Montana becomes first state to ban drag story time

HELEN, Mont. (AP) – Montana has become the first state to specifically ban people in drag from reading books to children in public schools and libraries, part of a slew of laws targeting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. of Montana and other states.

Bills in Florida and Tennessee also appear to be attempting to ban drag play events, but both require performances to be sexual in nature, which could be interpreted. Both bills also face legal challenges.

Montana’s law is unique because – although it defines such an event as an event hosted by a drag king or drag queen who reads children’s books to underage children – it does not require a sexual element to be forbidden.

This makes Montana’s law the first to specifically ban drag reading events, said Sasha Buchert, an attorney at Lambda Legal, a national organization that seeks to protect the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community and people diagnosed with the disease. HIV and AIDS.

“It’s just constitutionally suspect on every level,” Buchert said Tuesday, arguing that the bill limits free speech and seeks to chill an effort that helps transgender youth know they’re not alone. .

The bill, which was co-sponsored by more than half of the Republican-controlled Legislature, went into effect immediately after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it into law on Monday.

Gianforte signed the bill because he “believes it is extremely inappropriate for small children, especially preschoolers and elementary school children, to be exposed to sexualized content,” said spokeswoman Kaitlin Price in a statement.

The bill was originally intended to ban minors from attending drag shows, which were defined as performances that tended to “excite lustful thoughts”. Legislation was later amended to prohibit minors from attending sexual or lewd performances on public property.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Braxton Mitchell, said he was sponsoring the bill “because drag shows in recent years have specifically targeted children” and spoke of online videos showing children at drag shows.

“In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as a family drag show,” Mitchell said in April.

Drag performers who opposed the legislation said they had separate drag performances for children versus those for adults.

It is unknown how many times such drag reading events have taken place in public schools or libraries in Montana. Drag reading events were held in 2022 at ZooMontana in Billings and at a bookstore in downtown Helena. Both events drew protests, but neither would be banned under the new law. Another event held at a Bozeman bookstore last weekend also drew protesters.

A Montana drag performer with The Mister Sisters in Great Falls, whose stage name is Julie Yard, helps organize drag reading events and says she’s never been asked to coordinate one at a school , public or otherwise. Between 6 and 10 events are scheduled across the state in the coming months.

“Usually requests for drag story hours happen a lot during the summer,” Yard said. “They usually tend to coincide with Pride celebrations.”

Planning for such events in the current political climate also involves developing a security plan and working with local law enforcement in case protesters show up.

The drag reading events will continue despite the protests, which Yard says helps prove they are needed.

“For us, it’s about doubling down again and making sure that we send a message to everyone, but especially vulnerable children, that there is a place for them, that there is a community. for them and that there are people out there who are interested in making sure they are accepted and feel safe.

Tennessee’s bill to restrict drag performances in public spaces or around children was temporarily blocked in March by a federal judge who sided with a group that sued in justice claiming that the law violated their First Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker said the state failed to explain why Tennessee needed the law and agreed it was likely vague and overbroad.

A drag show restaurant has filed a lawsuit against Florida’s ban, claiming the law strips the restaurant of its First Amendment free speech rights. The restaurant had held “family” drag shows on Sundays, but they were required by law to ban shows for children. Gov. Ron DeSantis also signed bills this week banning gender-affirming medical care for minors and restricting discussion of personal pronouns in school.

Gianforte signed a bill this year to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors in Montana during a legislative session in which transgender Democratic Rep. the care bill.

Last week, he signed a bill to define the word “sex” in state law to mean only male or female. Kansas and Tennessee have similar laws set to take effect July 1 that LGBTQ+ allies say will deny non-binary and transgender people legal recognition and prevent them from changing gender on their birth certificates and permits. To drive. The Montana law would go into effect Oct. 1.

The Huffington Gt

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