Drag queen tweet stirs controversy for Louisiana Department of Health

Drag has non-sexual history rooted in theater

By: - July 12, 2022 8:43 pm
Screenshot of LDH draw queen tweet

A screenshot of a June 24 Louisiana Department of Health tweet depicting a local drag queens at a family-friendly health awareness event in Alexandria during LGBTQ Pride Month drew backlash from conservative crowds.

The Louisiana Department of Health faces backlash over a social media post that included a picture of a local drag queen at a health awareness event in Alexandria as part of LGBTQ Pride Month.

The controversy began June 24 when LDH tweeted photos of a “family-friendly Pride event” at the Alexandria Convention Center with a description that said, in part, “Local drag queens entertained the audience while the state Office of Public Health handed out health-related pamphlets and info.” The event also featured music, games, arts and crafts, and vendors. 

One of the photos, taken from behind a seated audience, showed what could be a teen or child handing a dollar bill to someone with red hair and a rainbow-colored shirt. 

The photos did not indicate anything overtly sexual about the person’s costume or the event, but the Twitter account, Libs of TikTok, framed the event as lewd and inappropriate for children. The account is known for spreading disinformation and trolling liberals. 

The account’s followers quickly responded to the tweet with homophobic comments, many insisting the artist must have been collecting tips for some kind of striptease or sexual act. Others said it’s never appropriate for children to see a man wearing a feminine costume, equating it with pedophila. Some suggested parents were forcing children to be gay and accused LDH of encouraging it.

The state Office of Public Health was invited to the event, hosted by Central Louisiana AIDS Support Services (CLASS) and Alexandria Pride, to hand out health pamphlets and share information, health department spokesperson Aly Neel said.

The agency, which eventually took down the tweet, would not directly address the controversy but did say that part of the health department’s mission is going into different communities to offer services.

“This is what we are all about — meeting our residents where they are to get them the information and services they need,” Neel said.

Others on Twitter defended LDH, explaining that drag does not denote sexual orientation or sexual activity and has long been an aspect of mainstream theater, film and performance art. 

Not everyone in a drag costume is gay or transgender. Pearl Ricks, a LGBTQ advocate with New Orleans’ Reproductive Justice Action Collective, said people in drag costumes are actors and artists depicting a character.  

“We don’t think all clowns are murderers,” they said, using an analogy.

Ricks said drag has a long thespian history that dates back to the amphitheaters in ancient Athens when male actors cross-dressed to perform female roles for Greek audiences. The practice continued with Shakespearean plays in the 16th century and remains popular today for dramatic or comedic effect, they said.

Ashley Shelton with the Power Coalition said the criticism of the event falls in line with other recent attacks on personal liberty from conservative corners, including voting rights, reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights. 

“I think these attacks on all of our freedoms are clear and growing,” Shelton said. “If you don’t create room for the creative class, then businesses will leave or businesses will not come here. Louisiana has enough problems with the second poorest state, low levels of education …That’s why our state continues to head in the wrong direction. It’s deplorable, the idea that someone thinks they have the power to tell others how to live their lives.”

“It just shows their ignorance,” Shelton said of Twitter users who bashed the event. “[They’re] seeing an artist perform and that’s what they take away?”

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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