August 9, 2002 was the first day I went out in drag. I had just moved to Nashville for college and had touched nearly every theatrical production I possibly could but had yet to venture into the world of drag. The second I did, Nashville welcomed me with open arms and I quickly realized with the help of other queens, that this would allow me to celebrate my creativity in a whole new way.
And thus, Veronika Electronika was born.
I have used drag in a myriad of ways in the past 20-plus years: to cultivate community, call for political action, and educate those across the state on inclusion. That’s the beauty of drag — you can contour the art form to become whoever you want.
Drag has given new meaning to my life and a flourishing diverse community of which I am grateful to be a part. But this freedom and my community are under attack. All year, lawmakers around the country have been working to make life more dangerous for transgender people, queer people, and drag queens, advancing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation while systematically dismantling gun safety laws.
In March, Tennessee became the first state to explicitly ban drag performances in public spaces,punishing first-time offenders with misdemeanors and possible prison sentences of up to six years for repeat offenders. (The law has now been ruled unconstitutional.) This legislation and bills like it target drag queens, taking particular aim at our right to peacefully coexist. Let’s call these what they are: discriminatory policies grounded in prejudice and fear — fear of us harmlessly expressing ourselves. Empowered by the hateful rhetoric of our so-called leaders, armed Nazis and white supremacists have targeted our community — swarming LGBTQ+ drag events across the country.
Meanwhile, lawmakers ignore the real threat to public safety: gun violence.
Guns are a threat to safety in this country. Drag queens are not. Guns kill more than 120 people every day and are the number 1 killer of children and teens in America. Set against the backdrop of our country’s raging gun violence epidemic and a concerted movement to loosen existing firearm laws, this exponentially growing hatred of drag queens, trans people, and queer people is a recipe for hate-motivated gun violence against LGBTQ+ people. There is an already clear disproportionate effect of gun violence on queer communities. We saw the deadly intersection of guns and anti-LGBTQ+ hate when a shooter walked into a sacred queer space in Colorado Springs and killed five people.
In an average year, more than 25,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm — 69 a day. Across different LGBTQ+ populations, the risk for violence is higher than in straight and cisgender populations. Lesbian and gay people are more than twice as likely to experience violent victimization as straight people. Transgender people are 2.5 times as likely to be victims of violence as cisgender people. Bisexual people are seven times as likely to experience violent victimization as straight people.
This year alone, at least 12 trans people have been killed in the U.S., the vast majority with a gun. Between 2017 and 2022, there were 222 homicides of transgender or gender-nonconforming people. During this period, 74 percent of the trans people killed were killed with a gun.
Now more than ever, states desperately need to pass common-sense gun safety laws, but instead, legislators across the country, backed by a gun lobby that is driven by profits over public safety, are systematically working to weaken our gun laws and remove fundamental public safety laws.
The Tennessee legislature recently passed permitless carry and continues to introduce other harmful legislation, such as guns on campus and expansions to the state’s Shoot First law, also known as Stand Your Ground. In August, legislators will convene a special session, and we’ll be calling on them to pass a lifesaving extreme risk law — a law that could have prevented the shooting at the Covenant School.
We shouldn’t have to live in a world where members of the LGBTQ+ community and drag queens have to live in fear every single day. It’s exhausting to endure these tragedies over and over again.
As we commemorate Pride Month this June, we must remember that Pride and what it has become started as a protest. In 1969, the Stonewall riots in New York City served as a pivotal moment for the modern LGBTQ+ movement, and we will carry the power of those who came before us to say enough is enough. Enough hate. Enough violence. We don’t have to live this way, and I don’t want to die this way.
Drag queens have the right to exist in peace. Drag queens have the right to be safe in their communities. Drag queens and queer people have the right to express themselves and to live free from the fear of gun violence. We won’t stop working to make our communities safe — for everyone.
Veronika Electronika is a Tennessee-based drag queen.