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How drag queens were pulled into politics

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Lately, drag has been dragged through the mud.

The art form has been cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. Opponents often coordinate protests at drag events that feature or cater to children, sometimes showing up with guns. Some politicians have proposed banning children from drag events and even criminally charging parents who take their kids to one.

Performers and organizers of events, such as story hours in which colorfully clad drag queens read books to children, say the protesters are the ones terrorizing and harming children and making them political pawns — just as they’ve done in other campaigns around bathroom access and educational materials.

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The recent headlines about disruptions of drag events and their portrayal as sexual and harmful to children can obscure the art form and its rich history.

WHAT IS DRAG?

Drag is the art of dressing and acting exaggeratedly as another gender, usually for entertainment such as comedy, singing, dancing, lip-syncing or all of the above.

Drag may trace its roots to the age of William Shakespeare, when female roles were performed by men. The origin of the term is debated, but one possibility is that it was coined after someone noticed the dresses or petticoats that male actors wore onstage would drag along the floor. Another casts it as an acronym — an unproven notion that notes in scripts would use “DRAG” to indicate the actor should “dress as a girl.”

Drag performances could later be seen on the vaudeville circuit and during the Harlem Renaissance. They became a mainstay at gay bars throughout the 20th century, and remain so.

RuPaul took things a step further with his reality-competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which became an award-winning hit and allowed drag to explode in popularity — and into the mainstream.

IS DRAG SEXUAL?

Many drag opponents cite nudity in their objections. Every performer makes different choices, but drag queens often wear more, not less, clothing than you’d see on a typical American woman of the 21st century, at a public beach or on network TV.

Their costumes tend toward extravagant, sometimes floor-length gowns. Drag queens may use false breasts, wear sheer costumes, and use makeup or other means to show cleavage and appear exaggeratedly feminine.

The difference, performers note, is that opponents of drag see sexual deviance in the cross-dressing aspect.

Drag does not typically involve nudity or stripping, which are more common in burlesque, a separate form of entertainment. Explicitly sexual and profane language is common in performances meant for adult audiences. Such routines can consist of stand-up comedy that may be raunchy — or may pale in comparison with some mainstream comedians.

SHOULD CHILDREN SEE OR DRESS IN DRAG?

It’s up to parents and guardians to decide that, just as they decide whether their children should be exposed to or participate in certain music, television, movies, beauty pageants, concerts or other forms of entertainment, parenting experts say.

Performances in nightclubs and brunches meant for adults may not be suitable for children, while other events, such as drag story hours, are tailored for children and therefore contain milder language and dress.

Drag performers and the venues that book them generally either don’t allow children if a performance has risque content, or else require children to be accompanied by a parent or guardian — basically, how R-rated movies are handled by theaters.

Drag story hours, in which performers read to children in libraries, bookstores or other venues, have become popular in recent years. The events use a captivating character to get their child’s attention — any parent whose kid can’t take their eyes off Elsa from “Frozen” gets the idea. The difference here is that the goal is to get kids interested in reading.

Some children have performed drag at age-appropriate events. One 11-year-old who dons a princess dress and tiara was scheduled recently to perform at a story and singing event at an Oregon pub — but was downgraded to “guest of honor” after protests outside broke out into fighting.

“Part of keeping our children safe is allowing them to be children, to be playful, to take risks, and to be silly, without it necessarily meaning anything deeper or more permanent,” says Amber Trueblood, a family therapist. “Many parents are OK with children dressing as assassins, evil villains or grim reapers, yet they seldom take the costume choice to mean anything more than playful and fun.”

THREATS AND `GROOMING’

Opponents of drag story hours and other drag events for audiences of children often claim they “groom” children, implying attempts to sexually abuse them or somehow influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The term “grooming” in a sexual sense describes how child molesters entrap and abuse their victims. Its use by opponents of drag, as well as by protesters in other realms of LGBTQ opposition, seeks to falsely equate it with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse.

Perpetrators of the false rhetoric can then cast themselves as saviors of children and try to frame anyone who disagrees — a political opponent, for example — as taking the side of child abusers.

The objections are often religious in nature, with some opponents citing the devil at work. Threats to drag events, and story hours in particular, have increased along with the rhetoric. In addition to the protest in Oregon that failed to suppress one such event, organizers of a recent one in Florida did cancel theirs after what they said were threats from hate groups.

