(NEW YORK)— A sweeping bill that bans drag performances in Montana would effectively criminalize a wide range of sartorial and artistic choices for performers in a breathtaking array of contexts, PEN America warned today.

The bill that passed the Legislature this week specifically prohibits any drag story hour in a public school or library, as well as any “sexually oriented performance” in a “location owned by an entity that receives any form of funding from the state.” The law defines drag in vague terms, to include any male or female performers who adopt “a flamboyant or parodic” persona, “with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.”

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education Programs, said: “In their effort to censor drag and LGBTQ+ expression, Montana legislators have enacted a law that is nothing short of an assault on the free expression of every Montanan. The law not only unconstitutionally threatens drag artists and LGBTQ+ performers, it effectively criminalizes a wide range of sartorial and artistic choices for performers in a breathtaking array of contexts. The road to authoritarianism often begins with small encroachments on everyday freedoms– what better exemplifies that than a law banning costumes? This is an affront to every citizen, imposing state regulation on people’s ability to freely express themselves or to share in and support the free expression of others.” 

A similar law in Tennessee, which did not specifically mention drag story hours, was blocked by a judge on First Amendment grounds, and similar challenges have arisen in Florida. The bans on drag performances come amid broader pushes to marginalize trans and LGBTQ+ expression

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057