Kentucky drag queen fears Republican bans could ruin her life: ‘I’m scared to continue’

Drag queen Rita Room

A Kentucky drag queen who is trying to become a parent with her husband is terrified that attacks on her art form could hinder her chances of adopting.

Rita Room and her husband recently started their “journey to become parents” through fostering – eventually, they want to adopt children of their won.

Already it’s been one of the “hardest things” they’ve ever done, and Rita is living in fear that her dreams could be dashed.

She lives in Kentucky, where Republican legislators have been trying to ban drag performances on public land or where children could see them. While the bill wouldn’t by itself have stopped her from adopting, Rita fears the hatred it could whip up might.

“What if it gets to the point where these are passed, and we finally get to that day where we’re able to adopt and they see my Rita Room Facebook profile and they’re like: ‘Nope, that’s a drag queen. We’re not allowing it,'” Rita says.

“These bills are so pointed at ‘protecting children’, and I’m the furthest thing from someone that would harm them,” she adds.

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Rita Room wears a light blonde wig and sparkly dress as she stands alongside another bearded drag queen and the owner of Americas Bearded Queen Pageant System
Rita Room (R) says the LGBTQ+ community and drag queens have to ‘put up a fight’ against the tide of hateful legislation in the US. (Lucas Reed)

Bills to restrict drag amid a broader backdrop of legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community – including efforts against gender affirming-care, gender recognition and same-sex marriage. This political hostility is coinciding with increasing attacks by the media against the LGBTQ+ community, and an uptick in real-world violence and hate speech, including “groomer” rhetoric insinuating – baselessly – that queer people are a threat to children.

“If you look in the news everyday, it’s the people behind the pulpit. It’s the people that are writing these bills,” Rita adds. “It’s those people that are in the news every single day being accused of sexual misconduct with a child. It’s not a drag queen. It’s not a trans individual. And that’s why these have been so hard on me because I’m working to become a parent.”

“I’m working to fulfil that piece of me that – just by biological design – me and my husband can’t do. I’ve even told my husband I’m scared to continue doing drag. 

As Kentucky’s 2023 legislative session closes, several high-profile bills, including a drag ban, appear to be dead 

Kentucky’s drag ban measure, SB 115, would have banned live performances “involving male or female impersonators” on publicly owned land or anywhere where children could view the performance.

The bill has virtually no chance of succeeding in the current legislative session, but could return in the future.

It passed through the state Senate on 10 March, and while it was thought there’d be no time for its required three readings this legislative session, Republicans slipped in a first reading of the bill in the House ahead of a 17 March deadline.

It could now be voted on at the end of this month, on either 29 or 30 March, but the ACLU of Kentucky believes Democratic governor Andy Beshear would veto the bill, and the Republican-dominated state legislature would be unable to override the governor’s veto given the time constraints. 

Republican senator Lindsey Tichenor, who introduced the bill, told the Epoch Times: “If we are not able to get it through this session, I will indeed reintroduce the bill next session.”

Even if Kentucky’s drag ban bill is dead, Rita Room still fears similar legislation which passed into law in neighbouring Tennessee. 

Rita lives about 20 minutes from the Tennessee state line and often works events in Nashville.

A person holds up a sign that reads "Protect children from hate" with a graphic of the Progressive Pride flag amid a crowd of LGBTQ+ people and allies counter-protesting against hate towards a drag event
Several states have introduced anti-drag bills, and Tennessee was the first state in the US to pass a bill banning drag performances in front of minors. (Getty)

It’s gotten to the point where she and her husband have questioned if they should just move. 

“We can’t just leave,” Rita says. “We have to put up a fight, and it’s so scary but change happens when people gather together.”

Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation drag ban was signed into law on 2 March by governor Bill Lee. It prohibits “adult cabaret” performances from taking place “on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult”.

It threatens performers with a misdemeanour charge, or a felony if it’s a repeat offence. The law will go into effect on 1 July.

Several states have introduced anti-drag bills, and many advocates have pointed out that such bills could have a detrimental impact on the trans community as well as Pride events. 

Rita says it “sucks to think that in 2023 this is what our community faces”.

They’ve seen first-hand how empowering it can be for young people to experience drag and LGBTQ+ friendly spaces. 

“I grew up doing theatre, and you live for that praise,” she says. “I would be remiss to say I don’t live for the people screaming for me when I’m on stage. 

“But I’m also looking out to that audience at my all-ages events, at our Pride festivals, and seeing those 13-year-olds that are living their best life. 

“I wish, at 13, I could done that, but I couldn’t. It’s really empowering to know that I’m part of something like that.”

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