The anti-drag bills sweeping the U.S. are straight from history's playbook
It turns out that even 150 years ago, legislators wanted to police gender expression in public spaces.
Who are they? LGBTQ Tennesseans. Advocates worry that recently-passed legislation restricting drag performances in public spaces in Tennessee could be used to discriminate against them, and fuel the slew of similar laws being proposed in other states.
Want to learn more? Listen to the Consider This episode on how restrictions on drag shows have a history in the U.S.
What's the big deal?
What are people saying?
Jules Gill-Peterson, a historian and professor at Johns Hopkins University, studies transgender history and the history of sexuality. She spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro to highlight the history behind these types of laws.
On the precedent set before these laws:
Unlike a lot of other anti-LGBT legislation that doesn't really have any precedent, we actually have almost 150 years worth of laws in this kind of zone.
In 1863, San Francisco was actually the very first place to enact a ban, what it called a cross-dressing or masquerade ordinance, which prohibited someone from being out in public if they were wearing clothing that was different from their sort of legal sex or assigned sex. And those kinds of laws really took off in the late 19th century.
They were really used for many decades, well into the 20th century to imperil and harass, but also silence LGBT people. Because if you were arrested, which was so easy under the way these laws were written, your name might be published in the newspaper, you'd have a criminal record. It could really ruin your employment chances and out you to everyone.
On whether first amendment rights were brought up with these previous laws:
As far as I know, that question was never really settled under the law. In some ways, the question with these sorts of status offenses, or these laws that target how people appear or what they wear, is that they're so vaguely worded, that so much comes down to how they're implemented. It's much more a matter of policing than it is the letter of the law.
On what enforcement could look like, particularly at pride events in Tennessee this summer:
The notion that police might arrive at pride and start arresting drag queens, or frankly, anyone who could be dressed in a costume, and because there could be children in the crowd, is really, kind of an incredible thing to imagine happening.
But I think this is the sort of uncertainty of how these laws are written. I'm not totally sure Tennessee's law would necessarily allow the police to take that action, but certainly some of the other laws being considered in other states definitely would.
And so the question is, what is going to be the newfound danger that folks are going to face at a popular family friendly event like Pride? I think that just goes to show how far the reach and the scope of some of these laws really can be that they're reaching into, and allowing the government to exercise a really powerful degree of authority in determining what you're allowed to wear, where you're allowed to be in public, and frankly, how you're allowed to exist when you're walking down the street.
So, what now?
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