South Florida

‘It Makes Pride Stronger': South Florida Drag Queens Respond to Proposed Ban

After state representatives expressed their intent to ban minors from attending drag shows, local performers are speaking out in South Florida

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In the last week, local drag queens and drag establishments have found themselves at the forefront of a tense political discussion regarding whether minors should be allowed in the presence of drag.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently suggested that he might urge the state's child protective services to investigate parents who take their children to drag shows.

He also told reporters last week that he has asked his staff to look into the possibility of legislation that would punish parents who take their children to such performances.

The conversation began last Monday with Texas Rep. Bryan Slaton's written intent to file a bill banning drag shows for minors, which was made in light of a viral video from a family drag event held in his own state on June 4.

"The events of this past weekend were horrifying and show a disturbing trend in which perverted adults are obsessed with sexualizing young children," Slaton said in a statement.

Slaton added that he would never take his children to a drag show and believes the rest of his Republican colleagues wouldn't either.

"Protecting our own children isn't enough," said Slaton. "Our responsibility as lawmakers extends to the sexualization that is happening across Texas."

Drag queens across the nation responded to Slaton's words last week with disappointment and frustration, but few are shocked by the news.

"It should be noted that the person that is going to draft legislation in Texas has drafted many, many anti-LGBTQ bills over the years, so I'm not surprised," said local Palace drag queen Tiffany Fantasia. "This is his new quest."

Word of Slaton's proposal quickly spread to Florida, inspiring State Rep. Anthony Sabatini to propose a similar bill.

An online petition by Sabatini demands a special legislative session to ban drag shows "aimed at children in Florida" and "charge with a felony and terminate the parental rights of any adult who brings a child."

DeSantis quickly expressed his support for Sabatini's bill, adding that Florida has "laws against child endangerment."

“It used to be kids would be off-limits. Used to be everybody agreed with that,” DeSantis said. “Now it just seems like there’s a concerted effort to be exposing kids more and more to things that are not age-appropriate.”

Though lawmakers propose the drag ban to be an issue of child safety, some critics have raised questions surrounding the lack of new gun control legislation in light of the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

South Florida drag queen Athena Dion believes the claim that drag poses a danger to children is "completely fabricated by people that want to deflect from the real issue," which she says is gun control.

Dion calls upon Slaton, a .50 Caliber Freedom Award recipient honored for his commitment to protecting the right to bear arms, to reconsider his priorities following the Robb Elementary School shooting.

Slaton was recently quoted saying he has "not heard anything makes [him] think we need to change the gun laws" following the massacre.

"Where was that Texas lawmaker's reaction to a classroom of kids getting shot and murdered in cold blood in the safety of their classroom?" Dion asked.

Many drag queens believe the issue is that lawmakers simply do not understand the purpose of drag.

In Sabatini's online petition, he calls drag performances "perverted sex shows aimed at Florida's children."

Fantasia, who has taken part in numerous shows where children were present, denies any claim that drag is perverted or sexualizes children.

"[Children] just see us as a fairytale character, nine times out of ten," Fantasia said. "If the child has no problem with it and the parent has no problem with it, who are you to say it's a problem?"

In response to claims that drag is harmful to children, some queens argue that drag can actually be used to excite, inspire, and uplift children.

Dion says one of her first events was spent giving makeovers to children in the burn unit of Jackson Memorial Hospital, and some others include Christmas toy drives or visits to local homeless shelters. She also says she has learned from the children she has worked with.

Dion applies makeup to a child in the burn unit of Jackson Memorial Hospital and laughs with participants in a Christmas toy drive, respectively.

"[Children] really have that open lens to the world," she said. "They saw me in a different lens than is being portrayed right now."

At the heart of the problem, Fantasia says there is miseducation and ignorance surrounding drag.

"Drag queens are doing fairytales and characters," Fantasia continues. "And because they don't see us as that, they want to put us in this category of sexually deviant misfits."

Ellery Andrews, Director of History of Fort Lauderdale, believes that knowledge about the subject should be promoted within our community.

"Opening someone's eyes to the history of drag within our community helps promote the fact that these people are absolutely beyond welcoming, they're accepting," said Andrews. "They're here to help the community in any way, shape and form they can."

Andrews is curating the drag history exhibition "I Am What I Am," which will be presented throughout the month of June in the hopes of educating viewers on the reality of drag.

"When you are watching someone who is willing to leave themselves out in the open for anyone to see and for anyone to judge, you have to learn that it's deeply difficult and a modicum of respect should be had for any person willing to do that," says Andrews.

Dion invites anyone who has never experienced drag to attend a show firsthand before casting judgment.

"Sit down, have a drag brunch, and then you tell me your thoughts on a show because you're going to see firsthand that it's a really great time," she said. "There's no harm to be had by anybody."

Because the ban is being proposed during Pride month, Fantasia and Dion believe the issue will unite the LGBTQ community.

"Drag queens have been very vocal on political issues for a very long time and brought awareness to many different issues," says Fantasia. "This will fuel the fire even more and make people conscious."

"[Pride] came out of necessity to survive," says Dion, "and the more resistance this community gets, the stronger they get, the louder they get."

Dion says that times like these are when the colors of the LGBTQ community will "shine the brightest."

NBC 6 has reached out to the office of Gov. DeSantis for comment, but has yet to receive an answer back at this time.

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