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Texas Lawmakers Turn Their ‘Bounty Hunter’ Tactics on Drag Queens

A drag performer sits in a chair on a stage with her arm in the air, lit by a spotlight.

Saddle up partner, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Yee-hawing alongside the growing stampede of anti-LGBTQ legislation, the Texas government has proposed a bill that will allow people to sue drag performers for putting on a show where minors are present. To make matters worse, they will also allow that person to collect $5,000 in “damages” plus attorney fees. Can’t we please just go back to the days of hunting down cattle rustlers instead? You know, things that are ACTUALLY damaging and criminal? No? We’re just gonna keep waging the War on Drag instead? Right.

If this bill sounds familiar to you, it’s because Texas lawmakers have pulled some wannabe cowboy stunts like this before. They used a similar “abortion bounty hunter bill” to virtually eliminate abortion access months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.

The legislation defines “drag” as any “performance in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer’s gender recorded at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs in a lascivious manner before an audience.” These terms are purposefully obscure. According to the bill, the word “lascivious” is defined as “conduct of a sexual nature that is offensive to community standards of decency.” Such verbiage could theoretically allow for any run-of-the-mill Texan to sue a transgender or non-binary person who they believe is “dressing in drag” when appearing in a public place, essentially making it illegal to present as such within the confines of the state.

Journalist and activist user Erin Reed wrote on Twitter that this bill could be used to ban trans touring acts from performing in Texas. It could also be used to ban pride events, karaoke nights, and any other avenues of LGBTQ expression. A separate bill would also punish venues that host such events, forcing them to define themselves as a “sexually oriented business”. Even restaurants. Yes, that means a diner owned by someone’s great-aunt Tina could be defined as “sexually oriented” if she decides to put on a drag brunch one day. The bill is written so broadly that it could, in theory, also apply if one of Tina’s trans customers or employees was singing along with the jukebox.

Such threats against the LGBTQ community have far-flung consequences. Even supposed “safe havens” like New York City have seen an uptick in anti-drag hate. Right-wing yahoos like the Proud Boys recently protested a drag story hour in New York City, though, thankfully, many of them walked away with a punch in the mouth. Legislation like the bill in Texas sanctions this sort of far-right vigilantism, and should America continue down this path, right-wing violence against LGBTQ people is only going to get more extreme.

(featured image: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.