But right-wing lawmakers are on the rise in states from Florida to Arizona suggest that drag is sexually explicit and inappropriate for children. In Idaho, some conservatives now want the state to devalue them.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Idaho is doing this, that they are more concerned about what drag queens are doing, raising money for charity work and non-profit organizations,” Logue said. “That’s what Idaho worries about more than her education issue, her mental health issue, her minimum wage issue, or her housing issue.”
A Republican activist has sponsored a resolution for January Legislature specifically targeting the LGBTQ community and proposing to ban “the use of Idaho taxpayer dollars to fund biased, self-aggrandizing, illustratively-sexualized events.” And the Christian-conservative Idaho Family Policy Center started a petition, demanding a bill that would allow children to receive damages if they say they were injured in a public drag show. (Federal State Rep. Megan Blanksma (R) wrote in an email that no such anti-drag bill exists “at this time.”)
“This idea that drag is some kind of expression or art form, I think, is something that was invented out of thin air over the last few decades to normalize behavior that has no place in the public domain,” said Blaine Conzatti, President of the Policy Center in an interview.
Some Idaho drag performers and their supporters, fearing their shows and broader LGBTQ rights are at risk, are securing their wigs to defend their art form through voting, fundraisers and performances. Miguel Pesina, who has posed as Maliha Gemini in Boise for several years, is particularly concerned about the activist’s draft resolution. Pesina received the proposal, which was reviewed by the Washington Post, from her mother, who is running for a seat in the Idaho state legislature.
“We definitely need to mobilize and kick up our heels, have election parties, get people to vote, engage with our community and definitely research the candidates running for election this year,” Pesina said.
When Pesina, 32, was in elementary school, they held back from being bullied as a brown, chubby gay kid with an effeminate voice. Forming their drag queen personas in college helped them explore their gender fluidity, they said.
“Drag gave me permission to be everything I always wanted to be, [and] Say it all… I’ve been too scared to say it in the past,” Pesina said.
Amid talks of banning or restricting drag shows, Cody Hafer, 33, plans to vote, meet his new lawmakers in Boise and attend public hearings and rallies to give his testimony as a drag queen. Hafer said he feels stronger and more validated as drag queen Cyraphina, while also representing plus-size people positively.
Cyraphina entertains, but her shows can also be emotionally powerful, such as when she put on a performance where survivors could tell their stories of sexual assault. Years later, a viewer told Hafer, “It saved her life as she watched that performance and felt less alone as she navigated the healing and processing of the sexual violence she had experienced,” he said.
Jeffrey Samson, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, hopes his three-minute songs as Jazmyn J will help people escape from life’s worries and frustrations. Samson is fortunate to have a family that loves him unconditionally, and he knows some LGBTQ youth aren’t so lucky.
On Jasmine J Shows, “They don’t have to worry about what’s happening, what’s going to happen. All they need is to be with me,” Samson said. “That makes sense to me.”
Drag, performers say, is a form of creative expression that can be provocative, like nude sculptures or paintings in art museums. But Idaho drag kings and queens, who have long doubled as LGBTQ activists in the state, told The Post They know their audience and adapt, whether they’re performing at a 21+ nightclub or at a family Pride festival. The only people who sexualize drag, Samson said, are the people who are against its existence.
One example Samson cited was an allegation by an Idaho blogger last summer that a drag performer exposed himself during a Pride in the Park show in Coeur d’Alene. While the blogger posted a blurry video of the performance on her Facebook page, the Office of the Prosecutor said the unedited shots “show no exposure”. The actor is suing for defamation.
The Idaho Family Policy Center nevertheless referenced the incident in its Protect Children from Drag Shows petition, calling drag performers “sneakers” who “use our children as pawns for their perverse sexual desires.”
In September, the Boise Pride Festival postponed its children’s drag performance over restraint and threats, executive director Donald Williamson said.
“There was some despondency, especially some of the older kids, because it wasn’t their first time in a situation like this,” Williamson said. “All they did was dress up and go on stage and lip-sync some of their favorite pop songs in front of this audience that’s part of their community.”
Boise Pride plans to host the event on a larger stage with a famous drag queen host if it is rescheduled for the kids, who are 11 to 18 years old and take to the stage with their parents.
Twin Falls drag queen Chaotic Majesty or drag Arya Walker said concerns the performances were inappropriate or dangerous for children were unfounded. Before family events, Walker said, organizers check and double-check drag performers’ outfits to make sure the dresses aren’t too short Music tracks to ensure there is no profanity.
Walker grew up around conservative religious people who didn’t exactly teach him about gender and sexuality, he said. Over time, he learned the words to describe himself as a pansexual transgender man. He hopes that greater awareness and use of LGBTQ terminology can promote inclusion and also help others to understand their own identity.
“I think it’s a lot of ignorance and fear,” Walker said. “Education helps to heal this ignorance and the hate that goes with it.”
To that end, he has bought children’s books to read and give away to families at kid-friendly events at local parks and bookstores. The books are “LGBT-centric,” he said, while also addressing other issues children face, such as how to deal with when a friend moves away.
But drag performers said perhaps the most powerful form of activism they can undertake is to show up — in their communities and on stage.
“People look at you and ask questions,” Walker said. “It’s a surefire way for people to have a good time and for us to stand up for LGBT rights.”