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The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper

THE WHOLE STORY: Drag War. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 09, 2024 - 20:00   ET





Drag is an art form that's been around for centuries, including in Shakespeare's times. Women weren't allowed back then to appear on stage so men dressed up to play the roles of female characters.

Drag performances have evolved a lot over the decades, exploding in mainstream popularity in recent years with TV hits like RuPaul's "Drag Race".

But now it's also become a political target. Republican lawmakers in six states have passed laws aimed at restricting drag performances in places where children are present. The laws have been amended, blocked, or currently being challenged in federal courts.

Over the next hour, CNN's Randi Kaye digs into the colorful history of drag and takes a look at how and why it's come under attack.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So this is how it begins, huh?

TIFFANY FANTASIA, DRAG ENTERTAINER: Yes, indeed. It always starts with the foundation --

KAYE: Yes. Concealer and foundation, right.

You don't need to conceal, you just some foundation.

FANTASIA: Not yet, but give me a few years, I probably will. But they're not going to let go quite like that.

KAYE: So how long does it take you to get all made up in full drag?

FANTASIA: It varies but on average, you're talking 30 or 40 minutes, but the transition from your average homosexual to a ravishing drag queen it's interesting. It's good to see the process step by step. You can enjoy every bit of it.

It's my moment to just take myself into a whole another world and just be happy despite whatever's going around. KAYE: At the Palace Bar and Restaurant in Miami's South Beach.

FANTASIA: Welcome to the Palace Bar. My name is Tiffany Phantasia.

KAYE: Tiffany Fantasia is lip-syncing to the song, "Rather Be" by Clean Bandit. she is slaying -- that's a drag term for killing it.

She's been performing in drag for 20 years.

FANTASIA: In drag, I feel more powerful. I feel free. I feel independent. I feel love. I feel joy, especially when I'm seeing some of my favorite songs.

I love the freedom of expression. I love making somebody happy. I love the glitz and glam because no matter what I'm going through or growing through somebody else gives that energy and for those five minutes nothing matters.

KAYE: What do you think is the draw for an audience? Why do you think people attend the drag shows?

FANTASIA: Because its different. It goes against the status quo. It challenges society.

We are told as we grow up, you're supposed to act this way, talk this way, do this man the third (ph). And here's some body defying all of that and performing for you. Whether it's seeing live or lip-syncing or whatever they're defying the social norm. They're going against ego (ph) and that's fascinating for a lot of people.

KAYE: Drag has fascinated audiences for more than a century. There were hugely popular drag balls in Harlem during the roaring 20s. In the 50s and 60s, crowds packed into clubs featuring what were referred to at the time as female impersonators before a backlash shoved drag into the shadows.

But perhaps no one has helped bring drag back into the spotlight today more than drag superstar RuPaul with the TV competition show "RuPaul's Drag Race"?



KAYE: The hit show has been running for 16 seasons, collecting a whopping 29 Emmy awards along the way.

RuPaul's World of Wonder production company has built a drag empire, launching drag race TV franchises -- in more than a dozen countries around the world.

RUPAUL: On "Drag Race", The audience is connecting with the tenacity of the human spirit. That's what that show is really about when you tear it down to just nuts and bolts. We all relate to someone who has been cast off and they prove us wrong.

I remember, if you can't love yourself, how in the hell you don't love somebody else.

KAYE: Thanks in part to RuPaul, drag has become more popular than ever. There are drag brunches, drag dinner shows, drag beauty pageants, even drag bingo.

(INAUDIBLE) right here in Key West, we're getting so close to midnight --

Drag is the main attraction every New year's Eve in Key West, Florida.

And you're not afraid at all. You're just kind of dangling up here.

A crowd of enthusiasts so revelers counts down to midnight as a drag queen descends from the balcony at this bar in a giant high-heeled shoe.

We found that queen of this feast.

I've reported live from these festivities for years. And now I'm left wondering how did this campy form of entertainment become such a target for the political right like it is here in my home state of Florida?

