Madonna says anti-LGBTQ+ politics are making people ‘unsafe’. This drag queen knows that all too well

Adhara Bull and Madonna

Tennessee recently became the first state in the US to ban drag – and drag queens, LGBTQ+ advocates and Madonna aren’t happy about it.

After Tennessee introduced a law categorising drag as “adult-oriented” entertainment – effectively banning public drag performances – as well as legislation banning gender-affirming healthcare for young trans people, Madonna issued a statement labelling them “unfounded and pathetic”.

“The oppression of the LGBTQ+ [community] is not only unacceptable and inhumane; it’s creating an unsafe environment; making America a dangerous place for our most vulnerable citizens, especially trans women of color,” Madonna said, announcing a special show in Nashville that will raise money for trans rights organisations. “Anyone with half a brain knows not to f**k with a drag queen.”

Continued anti-LGBTQ+ politicking is fuelling hate against the community.

Tennessee queen Adhara Bull tells PinkNews they’ve experienced a “terrifying” rise in anti-drag protests, which have steadily became more aggressive as more anti-LGBTQ+ bills hit the state legislature. 

“In Cookeville, there’ve been several events that have been targeted by literal Nazis… with the symbols and Proud Boys that are just holding up their flags – proud as day – blatantly spewing their hatred, and it’s quite terrifying, to be honest,” they say. 

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Tennessee drag queen Adhara Bull wears poses with one hand resting on their face with a sign in the background reading 'drag is not a crime' after the state banned drag in public places
Adhara Bull says it’s unfair that queer people feel the need to “dampen ourselves” because of the concerted anti-LGBTQ+ effort by Republican lawmakers. (Instagram/@adharabull)

“But not only that, the reason why these people are so emboldened is because of this legislation, which has been brought on so fast. 

“It’s like a landslide. All of a sudden we’re getting attacked left and right… So many venues have been closed due to just fear alone, but now they’re actually being targeted. And it’s pretty alarming.”

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Conservatives in Tennessee and beyond insinuate that drag is inherently sexual, and a danger to children.

But as Madonna said: “These so-called laws to protect our children are unfounded and pathetic.”

Adhara, who runs kid-friendly drag events throughout Pride season, says they’ve been trained “hours upon hours to know what’s appropriate for children” because they work as a preschool teacher for their day job. 

But that doesn’t stop people from falling for the rhetoric.

Once, Adhara was in a bar after a gig when they were approached by a group of women.

At first, the women complimented their makeup, but as soon as they mentioned that they did drag, they saw the women’s faces “drop”. 

“She stopped me in the middle of talking and was like: ‘No, no, no. I don’t want you guys around my children… You guys are trying to come into our schools.’

“People think that we’re trying to come into public schools and teach children about queerness? I don’t know what they think we’re trying to teach children, but we’re just teaching children how to love themselves, love their neighbours and research the community around them – everyone in it – and to learn how to just be kind. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.”

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Adhara, like multiple drag performers who’ve spoken to PinkNews, linked drag bans to a broader effort to roll back LGBTQ+ and trans rights.

They say the “absurd”, vague wording of Tennessee’s drag ban – which targets “male and female impersonators” – “really just highlights that it actually is about attacking just queer and trans people in general”. 

“Being gender non-conforming has existed in society since forever – literally forever,” they say. “Drag has existed for all people, even straight people.

“We have a picture of our Tennessee governor Bill Lee, and he’s cross-dressing. He’s in drag for a high school event.

“We have videos, patriotic videos, of USA army and military members from the 1940s. All of them, like hundreds of them, dressing in drag just doing their little thing, and there’s kids in the audience. It’s a patriotic, very family-friendly oriented thing…

“I could literally go on. There are so many instances in pop culture of cross-dressing and drag being a happy celebrated part of our culture. 

“And it’s just funny to me that the only time it’s wrong and the only time that it’s prurient is when queer people are doing it when queer people are just being themselves and expressing themselves. It’s scary.”

Tennessee’s anti-drag bill was signed into law on 2 March by governor Bill Lee. Performers who violate the new law could face misdemeanour charges, and repeat offenders could be charged with a felony, which could incur time behind bars. 

On the same day, Lee signed a ban on all forms of gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for trans people under 18, which also takes effect on 1 July. 

Under the law, trans youth already receiving such life-saving care will lose access after 31 March, 2024, effectively forcing them to detransition. 

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