At least 57 all-ages drag events were disrupted in the UK over the last year, according to a new report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).
Of the countries analysed as part of the project (Australia, France, the UK and the US), the US had the most anti-drag incidents at a total of at least 203, with the UK having the second highest figure.
The report concluded that anti-drag rhetoric is spreading to the UK from the US, with anti-LGBTQ+ narratives – such as associating the “groomer” slur with members of the community – being pushed to make drag appear as a threat, particularly to children.
Of the 57 events affected, protesters were present at 51, while 10 were cancelled ahead of time due to safety concerns.
Performers, staff parents and police regularly faced harassment at abuse, with there even being incidences of violence and arrests.
“These incidents should not be viewed in isolation”
The majority took place between July 2022 and August 2022 when Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) went on a nationwide tour of libraries in the UK, with the report highlighting that a number of Conservative Party politicians – including Emma Nicholson, Sara Britcliffe, Nick Fletcher and Lee Anderson – added fuel to the fire by publicly criticising the events.
Examples listed included Nicholson, a peer, describing a DQSH event as “propaganda” and Britcliffe, an MP, referring to them as “inappropriate”.
Fletcher, also an MP, said there were “serious questions” to be answered about a “glam camp” that took place for children, while Anderson, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, discussed a strategy of leaning into so-called “culture wars” in the next election.
It also noted that the anti-drag mobilisation is loosely made up of anti-vaxxers, white nationalist groups, conspiracy theorists and those claiming to advocate for protecting children.
“These incidents should not be viewed in isolation; they speak to a wider anti-LGBTQ+ mobilisation in the UK and they raise concerns about a backsliding trend in LGBTQ+ rights,” said Aoife Gallagher, an analyst for ISD who authored the report.
“The UK went from receiving the top score in LGBTQ+ rights across European countries in 2015, to falling to 17th position this year. Homophobic crimes have doubled and transphobic hate crimes tripled.
“Although counter-protesters at drag events often outnumbered protesters, this is not enough to protect these communities. Policymakers should be working towards protecting vulnerable groups from this kind of activity.”
ISD’s report tracked all-ages drag events online and offline across the UK from 1 June 2022 to 27 May 2023.
It can be read in full here.