Republican lawmakers and right-wing leaders across the country are pushing through laws restricting drag shows.

The law here in Florida signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis it aimed at banning children from attending drag shows. It blocks venues or publicly permitted events from admitting children to an adult live performance which according to the law includes any performance that quote, depicts or simulates the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There are these like, you know, these drag shows. It's sexually explicit in what they're doing. Look, adult entertainment, you know, people can do what they want with some of that, but there should not be any of these kids there.

KAYE: The law is up in the air now after a federal judge put it on hold pending a state appeal. Supporters of the restrictions claim that drag shows are harmful to children. Some accused drag queens of being child groomers -- a derogatory term often used to demonize members of the LGBTQ community as pedophiles.

The DeSantis' administration filed a complaint against the Miami restaurant, Our House accusing it of exposing minors to what it called sexually-explicit drag shows and threatening to pull its liquor license.

after a state investigation found no unlawful content in the performances, the venue, which denied any wrongdoing, agreed to pay a $10,000 administrative fine and set a minimum age requirement of 18 for their drag shows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming to your city. KAYE: Does DeSantis officials also threatened to yank the liquor licenses of The Plaza Live Theatre in Orlando and the Hyatt Regency in Miami for hosting an event called "A Drag Queen Christmas" where minors accompanied by their parents were present even though a report by undercover state agents acknowledged they did not witness any lewd acts.

Both settled for a $5,000 fine.

CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH (D), FORMER FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: It is specifically intended with the heightened penalties $10,000 fines and fees the suspension of liquor licenses to create fear, and to intimidate businesses out of wanting to host drag performances, especially when there are unclear about exactly what is allowed and what is not allowed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Representative Smith --

KAYE: Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith was Florida's first LGBTQ Latino lawmaker. He's currently running for state senate.

SMITH: It has led to a chilling effect with Pride as well.

KAYE: Several Pride events across Florida have also been canceled or restricted out of concern, drag queens might be seen by children in public.

Hit particularly hard by the political backlash, drag queen story hours like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There once was a boy with a rainbow heart.

They had signs saying that drag queens were pedophiles with AIDS. They were yelling and screaming at children and families.

KAYE: Were you scared?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was scared. I was scared.





KAYE: On a Sunday morning in Lakeland, Florida not far from Tampa, "Story Hour" is getting underway. Not just any story hour.

JASON DESHAZO, DRAG PERFORMER: We can fit a table here.

KAYE: Jason DeShazo and his team of volunteers are setting up for the big event, a family-friendly drag brunch and story hour.

It's one of the many fundraisers he stages for his non-profit, the Rose Dynasty Foundation. He hosts all the events in drag. The children and their parents know Jason as a drag queen named Momma Ashley Rose.

Tell me just a little bit about your background.

DESHAZO: I was involved in church pretty much my whole life, which led me to get into ministry. And the whole time I knew I was gay. I knew I was struggling even through all that journey, you know, the feeling of unwantedness and unloved and never being good enough to where here I am today spreading this message that everyone is loved, accepted, and wanted no matter who they are.

I remember how it felt to not feel that way. So it kind of drives me to do what I do today.

KAYE: You were once a pastor at an LGBT church.

DESHAZO: It's like, you know, pastor by today, drag queen by night and again, the drag queen, it wasn't even just by night.

We started doing events. We started doing fundraisers, variety shows, drag dinner shows, drag gospel shows, raising money for those in need.


It can be $100, it could be a couple of thousand dollars in our events. And we not only focus on queer, LGBTQ plus charities, but we focus on animal shelters, domestic violence, mental health.

I always knew that my character, Momma Ashley Rose was going to be something different. Going to be wholesome, going to be not the club bar scene because it was never really my scene.

And I just knew that I had to bring something to the table that no one else was doing.

KAYE: I look forward to meeting Momma.

DESHAZO: I can't wait for you to meet Momma.

