Threats and Bans Extremist Backlash Against Drag

In 2023, the first year HRC declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people, threats against drag events reached an all-time high. A report by GLAAD documented over 150 anti-drag protests and threats from early 2022 to early 2023. Many anti-drag “protests” involved armed members of extremist hate groups, such as the Proud Boys and neo-Nazis. Others escalated into terroristic violence, such as a doughnut shop in Tulsa that was firebombed after hosting a drag event. These attacks on drag coincided with a similar wave of violent threats against healthcare facilities providing gender-affirming care. Potential targets for threats spread through social media accounts such as Libs of TikTok and reached tens of millions of viewers.

Amid this crisis, politicians in many states released anti-LGBTQ+ campaign ads and introduced legislative bills to ban drag performances. The bills are often so vaguely worded that they could apply to a transgender person walking down the street just as much as a drag performer on stage. Major anti-LGBTQ+ activist groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom, Heritage Foundation and American Principles Project have laid bare their true aim in Mandate for Leadership 2025, the latest in a series of policy recommendation books that have influenced conservative presidential administrations since the 1980s. The book claims that “transgender ideology” is pornographic and not subject to First Amendment protections. It calls for classifying LGBTQ+ inclusive educators and librarians as sex offenders, echoing the “groomer” rhetoric that supported Florida’s infamous Don’t Say LGBTQ+ law. Attacks on drag are a manifestation of this ultimate policy goal to remove gender non-conforming people from public life.

Drag is actually a pivot point around gay rights, trans rights, and women’s rights. We might see them all, that sexism, transphobia and homophobia are actually all wrapped up inside of drag phobia.

Kareem Khubchandani, Drag artist and Tufts University Professor of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies


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Since drag is one of the most visible expressions of LGBTQ+ culture, it has often been a common target for anti-LGBTQ+ activism. Its current opponents rely on old, recycled homophobic tropes such as calling LGBTQ+ people groomers. And although attacks on drag are attacks on all LGBTQ+ people, they are particularly inseparable from the intense backlash against transgender rights. It is incumbent upon those who value a free society to expose anti-LGBTQ+ disinformation and continue to push back against this violent targeting of the LGBTQ+ community.

Drag at the Crossroads: A Choice for a Better World

Our society is at another crossroads regarding LGBTQ+ rights. Anti-LGBTQ+ activists want to restrict the very idea that being LGBTQ+ is valid, that being openly LGBTQ+ is socially acceptable. They are even willing to use violence to achieve these ends.

But we can imagine a world where difference is celebrated rather than demonized. The question before us is what kind of world we want, what kind of world we want future generations to inherit. LGBTQ+ people are parents, siblings and kids. We are your coworkers, your neighbors and your friends. A truly free society embraces cultural diversity and requires understanding of those different from us. Seeing an LGBTQ+ person cannot make someone LGBTQ+, but it can teach them to have empathy. It can even save lives by making LGBTQ+ people feel accepted rather than ashamed.

We can imagine a world where individuals are free to pursue happiness just as they see it. A world without the heavy hand of government trying to regulate each person’s gender and how they choose to express it. Anti-LGBTQ+ activists fearmonger about imagined dangers, but drag never ceases to captivate audiences with profound expressions of love and joy and hope.

As advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, the message we send simple: It is okay to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is okay to explore your gender whether you are part of the community or not. It is okay to be an ally. And to create a truly free and equal society, we must choose love over fear.


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To learn more about drag history and culture, read HRC’s new resource below.