No, the Backlash Against Drag Shows for Kids Isn’t a ‘Moral Panic’

(Scott Threlkeld/The Advocate via AP)

An article for Reason, a libertarian publication, raised some hackles on social media on Friday when the author suggested that drag shows for children are not an issue worth tackling. Naturally, this gave fuel to dishonest folks seeking to attack libertarians and the liberty movement by insinuating that these views are mainstream among this crowd.


Author Scott Shackford wrote the piece in which he took issue with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation sent a letter to the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation in Orlando because it was hosting “A Drag Queen Christmas,” a stage production that has been touring the United States for eight years.

In the letter, the department says it has “reason to believe that this drag show is of a sexual nature, involving the exposure or exhibition of sexual organs, simulated sexual activist, and/or the sexualization of children’s stories.” The letter warned that the show has been attended by children and that it could be considered a “public nuisance” if minors are allowed to come to the show in the Sunshine State if the concerns regarding sexual content are accurate.

“In short, if you allow children to attend the Drag Fans drag show at your facility,” the department said, “you are putting your license in jeopardy.”

The author goes on to compare this story to that of Madonna, who was threatened with arrest in Toronto in 1990 for simulating masturbation during a concert. “There was a moral panic then that children exposed to Madonna’s antics were being sexualized at a young age. Funny how some things don’t change,” Shackford wrote, also noting later in the piece that it “doesn’t appear that there’s actual nudity in the show,” and acknowledging that if it were a movie, it would have an R rating.


Since there is no nudity in these shows (that we know of) Shackford argues that concerns over children attending these performances are nothing more than “a moral panic.” He countered those insisting that parents should not be able to take their children to drag shows by claiming that “[p]eople are exaggerating what is actually happening” during these performances and that “claims of nudity and simulated sex at these shows are very exaggerated to make it seem like children are encountering the same things that you might see at a strip club.”

The author goes on to assert that the responses to these shows are not warranted, criticizing those pushing for laws barring performers from putting on these shows for minor children. He pointed to a state lawmaker in Texas introducing a measure that classifies any drag performance as “sexually oriented.” He wrote:

It’s a bonkers proposal with any number of potential enforcement problems, but that’s something that happens with a moral panic. Because the moral panic exaggerates what’s actually happening, the “solutions” proposed are extremely broad and can cause additional harms rather than prevent them.

But then, oddly enough, Shackford later admits that he would “not be surprised to find out that one or more drag queens out there did cross the line when children are present.” But then he argues that “the hallmark of a moral panic is the belief that violations are much more common than they are.”


Using Shackford’s logic, he should also conclude that the reaction to drag shows for children is being exaggerated – by him. There are scant few claiming that drag queens are getting naked in front of children while gyrating on the stage. But they are decidedly sexual in nature. In one instance, a show in Texas featured a neon sign which read “It’s not going to lick itself.” Surely Shackford does not believe they were referring to lollipops or ice cream cones, right?

Additionally, video footage shows these performers dancing in a clearly suggestive manner. In many cases, kids are encouraged to put dollar bills into their bikinis and other garments as if they were at a strip club.

The bottom line is that most of those taking issue with this practice are not exaggerating, nor are they engaging in a moral panic. If it were revealed that children across the country were being taken to “family friendly” shows featuring strippers, the same type of backlash would ensue even if the strippers did not remove any clothing. There is a reason why kids are not allowed in establishments such as these.

People might disagree on how to handle this issue. Some believe laws banning these performances are the best way to prevent children from being sexualized. Others argue that parents have the right to raise their kids as they see fit, even if they disagree with the practice. They believe cultural pressure is more warranted in this regard. But the fact remains that most everyday Americans of all political stripes are not supportive of kid’s shows featuring sexually suggestive content. Claiming it’s just a “moral panic” is an odd way to defend such practices, but here we are.



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