Protesters rally in Montgomery against discriminatory bills targeting LGBTQ+ community

By: - May 16, 2023 6:02 pm
LGBTQ rights protest in front of judicial branch building

The “Drag me to the Capitol” protest started in fron the the Alabama Judicial Building, where it houses the Alabama Supreme Court, on May 16. 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The protestors marching from the Alabama State Capitol to the State House Tuesday had a clear message.

“Alabama hear us out: We are queer and trans and proud,” hundreds of protestors said in unison as they walked.

Protesters stand in from of the state building advocating against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
“Drag me to the Capitol” protestors stand in from of the Alabama Capitol and advocate against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on May 16, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The march, titled “Drag me to the Capitol,” protested several bills filed by GOP state legislators attacking the LGBTQ+ community, including bills banning drag shows and legislation to ban transgender athletes from college sports.

A drag queen known as Kharris, a drag brunch host at the Stardome, a comedy club in Hoover, said that she’s there to fight for equality and rights of not only drag queens, but all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I know it takes a law to make a difference, so I hope that just as coming together today shows them that we are paying attention and that we’re ready to make a difference,” Kharris said.

Drag queen poses for a photo
Kharris, a female impersonator, or drag queen, from Hoover, poses for a photo on the steps of the Alabama Capitol on May 16, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

Participants in the march condemned the bills as discriminatory and a violation of the First Amendment.

Rev. Julie Conrady of the Unitarian Universalist Churches of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa told a crowd gathered Tuesday that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and the right to petition were fundamental American rights.

“I’m getting sick and tired of legislators and governments who prioritize the Second Amendment over the First,” she said.

Conrady said in an interview after the speech that she came out because she believes all citizens of Alabama should have an equal voice. She said that everyone has inalienable rights, including their religious expression.

“I very much believe that all of the folks gathered here are divinely a part of our community and I wanted to be in solidarity with them,” she said.

The bills targeting the LGBTQ community include:

HB261, sponsored by Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, would require trans athletes to participate only on teams that align with their sex assigned at birth in college sports.

HB405, also sponsored by DuBose, would define man, woman, boy, girl, father, mother, male, female, and sex. The sponsor calls the bill the “What is a Woman Act.” The bill would also require state or local governing bodies – such as school districts, agencies or commissions – that collect vital statistics for certain purposes to identify individuals as either male or female at birth. The bill is scheduled to be heard in House committee on Wednesday. 

HB401, sponsored by Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Hills, would ban “male or female impersonators, commonly known as drag queens or drag kings,” as well as other performers in K-12 public schools, libraries, and public places where minors are present. It would make it a public nuisance to use any premise to distribute materials, which the bill defines as anything from books to oral communication and live performances “that are harmful to children.”

Tennessee became the first state in the U.S. to ban “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors” in March. A U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked the law, saying it violates First Amendment rights.

HB354, sponsored by Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, also known as Alabama’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” would prohibit classroom instruction or discussions related to gender identity or sexual orientation for public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade, extending a current ban on instruction to the fifth grade. 

HB7, sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, would prohibit public school teachers from kindergarten to college from teaching that certain groups are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously,” and ban teaching that members of certain racial or religious groups should feel guilt over the basis of their identity. The bill allows educational institutions to “discipline or terminate” those who knowingly violate the act.

Protesters march on sidewalk
“Drag me to the Capitol” protestors march from the Alabama Capitol to the Alabama State House on May 16, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

SB 247, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, bans the teaching any “divisive concepts” related to “race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior” and that people should feel guilt for ancestors’ actions. The bill would also allow employees or contractors who violate this act to be disciplined or terminated.

According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a teacher organization that advocates for inclusive teaching, the erasure of history and experiences of racial minorities is connected to the erasure of communities with alternative views on gender and sexuality. The organization points to Native Americans’ struggle “to uphold principles of sovereignty and self-determination,” and the erasure the experiences of Two Spirit/LGBTQ+ American Indians/Alaska Native people.

Protestors said the bills often rested on false stereotypes of LGBTQ people.

Uncle Daddy, once a female impersonator and now show director and host of “Uncle Daddy and his Divas,” a weekly drag and variety show hosted on Saturdays at Rhonda’s Sports Bar in Montgomery, said that the “straight bar” opened their doors last year and they had their first show in March 2022.

He said that he’s been out of the closet for over fifteen years. During that time, he said that his nieces were nearly raised by drag queens and trans people that they called aunt or uncle, based on their gender with which they identified.

“The big argument nowadays seems to be, ‘We need to keep our kids away,’” he said. “Well, you know what? I could point out millions of kids that turned out just fine being around drag queens. I can’t count the number of drag queens that have been to my house.”

He said that his nieces have grown to be tolerant and to respect people.

“That’s what this world lacks a lot of, respect, and it taught them to respect people,” he said. “It taught them that you shouldn’t just judge a book by its cover.”

Two medics, who only identified themselves as Rat and Abbie, said they were from the Rocket City Medic Collective in Huntsville, a street medic organization consisting of volunteers with first aid training. The organization was there to replace EMS and law enforcement and make protestors feel safer.

“There’s a lot of distrust of state services in, not just the leftist community in general, but especially in the LGBT community,” Rat said. “So we’re here just so we can be here immediately. We don’t have any restrictions, we are required to get consent for everything that we do. We’re just here to make everyone as comfortable as possible to treat people without judgment and without the possibility of being handed over to law enforcement.”

Abbie, who uses they pronouns, said that it’s important to make people more comfortable with taking action.

“That’s what we’re here to do – is to be able to make people feel safe and comfortable regardless of the tactics they wish to take, to be able to protect themselves and to be able to show all of the state legislators that we’re not going to stand for this,” they said.


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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.