The threats are likely an attempt to scare parents into not taking their children to such events, leading them to fizzle out and push drag back into the closet, observers say. Some organizers, parents and performers have dug in their heels, insisting they won’t cave.

In another tactic to discourage attendance, drag opponents have been known to attend performances, take and post a video that lacks context, and then troll or “dox” the performer or venue.

One such video clip showed a profane drag act in front of a young child and framed it as abuse — though the child was with adults and the venue had advised attendees about coarse content, suggested parental discretion and required any children to be accompanied by parents.

Other undermining efforts include a false claim that a performer flashed children at a Minnesota library and another false claim that the head of the Drag Queen Story Hour organization was arrested for child pornography.

Despite some opponents’ claims, drag cannot “turn” a child gay or transgender, although its playful use of gender may be reassuring to kids who are already questioning their identity. That way, therapist Joe Kort wrote in a blog post in Psychology Today, gender-nonconforming kids can have “other templates as they begin to sort out their feelings about who they authentically are.”

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Opinion: Can coal be a pivot toward 'normal politics' in Alberta? – Calgary Herald

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“Normal Politics”: I encouraged my students to embrace and practice this type of politics. Bernard Crick, a British political theorist, imagined this concept decades ago. He believed healthy democratic politics demanded empathy for your political opponents and searching for policies able to reconcile or bridge competing positions. At its best, normal politics is about finding or creating and implementing consensus. It invites political opponents to recognize they have some shared values and to work together to realize them. 

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Sadly, normal politics rarely characterizes politics in today’s democracies. Its antithesis is too common in political debate. In Alberta recently, the executive director of Take Back Alberta, an interest group that helped propel Danielle Smith into the premier’s office, accused the New Democratic Party of promoting a “toxic and disease-ridden ideology.” Such extremism slams the door on Crick’s hopeful view of politics.   

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With the legislature back in session, I don’t expect to see a lot of normal politics on display. But, in her recent television address, Premier Danielle Smith told Albertans she “must be humble, listen and continue to learn from you.” Alberta’s coal debate issue gives her an exceptional opportunity to back that commitment up with meaningful action.   

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Coal has been one of Alberta’s most contentious issues over the past several years. It’s an issue where a consensus exists, a consensus that could be strengthened. As hard as it may be for some residents of the Crowsnest Pass to accept, most Albertans don’t believe coal mining should have a future anywhere in the Rockies and foothills of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. Impressive majorities of Albertans have said as much in public opinion polls, the Grassy Mountain coal mine hearings and the Coal Policy Committee consultations.  

Smith’s government should listen to and implement this consensus. In this legislative session, the premier should introduce legislation guaranteeing that coal mining proposals in our southern Rockies and foothills cannot be revived.  

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But I think Crick would want the premier to go one step further. I think he would invite her to try to broaden the consensus, to try to bridge the gulf between coal mining opponents and supporters. Identify positions those camps share; build on them. Community prosperity in southwest Alberta is an obvious candidate here.  

So far Alberta’s debate about coal has offered thin gruel when it comes to what economic future could be built in southern Alberta without coal mining. The UCP and NDP alike must pay serious attention to nurturing in the southwest the range of economic activities central to Alberta’s developing post-industrial society.  

What does this perspective recommend? Begin to craft a regional development strategy. Several paths lead in this direction. One would be to establish a Southern Alberta Sustainable Economic Opportunities Forum. Invite leaders from Alberta academia, business, the federal government, First Nations, labour and municipalities to join it. Task them with thinking about how, without coal, healthy and prosperous livelihoods may be delivered to the people of southwest Alberta. Or, strike an all-party legislative committee, chaired jointly by the UCP and NDP, to do something similar. If this venture bears fruit, it could be replicated for other regions in Alberta.  

Coal offers Smith the opportunity to pivot toward normal politics and show her commitment to listening to Albertans is genuine. Coal has opened the door to privileging conciliation in politics. If the premier goes through that door, she may be able to deliver what all sides of Alberta’s coal debate seek: good, healthy livelihoods for the people of southern Alberta.  

Ian Urquhart is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alberta. 