KAYE: Nice to meet you.

DESHAZO: Hey, it's nice to meet you. Good seeing you.

KAYE: Good to see you too. So tell me about you.

DESHAZO: So Momma is just a southern lady that spreads a message that everyone is loved, accepted, and wanted no matter who they are. And we provide a safe space.

So my job is to make people feel loved, make people feel safe, give them a little laugh, a little chuckle sometimes.

Hello, guys. How are you all doing?

KAYE: When people think of a drag queen this is not the look that I think most people think of. DESHAZO: Absolutely. So drag is an art form and we know that art comes

in all shapes, sizes types, and everything. And I love to tell people, you know, we have adult television, we have children's television. We have adult radio, children's radio, all that. So I'm kind of like the Disney Channel of drag.


Who's ready for story time?

All kids, you all can come up and have a seat on the floor.

So for me, drag story hour is first of all, teaching literacy.

There once was a boy with a rainbow heart. It looks a little different.

We know that illiteracy is an issue in the world right now. But teaching and reading about kindness -- my books are about kindness, about love, about loving yourself. We read stories about how to handle bullies and the list goes on with that. Just teaching life skills.

So it's literally just a person in a costume no different than a Disney princess reading a story to kids and adults. You know, my sparkly earrings, they see it as this like glamorous princess. And they're going to listen to a story from someone dressed in a costume before they will of just any random person.

KAYE: What kind of backlash have you faced doing drag story hour up.

DESHAZO: Until last year, we had no issues.

And a year ago this December, we had Neo-Nazis show up outside this building. They had signs saying that drag queens were pedophiles with AIDS they were projecting on the side of buildings saying that grooming was in process. They were yelling and screaming at children and families.

KAYE: Were you scared?

DESHAZO: I was scared. I was scared.

KAYE: Jason says he also had to find a new location for an annual drag pageant at the last minute, because the Orlando venue was afraid of being targeted by the DeSantis administration.

DESHAZO: They were really concerned about losing their liquor license. So they asked us to make our event 18 and up and my response was like, no, I'm not going to make an event 18 and up when it never has been. We don't do 18 and up events.

So we had four days to find a new venue to move a whole pageant, a whole production show.

KAYE: Shortly after that on Orlando high school was forced to cancel an event featuring Jason. He had been scheduled to speak to the schools Queer and Ally Alliance.

DESHAZO: I have been invited by students for years to go in and the students invite me, and of course, with approval of educators in this after-school program, after school club.

And I usually say, do you want me to come as Jason or do want me come as Momma and always I mean, they want the drag queen, right?

So a woman who is part of the Moms for Liberty, who is also on the Orange County School Board, basically had us shutdown. Educators and the principal and the dean were literally, their jobs were being threatened if they allow this event to happen.

KAYE: That school board member, Alicia Farrant says she raised questions after hearing complaints from dozens of parents. But an investigative report by Spectrum News 13 in Orlando revealed a majority of the emails Farrant received about the event were supportive of it.

We have reached out several times to Farrant for a response to the report, but have heard nothing back.

DESHAZO: I just wanted to be a drag queen and tell funny stories and make people laugh. I had no idea it was going to be in this atmosphere.

It's scary time. It was a scary time for us. Secondly, fear of threats, fear of safety.

KAYE: The political backlash, Jason and many others are now experiencing is familiar to anyone who knows the history of drag.

More on that next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every week, there'll be police raids. And every time there was a police raid, it was people in states of drag who were arrested.





KAYE: That's Sasha Velour in her latest tour, "The Big Reveal Live Show". She's a drag artist whose signature style helped her win the ninth season of RuPaul's "Drag Race"

RUPAUL: Sasha Velour.

KAYE: She's also a Fulbright scholar who wrote a book on the meaning and history of drag called "The Big Reveal: an illustrated manifesto of drag". SASHA VELOUR, DRAG PERFORMER: A gorgeous, 200-page book outlining the

history of drag and the political backlash against it. All intertwined with anecdotes from my own irresistible and unpredictable rise to queendom. You're welcome.

