On Monday, the Idaho Capital Sun reported a chilling announcement from Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti: The upcoming state legislative session will include a new bill, co-drafted by the group, that will ban public drag performances throughout Idaho. If passed into law, the Idaho measure would be the most draconian government measure taken against LGBTQ people in several decades. Liberals should not write this bill off, but rather recognize it as the next step in stripping away hard-won protections for LGBTQ people in America.
The Idaho legislation comes amid a national panic on the right over Drag Queen Story Hour, which typically features a drag queen in a spangly outfit reading children’s books to kids. Idaho’s conservatives are reacting to a series of controversies that have popped up throughout the state, many driven by a panicky right-wing media environment. Conzatti cited a drag performance in Coeur d’Alene in June in which the performer was accused of exposing himself to children attending the event. The local prosecutor’s office determined that video allegedly showing the exposure was manipulated and the performer had not done so. According to the Coeur d’Alene Press, the performer is suing a conservative blogger for defamation over the incident.
Much of this panic over drag has been driven by large anti-LGBTQ social media accounts like LibsOfTikTok. These accounts will report an event happening somewhere in the country, and local conservatives and extremists like the Proud Boys show up to intimidate attendees. Conservative politicians have joined in on inflating the controversy to drive outrage and votes, and the potential Idaho bill plays right into the scheme.
Though we don’t have its text and the Idaho Family Policy Center is being secretive about its potential sponsors, this bill should deeply concern anyone who cares about LGBTQ rights. Bans on public drag have historically been leveraged to police the gender presentation of queer and trans people. Anti-crossdressing laws in New York City in the 1960s limited the number of articles of clothes of the “opposite sex” to two or less. Police used these laws to justify raids on gay bars and other places in which LGBTQ people gathered, including the Stonewall Inn in 1969. Patrons of the bar eventually became so fed up with the raids that they rioted, and forced the police to barricade themselves inside the bar over the course of a week that summer.
And so, Pride was born, and every June, queer and trans people all over the world march in part to commemorate those who finally stood up for themselves in the face of an oppressive and unfair system.
The Idaho Family Policy Center and conservatives all over the country want to take us back to that time, and we shouldn’t miss that a state’s potential ban on public drag is the most crucial step in the process. It’s easy to say “red state is going to red state,” but Idaho is the first step. These bills always start in one state and then spread. The trans athlete bans started in South Dakota; now 18 states have implemented one. The trans youth health care bans started in Arkansas; now they’re law in three states.
Yet, unlike 1969, LGBTQ people have allies. Though the right has tried recently attacked us with the old slurs and false pedophilia claims, more people than ever personally know a gay or trans person. LGBTQ people are undoubtedly a key part of our country’s culture, and conservatives shouldn’t expect any of us to roll over for them and hide who we are for their own personal comfort.
To marshal our full strength, though, we have to notice what’s going on and acknowledge the larger plan at play. LGBTQ people, liberals and independents need to stop humoring conservative extremists and say enough is enough. If we don’t do that now, we’re going to end up with another Stonewall, this time in Boise.