Drag queens and Salman Rushdie prove that guns underwrite free speech

Drag queens and Salman Rushdie prove that guns underwrite free speech
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

NPR reported a few days ago that drag queens are hiring security guards after the Club Q shooting.

After the Club Q shooting, drag queens say they’re upping security measures

Drag performers, known for their exuberance in the spotlight, have found their spirits subdued in the last month by serious concerns for their safety on stage.

Police have yet to disclose a motive behind the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., which left five people dead and at least 17 others injured. A 22-year-old suspect was charged with 305 criminal counts, including bias-motivated crimes.

The gunman opened fire just as Club Q was wrapping up its weekly Saturday evening drag show. The nightclub had also planned another drag show for the following morning, to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Though it’s unclear if the gunman was targeting the drag show specifically or the nightclub as a whole, the attack was a tipping point for many in the drag community.

After a growing number of threats against performances and the LGBTQ-friendly venues that host them, some performers say they’ve started to use security guards, metal detectors and escape routes to ensure their shows can go on safely.

What happened at Club Q was utterly inhuman. Although I’m a straight male, I have gay friends and have been to gay nightclubs, and even celebrated a New Year’s eve at one, which included artists in drag. The first thing that came to my mind when I read about the Club Q shooting was that my LGBT friends and even I could have been in that club.

Intolerant views are common; everyone has them in one form or another, for one class of people or another. What’s completely unacceptable is when intolerance views morph into aggressive actions.

Alaska Thunderf***, a drag queen perhaps best known as winner of the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, says her team has designated a safe location outside every venue on her latest tour since the shooting. Her security team has also increased the number of guards present at every performance.

Over her two decades performing drag, the possibility of violence has been “the furthest thing from my mind,” she told NPR. “Now I’m just aware there’s security guards all around this building.”

The story never mentions whether or not the security guards are armed, but there is no implicit value in a security guard who is unarmed. The guards’ job is both proactive and reactive: proactive to ward off a potential attacker with the threat of violence, and reactive to minimize the harm done to innocents if a potential attacker does show up. In the process, all that the guards are doing is ensuring that the drag performance goes on uninterrupted.

If you think of the performance as speech, it’s clear that the presence of guns allows that speech to happen. Those who don’t like it can “change the channel” and ignore it; no one is forcing you to whip yourself into an outraged frenzy by attending and watching the show.

There’s another serious example that guns protect speech: the tragic stabbing of Salman Rushdie, which resulted in the loss of his sight in one eye and his ability to use one hand. 

For those who don’t know, Rushdie, a fellow immigrant from India in the United States, got into trouble with Islamists for his novel The Satanic Verses, which was construed by them as an insult to their prophet. He started receiving death threats not too long after he published his novel and had to flee India in fear of his life. Rushdie has been the target of assassination in the past and his name was also included in an Al-Qaeda hit list.

There was security at the venue where Rushdie was stabbed but it was lax, hence the tragic consequences. Rushdie himself was not armed.

If there’s a common thread among Club Q/drag queens and Salman Rushdie, it is that guns are absolutely necessary to protect speech (and other rights too).

I hope that the drag queens are themselves armed. Sure, armed guards are good, but if it’s better to be prepared than not.