Drag performance protests and the turmoil of one show in Louisville

Xavier Roger


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Diana Rae Ellis leaned into the bathroom mirror in her apartment, applying makeup in a familiar routine to dress in drag.

Eyeliner. Eyelashes. Lipstick. Glitter. Wig. Dress. 

It was a recent morning, and the 30-year-old Ellis was preparing to entertain families at a private event space in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, to sing and read aloud a children’s book called “My Awesome Brother.” 

Ellis is a transgender woman and a drag queen. Her wig and flame-orange dress were for her performance in an afternoon all-ages drag storytime where she promotes community and acceptance. 

Diana Rae Ellis, 30, who goes by the drag show name Diana Rae, prepares to perform at a recent Drag Queen Story Time event in Louisville, Ky

But she knew that any such show, in the midst of an escalating culture war over transgender rights and drag performances, meant potential risks of putting her identity on the front lines.

And this day would prove no different.

It came as Republican lawmakers have pushed bills to restrict all-ages drag shows or regulate the lives of transgender youth. Tennessee has banned drag in front of minors. Kentucky pushed through a sweeping bill that includes banning all gender-affirming health care and restricting the bathrooms they can use.


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