KAYE: Why do you think the history of drag is so important?

VELOUR: The history of drag is important because people don't know it. And in fact, it feels like there are cycles of acceptance and then backlash that have happened throughout history.

KAYE: Sasha grew up steeped in drag history. One of Sasha is biggest influences was her grandmother Dina.

VELOUR: She encouraged me to channel my inner diva. She coached me on how to make an entrance and the gown. Her condo had like one set of stairs coming down from the loft and I would put my costume on up there and then walk down the stairs dramatically. So I ow a lot to her.

KAYE: One of her grandmother's favorite hotspots, a club spotlighting female impersonators in San Francisco called "Pinocchio's.

VELOUR: She would go to Pinocchio's on the weekends, drive in from the suburbs of Daly City, and of course, it was a club mostly targeted for straight audiences.

And she loved the drag shows. She thought it was so entertaining.

KAYE: And she told you about it.


VELOUR: And she told me about it as a little kid. I feel very lucky that I grew up without shame around drag, at least at home.

KAYE: Female impersonator clubs across the country, including one in New York called club 82, became all the rage during the 1950s and 60s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people who came to the 82 Club were everyday people, your mom and dad may have come to the 82 Club, but also it was packed with celebrities. Judy Garland, Milton Berle, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Errol Flynn. Salvador Dali, the surrealist, of course, loved drag in the 82 Club.

KAYE: Drag in the U.S. has strong roots going back to Harlem racially- diverse groups of people flocked to the Rockland Palace for headline- grabbing drag balls hosted by a black fraternal organization called The Hamilton Lodge during the Harlem renaissance in the roaring 20s.

ELYSSA MAXX GOODMAN, AUTHOR: The Harlem drag balls were large, pageantry masquerade experience. And it was meant largely for the black community. Later on, there started to be more and more white patrons.

KAYE: Elyssa Maxx Goodman wrote a book on the history of drag in New York City called "Glitter and Concrete".

GOODMAN: After a while, there just became thousands upon thousands of people who would attend.

There were prizes given for the best costumes. It was an affair that was I mean -- I think it was considered social suicide if you didn't go.

KAYE: In the early 1900s, one of the biggest celebrities in the country, Julian Eltinge performed in drag.

JOE E. JEFFREYS, DRAG HISTORIAN: Julian Eltinge was one of the top paid performers in vaudeville. Julian Eltinge was a female impersonator. So there was this appetite for that type of entertainment.

JEFFREYS: We're looking to week four of the class.

KAYE: Joe E. Jeffreys is a drag historian who also teaches a course on RuPaul's "Drag Race at the new school in New York City and at New York University.

JEFFREYS: Julian Eltinge was very successful financially, artistically.

Julian Eltinge had any number of plays with music on Broadway. Julian Eltinge had his own makeup line, his own magazines. Julian Eltinge had a theater named after him.

KAYE: Eltinge also became a big movie star in films like "The Isle of Love" featuring a then unknown Rudolph Valentino.

JEFFREYS: The premise of his movies was very much like the premise of his plays which is also part of his identity.

I'm a guy. I'm in some life-threatening situation that requires me to get in a dress and that is the only reason I am getting in a dress. It's the "Some Like It Hot" narrative.

KAYE: It's a similar premise in the Hollywood hit movie starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, as well as other hugely successful films like "Tootsie" and "Mrs. Doubtfire".

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: I'm Euphegenia Doubtfire dear.

KAYE: Drag was also popular among members of the U.S. military. Broadway productions and movies portrayed soldiers performing in drag shows for the troops.

GOODMAN: Drag was central to morale efforts during World War II. And to the point where Eisenhower was giving commendations to troops that use drag to say that you are doing a great job and you're serving your country.

