Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif, sashayed to the House floor on Wednesday to honor drag icon RuPaul Charles, as the centuries-old art form has become a political lightning rod in recent months.
Standing next to a placard of RuPaul wearing a yellow dress and a signature blond wig, Garcia hailed the Emmy-winning performer for uplifting queer artists on his hit international television competition series, "RuPaul's Drag Race."
"The show has served as a critical space to discuss issues around inclusion, trans rights, mental health and self worth," Garcia, who is gay, said. "And this message couldn’t be more important as the LGBTQ-plus community continues to fight for equality and acceptance."
The first-term congressman's speech comes amid a legislative campaign to restrict the art form — which has deep ties to the LGBTQ community — in conservative states, as well as a surge in threats and protests directed at drag events across the country.
Republican lawmakers in at least 19 states have introduced legislation this year intended to restrict drag performances, with governors in at least three states — Florida, Montana and Tennessee — signing such measures into law. A federal judge stopped Tennessee's anti-drag measure last week, ruling it unconstitutional.
The majority of the drag bills proposed this year aim to ban children from seeing drag performances. Supporters say the legislation is needed to protect children from inappropriate entertainment, while critics argue that the legislation broadly paints the art form as overtly sexual and unfairly targets LGBTQ Americans.
Aside from the wave of bills targeting drag performances, protests and threats targeting drag performances have become increasingly more common. From early 2022 to this past March, there have been more than 166 protests and significant threats aimed at drag events across the country, according to a report by the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD.
“The current attacks from the extreme far-right is really an attack on the people that have led the gay civil rights movement in this country,” Garcia said in a phone call. “And that’s something that should alarm and concern all of us, and we have to continue to push back.”
RuPaul has previously called the legislative efforts to restrict drag “a classic distraction technique."
“We know that bullies are incompetent at solving real issues,” RuPaul said in an Instagram reel in March. “They look for easy targets so they can give the impression of being effective. They think our love, our light, our laughter and our joy are signs of weakness. But they’re wrong, because that is our strength.”
The ire toward drag has also coincided with the explosive success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race," which debuted in 2009.
The television series has become a global phenomenon in recent years, giving mainstream legitimacy to a largely queer subculture and transforming small-town performers into worldwide celebrities. The series has won 26 Emmy Awards and has spinoffs in at least 16 other countries.
When asked who he was rooting for on this season of "RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars," Garcia — who has not been shy about his love for the show — said he's "always been a huge fan of Jimbo," but diplomatically added, "I love all the queens."
Ending his speech on the House floor, Garcia reminded his fellow lawmakers that they “must always remember what RuPaul so famously says: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else?’”