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Lizzo Is Right: We Can’t Abandon Queer People

At a recent show in Knoxville, Tennessee, pop artist Lizzo brought drag queens onstage to perform with her — a clear stand against the recent drag ban passed in the state. This is an inspiring move from Lizzo, but as workers we must take action into our own hands, and take it further.

Reba Landers

April 28, 2023
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Photo: Joshua Vinson

On April 21, pop sensation Lizzo took the stage in Knoxville, Tennessee, where one of the most prominent examples of recent anti-queer legislation was recently passed — House Bill 0009, more commonly known as the Tennessee Drag Ban. Under this law, “adult cabaret entertainment” would be criminalized in any public spaces or in any location where a minor could view it. This law intentionally gives loose definitions which would include not only adult entertainers, but also drag queens and kings, described as “male or female impersonators.” Rather than canceling Tennessee shows in light of this ban, Lizzo brought a crew of drag queens onstage with her, including drag stars Aquaria, Kandy Muse, Asia O’Hara, and more. While a federal judge in Tennessee has temporarily blocked the implementation of the drag ban, meaning Lizzo didn’t technically break the law, it is important that we note her example. 

Recently, we have seen an enormous uptick in the number of bills being proposed (and passed) that would target the queer community, specifically trans people. Tennessee’s drag ban may look like an attack on only drag queens, but its vague language about what counts as drag would also leave the door open for trans people (most prominently trans women) to be punished under the law. Many of these so-called “drag bans” use non-specific language about people dressing in clothes that “don’t align with their sex assigned at birth” being prohibited from speaking in public, meaning that trans teachers couldn’t lecture, trans people couldn’t give presentations at work, trans activists couldn’t make speeches at demonstrations, and the list goes on. 

Alarmingly, however, we have seen very little backlash to these laws. Democrats have taken little to no action to stop these attacks on trans rights, and we haven’t seen much of a mass movement developing for trans rights, either. This must change. We cannot ignore the queer people being targeted by these disgusting bills simply because they live in more conservative-leaning areas, and while we can be happy about Lizzo’s actions, we need to remember that no celebrity, philanthropist, or elected official is coming to save us. The rich and famous can make supportive statements, but ultimately, we as the working class hold the two most valuable assets for creating real change: labor power and sheer numbers. 

Instead of just turning to those with enough money and power to break the law and get away with it, we as workers must decide collectively to stand against anti-trans laws. What if, in Texas, social workers decided to break Governor Abbot’s order to report trans-supportive parents for child abuse? In Florida, what if teachers unions banded together to decide that they do get to gender their trans students correctly, breaking the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law? What if nurses and doctors across the nation decided to ignore bans on gender-affirming care and help trans people access this care anyway? Sure, individual workers could ignore these laws, help trans people, and be criminalized, but if we act collectively, we become too numerous and too powerful to be stopped. Put frankly: they can’t catch us all. A mass movement to ignore anti-trans legislation and break the law together can yank the power out of the hands of lawmakers and police and place it back where it belongs: in the hands of the people. By harnessing our power as the working class, we can not only take down these anti-trans laws, but demand laws providing free and accessible gender affirming healthcare, protection from workplace discrimination, access to the correct locker rooms and restrooms, and more. 

Beyond just our power to break these laws to demand better, we as workers also have the power to grind the nation to a halt. Imagine if, in Florida, teachers took their action one step further and went on strike until “Don’t Say Gay” was repealed. Imagine doctors and nurses across the nation refusing to work until all gender-affirming care was free, safe, and accessible. Imagine social workers withholding their labor until no parent can be criminalized for supporting their trans child. We make this nation run, and we can shut it down. The power to create real change lies not in the hands of the rich and famous, nor in the hands of Democrats or Republicans, but in the hands of the working class. Lizzo took the stage in Tennessee despite the anti-queer legislation looming, and we must take the streets. In the battle for queer liberation, we must not rely on those at the top — we must fight for ourselves.

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Reba Landers

Reba is a teacher and theatre artist in NYC.

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