Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed a bill that makes Montana the first US state to ban drag performers from reading to children in public schools and libraries.
Unlike other states that have introduced restrictions on drag, such as Tennessee and Florida, Montana’s law specifically targets drag story hours and does not require a sexual element to take place in order for an event to be banned.
HB359, which took effect when it was signed on 22 May, defines this as “an event hosted by a drag queen or drag king who reads children’s books and engages in other learning activities with minor children present.”
Sasha Buchert, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a national organisation advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, described the legislation as “constitutionally suspect on all levels” and said it limits free speech.
The bill was co-sponsored by more than half of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Gianforte’s spokesperson said he opted to sign it because he “believes it’s wildly inappropriate for little kids, especially preschoolers and kids in elementary school, to be exposed to sexualised content.”
It also prevents children from attending “sexually oriented shows” or obscene performances on public property and, in its initial form, referred to drag performances as shows that tended to “excite lustful thoughts”.
“Montana’s new law criminalising freedom of expression and art should be a red flag for everyone,” Jonathan Hamilt, the Executive Director of Drag Story Hour, told CNN. “The moral panic of drag has too long been a scapegoat for transmisogyny and overall transphobia in this country.”
Hundreds recently protested against Florida’s proposed drag ban
Drag Race stars Detox and Roxxxy Andrews were among the many drag performers and allies who recently demonstrated against Florida’s proposed restrictions on drag.
Hundreds protested peacefully at the state’s Capitol building in Tallahassee on 25 April after lawmakers passed the Protection of Children Act (Senate Bill 1348).
Just like the bill that recently passed in Tennessee, its wording is vague and would see children banned from attending what is broadly referred to as “adult live performances”.
Such ambiguity has resulted in many fearing the law could be used as a way to target drag shows in Florida.
In response to this bill, as well as the many other anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation introduced in the state, more than 300 protestors wore red shirts with the phrase “the show must go on” branded on them.