Montana passes ‘vague’ anti-drag bill that could ban Lady Gaga and Halloween costumes

Montana governor Greg Gianforte wearing a jacket in a bar.

LGBTQ+ performers in Montana are worried about their future after lawmakers passed a vaguely worded drag ban.

State representatives voted to pass a final draft of Montana’s HB359 during a legislative session in late April.

The controversial bill, sponsored by Republican Braxton Mitchell, attempts to ban drag shows from taking place in public across Montana.

However, the definition of drag is so loosely defined in the bill that it would ban most forms of pantomime, music concerts, Shakespearean plays and many other performances. Even some halloween costumes could fall under the bill’s wording.

It defines both drag queens and kings as “a male or female performer who adopts a flamboyant or parodic [male or female] persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and make-up.”

This could be bad news for pop stars such as Lady Gaga, Elton John or even Lana Del Rey – all of whom could be considered to be a “parodic persona” in costume and make-up.

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The proposed legislation will now head to the desk of Republican governor Greg Gianforte, who is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

After lawmakers passed the original draft in February, Human Rights Campaign legal director, Sarah Warbelow, belittled the wave of anti-drag bills in the US.

“Drag performances have been part of mainstream entertainment for a long time,” she said at the time.

“It is pathetic that extremist politicians are now targeting drag performances as a way to attack the LGBTQ+ community, instead of working on crafting real solutions to the problems facing Montana families today.

“If they are hoping to score political points with this latest anti-LGBTQ+ attack, they will surely fail.”

Live performers, both LGBTQ+ and otherwise, have begun questioning their future ability to host events in the state if the bill is signed into law.

“As a trans singer, could this prevent me from singing/touring in Montana?” one Twitter user asked. “If I wear makeup and costumes as a trans [woman], am I breaking the law?”

Another pointed out that the legislation is so vague that “it could be applied to almost anyone and anything”.

And a third tweeted: “Goodbye costume parties, dressing up for Halloween, plays, freedom of expression.”

Montana passes anti-drag bill shortly following Zooey Zephyr controversy

The state’s decision to pass the drag ban coincided with controversy surrounding its treatment of trans representative Zooey Zephyr.

Shortly after a speech the Democrat gave in opposition to a state bill targeting trans youth, Zephyr was blocked from speaking by the Republican speaker of the house, Matt Regier.

Montana activists holding signs that say "we're with [Zooey!]"
Protestorsd have urged lawmakers to rescind their ban on Zooey Zephyr. (Getty)

A protest condemning the decision in the state capital, Helena, led to several arrests.

Since then, Zephyr has been banned from participating in legislative matters for the foreseeable future after fellow representatives voted to censure her.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Montana announced on Monday (1 May) that it was suing Regier and the state, accusing them of violating First Amendment rights.

In a statement, ACLU Montana legal director, Alex Rate, said Regier had “unfairly, unjustly, and unconstitutionally” silenced Zephyr’s constituents by silencing her, calling the censure a “direct threat to the bedrock principles that uphold our entire democracy”.

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