• Michigan drag performers Jadein Black (left) and Hershae Chocolatae.

Really, Though? Republicans Who Are Attacking Michigan Drag Queens Creating ‘Fake Culture War Issue’

Predictably, they're using the historic art of drag as latest wedge issue

By |2022-07-05T12:16:56-04:00June 30th, 2022|Michigan, News|

Decaying roads and crumbling bridges, record inflation and gas prices along with the mass exodus of college graduates are apparently not big enough stories for Michigan Republican candidates to work into their platforms these days. No, there are other important issues these candidates are running on — and some pretty bizarre promises they’re making. 

Case in point, gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, who has pledged that if elected, she will “sign a bill that creates severe criminal penalties for adults who involve children in drag shows,” she recently tweeted. “This type of behavior is criminal child sexually abusive activity. We will make Michigan the toughest state in the country on child sex abusers.”

Dixon went on to tweet Dana Nessel directly after the Michigan attorney general joked while speaking at a civil rights conference that drag is fun and there should be a drag queen in every school. Nessel made the remark in jest (though we wouldn’t be surprised to know she does love a good drag show), but Dixon was apparently too stiff to appreciate the humor.

“I’m calling out your party’s current efforts to normalize the sexualization of children, and you have nothing meaningful to say,” Dixon tweeted Nessel. ‘So, as the top law enforcement officer in Michigan, will you join me to criminalize involving children in sexualized drag shows?”

Nessel quickly clapped back.

“Your benefactor, [former U.S. Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos, has been a greater threat to school children in Michigan than drag queens have ever been,” Nessel responded, acknowledging that the charter school advocate had recently endorsed Dixon.

And Dixon’s not alone. Matthew DePerno, Republican candidate for attorney general, appears to be following a similar attack strategy. “Dana Nessel continues to show just how completely out of touch she is with Michiganders,” he wrote in a press release posted on Twitter after she made the drag queen comment. “Dana Nessel is extreme.”

These Michigan Republican efforts are not exactly a novel approach. Texas State Rep. Bryan Slaton recently announced he plans to bring forth a bill that would ban drag shows in the presence of minors saying, “drag shows subject underage kids to inappropriate sexual content by adults.” And in Florida, Gov. Ron “Don’t Say Gay” DeSantis, suggested recently that children could be removed from their parents’ custody for taking their kids to drag shows, stating, “We have child protective statutes on the books. We have laws against child endangerment.”

Michigan queens clap back

Here in the Great Lakes State, drag queens are speaking out and calling on politicians to focus on real issues instead of inventing imaginary problems aimed at dividing people.

Jadein Black is proud to be a drag queen. She is the founder of Boylesque, a group of drag and other performers who raise money for various charities. Black also serves as show director for Ann Arbor Pride. 

On Saturday, June 25, Black was outside the Ann Arbor Public Library in a tent attempting to read to children as part of the library’s Drag Queen Story Time program. Before she could, she was approached by a group who identified themselves as members of the Pride Boyz. The group started shouting out Bible verses over a megaphone in an attempt to drown Black out.

“In my 15 years of drag and supporting my community, I have never received this harsh of a reaction to my work,” Black, a former teacher, said. “I absolutely love bringing drag to our younger generations. It is so important for them to see that they can be whomever they want to be.”

Black, who had to call on local police to shoo away the naysayers, went on to say that it’s important for kids, whether they grow up to be queer or straight, “to see that we are all human beings who deserve to receive love and acceptance.”

Metro Detroit-based drag queen Raven Cassadine has, like Black, taken part in several Drag Queen Storytimes and other family-friendly Pride events where drag queens were present. She said it’s “actually quite offensive” to have her artistry, which she has perfected over the past 18 years, maligned and referred to as “child sexually abusive activity,” as Dixon did.

“They’re miserable,” she said of such politicians. “They need to find someone to point a finger at, and they try to make things an issue that are not, to make themselves relevant. They are very close-minded.”

Republicans, she said, don’t appear to rely much on facts.

“Their facts are not facts,” said Cassadine. “They’re conspiracy theories that they made up. Growing up, I saw nothing but straight people, and I’m not straight. Seeing drag doesn’t make anybody gay.”

Black agreed.

“Drag artists are not the issue in any scenario,” she said. “Just like Stonewall, we are the ones using our voices to help protect our community. Yes, not all drag shows are meant for children. But neither are all movies, books, TV shows, or other types of venues. The world is far too big to be worrying about what a single person in size 14 heels is doing, in my opinion.” 

“We need to continue spreading love and positivity so that generations to come aren’t scared to grow up in this world we’ve created.”

Parental rights concerns

Another stakeholder in this scenario is parents, who hold a legal right to decide what is age-appropriate for their own children. The policy that Dixon has proposed would severely infringe on parents’ rights, said Jay Kaplan, the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project Staff Attorney.

“The whole theory that somehow being around a drag performer is criminally sexually abusive to children, I think, if this ever were to become policy, it definitely could be challenged on constitutionality interfering with parents’ rights to parent their own children and make their own decisions.”

Kaplan said he thinks that not only are Dixon’s statements disingenuous, they’re “reflective of the moral and policy bankruptcy of her campaign. When there are so many serious issues facing Michiganders, she chooses to come up with a fake culture war issue.”

“Drag performers are in no way a harm to children or anybody else.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.