A group of Montanans filed a lawsuit against their state in the hope that a law banning drag performers from reading to children can be blocked from being enforced.
A transgender woman, two bookstore owners, and an educator who teaches in historical costumes filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Montana over the controversial law.
The lawsuit argues that Montana’s law is “a breathtakingly ambiguous and overbroad bill, motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ animus,” and alleges that it violates Constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. The plaintiffs, represented by a team of advocates, are taking a stand against what they see as discriminatory legislation.
One of the plaintiffs, Adria Jawort, a transgender woman, had her library lecture on Two-Spirit culture canceled on June 2 due to concerns that it might violate the law’s prohibition on performers adopting “flamboyant or parodic personas.” Jawort, in expressing her disappointment, drew parallels to the discriminatory “masquerade laws” of the 1950s and 60s used to target transgender individuals.
Another plaintiff, Rachel Corcoran, an educator who regularly dresses up as literary, historical, or pop culture characters to teach special education students, explained that the law could significantly impact her teaching methods and creative expression in the classroom.
The lawsuit includes other plaintiffs, such as businesses, organizations, and community centers that host all-ages drag events. Additionally, an independent theater that may show PG-13 or R-rated films is also part of the legal action since such films could potentially violate the law’s prohibition on sexually oriented performances in front of minors.
Montana’s drag performer ban stands out from similar laws in other states as it explicitly prohibits both drag queens and drag kings from participating in reading events for children. The law imposes fines on groups that host such performances, and organizers can be sued by minors who viewed the performances within a 10-year period, irrespective of parental consent. Educators who violate the law face the risk of suspension and revocation of their educational credentials.
The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Braxton Mitchell (R), defended the law by questioning the motivations of drag performers reading to children, despite the fact that they do not dress in a provocative or inappropriate manner during such events.
“I’ve asked this question from the beginning, why do these people want to dress half-naked and read books to kids? Never got a single answer,” the 23-year-old Mitchell testified while presenting his bill.
Mitchell also supported a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing in sports, saying, “Someone gender fluid can wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m a man today,’ or ‘I’m a woman today,’ as a tactic to win in sports.”
Federal judges have previously intervened to block drag bans in Tennessee and Florida, citing violations of people’s rights to free speech.