A bill signed by Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte this week enacts far-reaching limits on the presence of children among drag performers, including by banning drag story hours at public schools and libraries.
HB359, which went into effect when Gianforte signed it on Monday, prevents children from attending “sexually oriented shows” and from being present at obscene performances on public property. It specifically targets drag story hours, which it defines 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.”
The law makes Montana the latest GOP-led state to restrict drag shows. Republicans say the performances – which often feature men dressing as women in exaggerated makeup while singing or entertaining a crowd, though some shows feature bawdier content – expose children to sexual themes and imagery that are inappropriate. LGBTQ advocates, however, argue that not all drag shows are sexual in nature and laws like Montana’s stigmatize the community.
“Montana’s new law criminalizing freedom of expression and art should be a red flag for everyone. The moral panic of drag has too long been a scapegoat for transmisogyny and overall transphobia in this country,” Jonathan Hamilt, the executive director of Drag Story Hour, which has held events at private and public schools and libraries across the country since its founding in 2015, told CNN.
“Uncle Sam needs a makeover and our drag community is here to create one,” Hamilt added.
CNN has reached out to Gianforte’s office for comment.
In a year in which a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced nationwide, restrictive laws aimed at the drag community have also recently prevailed in other Republican-led states.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee signed a bill into law in March that restricts public drag show performances. And earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving his administration the power to take away licenses from establishments if they allow children into an “adult live performance,” widely interpreted as a crackdown on drag shows.
CNN previously reported that Gianforte’s non-binary child, David, who uses he and they pronouns, urged his father not to sign the legislation – along with others that would ban gender-affirming medical and surgical care for transgender minors and codify binary definitions of sex and gender.