North Carolina’s neighboring state of Tennessee became the first in the country to kick start the stomp out drag movement when Governor Bill Lee officially signed the state’s bill regulating drag performances on Thursday March 2, 2023.
It would have become law April 1, however, Trump appointed judge Thomas Parker ruled to block Senate Bill 3 near the end of March, declaring the statute was too broad to be enacted.
As of Friday June 2, Judge Parker officially ruled the law was unconstitutional because it was “vague and substantially overbroad.”
That was a massive game changer.
Drag performers and performances have historically been a part of Pride events dating back to the late 20th century.
Prior to the Tennessee ruling, multiple Pride celebrations throughout the country, especially in all of the 16 states that now have or are considering regulatory laws on drag performances in public places were left to scramble to maintain the presence and performances by drag artists who have become a mainstay of queer culture in modern history.
The possibility of an LGBTQ pride parade or celebration without some sort of drag performance, for most in the queer community, is unthinkable.
While similar bills have been passed and are active in states like Florida (where Pride events have been denied permits by cities, counties and towns) and are under consideration by legislators in others, including in North Carolina, the Tennessee ruling has added some new footing for drag queens and pride organizers, who say they’re ready to fight and move forward as they have in years past.
The North Carolina bill, HB 673, introduced in late April, could potentially ban drag performers from appearances anywhere that is considered public and in the presence of individuals under the age of 18, even if the event is announced or advertised to be private. That would mean no drag performances at any Pride events in the state and the possibility of potentially shutting down drag performances in LGBTQ bars and clubs.
It’s important to note that a violation of the NC bill, should it pass, would be considered a class A1 misdemeanor, which is the most serious kind of misdemeanor. That would place a Pride celebration drag show in a category similar to violent crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon, child abuse and sexual battery.
Charlotte’s Pride event isn’t held until August 19-20, to avoid conflict with already established Charlotte area summer festivals and to allow LGBTQ Pride attendees from throughout the region the opportunity to attend multiple Pride celebrations without having to choose one over the other because of a previously affixed date.
Information on Charlotte Pride’s 2023 website confirms that, for now, event plans are status quo for drag performances. In fact, the website is currently encouraging drag performers to sign up for competition and appearances.
While the Tennessee ruling is certainly positive news and a thumbs up for many performers and organizers to attempt to do as they would prefer, it remains unlikely the Republican super majority will step back on their plans to limit drag performances in our state.
But the potential lack of drag performers at a Pride celebration isn’t all there is to be concerned about.
There’s the Proud Boys.
They’ve been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group and by multiple criminologists as potentially dangerous for their involvement in often illegal and violent behavior. That includes participation in the 2021 Capital attack and riot; attacks on Black Lives Matter rallies and macing members of a George Floyd March.
In North Carolina, a drag show held at a brewery in Sanford, North Carolina was disrupted by a Proud Boy protest that was preceded by aggressive warning messages and death threats.
At the New Hanover County public library in Wilmington, Proud Boys protested outside and then entered the building during an LGBTQ Pride-themed story presentation.
As recently as May 30 in a report carried by Qnotes from LGBTQ Nation, watchdog groups warned that the Neo-Nazi and anti-LGBTQ group has plans to disrupt Pride events around the country.
As confirmed by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), North Carolina topped the list of states in the US in 2022, with the largest number of anti-LGBTQ and specific drag related protests, confrontations and attacks.
With that recipe of disaster mixed together, it seems unlikely that North Carolina will go unscathed during Pride season from protests and potential violence by the Proud Boys and any other far right-wing groups attempting to ride their coattails.
Coinciding with Pride season and the recent conviction and sentencing of four key members of The Proud Boys, Voice Of America has reported that the remaining members have made it clear the majority of the organization’s focus will be anti-LGBTQ activism.
While Charlotte Pride may not take place until August, Pride events will be held throughout both North and South Carolina during this month. In North Carolina, Pride and pride related events will be held in Raleigh, Durham, Apex, Fayetteville, Chapel Hill and Carrboro. In South Carolina, events will take place throughout the month in Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Rock Hill.
In an interview with the web publication Business Insider, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism Heidi Bierich warned of what could lie ahead.
“[“We’re] seeing just a singular focus on LGBTQ people,” she explained. “And I don’t see how we don’t end up having more violence. It’s frankly getting a little out of control.”
The twisted sensibilities of the Proud Boys’ sentiment towards the LGBTQ community is easily visible in a recent contradictory post on Twitter.
“This is not homophobia,” he wrote. “This is ‘we like natural men and women and don’t want to be forced into your world of liberal depravity.’ Another post on the right wing social media site Telegram suggests their ultimate goals: [“We] intend to appropriate Pride Month into Proud Month, to celebrate Western values and straight Pride and to challenge this perversion of the nuclear family and gender.”
Another hate group known as The Patriot Front, a white nationalist organization of sorts that demonstrated at the US Capitol recently while wearing masks, is also expected to show an increased presence at various Pride events
All evidence clearly supports that the Proud Boys and the far right have become a clear and present danger to everyone in the LGBTQ community.
“What happened last year, it was probably just a whiff of what we might see this year, after 12 months of organizing,” Bierich added.
During the month-long celebration of our community’s achievements, the question remains: how do we stay safe in a political environment that has seemingly gone backwards?
Some have felt that we should arm ourselves (legally, of course). Others have suggested self-defense training in an effort to create a battle ready army to fight back when needed. Many are simply choosing to stay away and avoid any type of conflict whatsoever. But then, that’s what the far right wants, isn’t it?
Internet chatter among LGBTQ activists has suggested the day may soon come when we will need to revisit the actions of those who came before us in the Stonewall era, when fighting for our rights wasn’t an option, but a requirement.