Ban guns, not drag

Over 6,000 children in the United States were killed or injured by guns in 2022. How do the effects of drag performances compare to this startling statistic? From a logical standpoint, it is clear that children being exposed to transgender and gender-nonconforming people is far less dangerous, and infinitely more beneficial, than children being exposed to gun violence, yet the Republican party is choosing to focus on makeup rather than weapons of war.

Instead of using anti-transgender fear tactics to further their own bigoted agendas, conservative politicians should protect American children by addressing our deadly gun violence epidemic.

Since the beginning of 2023, at least 32 bills have been filed by state governments in America that target drag performances, with the stated intent of protecting children from being corrupted by these “adult” events. Drag shows vary in content and audience, but nothing about drag is inherently inappropriate for children. Drag, a form of entertainment where people dress up and perform exaggerated caricatures of a binary gender, is a long-held cultural tradition both in the LGBTQ+ community and in wider society. Some drag performers are transgender, but not all, and transgender people are not drag performers. However, the drag bans that are being introduced across America target transgender people as well as drag performers. 

Most of the proposed bills define a drag performer as someone who performs while presenting as a gender that differs from the one assigned to them at birth. Some of these bills aim to label drag performances as “adult” businesses, meaning that the location and audience of the performances would be severely restricted to prevent children from viewing them. These bills affect more than just drag. If these laws were enforced, transgender people could be barred from performing or labeled “adult performers” in any context, not just in drag performances. These bills are a blatant attack on freedom of personal expression, and the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people to live without discrimination. Additionally, the basis of these drag bans is unfounded and rooted in prejudice and fear. Rather than harming children, diverse gender representation benefits them by teaching them to accept and love themselves and others. 

Rather than harming children, diverse gender representation benefits them by teaching them to accept and love themselves and others. 

Guns, on the other hand, pose an immediate, life-threatening, and increasingly prevalent threat to a child’s life. Since January 2023, there have been more than 163 mass shootings in the United States, with at least 12 school shootings and many more child casualties. According to the New York Times, gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children. In spite of this concerning spike in gun-related deaths, the majority of conservative politicians, many of whom support the drag bans, are opposed to gun restriction measures. It is incredibly clear that the most effective course of action in terms of child protection is gun restriction, not drag bans.

Some Americans feel that gun ownership is a constitutional right. Gun rights supporters believe that taking away their right to bear arms is antithetical to America’s fundamental principles of freedom and liberty. Additionally, some people distrust or fear drag performers, as well as transgender and nonbinary people. Some believe that exposure to non-cisgender representation poses a danger to children, influencing their worldview and otherwise corrupting them. Yet these same people, who demand freedom and the protection of children, would deny non-cisgender people freedom of expression and refuse to grant children protection from gun violence. Children are not political pawns, and it is unconstitutional to gamble with their lives for the sake of politics and bigotry.

Gun violence and its repercussions affect children in a multitude of devastating ways, both immediately and in the long term. Approximately three million American children witness gun violence every year. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, exposure to gun violence can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders. Unrestricted access to guns plays a large role in child death by firearm. Suicide deaths by firearm account for almost half of all suicide deaths among children and teenagers. Over 80 percent of child suicides involve a gun that belongs to a family member. Additionally, gun violence disproportionately affects children of color. According to Everytown For Gun Safety, Black children and teens are 17 times more likely to die by homicide than white children and teens. 

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of America’s childhood gun violence epidemic is this: gun violence is preventable.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of America’s childhood gun violence epidemic is this: gun violence is preventable. As New York Times columnist Ezra Klein wrote, “Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not…talking about how to stop a mass shooting in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t ‘too soon.’ It’s much too late.” America’s gun violence level is much higher than other rich, developed nations, as is its gun possession ratio. It follows that, in order to reduce gun violence, the United States must restrict gun ownership. 

Just as gun violence harms children’s mental health, transgender and nonbinary representation can improve it. Positive and diverse gender representation plays a large role in improving the identity, self-esteem, and mental health of children and teenagers. From a young age, children search for role models that mirror their own experiences and identities. Villainizing trans and gender-nonconforming people and banning representation will cause non-cisgender children to grow up believing that their identity is fundamentally wrong and even dangerous. Additionally, if cisgender

Photo courtesy of Associated Press, by John Amis

children are not educated about gender diversity and taught to be inclusive of all people, they may grow up to perpetuate the cycle of oppression upheld by previous generations. As author and transgender activist Leslie Feinberg wrote in hir book, Transgender Warriors, “We have a right to live openly and proudly. When our lives are suppressed, everyone is denied an understanding of the rich diversity of sex and gender expression and experience that exist in human society.” Banning drag means silencing the voices and experiences of a vital part of humanity, restricting freedom of identity and expression, and limiting the capacity of younger generations to improve society as a whole. 

Conservative politicians claim to be protecting children by creating discriminatory anti-drag bills, but continually ignore the greatest danger that American children face: gun violence. Instead of addressing the primary cause of childhood death in the U. S., these politicians choose to further their intolerant agendas by banning diverse gender representation under the guise of protection. Rather than scapegoating drag performers out of bigotry and fear, conservative politicians should restrict gun ownership to protect children and end America’s tragic childhood gun violence epidemic.