More than 300 drag performers and allies gathered in Tallahassee on Tuesday afternoon to protest a slew of bills that take aim at the LGBTQ+ community, now moving fast through Florida’s statehouse.
In polished pumps and a sea of red T-shirts that read “The show must go on,” the effervescent crowd marched half a mile from Cascades Park to the Capitol building, brandishing signs bearing pleas for protection.
The march, which organizers believe to be the largest demonstration by drag performers in Florida history, comes a week after state lawmakers voted to advance bills that would criminalize transgender people’s use of the bathroom that aligns with their identity and ban doctors from providing gender-affirming care.
Lawmakers also passed bills that allow health care providers to refuse people care based on religious beliefs and ban the use of personal pronouns not aligned with gender at birth in Florida schools.
One bill appears to specifically target drag performers, barring children from attending “adult live performances” featuring certain commonly used prosthetics. The bill’s language has sparked questions about the future of Pride.
Protesters descended on Tallahassee from cities ranging from Pensacola to Fort Lauderdale, Naples to Orlando and Miami. Many boarded buses before dawn.
“We’re all donating our time, our energy and our talents,” Angelique Young, a Tampa Bay drag performer who helped organize the march, said in the days before the event.
For the last two months, Young has led a group of performers from the Tampa Bay area on weekly trips to the state capital to speak before lawmakers.
When she saw the slate of bills targeting LGBTQ+ people appear early this session, she said she knew she had to act.
“Everything that’s going on affects me personally on several levels,” Young said. “I couldn’t sit back and not speak up and tell my story to help educate legislators.”
Young started performing in drag 17 years ago when she was a college student in Pennsylvania. She said the art allowed her to explore her identity, while also bringing in money she needed to survive.
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It’s that community, and freedom to work and perform, that she’s hoping to protect.
“What started as wanting to speak on behalf of entertainers quickly became a fight for (everyone in) the LGBTQ+ community,” she added.
For many, she said, a knee-jerk reaction to this legislative session would be to run. But Young said she and her peers are committed to staying in this state. She said the bills moving through the Legislature do not reflect the warmth of experiences she’s had as a trans person in Florida. Here, she said, she’s found community.
“And those safe spaces will continue to exist,” Young said. “This is the loudest we’ve ever been. The community is definitely on the forefront of making great change.”