House Bill 673, currently making its way through the state general assembly and almost certainly guaranteed to pass into law because of the newly established veto-proof Republican super majority, could prove to be a double-edged sword for the state.
Not only would it impact the income of drag performers and the historic and artistic aspect of LGBTQ culture, the negative ramifications it holds for the state’s economy, charitable organizations and business owners could potentially rob North Carolina of unimaginable amounts of revenue.
Across the country and here at home in North Carolina Republicans have been hard at work attempting to erase drag culture, without giving a second thought to the potential fiscal fallout.
What does that mean?
Let’s start with the obvious. Most individuals and large corporate entities do not support hate-filled discriminatory laws. As evidenced by North Carolina’s HB2, once the law goes into place, the state can expect boycotting by television and film production and large corporations looking for new sites to relocate and hold conventions. Vacationers looking for warm and welcoming environments will stop coming. All of those are huge money makers. When they’re no longer flocking to the state, the influx of revenue disappears, too.
Multiple businesses across the state see sizable amounts of revenue generated by events like drag queen story hours, drag bingo and drag brunches, more often than not, held in public spaces, which HB 673 prohibits. As a result, capital gains associated with such presentations will evaporate.
During the 1970s drag performers rallied to help raise funding for causes like early anti-gay legislation. By the ‘80s and ‘90s, their charitable focus had largely turned to HIV/AIDS organizations.
Tina Terrell, a Charlotte native and a member of the LGBTQ community who continues to make her home here, began her career in drag in 1975. She would serve as the stage show director at such bars as Oleens, Scorpio and Illusions and held multiple female impersonation titles. She recalls how the drag community came together then to fight back against hate, oppression and the AIDS pandemic.
“My earliest involvement with any cause was raising money through shows to send to Florida to fight Anita Bryant and her campaign of hate,” Terrell recalls. “When it was all said and done, she ruined her career forever, lost her lucrative orange juice commercial contract and was deserted by all the homophobes who pushed her into the spotlight.
“AIDS was the biggest cause that we raised money for. It devastated our community and [we] lost so many to that horrible disease. Later when I was show director at Scorpios, we did a lot of fundraising for the House of Mercy in Belmont. The nuns loved the shows and they came when we did the benefits! I [remember] we did this huge production of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. When I spoke with the sisters, I told them I hoped they were not offended and they laughed said they loved the movie [and] the show.”
Efforts continue today by the drag community to raise funds for nonprofit organizations like Time Out Youth, RAIN and others. Their tireless work to help those in need continues to this day. If that dries up, the loss would be sizable, and even more money gone that could help so many good causes.
Television and filmmakers; performers
North Carolina is already a little on the dry side when it comes to entertainment culture. Often times big-name acts skip us over for destinations like Atlanta and DC, although things have been looking up as of late. Multiple production companies have returned to the state following the dissolution of the ugly HB2 incident, along with a higher number of popular musical performers. Don’t count on that trend to continue, nor the additional statewide earnings when HB 673 becomes law
Typically, most vacationers want to go somewhere that is welcoming, comfortable and non-controversial for a vacation. They’re looking to get away from negativity. When HB 673 goes into effect, it will show that North Carolina is another state that has plenty of time to hate. And who wants to vacation in a place like that? According to commercenc.gov, estimated revenue generated by vacationers prior to the pandemic was 3.9 billion dollars. Don’t expect that to be returning anytime soon.
For anyone who performs in a drag show in public, and in some cases private, the possibility exists they could be arrested and charged with a felony through House Bill 673, which defines live adult entertainment as “a performance featuring topless dancers, exotic dancers, strippers; or male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to prurient (sexual) interest.”
When HB 673 becomes law, North Carolina’s ultra-conservatives can pretty much harass and discriminate against the state’s drag community as they see fit. However, it would appear the group right-wingers have decided to scapegoat, they’ve also underestimated.
Today’s current crop of performers proclaim they have no intention of turning back the hands of time and pushing their careers deep into a darkened closet.
Preposterous, hate-filled laws or not, erasing drag queens and kings is going to be a whole lot harder to accomplish than just a simple vote by elected officials, especially when you’ve got a history that touches three different centuries backing you up.
“Drag queens have given us so much entertainment,” says Greg Brafford a former owner of multiple gay bars in Charlotte. “Drag queens have been our heroes. They’ve made us laugh, they’ve made us cry. That’s a part of our history you just can’t erase.”
The impact the bill is expected to have on such a significant part of LGBTQ culture is as far reaching as its economic impact.
HB673 stipulates that drag performers may not appear or perform in public
That means no drag queens at Charlotte Pride. That means no drag bingo. That means no drag queen story hours and no drag queen brunches. What might come as even more surprising, it could mean no drag queens in LGBTQ bars and/or the arrest of drag performers who are simply walking from car to building.
What? How? Why? That’s insane!
Throughout relatively modern North Carolina history, establishments that served primarily alcohol and little to no food were required to be special private membership clubs.
Some business owners felt that to be advantageous, while others did not.
Whatever the case, bars and clubs that focus their sales on spirits no longer need be private. Hence, they have become public spaces and are subject to state laws just like everywhere else.
Brafford says that dark of a scenario is unlikely. “That would be unconstitutional,” says Brafford. “We’ve got freedom of expression and freedom of speech in this country.”
Yes, we do. But Republicans have shown they no longer respect the constitution and are quickly leaning towards changing the government structure to a state of fascism.
“I just don’t see that happening,” Brafford insists. “There may be some challenges and bumps in the road along the way in the beginning, but I believe things will work themselves out. Business owners may be required to get a cabaret license, but I think everything will be fine.”
Not everyone feels as confident as Brafford does.
One such individual is drag performer Shelita Bonet Hoyle, who calls Raleigh home, but performs in venues across the United States. The Artisan’s Palette, where she co-hosts a monthly drag brunch with fellow performer KayCee Saint James, is one of her favorite Charlotte sites. It’s also a public place.
“It’s extremely important that we educate individuals in our community and allies about HB 673,” explains Hoyle. “They are trying to make us go away.”
Hoyle is no stranger to right-wing attempts at canceling queer culture. In her efforts with drag queen story hour, she and other organizers were recently informed that a capacity-full presentation was being cancelled and rescheduled for another site.
Around the same time, a planned rally in conjunction with EqualityNC at the state capitol to show support for Trans, non-binary individuals and drag performers was cancelled when the permit was pulled.
At press time, organizers were attempting to have another permit issued and to determine who was responsible for the attempt to squash the rally.
Hoyle is adamant she will continue to perform, despite the efforts of Republicans to silence her and others in the field.
“I was always raised to speak my truth,” says Hoyle. “I do this because it is who I am. I’m not going to break myself into tiny little pieces. And yes, I will continue to perform.”
Hoyle’s co-host Saint James, the producer of the drag brunch held at Artisan’s Palette is adamant about the place drag holds in LGBTQ culture.
“It’s been around for so long,” he says. “As a form of entertainment and a vehicle for fundraising, it has been a force in our community for years. It’s been there to help out people in and outside of our community when there was a need for food, housing and much more.”
Saint James is concerned about the wording of the bill because it appears to be deliberately vague. “The language is dangerous,” he says. “The presentation at Artisan’s Palette is a monthly charity event. We will continue to put on the event until we are told to stop.”