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Alberta deputy premier says sovereignty act not a power grab, eyes changes to bill

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Alberta deputy premier says sovereignty act not a power grab, eyes changes to bill

Alberta’s deputy premier says amendments may be needed to clear up confusion over a bill that grants Premier Danielle Smith and her cabinet unfettered power outside the legislature to rewrite laws and direct agencies to resist federal rules.

“We will consider amendment(s) to Bill 1 to clarify this to avoid confusion,” said Kaycee Madu in a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday and Thursday.

Madu said his reading of the bill indicates that cabinet does not have such power and all unilateral cabinet decisions would still have to go back to the legislature for approval.

“It then goes through the normal cabinet process and ultimately a bill will be tabled,” wrote Madu, who is a lawyer and Alberta’s former justice minister.

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However, the bill does not state that cabinet decisions made under the act would have to go back to the house.

Madu’s office did not return a request for comment or explanation about whether amendments are coming. Smith’s other deputy premier, Nathan Neudorf, has said he, too, believes legislative safeguards are in place but he hasn’t read the eight-page bill.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, who is helping Smith shepherd the bill through the house, told reporters he wasn’t aware of Madu’s comments. He said the United Conservative Party government is listening to reaction and concerns.

“We’re hearing the feedback on opportunities to make (the bill) more clear,” said Shandro. “No decisions have been made (on amendments).”

The bill, titled the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, was introduced Tuesday by Smith.

Smith has described it as a deliberately confrontational tool to reset the relationship with a federal government she accuses of interfering in constitutionally protected areas of provincial responsibility from energy development to health care.

Political scientists, the Opposition NDP and constitutional experts say the bill grants sweeping powers to cabinet that are normally reserved for extreme circumstances, like natural disasters, that require swift legislative action.

Those changes, they say, make it dangerous to democracy.

Under the bill, cabinet would decide when Ottawa is interfering in Alberta jurisdiction through a law, policy or program or through a looming federal initiative it believes may cause harm.

Cabinet would send a resolution to the legislative assembly spelling out the nature of the harm and the remedies to fix it.

If the legislature gives its approval, that is where its involvement ends and cabinet takes over.

The bill grants cabinet powers to unilaterally rewrite laws without sending them back to the legislature for debate or approval. Cabinet would be allowed to direct public agencies, including police, municipalities, school boards, post-secondary institutions and health regions to flout federal laws.

The bill gives cabinet wide latitude on how to interpret the resolution it receives from the assembly. It says cabinet “should” follow the direction of the house, but doesn’t mandate it. Instead, cabinet is told to exercise its new extraordinary powers however it deems “necessary or advisable.”

Smith and other members of her front bench are in lockstep on saying the bill stipulates direct legislative oversight over cabinet’s actions.

She repeated it in the house Thursday.

Smith also accused the Opposition NDP of “fear-mongering” that “somehow this act gives power to cabinet to unilaterally alter legislation behind closed doors, despite the fact that it does not.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley responded, “We have heard from no less than seven different legal experts, public servants and constitutional lawyers, who confirm a simple truth: this bill gives the premier the so-called Henry VIII power to write laws behind closed doors with zero input from this assembly.”

Law professor Martin Olszynski, who has written extensively on Smith’s bill since she first proposed it in the spring, said it clearly gives cabinet unfettered power to rewrite laws. He asked why, if the bill respects the existing legislative process, as Madu contends, is it needed at all?

“On its face, this is absurd,” Olszynski, with the University of Calgary, said in an interview.

Constitutional law professor Eric Adams at the University of Alberta agreed that what Madu said doesn’t square with the text of the bill.

“I can’t see anything in Section 4 (of the bill) that says the cabinet is required to table an amendment and subject it to the normal legislative process,” said Adams.

“Section 4 would seem to say the opposite.

“I’m confused by the government’s suggestions otherwise.”

Smith has delivered a mixed message on how the bill would ultimately be used.

On Tuesday, her office sent documentation to reporters saying the government hopes to use it in the spring, but that same day she told a news conference it’s a last-resort bill and she hopes to never use it.

