Missouri and Ohio are the only states with active legislation that would ban drag shows and limit gender expression if passed. Photo by Shutterstock.com/ AlexLMX

Missouri and Ohio Lead the Country in Anti-Drag Legislation

It’s been over a year since a federal judge struck down the Tennessee drag ban. The bill’s broad language targeting “adult cabaret performances” in public spaces only succeeded in receiving a permanent injunction from federal judge Tommy Parker. Florida’s attempt to ban public drag shows also obtained a permanent injunction in November.

Missouri and Ohio are the only states with active legislation that would ban drag shows and limit gender expression if passed. In Missouri, four bills await further action after being introduced in the General Assembly at the start of the 2024 session. In Ohio, HB 245 could be mistaken for one of Missouri’s drag bans. It is currently the most advanced after its second committee hearing. The legislation, under the guise of protecting children, denotes gender-bending as a sexual offense that children should not be subjected to and to be kept within “adult cabaret performance.”

HB 1650
Introduced by Republican Rep. Mazzie Christensen in early 2024, HB 1650 outlines insincere concerns for child safety and drag performance while imposing rules about gender expression. The bill takes several opportunities to define where drag performers and trans people are allowed to exist only during “adult cabaret performances.” Careful to emphasize children’s safety as the basis and frequently defining sexual contact throughout, HB 1650 not so subtly implies that people who are in drag or trans are child predators. The bill seems to be at a standstill but not defeated as of the date of publishing.

HB 1849
Rep. Ben Baker introduced an anti-drag bill in January this year. HB 1849 is a similarly worded legislative attack on the rights and expression of drag performers and trans people as Rep. Cook’s HB 2300 and Rep. Christensen’s HB 1650. Unsurprisingly, Baker preceded this filing with HB 1848, which would allow concealed carry in places of worship. Baker’s other sponsored bills also include bans on “Chinese-owned social media applications” and limitations on gender-affirming healthcare in the forms of HB 2141 and 2830, respectively. For now, however, Baker’s other bills appear to have lost steam. Though HB 1849 is not currently scheduled for hearing, it is considered as advancing.

HB 2300
Another bill that uses the same coded language to limit freedom of expression comes from Rep. Bennie Cook, who also proposed an anti-trans sports bill regarding children and adolescents (HB 1184) that did not survive the introduction. HB 2300 would disallow “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment, or similar entertainers,” to exist outside of, again, “adult cabaret performances.” The bill has not moved since being introduced at the start of January.

SB 1187
Sen. Mike Moon, like his peers in the House, proposed (for the third time) a bill that would “modify provisions relating to sexually oriented businesses…without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen, or subjective experience of gender.” SB 1187 is not a unique bill in Missouri’s 102nd General Assembly. Several state senators and representatives hope to instate specifics about gender expression and queer spaces. Moon’s agenda becomes clearer when considering another recently sponsored bill, SB 1234, which offers an optional religious marriage license and states that “marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman.” SB 1187 is in limbo and will likely be defeated.

HB 245
Ohio Representatives Angela N. King and Josh Williams took several pages from Missouri’s book when introducing anti-drag legislation in HB 245 last November. Taking care to be specific about gender expression, HB 245 states, “performers or entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performer’s or entertainer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts, or other physical markers.” HB 245 is the most advanced of the above-listed bills, making it the most dangerous for trans people and drag performers in Ohio. If signed into law, HB 245 would join the 44 anti-trans bills currently in effect in the U.S., according to the Trans Legislation Tracker.

Conservative attacks and advances on LGBTQ rights are as dangerous as they are ridiculous and unconstitutional, but until the federal level takes action to protect gender expression, we can expect bills like these to continue popping up.

As Senator Heidi Campbell from Nashville points out, “The law is obviously meant just to be hateful because the obscenity statute already covers this … what it’s really done is have a chilling effect on our LGBTQ community and our vibrant drag community.”