Montana Republicans are working 9 to 5 to prohibit minors from attending drag shows, but a recent amendment to an anti-drag bill could ban more than they perhaps intended.
House Bill 359 has passed both the state House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee. It still needs to be voted on by the entire Senate. If it passes, it will ban minors from attending drag performances and ban publicly funded organizations from hosting drag shows. The bill specifically targets Drag Story Hour, an event where drag queens read stories to children.
But the bill was amended Friday to change the definition of what constitutes drag. Under the changes, a drag performance is “an obscene performance that features drag queens, topless dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, or similar entertainers who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest,” meaning of a sexual nature.
A drag queen is “a male or female performer who adopts a flamboyant or parodic feminine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.” The amendment removes the mention of dressing differently from “the performer’s gender assigned at birth.”
As journalist and transgender rights activist Erin Reed pointed out, this means that the bill could affect glam rock, wrestling, and performances by Dolly Parton. Queen Dolly herself has said she has exaggerated her appearance to be “flashy” and “flamboyant.”
If it becomes law, Montana’s drag ban would categorize any business that serves alcohol and hosts a drag show as a “sexually oriented business.” They could face a fine of up to $10,000 and even lose their liquor license if they repeatedly violate the law.
The measure also bans public schools or publicly funded institutions such as museums and libraries from hosting drag performances, specifically Drag Story Hour. The institution would be fined $5,000 for hosting a show, and the staff member who approved it could lose their teaching or librarian certification.
Critics of Montana’s bill have previously pointed out that the measure would affect theater productions of Mrs. Doubtfire, Rent, or several Shakespeare plays. It could even target Halloween costumes.
Montana is the latest state to advance a (vaguely worded, extreme) measure attacking drag performances, which have become a particular target for the right wing in recent years. In March, Tennessee became the first state to pass a law banning drag performances, but the measure was blocked by a judge before it could go into effect on the grounds that it was overly broad and violated free speech rights.