Indigenous leaders have criticized the bill as heavy-handed and divisive. Business groups, including the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, warn that its legal uncertainty is not good for business and investment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

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Stop Passing Off Politics as Evidenced-Based Medicine

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As political campaigns have increasingly targeted medical practice issues, there have been a spate of articles and op-eds about the apparent corruption of medicine by politics. The American Medical Association believes it is a significant problem, because it has proposed a solution to keep politics out of medicine. Nevertheless, it seems as though doctors and other healthcare workers have been steamrolled by the political system into surrendering their autonomy and medical decision-making.

I was reminded of this grim reality when Mehmet Oz, MD, said that a woman’s right to an abortion was between herself, her doctor, and her local politicians. It’s bad enough that physicians’ political views and party affiliations affect their treatment decisions, but do we really need politicians meddling in the doctor-patient relationship?

It’s no surprise that medical professionals have been guided by their own political ideology to either combat elected officials or join them — depending on the issue. And therein lies the real problem. We have abandoned science and scientific reasoning to further our personal agendas on “the issues,” leading the medical profession into an internecine war and causing further divisiveness among physicians and the practice guidelines and standards promulgated by them.

For example, Florida has effectively banned physicians from aiding in the “transition” of transgender youth in Florida, creating considerable animus and essentially taking the matter out of the hands of practicing physicians. The Florida Board of Medicine plans to codify into law its own uniquely derived standards for the treatment of gender dysphoria.

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It doesn’t matter that Florida’s standards deviate widely from those of a half-dozen medical societies and organizations. The point is, other than providing comments to the Florida Board of Medicine, practicing physicians will have no real input into the final version of the treatment standards. Instead, those who serve on the Florida Board of Medicine will call the shots — and we can’t ignore the fact that all physicians who are board members are appointed by the governor.

Make no mistake, it is not uncommon to become ideologically blind to science when working for powerful people and even weaker sources of influence. Physicians believed pharmaceutical salespeople did not affect their choice of therapy, but studies proved them wrong.

Do No Harm, a non-profit organization, is a key proponent of Florida’s ban on gender-assisted therapy. In a letter to the Florida Board of Medicine, Stanley Goldfarb, MD, founder and chairman of Do No Harm, accuses the medical establishment of refusing “to side with science.” But whose version of science are we talking about: those in the medical profession who cite favorable outcomes following gender transition therapy, or those who point to its possible harmful and irreversible effects?

The debate reminds me of how two (or more) scientific societies can review the extant medical literature and relevant scientific studies, yet propose vastly different practice guidelines, as was the case with Lyme disease a decade ago. The Attorney General of Connecticut had to intervene to help align the discordant guidelines so that patients could be properly treated. Once again, because of our internal struggles to understand science, its limitations, and applications to medical practice, autonomy and self-determination were stripped from us.

The founder of Do No Harm was troubled by the impact of racial reckoning on medical practice, specifically, he was concerned about claims that systemic racism is responsible for disparities in health outcomes. The issues identified by Do No Harm on their website and in the news are perhaps the most vexing in medical education and practice today: affirmative action admission policies; mandatory anti-racism training; and divisive and possibly race-based discriminatory practices at universities and medical schools that violate academic freedom.

My hope is that we can discuss these (and other) topics without politicians in the exam room. I want to engage in passionate (not over-heated) discussions about social determinants of health, the injection of identity politics into medical research and education, and the validity of implicit bias and whether it contributes to microaggressions. I want to hear more from workers on both sides of the aisle who voiced reasoned opposition to what they perceived as contradictory and unjust COVID-19 policies and later faced recrimination.

I strive to be tolerant of individuals who hold opposing views rather than participate in walk-outs, threaten violence, or snub colleagues by calling them “woke” and other derogatory terms. “It just tells us how terrible our culture is becoming, that we can’t have an honest scientific debate about the things we disagree on,” remarked Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). Benjamin recently made that statement after public health expert Leana Wen, MD, was forced to cancel her panel discussion at the APHA annual meeting due to credible threats against her life — and she’s not alone.

Doctors, not politicians, need to pave the way for crucial civil discourse and the resolution of controversial issues that impact healthcare and our patients’ ability to receive it — issues ranging from reproductive health to mental health to environmental health. We should reject predetermined political frameworks for interpreting evidence to explain differences in outcomes. It’s time we learned to differentiate politics from science and quash political initiatives attempting to pass as evidenced-based medical principles.

Arthur Lazarus, MD, MBA, is a member of the Physician Leadership Journal editorial board and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia.

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