KAYE: An Irving Berlin stage musical became a movie featuring soldiers in drag called "This is the Army" starring none other than Ronald Reagan.


KAYE: But appearing in drag outside the movies in female impersonator clubs was a far different story.

GOODMAN: There were very strict rules at the Club 82, for example, where men had to arrive in men's clothes, put on their makeup there and then leave in men's clothes.

KAYE: That's largely due to a crackdown on what we now call drag queens and gays during the McCarthy era in the 50s, that became known as "the lavender scare".

GOODMAN: The attitude at the time that created the lavender scare was homosexuality was as much a threat to the U.S. as communism.

JEFFREYS: It was a dark period in the 50s for drag performers because there was legislation out there that was stopping it, and banning it, and trying to restrict it somewhat in the ways that we're seeing today.

We really never had a law that banned drag. But there was a law on the books here in New York that banned masquerading.

VELOUR: And they started enforcing this ancient law against masquerade to cut down on people dressing up outside of their legal gender. If you're caught in a bar or walking the street and you didn't have enough pieces of the appropriate gender clothing on, you literally would be taken to jail.


Being a drag queen was something shameful and you would maybe lose your job if people found out that you like to dress in drag. You could lose your family. The institutional and cultural stigma against drag was huge and it was deeply tied to fears around transpeople. And even around like gay people generally.

KAYE: That harassment and discrimination against drag queens would go on to play a vital role in the uprising that ignited the fight for LGBTQ rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That night finally, they'd had enough of it. They had enough of being pushed around. It changed that night.




KAYE: In the pre-dawn hours on a Saturday morning in June 1969, trouble erupted in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village, at a bar called the Stonewall Inn. MARK SEGAL: It was the only place that we could come in and be


KAYE: Mark Segal was a regular at the Stonewall, a mafia-run gay bar which paid corrupt cops to look the other way at a time when being gay could get you arrested.

You were inside the Stonewall Inn when the raid happened that triggered the uprising. What do you remember about that.

SEGAL: Lights blinking, which never happened while I had been in there before. Usually a raid, and they happened often, was police would come in, take a pay off, and leave.

This was a little different. Rather than coming in and coming through doors calmly, they burst through the doors. They started throwing things around.

They would pick up the bottles, throw them away. They took people, slammed them against the wall.

They smashed everything they could possibly see. Somebody started throwing things at the door when the police wanted to leave. A stone, a coin they had in their pockets.

Those people who actually fought that night were street kids like me, marginalized people, drag queens.

KAYE: So drag queens were on the front lines of the Stonewall.

SEGAL: Yes. Absolutely. Almost everything we did in that first year, which I call the first magical year leading from Stonewall to the first Pride. All of that had drag queens involved in every aspect.

There wasn't a demonstration that they weren't present in some way, shape or form. They were at the meetings giving their voice, giving their opinion.

KAYE: Two of the most prominent activist to emerge from the movement where drag queens, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both women of color who became icons of the fight for LGBTQ rights.

The two formed a trans rights group and open North America's first LGBTQ youth center.

VELOUR: I think one of the most impactful things that Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson did was found a house that became a safe place for young queer and trans people, for teenagers who had escaped home, for homeless kids living in New York to come and live. And they called it the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR House.

It became like an activist organization as well as a hub and a home for so many in need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have space to do all that you intend to. KAYE: Around the same time, gay and transgender kids found another safe haven in an emerging underground drag scene called the House Ballroom.

Captured in the critically acclaimed documentary, "Paris is Burning" and depicted in the TV hit "Pose".

FELIX RODRIGUEZ, FILMMAKER: Ballroom started in Harlem in the 1960s. It was created by drag queens of the time, Latino and African-American drag queens, who wanted to create her own pageants because that's what they were in the beginning. They were pageants.

They were tired of competing in the pageants that were downtown and losing to their white counterparts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am beautiful. Beautiful.

KAYE: Felix Rodriguez is as a filmmaker who has been documenting House Ballroom culture for decades. Seen on his YouTube channel, Old School Ballroom.

