Moral Panic

The War on Christmas Comes for the Drag Queens

Some conservatives toss “parents’ rights” out the window in a holiday culture war against kids at live shows.


Some conservative Scrooges are trying to destroy the Christmas spirit in Knoxville and St. Louis in a moral panic about children attending holiday-themed drag shows.

Mind you, these aren't minors who have just wandered into a raunchy performance. These are children who may be taken voluntarily by parents to a drag show. And while parents may be permitted to expose their children to all sorts of sex, violence, and nudity by bringing them to R-rated movies, getting too close to a dude in women's clothes is causing some, well, pearl-clutching.

In Tennessee, state Rep. Jason Zachary (R–Knoxville) tweeted out a selfie video Tuesday from his car explaining that he has contacted the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to try to do something about A Drag Queen Christmas, which is having its eighth annual performance at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville on Thursday.

The description of the event warns that "parental discretion is advised." And it's been going on for eight years now because, well, drag shows are pretty popular these days. Nevertheless, we're in the middle of a moral panic about drag, and for a certain kind of conservative parents' rights are going right out the window. The most religious people in America say they'll decide what rights you have when it comes to raising your children.

People showed up at the Knox County Commission Monday to complain about the drag show (and defend it as well), even though it wasn't on the commission's agenda, even though it's a private performance protected from government censorship by the First Amendment, and even though nobody is forced to attend. According to WVLT, Knoxville's CBS affiliate, somebody brought a replica of a human spine to remind the council "what a spine looks like"—which is hilariously camp, and I hope a drag queen steals the bit.

In his tweet video, Zachary says that TBI Director David Rauch "engaged the theater directly" and "set clear expectations about what can and cannot be done in that show." He says local enforcement will be monitoring the show. He adds that he's fine with adults going but, "we do not want children to be subjected to something like this."

Gosh, whatever happened to parents deciding what's best for their own children? To be clear, it's none of Zachary's business if parents decide that their children are mature enough to enjoy a drag show, they voluntarily bring them there, and the theater allows them in. Again, the R-rated movie comes to mind. We trust parents to decide whether their children should be exposed to the sexual or violent content of these movies.

And many of these objectors know that they're trying to force their subjective opinions about drag onto resistant families, which is why there's a push to declare that drag shows are inherently sexually oriented and even pornographic or obscene and responsible for sexualizing children. In Texas, state Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Denton County) introduced a bill that would add any sort of drag performance to the list of "sexually oriented" businesses in the state. This would dump drag queens in with live nude performances, if a man so much as lip-synchs to "Son of a Preacher Man" while dressed as Dusty Springfield at a bar.

Meanwhile near St. Louis, state Sen. Bill Eigel (R–Weldon Springs) sent a letter to the mayor of nearby Chesterfield complaining about a local drag show taking place tonight (also titled A Drag Queen Christmas) and warning that letting minors in might violate laws protecting children against exposure to pornographic material.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the venue hosting the show subsequently updated its website to state that the event is for adults over 18 due to "mature content." The newspaper also observes that Eigel has announced that he's considering a run for governor in 2024.

Let's be clear here: Drag isn't obscene, isn't inherently pornographic, and is protected speech under the First Amendment. A man performing in a drag should be treated by the law the same as a cis woman doing the exact same thing, meaning anything the law deems "sexual" should apply regardless of the sex of the person doing it. A woman in a revealing (but not explicit) outfit that's using raunchy language and lip-synching songs would not trigger any of this nonsense. The government should not have the authority to treat drag performances differently, and screaming "for the children" changes nothing.

The concept of "parents' rights" doesn't apply to just conservative families and their children. If you don't approve of drag, don't take your kids there. Leave everybody else alone.