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Drag and Democracy

Texas: On most Saturday nights, RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Cynthia Lee Fontaine hits the high spots of gay nightlife in Austin, Texas, getting out the vote. Fontaine is one of 300 drag queens trained by “Drag Out the Vote,” a national movement founded In 2019 to encourage voting in the LGBTQ+ agglomeration of voters. “From the moment you start to put on your eyelashes and transform yourself, it’s political,” Fontaine told LGBTQ Nation. “You put on a wig and tell society, ‘This is me, and I won’t back down from that right.’”

Anti Drag: Drag performers have become a lightning rod for political opposition. Legislatures, city councils, school boards, and political groups have sought to regulate drag performance, at least in public. To date, two states — Florida and Montana — have passed laws explicitly restricting drag performances. Courts are reviewing those laws. In 2023, lawmakers in at least 16 states introduced some version of a drag ban in front of children or public spaces, with six becoming law. Again, the courts are blocking enforcement while the laws are under review. In Utah, St. George City and the legislature have considered regulation, but no action has been finalized.

Don’t Say Gay’ settlement

The Florida law, officially the “Parental Rights in Education Act” but known as “Don’t Say Gay,” has been modified by a settlement arrived at during a lawsuit heard by the U. S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The law had created confusion about whether teachers could identify themselves as LGBTQ+ or have pictures of spouses within eyeshot of students. The rainbow flag or stickers were thought to be prohibited in classrooms. The suit for students and teachers was brought by lesbian activist Roberta Kaplan, the attorney noted for winning a libel suit against the 45th president. The settlement allows students and teachers to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity, provided it is not part of instruction. The Florida governor’s office made lemonade out of lemons by hailing the settlement a “major win” with the law remaining intact. The settlement has national implications as seven other states have used the Florida law as a model.

Puberty blockers out in Great Britain

Great Britain’s National Health Service will no longer provide puberty-blocking pharmaceuticals for transgender minors. The NHS says there was “not enough evidence” that the hormone treatments are safe or effective. The drugs, a precursor to some of the drugs used to chemically castrate British scientist Alan Turning in the gay scare of the 1950s, will still be available through private clinics and hospitals; the government will not pay for it. The drugs will still be available for research. The NHS Foundation Trust’s Gender Identity Development Service said referrals for transgender therapies have grown from an average of 250 per year to over 5,000 in 2022. Transgender advocates decry the decision. British LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall emphasized the new policy will put trans kids already in care at risk, “All trans young people deserve access to high quality, timely healthcare,” a spokesperson said.

Calif. city bans Pride flag

A referendum in Huntington Beach, California, amended the city charter to allow only the “American flag, the POW/MIA flag, the State of California flag, the Huntington Beach City flag, the County of Orange flag, or any of the flags of the six branches of service” to fly from city flag poles. The measure is “nearly identical to current law” except for the exemptions for the “Olympic” flags and those approved unanimously by the city council. Huntington Beach is home to the annual U.S. Open of Surfing, the largest surfing competition in the world, earning it the title of Surf City USA. The city hopes to host surfing events for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

Oscars not so gay this year

Viewers used to be able to count on the Oscars to telecast LGBTQ+-affirming videos. At the recent Academy Awards, nominees touting the acronym were few and far between. Singer Billie Eilish, who dates men but says she is attracted to women, is the only out performer to take home an Oscar. Not out as straight, Cillian Murphy won Best Actor instead of “Rustin” star Colman Domingo, who is avowedly gay. Everyone’s favorite lesbian cousin, Jody Foster, did not win for “Nyad.” Native American Lily Gladston, who uses she/they pronouns, did not win for a riveting performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” There was gay-esque action from host Jimmy Kimmel coming on to “Barbie” nominee Ryan Gosling and Gosling getting a kiss on the (buccal) cheek from Barbie co-star Scott Evans. John Cena provided a thrill to gay men everywhere by appearing almost naked. Cena’s bit broke the internet.

Okla. teen death ruled a suicide

A 16-year-old high school sophomore, who family say identified as nonbinary and used they/them pronouns at an Oklahoma high school, died the day after an altercation with three other students in a school bathroom. The family said Nex Benedict said he had been bullied by the three other students because of their gender identity. Investigating police withheld comment on the case but investigated the crime scene as a homicide. After an autopsy, the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s office ruled Benedict’s death a suicide. The preliminary report listed the probable cause of death as “combined toxicity” from diphenhydramine and fluoxetine. 

Feds inquiring into student death

The U. S. Department of Education responded to widespread outcry from LGBTQ+ groups with a promise to investigate Nex Benedict’s death. The Feds will inquire whether the school district “failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students” in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids sex-based discrimination, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which forbids discrimination based on gender dysphoria, including trans and nonbinary identity. ” Freedom Oklahoma told LGBTQ Nation, “Benedict’s death highlights the stakes for trans and gender-nonconforming students in schools with 2STGNC+ students at risk.” Seems “L and B ” are not at risk. The current U.S. president commented after the autopsy, “Every young person deserves to have the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are and feel safe and supported at school and in their communities.”

Rhode Island judge is trailblazer

After a contentious committee hearing, the U.S. Senate confirmed Melissa DuBose, a Black lesbian, to a federal judgeship in Rhode Island. She is the first woman of color and first out LGBTQ+ person to serve on the U.S. District Court in the state. She was a school teacher before law school, corporate legal counsel, then assistant attorney general before becoming a state court judge in 2019. Trailblazing runs in the family. Her uncle, Alton Wiley, became the first Black state-level judge in Rhode Island in 1980.

Texas drag cancellation stands

The president of West Texas A&M University canceled a drag performance at the University in 2023. He called drag “derisive, divisive, and demoralizing misogyny” and compared it to “blackface minstrel shows.” Spectrum WT, sponsors of the show, which was to be a fundraiser for suicide prevention, sued in federal court. The group claimed the president’s action was arbitrary and violated the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and due process. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, who declined to hear the case. As SCOTUS did so without comment, many observers say it’s the Court’s practice to wait for more cases to be in the system before ruling on the constitutional protections for drag performances.

GLAAD awards honor to Oprah

Oprah Winfrey joined past winners Beyonce and Madonna as a winner of the Vanguard Award at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards presentation. GLAAD was formerly known as Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but has adopted the acronym GLAAD as its official name to better represent the acronym LGBTQIA2S+. The Advocate beat QSaltLake, again for Outstanding Magazine — Overall Coverage. Other winners were, actors Niecy Nash-Betts and Reneé Rapp. Series “Fellow Travelers” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” won for “inclusive and affirming” depictions of some LGBTQ+ people. Other winners from the night included “Fellow Travelers” winning Outstanding Limited or Anthology. Two series, “Ted Lasso” and “Yellowjackets” were honored. The movie, “Bottoms” won an award. Musicians Renee’ Rap, Kate Hudson and Chloe won, as well. David Archuleta, a former Mormon, was recognized as Outstanding Breakout Music Artist. 

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