RODRIGUEZ: A ball is like the Super Bowl for black and Latino queer people. Its where all these houses which are like teams come to this venue to compete against each other. It's a group of people that are together as like family. They can be compared to everything from being similar to a fraternity and a sorority to being like a gay gang.


It was a time when gay men and trans people of color were thrown out of their houses, literally from their family. And they had to find a place to live. Houses were the communities that welcomed people in those situations.

KAYE: A competitive new dance style also came out of the ballroom scene --

RODRIGUEZ: Voguing which is very popular and a lot of people think that Madonna created it, but she had vogue dancers in her tour and created the song "Vogue" and became popular.

But vogueing started in the Ballroom scene and still continues to be in the Ballroom scene.

KAYE: The Ballroom culture is still thriving today. In fact, the venue where we interviewed Felix Rodriguez is a Brooklyn club named $3 Bill that hosts weekly ballroom competitions called OTA, or Open to All.

But back when Ballroom was still underground, another drag phenomenon was also hitting the scene.

LADY BUNNY, DRAG PERFORMER: He was wearing mohawks and, you know, shoulder pads and wading boots. Let's just say that the RuPaul of today look had not yet come together.

KAYE: Lady Bunny is now an iconic drag queen who's been making audiences laugh for more than 40 years.

BUNNY: they tried to make me go to rehab and I said, you know what, that's not a bad idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you nervous.


KAYE: But she got her start back in the 80s when drag was far from mainstream, along with another relatively obscure performer at the time named RuPaul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to say something to the audience.


LADY BUNNY: We met in Atlanta and were instantly as thick as thieves.

KAYE: So what was the scene like? Did you bond there.

LADY BUNNY: Well Ru and I did bond there. At one point, we became homeless together.

I came to New York with RuPaul. We came to the Pyramid Club, this is in 1983 and I was drunk. I lip-sync to "I Will Survive" halfway through it. Theres that little low in the song where she comes back with the big "Go now go".

During that low, I had fallen, lost a shoe and the wig was hanging by a thread, but I got up there on that one shoe and finished the rest of the number and I was a favorite at the Pyramid ever since then.

At the time all of this drag and all of this fun was happening at the Pyramid, the specter of AIDS was raised. And of course, we were young and sexually active. We didn't know what to do.

KAYE: You founded Wigstock.


KAYE: To help raise funds for the AIDS crisis?


You have to line up at Wigstock.

I started Wigstock in a park across from the Pyramid. I wanted to showcase the many different kinds of talent. It was drag queens who lip-sync. Lip synced that for example.

I just felt that there was this wealth of talent that could appeal to a wider audience. And my hunch was correct.

KAYE: AIDS was running rampant through New York how was drag and Wigstock a political reaction to what the Reagan administration was doing or not doing. LADY BUNNY: I think that the political statement was that there's no

shame in our game, that there's nothing wrong with us, that we love what we do. And that it's entertaining.

So I felt like what my role was to be a jester and to put on a fun show to make us forget about AIDS, to make us forget about everything except we're still here and we're glad that we're here. And let's celebrate.

KAYE: Wigstock went on to draw crowds swelling into the thousands,


KAYE: As well as becoming a subject of a well- received documentary "Wigstock, the Movie", launching Lady Bunny into the limelight.

RuPaul began rising to stardom as well, transforming her punk drag look into the glamorous glitz of her breakout hit "Supermodel".

And RuPaul definitely knew how to work it.

RUPAUL: Growing up, I knew I would be famous. I knew I wanted to be famous. I didn't know how I was going to be famous. Drag presented itself to me and I thought, ok, this is it.

KAYE: And the rest as RuPaul would say is herstory.

RUPAUL: You may leave the stage.


JEFFREYS: RuPaul's "Drag Race" over the past 16 years have hot-rodded drag back into the mainstream public consciousness.

