone can dress whatever they want to dress as long as they're doing what's authentic and real for themselves.’ That's magic.”