NATIONAL NEWS

Transgender woman, bookstore, teacher sue over Montana law banning drag reading events

Jul 6, 2023, 4:10 PM | Updated: 4:22 pm

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A transgender woman, the owners of an independent bookstore and an educator who teaches in costume are among those challenging Montana’s first-in-the-nation law that bans people dressed in drag from reading to children in public schools or libraries.

The federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Butte argues the law violates the free speech and equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction to temporarily block the law, a ruling that the law is unconstitutional and damages for Adria Jawort, whose planned talk on LGBTQ+ history at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library was canceled in early June by county officials who cited the new legislation.

Similar laws in other states have been temporarily blocked while legal challenges play out in court.

The complaint calls the Montana law, sponsored by Republican Rep. Braxton Mitchell, “a breathtakingly ambiguous and overbroad bill, motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ animus.”

Like many Republican-led states, Montana’s conservative lawmakers also passed laws in recent sessions targeting transgender people. The state is among those to defining sex in state law as only male or female.

Montana became the first state to specifically ban drag kings and drag queens — defined as performers who adopt a flamboyant or parodic male or female persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup — from reading books to children.

Unlike in other states, the performances do not need to contain a sexual element to be banned in Montana. The law took effect when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it on May 22.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community testified during legislative hearings that the law would be misused to silence transgender people and ban teachers from wearing costumes while reading to their classes. It cannot block drag reading events at private businesses.

Chelsia Rice, who co-owns the Montana Book Co. with her spouse, Charlie Crawford, said they wanted to get involved, “to make sure everyone who this law effects is supported and defended by those that have the wherewithal and fortitude to do it.”

Jawort’s talk, scheduled for June 2 at the Butte library, was canceled a day earlier after county officials decided to err on the side of caution after receiving a complaint via Facebook about whether her talk would violate the new law.

Jawort, who is Northern Cheyenne, was invited back to Butte on June 20 by a nonprofit foundation. About 100 people attended, The Montana Standard reported.

She talks about how two-spirit people — which includes transgender people — have been part of Native American tribes for generations and were accepted for who they were and sometimes revered. She did not dress in drag, but wore a black dress and hat along with purple lipstick and fingernail polish.

“It was gracious of her to return,” said library director Steph Johnson, who attended the talk.

Rachel Corcoran dressed up as literary, historical or pop culture characters to teach special education students at a Billings high school, and still wears costumes at times when she visits classrooms while coaching teachers of first-time English learners, she said.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Corcoran said she was aware the drag ban had been proposed, but soon “realized it was going to impact me as a teacher, specifically with dressing up for school days or how I wanted to run a classroom or celebrate for homecoming or Red Ribbon Week,” a drug prevention campaign.

Other plaintiffs in the case include businesses, organizations and community centers that plan and host all-ages drag events, a fitness studio and an independent theater that receives state grants and may show PG-13 or R-rated films. Such films could violate the part of the law that prohibits sexually oriented performances in locations that receive any funding from the state if minors are present.

The bill’s co-sponsors, which included more than half the Republicans in the state Legislature, sought to forbid drag shows “and stifle the expression of individuals who do not conform to conventional gender presentations,” the lawsuit charges.

People who support such legislation believe drag performers are inherently sexual, but they aren’t, Jawort said.

She likened it to Chris Rock doing an R-rated comedy performance and then recording the voice of the zebra in the animated children’s movie “Madagascar.”

“You adjust to your audience,” she said.

Schools, libraries or businesses that violate the law could be fined while educators and librarians could be suspended for a year or lose their credentials after a second conviction.

The law also allows anyone involved in putting on a drag performance to be sued within 10 years of the event by a minor who attended the performance, even if the minor and their guardian had consented at the time, the lawsuit notes.

In other states, a Tennessee bill to temporarily blocked in March by a federal judge who sided with a group that filed a lawsuit saying the statute violates their First Amendment rights.

A judge in Florida also cited First Amendment rights in blocking a drag ban in a lawsuit filed by a bar and restaurant that hosts all-ages drag shows on Sundays.

National News

Associated Press

Thousands of Nebraskans with felony convictions could be denied voting rights under AG’s opinion

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Thousands of Nebraskans with felony convictions could be denied voting rights under an opinion from the state attorney general released Wednesday. Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers issued an opinion that says a law passed earlier this year to immediately restore the voting rights of people who’ve finished serving their felony convictions […]

15 minutes ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Servic...

Associated Press

Multiple failures, multiple investigations: Unraveling the attempted assassination of Donald Trump

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) — The young man was pacing around the edges of the Donald Trump campaign rally, shouldering a big backpack and peering into the lens of a rangefinder toward the rooftops behind the stage where the former president would stand. His behavior was so odd, so unlike that of the other rallygoers, that […]

42 minutes ago

Texas state District Judge J.R. Flores hears arguments from Catholic Charities attorney William Pow...

Associated Press

Another Texas migrant aid group asks a judge to push back on investigation by Republican AG

EDINBURG, Texas (AP) — A prominent aid group along the U.S.-Mexico border asked a Texas judge on Wednesday to push back on a widening Republican-led investigation into nonprofits that help migrants, weeks after a separate court rejected efforts by the state to shutter an El Paso shelter. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley provides […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Former Mozambican finance minister, Manuel Chang, is seen in court in Kempton Park, Johannes...

Associated Press

Former Mozambique finance minister on trial in US over ‘tuna bond’ scandal that spurred debt crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — The “ tuna bond ” scandal that shook Mozambique’s economy is washing into a U.S. court, where a former Mozambican finance minister is being tried on charges that he took bribes to commit his country — secretly — to huge loans that prosecutors say got looted. When the loans — supposed […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

EPA watchdog investigating delays in how the agency used sensor plane after fiery Ohio derailment

The EPA’s Inspector General is investigating why the agency didn’t get its specialized plane loaded with advanced sensors into the air over East Palestine until four days after the disastrous Norfolk Southern derailment last year. The Associated Press reported on a whistleblower’s concerns this spring about the delays and discrepancies in the way the Environmental […]

1 hour ago

FILE - This artist depiction shows Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, right, appea...

Associated Press

Pentagon leaker Jack Teixeira to face a military court-martial, Air Force says

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Air National Guard member Jack Teixeira, who pleaded guilty in March to federal criminal charges for leaking highly classified military documents, will now face a military court-martial. Teixeira admitted to illegally collecting some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets and sharing them on the social media platform Discord. He is facing […]

2 hours ago

Transgender woman, bookstore, teacher sue over Montana law banning drag reading events