It makes drag accessible not only as an art form, but in a place that people can watch it right there on their television screen or streaming.

KAYE: All that success made drag a huge draw for detractors too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No such thing as a family-friendly drag show. We're going to make that clear in the state of Florida.

KAYE: Coming up, a sponsor of the Florida law aimed at drags speaks out and drag queens clap back.

DESHAZO: Do I look like a stripper?




(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KAYE: Like their sisters at Stonewall drag queens in Florida are fighting back. This was the scene in Tallahassee in April of last year when hundreds of drag artists and their supporters marched on the Florida state capitol to protest the law aimed at restricting drag.

Former Democratic state lawmaker Carlos Guillermo Smith, addressed the crowd from the state house steps.

SMITH: They are fabulous. They are (INAUDIBLE) and they are furious.

KAYE: If you look at the current law in Florida, it does not specifically mention a ban on drag shows. So what's wrong with it.

SMITH: well, it doesn't have to directly mentioned drag queens for it to be targeting this community in particular.

When this legislation was filed it was filed by a Republican lawmaker who made many ugly assertions and baseless attacks on drag queens as being a threat to children.

RANDY FINE (R), FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, guess where else drag queens aren't mentioned in a big long list. In the 20-line definition of this bill.

KAYE: That Republican lawmaker he's referring to, is this man, Florida state representative Randy Fine.

FINE: This bill didn't talk about drag queen. It doesn't mention the word drag queens.

KAYE: Yet when Representative Fine, introduced the bill, which further restricts laws already on the books, protecting children from adult live performances, he posted on Facebook that it would ban the city of Melbourne from welcoming drag queen adult entertainers from grooming our children.

It's not mentioned in the bill, but you have mentioned it in a post.

FINE: That's a fair point, but that is the kind of entertainment that inspired me to do the bill.

You had men dressed as strippers effectively performing as such in public? I don't care what consenting adults do, but I think we should keep this stuff away from our kids.

KAYE: What was the goal of the bill.

FINE: The goal of the bill was to protect kids.

KAYE: What specifically do you think children need to be protected from?

FINE: Well, I think they need to be protected from sexualization.

SMITH: It's totally unnecessary and the fact that we already have so many good laws to protect children from adult performances, it exposed that this bill was really just about targeting drag.

KAYE: If you think the law is targeting drag shows and drag queens, why not just mention that directly?

SMITH: Because if they overtly mentioned drag performances in the letter of the law, it would have immediately been obvious to any attorney and any the judge that this is an unconstitutional censorship of their First Amendment freedom.

KAYE: Representative Fine argues that while the law mentions prosthetic breasts, which many drag queens wear, it spells out other criteria that would be necessary to make drag shows admitting children illegal.

FINE: So wearing prosthetic breasts does not equal an adult live performance. It has to be that and three or four other things.

SMITH: This is all meant to be vague. It's meant to intimidate.

KAYE: Isn't there a danger in intimidating some of these venues from hosting drag performances.

FINE: We're not intimidating them. We're laying out what the definition is and we're saying if you do these, there's going to be consequences.

KAYE: Do you think drag queen shows and drag queen story hours can be family-friendly?

FINE: No, I don't. That doesn't mean they're all illegal. That doesn't mean they're all adult live performances. But no, I don't believe it's appropriate for kids.

KAYE: do you see drag queens as a threat to children.

FINE: I think that's a challenging question. That's like saying, do you think adults are a threat to children.

KAYE: Let me put it this way. Do you think drag queens are looking to groom children. Are they groomers?

FINE: I think some are. I don't understand why a man wants to dress up like a woman and then read stories to children. I don't think it's that complicated. That doesn't mean that 100 percent of those violate the law. I want to be clear about that.

KAYE: How would that be harmful to children?

FINE: Because I think it confuses them. Drag queen story hour says our goal in doing this is to celebrate gender fluidity. There is a purpose behind this. And it is to confuse and indoctrinate children.

