How U.S. drag bans are shaping fears of rising hate, attacks in Canada

Click to play video: 'U.S. drag bans raise concerns about LGBTQ2 attacks in Canada'
U.S. drag bans raise concerns about LGBTQ2 attacks in Canada
WATCH: U.S. drag bans raise concerns about LGBTQ2 attacks in Canada – Jun 14, 2023

Even as judges in the United States block some of the laws banning drag shows and gender-affirming care for minors, LGBTQ2 advocates are warning hundreds of similar bills before lawmakers are part of a “slippery slope” that could lead to further attacks on the community.

And those attacks are at risk of spreading north, they warn.

Earlier this month, a federal judge appointed by former president Donald Trump ruled legislation by Tennessee that banned adult cabaret performances from public property or anywhere minors might be present was unconstitutional.

While the bill didn’t use the word “drag” in its wording, many called it a drag ban because “male or female impersonators” were classified as a form of adult cabaret.

Canadian drag queen Synthia Kiss, who competed on the reality show Canada’s Drag Race, told Global News there’s a misconception that all drag performances are sexualized. She said when she performs, she tailors it to her audience as many artists do.

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“We just want to entertain and make people happy,” she told Global News. “The way you do that is by reading your room. So if there’s parents with children, I know my lip syncs, my chat on the mic is going to cater to that, to flatter to the room.”

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Examining trend of hate crimes aimed at LGTBQIA2S+ community

Tennessee drag king Jupiter Fleming said what they felt was most dangerous about Tennessee’s law was that the language was vague and it could be used against not only drag performers.

“It’s just, defining it as we’re going after female and male impersonators leaves so much room for so many problems and so many issues, you’re leaving an open-ended question,” they said.

Kiss added the growing number of pieces of legislation being seen in the U.S. are “robbing an audience” of being able to see drag.

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“That’s policing and gatekeeping art forms that it’s not up for them to decide,” Kiss said, adding that it’s up to the parents to decide what is deemed appropriate for their children.

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Children have appeared to be the focus of several of the bills, with legislators often saying they are about protecting youth.

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several bills into law banning gender-affirming care and restricting discussion of personal pronouns, among other aspects, he did so standing behind a lectern with a sign reading “Let Kids Be Kids.”

“We never did this through all of human history until like, what, two weeks ago? Now this is something? They’re having third-graders declare pronouns? We’re not doing the pronoun Olympics in Florida,” DeSantis said.

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On June 6, a federal judge temporarily blocked portions of the Florida law banning transgender minors from receiving puberty blockers, saying “gender identity is real” and there was no rational basis for denying patients treatment.

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Prior to the ruling, however, Equality Florida along with several other civil rights organizations issued travel advisories for members of the LGBTQ2 community visiting the state.

Click to play video: 'Why LGBTQ2 advocates are advising against travel to some U.S. states'
Why LGBTQ2 advocates are advising against travel to some U.S. states

The organization’s special projects manager Carlos Guillermo Smith told Global News that laws targeting drag performers like those seen in Tennessee and Florida put the entire community at risk.

“What these anti-drag laws are doing is they’re perpetuating hatred and disinformation about the LGBTQ community in a way that actually puts us at risk, and puts drag queens and their allies in harm’s way,” he said in an interview.

Is anti-LGBTQ2 hate spreading?

In the weeks since, the Human Rights Campaign declared a national state of emergency in the U.S. for the LGBTQ2 community, and even provided resources to help people relocate to states with stronger protections.

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While legislation directly impacting access to gender-affirming care or drag shows is not prevalent in Canada, advocates say discrimination is still present north of the border and echoing some of the rhetoric that has been used to justify the bans south of the border.

In recent months, demonstrations have taken place outside various drag performances. Most recently on June 5, protesters lined the streets outside a library in Alberta concerned about a drag performer reading books to an audience that included kids.

One protester said they wanted their voices heard about the “protection of all children.”

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Doug Ford responds to Pride flag controversy at York school board

Two weeks ago, controversy erupted after a York Region school board decided not to raise the Pride flag, with Premier Doug Ford being urged to step in. Ford only reaffirmed his commitment to celebrate Pride.

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Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy said their organization has received hate and violent rhetoric in recent weeks as they’ve issued support for drag performers and transgender people.

“We like to think, ‘Oh, it’s happening in the U.S., that these bills will never happen here,’ and that’s not true,” Kennedy said. “And we need to take responsibility for our own actions here in Canada. We need to own them and we need to address them.”

In New Brunswick, further controversy over changes to the province’s policy on sexual orientation in schools could force an election after eight members of the premier’s own caucus sat out question period and other legislative business in protest.

One of the major changes to the guidelines, known as Policy 713, means students under 16 who identify as trans or nonbinary will not be able to officially change their names or pronouns in school without parental consent.

Kennedy said Canadian lawmakers need to work together with the LGBTQ2 community in order to ensure bills and the rhetoric being seen in the U.S. aren’t going to move north.

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Higgs government faces caucus revolt over changes to LGBTQ school policy in N.B.

As more bills pass in the U.S. and the LGBTQ2 community call for action in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out on June 8 at a Pride flag-raising on Parliament Hill, condemning the sharp rise in the laws he said are curtailing the rights of transgender people.

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“We’ve been reminded by a rise in anger, hatred and ignorance and intolerance — that things getting easier is not automatic,” Trudeau said.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau addresses hate against LGBTQ2 community during Pride flag-raising ceremony'
Trudeau addresses hate against LGBTQ2 community during Pride flag-raising ceremony

He also said children who don’t see a flag at their schools should know one is flying for them on Parliament Hill, in an apparent reference to schools and cities that have voted against flying the flag during Pride month.

And south of the border, President Joe Biden also spoke out the same day in support of the LGBTQ2 community, calling the bills put forward by Republican legislators “cruel.”

“These are our kids. These are our neighbours. It’s cruel and it’s callous,” he said at the White House. “It matters a great deal how we treat everyone in this country.”

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Protest expected at Taber ‘drag queen story time’ event

Kennedy says while governments standing behind the community is important through legislation, education is imperative.

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“That starts in our school system with age-appropriate education and curriculum, starting at a very young age and working through right through to post-secondary and into the corporate world,” she said.

She acknowledged there are parents that have expressed concerns over their children being too young to learn about gender identity and sexual orientation, and said parents need to be involved in a child’s education. But she added that parents need to themselves be taught why learning about the LGBTQ2 community at a young age can help make them more aware of issues facing these communities and by doing so, will hopefully alleviate concerns about this type of learning in schools.

“We’re merely trying to keep the gay child alive by having these conversations,” she said. “And that is something that resonates throughout our communities in terms of the rhetoric that we use when we’re addressing these issues.”

While not every mind can be changed, Kennedy said in the meantime, help needs to be given to the children, parents and the organizations that support the LGBTQ2 community.

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