Drag queens are the new hobbyhorse of the right in Tennessee
There are 427 bills in the United States today which call into question certain rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Steve Raimo has been turning into Veronika Electronika on a regular basis for 20 years now.
NASHVILLE, USA – Tennessee has become the first state to ban drag queen performances outside of cabarets for adults. The goal, say lawmakers, is to protect children in public places.
It's a waste of taxpayers money and it puts me at risk! I could be accused of a crime or be the victim of a violent act, exclaims Steve Raimo who, four times a week, becomes Veronika Electronika. Steve has made a living as a drag queen for 20 years in Tennessee.
“How dangerous are we to children?” By putting on make-up and dressing up? […] It's our sexual orientation or identity that bothers them.
Despite the new law, Veronika Electronika has no intention of ceasing to exist.
He is angry with the elected Republicans who had this law passed. They are a clear majority in Congress in Tennessee, a conservative state. In fact, a dozen other red states have a similar bill in their boxes.
In Nashville, a more progressive capital, those who defend the new law are more discreet. Noah Jenkins, secretary of the Vanderbilt University Republican Student Committee, supports it wholeheartedly. It is the innocence of children that is at stake here. Drag shows are adult entertainment. Children do not yet have the ability to form their own judgement.
Noah Jenkins, secretary of the Vanderbilt University Republican Student Committee, says he is in favor of the new law that limits drag shows queens in tennessee.
His friend, Hunter Reichel, agrees: This law aims to prevent acts with a sexual connotation in front of minors […]. When I see images of drag queen shows, they strike me as very provocative. It's not like a cheerleader, for example, who mostly does gymnastics.
Drag queens have grown in popularity in the United States, much to the chagrin right-wing Republicans. They are in the limelight thanks to the television show RuPaul's Drag Race and the national program Drag Queen Story Hour,where they read books to children in libraries. The latter, controversial, provoked demonstrations in Tennessee. Drag queens have become a target for the American conservative base just like transgender or non-binary people, for example.
The LGBTQ community is undoubtedly targeted at the right now, says Kent Syler, professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University.
“Pro-gun and anti-abortion laws have been quite successful. Now the Republicans must find other themes to appeal to their base.
—Kent Syler, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Middle Tennessee State University
And Tennessee is far from being the alone: There are 427 bills in the United States today that challenge certain rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Seduce the base and also, fear the community, stir up hatred. Since the new law was passed, organizers of the 35-year-old Nashville Pride Festival have received several threatening emails.
It's no longer the Tennessee I grew up in, it's no longer the Nashville I moved to over 10 years ago. It's a very different place and sometimes I don't feel safe there, admits, moved, Nick Kulick, who is a member of the board of directors of this festival. A scene is dedicated to drag queens during this public activity and he admits that he may have to revise his programming.
Challenging the law in court is one of the options. The law is ambiguous, the regulations are unclear. We are currently consulting legal experts.
Nashville Pride Festival board member Nick Kulick.
Because minors are not permitted access to this festival, the owner of the bar-restaurant where Veronika sometimes hosts bingo evenings does not believe that he will have to cancel it from now on. Perhaps, in the worst case, he will reluctantly put curtains on the windows of the restaurant during the show to avoid complaints. But he's still worried.
He also received a threatening message after posting an advertisement for his bingo nights on Instagram. Someone wrote: "Oh no! We don't allow that anymore. I hope you have good security because we're going to shut you down!” A few days later, Veronika, who was hosting a bingo session, could see the blue flashing lights of a police car permanently parked in front of the restaurant during the evening.
Although traditionally Republican, Tennessee hasn't always been so conservative, says Nashville Pride Festival board member Nick Kulick .
It's a shame that people feel targeted, Noah retorts. This law exists not to discriminate against a particular social group but to protect children.
So this is another issue that divides the country. Steve, aka Veronika, has a hard time accepting it. Today, he is afraid not only of violence but also of prison. Under the new law, he would commit a felony punishable by six years in prison on his second offense.
But Veronika will still exist. Until I get kicked out, bus ticket in hand, they'll have to deal with me!