In a majority of this legislature, we do not believe in gender fluidity. We do not believe in transgender science.

KAYE: Do you know of one case of a child who attended drag queen story hour and then decided to become transgender.

FINE: I do not know.

KAYE: Have you ever been to drag queen story hour?



KAYE: Have you ever been to a drag show.

FINE: Not that I can remember.

DESHAZO: Most of these people and I've seen have never even been to a drag show. They've never experienced the drag as an art and seen that there are different types of drag.

Jason DeShazo traveled to the Florida capital when the bill was being debated to testify before the legislature in full drag as Momma Ashley Rose.

DESHAZO: I have a question. Do I look like a stripper?

Well, I walked up and my first response and comment to those, do I look like a stripper. Because many politicians have said that I dress like strippers. Like I don't dress like that.

KAYE: Do you see yourself as a threat to children?

DESHAZO: No, I do not see myself as a threat to children, nor do I see any drag performer a threat to a child.

Drag performers know that if you're in a club, if you're in a nightclub, you're in a bar 18 and up, you perform differently, right?

Especially in our events, our performers know that when we have family here they dress different. They perform different.

So no, we're no threat.

KAYE: But the overall message and the reason why you do drag story hour is what.

DESHAZO: To teach that message that your loved, accepted, and wanted no matter who you are and let you know that everyone should read.

VELOUR: The idea of the grooming that drag does is just the message of tolerance. And that the message of acceptance could be so dangerous that it would brainwash a child. Maybe if they don't want a world of tolerance they should be afraid of us because we are fighting for that.

KAYE: You know, about the history of drag. Having written a book about it. Do you worry about the history repeating itself? VELOUR: The history is repeating itself currently all around us. For a

while, it felt like we were getting progress. They say if you don't learn the past, you're going to repeat it.

I think there's a lot of strength to be found in history too. We see the way that despite being thrown in jail, despite being fined, despite losing their jobs queer people continued to gather together and put on shows and find ways to keep existing and stay true to ourselves.

So if they can do it, we still have a chance today.

KAYE: How much do you think gender identity and sexuality are playing a role in these new laws that are targeting drag?

VELOUR: Gender identity and sexuality are the reason that drag is being targeted. Because if it was just costumes without any possibility of queerness, I think it would be fine.

FANTASIA: They're ignorant and they're rude and homophobic. I would tell Ron DeSantis, we are not your political pawns. Stop using us for clickbait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one and only Miss Tiffany Fantasia.

FANTASIA: There are 10 million other things that you need to be taking care of and put policies in place to circumvent the problems of the average Floridian and you're worried about a damn drag show.

We're not doing anything, but making sure that you people are having a good time and not worry about the problem that they have because you're not doing your job.

KAYE: Governor DeSantis has not responded to our request for comment.

In her drag show called "Don't Bring the Kids", Lady Bunny takes on Republican lawmakers pushing anti drag legislation with a parody of Adele's song, "Rumor Has It".

LADY BUNNY: You groom kids by giving them guns and birthdays at Hooters with your underage son.

GOP hypocrisy can take it no more. Drag queens aren't the people kids need to watch out for.

Groomer is it. Groomer is it.

KAYHE: Despite the crackdowns, these drag queens insist the drag show will go on.

DESHAZO: I would be remiss to say I wasn't. I'd be remiss to say that I -- there are times I just want to pack the makeup up and not do it again.

But I'm not going anywhere. We're going to keep fighting. VELOUR: There is a fighting spirit in drag. We can make magic with nothing. And even if they take everything like for a month we're still going to find a way to put on a show, to entertain.

And the thing I've found is people love drag. If we have a chance to put on a show for you, you're going to fall in love.



COOPER: Legal battles over drag performances continue. So far, laws proposed in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Montana had been blocked by federal judges on constitutional grounds. The states are appealing those decisions.

Thanks for watching THE WHOLE STORY. I'll see you next Sunday.