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Legislation in Texas would limit access to drag show performances

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Since the Club Q shooting in Colorado, high-profile drag performers and LGBTQ bars are hiring extra security staff for protection. More than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced this year, and the community now faces attacks in legislatures in several states. NPR's Lilly Quiroz takes us to Texas, where some bills could affect who is able to attend drag events.

MARISSA KAGE: Today is the showdown.

(CHEERING)

LILLY QUIROZ, BYLINE: I'm at the Round-Up Saloon for a late-night show where host and drag queen Marissa Kage welcomes revelers sporting cowboy hats and boots. But what I'm here to see is what's on stage - the glitz and glam of tonight's drag performers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Please make some noise for Olivia Rey Obscene and Aubrey Couture.

QUIROZ: Only four drag performers remain in the competition, and they're battling it out for a cash prize and to become part of the Round-Up's royal court. But the shooting at Club Q in Colorado late last month, which killed five and injured 17, has had an effect. Since the shooting, the Round-Up has added two security personnel for Friday and Saturday nights. Still, all four contestants and plenty of patrons showed up, including drag queen Olivia Rey Obscene.

OLIVIA REY OBSCENE: It's scary. You know, my dad, he was like, hey, are you sure you want to continue in this competition? And my dad's my biggest supporter.

QUIROZ: GLAAD reports that there have been at least 140 drag events targeted with, quote, "false and vile rhetoric," armed intimidation and/or outright violence this year. Texas had the most. A couple doors down from the Round-Up Saloon is Mr. Misster. Earlier this year during Pride month, this gay bar had seen protesters after it hosted an all-ages drag brunch.

Now Texas Representative Jared Patterson has authored a bill that would require businesses that host drag events to operate as, quote, "sexually oriented businesses." We reached out for a comment, but he was not available before this piece aired. A different representative, Brian Slayton, confirmed with NPR that he is committed to file his own legislation to ban minors from attending a drag performance. In Texas, that's anyone under 18. Here's what he told Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRYAN SLATON: We don't want people to sexualize them. We don't want people to sexually assault them.

QUIROZ: GLAAD's president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis says false claims like these are dangerous.

SARAH KATE ELLIS: What we're seeing is that there are these created narratives around the drag queens and these performances, and then they're going online onto social media and going unchecked there and just spreading and creating this environment of extremism.

QUIROZ: Olivia has more to lose from all this.

OBSCENE: Frankly, it pisses me off. I have five siblings under the age of 18. And the fact that my family cannot come and see me perform, it hurts because they - excuse me - they're very supportive, and they come to a lot of my shows. So it's hard.

QUIROZ: As the night's wrapping up, it's clear that Olivia Rey Obscene and Rosalia Diamond Doll are the top two performers.

KAGE: And they will be lip-singing to "Unholy" by Sam Smith and Kim Petras.

QUIROZ: Each is showing off, doing splits and high kicks in their fiercest looks. And in the end, it's Olivia who prevails. In the finale this week, only one will be crowned to become the newest drag performer of the Round-Up. And host Marissa Kage says they'll keep showing up.

KAGE: They're not going to bring us down. We are such a strong community, and we've seen it throughout the years and throughout history. Like, we're going to live our life.

QUIROZ: Lilly Quiroz NPR News, Dallas, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNHOLY")

SAM SMITH: (Singing) Bout all the - you tell me that you do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.