Amidst sweeping anti-trans legislative assault, queer community fights back
Brooklyn Crawford / People's World

NEW YORK—Drag performers, LGBTQ activists, and community members came together in Brooklyn on March 21 to support trans youth and to raise funds for organizations fighting against the current wave of anti-trans legislation sweeping the U.S.

Recipients of the funds included the ACLU of Tennessee, The Trans Formations Project, and the local mutual aid group Black Trans Liberation. The event was held at the 3 Dollar Bill club as part of a nightlife benefit series called “Stand Up NYC,” presented by local artist and drag queen, Julie J. With over 200 performers and sold-out tickets, the benefit raised over $25,000 to be distributed evenly among the three organizations.

Conservatives have introduced over 450 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation in state capitols around the country since the start of the new year. Many of the bills specifically target transgender and gender-nonconforming people, with bans on using public restrooms, participation in sports, and accessing healthcare.

Tennessee—home of this week’s racist expulsions of two Black state legislators—leads the country in anti-LGBTQ legislation, with 14 new bills already signed into law, ranging from the criminalization of public drag performances to cutting off the use of gender-affirming medicines for transgender children.

In response to the crisis, queer people across the country have been speaking up, fighting back, and standing together.

People’s World met with performers and members of the Brooklyn-based drag collective “Haus of Quench” about the current crisis at the March 21 event.

“A kid at a drag storytime hour isn’t thinking about sex or thinking about how ‘cunt’ the performer in front of them is,” Silly Brown (Eduardo Fernandez), an animator and performer, said, referring to right-wing conspiracies claiming that drag queens are grooming children.

“Those performances [at Super Bowl] half-time shows are more sexual than drag story hour,” Silly said. “Not that that is negative or positive, but it’s like they are targeting drag storytime hours where literally no sex is involved. It’s literally like dressing up as a cool character. No skin being shown.”

In Tennessee, community members are concerned about the vague wording used in the recently passed Senate Bill 3, which bans “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.” Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons declared that the bill would allow popular performers like Beyoncé or Harry Styles to be arrested, which might discourage artists from visiting, taking a hit on Nashville’s Music City economy.

“Why are we so obsessed?” drag performer Cuntyham (Archie Cunningham) asked. “We saw a great video of someone at a school meeting who said, ‘If your kid comes out as gay, they don’t really—especially if they are young—they don’t really think about sex as much as you do.’”

“Meanwhile, there are actual threats to children, and yet things like gun violence are not addressed,” Frankie Smith chimed in, echoing mass concern over representatives sitting idle when it comes to firearms legislation.

Despite gun violence being the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S., many states, including Tennessee, have yet to ban assault weapons. A week following the fundraiser, a shooter who reportedly identified as transgender took the lives of three children and three adults at a Tennessee Christian school.

Conservatives have used the incident to continue to stoke trans-panic, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of mass shooters in America are cisgender and that transgender and non-binary individuals are more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators of it.

According to a study done by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law, transgender people are four times more likely to experience violent victimization compared to cisgender people. This violence has been encouraged by mainstream conservative rhetoric, which aims to eliminate transgender people from American life.

At the 2023 CPAC conference held earlier in March, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles told the crowd, “For the good of society…transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely—the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

The right-wing war on transgender people has been felt by the community, who in times of need has been finding solidarity ever more necessary. Frankie spoke on the importance of queer community, saying, “The queer community is life-saving because of the access to other queer people that it allows you to have. And drag is a huge part of that because drag is inherently a queer art form.”

Frankie, continued, arguing, “When they attack, our entire community comes together and we support each other even more, which is why I think in the last months, even though it’s been getting bad for us…it’s also been bringing a ton of joy.”

Frankie said the Brooklyn benefit show was aimed at creating “actual resources, money resources, for people who are going through a lot harder time.”

Later, People’s World spoke with Elliot and Tabbytha, two leaders from The Trans Formations Project. With rampant misinformation and fear being spread in conservative spaces, this grassroots organization aims to provide actionable, accessible, and accurate information on the sweeping anti-trans legislation crisis happening in the U.S.

Isolation, confusion, and hypocrisy seem to be the go-to right-wing tools when it comes to achieving their goals in government. Tabbytha spoke about the conservative agenda, saying, “The hypocrisy is the point. They don’t have to care about hypocrisy because they have the power.

“While we are fighting the hypocrisy, while we are trying to call it out, and wrestling with the confusion, wrestling with the misinformation, wrestling with the chaos, they are exercising their power. The hypocrisy, the cruelty, the chaos—that is the entire goal of everything that they are doing.”

Elliot described their experience, saying, “The queer community is so complex and intersectional. I’m personally from a very small farm-town Colorado, and while I wasn’t openly extravagantly queer, I was the only openly queer person in my high school, which was incredibly isolating.”

It was in the queer community that Elliot found the opportunity to become “a leader and a helper for the younger generation.”

While conservatives use their anti-trans ideology to create confusion and fear among their base, their long-term intentions are clear to those on the other side. Tabbytha continued the conversation about the intersectionality of these issues saying, “It all boils down to bodily autonomy…. Being able to, all of us having the freedom to, do with our bodies what we want to do with our bodies. Having our own choices. Self determination.”

She continued, “And ultimately a lot of these bills…seek to reduce people down to their reproductive capacity. They define ‘men’ and ‘women’ as whether or not they can reproduce in one capacity or another, which is biological nonsense.”

The similarities in the fight for abortion rights and the fight for transgender rights are no coincidence. Conservatives seek to use the government to control individuals’ bodily autonomy and personal freedoms. The ACLU, among others, has noted the “intertwined future” of these issues and what it might mean for rules surrounding birth control, marriage equality, and even voting rights.

Tennessee’s House Bill 878, if passed, would allow clerks to reject marriage licenses for gay and interracial couples.

The attack on transgender rights is an attack on us all. The queer community’s display of solidarity in times of crisis is something we should all aspire to emulate as we fight against the growing threat of the extremist far-right. While these legislative attacks have been disastrous for queer people across the country, the fight for liberation is far from over.

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