“What the futz do drag queens have to do with Atheism?”

I got an email from an old-school atheist activist. They asked a hard question. Or is it?

The AA magazine is filled with LGBTQ stuff
Did you get the latest AA magazine?

I was appalled to find that the biggest story in the July- October issue of the AA magazine is about something called “Drag Queen Story Hour.” IT TOOK UP SIX FULL PAGES PLUS THE COVER PHOTO.

What the futz do drag queens have to do with Atheism?

Whoa. What should be in American Atheist magazine? Six full pages of blank white pages and a cover with a title and nothing else? This writer clearly has a vision for the magazine, not that they’ve said what it is, and it doesn’t include drag queens. Why not? I guess we’re suppose to have nothing but articles about separation of church and state issues, legal shenanigans, and opposition to religion, which all sounds very dry and boring.

You can read American Atheist’s concerns about the drag queen story for yourself. The rationale is crystal clear.

Yesterday, American Atheists, Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists (SMASH), PFLAG National, and PFLAG’s Leonardtown chapter sent a letter to the commission warning that the organizations “are prepared to seek judicial remedies for [the] violation of their rights.”

“At Drag Queen Story Hour, the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department arrested and charged a Christian extremist with five misdemeanors after he barged into the meeting room, terrorizing young attendees,” explained Samantha McGuire, SMASH Chapter Coordinator and National Field Director of American Atheists. “This anti-LGBTQ protester broke the law, yet St. Mary’s County Commission is blaming the victims, forcing the library to foot the bill to protect children from out-of-control fundamentalists.”

A Christian fanatic tried to disrupt the event, and Christian fundamentalist organizations are howling to shut down the participation of drag queens in any event, “for the good of the children”. I’m sorry, but are we only supposed to defend people from religious oppression when they are cis het straight people who conform to social expectations of dress? It sure sounds like my correspondent only wants to support atheists who fit their expectations of conventional behavior…which is exactly what the religious zealots want. It’s just that their ideal of conventional behavior includes going to church every Sunday.

It wasn’t just a lone loon disrupting an event, either. The county commissioners punished the library by taking funding away. AA has a few things to say about that, too.

“By kowtowing to Christian supremacists, the Commission is sending the message that bigoted protesters should use any means necessary, including threatening innocent children and committing multiple crimes, to get what they want,” said Nick Fish, American Atheists’ president.

I mean, you don’t need to read very far into this story to figure out why an atheist organization would take sides against Christian supremacy in action. Is this not enough for you?

My vision of atheism has always been that it is a tool for battling dogmatism, that it’s something more than a narrow answer, “NO”, to the question of the existence of gods. It is a vehicle for opening minds and defeating the constrictions imposed on us by authoritarian superstition. It’s not just for nerdy old white guys with conservative haircuts and a boring style of dress. We’ve already got the social approval and the ability to move into positions of relative authority.

We should be about anti-authoritarian secularism and breaking the bounds of unthinking custom. Just being an atheist is freeing one foot from the shackles, we should celebrate the people who break free of all pointless restraints.

Drag queens have everything to do with atheism. So do purple-haired ace furries, free-thinking hippies who like to knit, and staid old gomers who are comfortable in traditional relationships. All of us. We all need defending from the rigid authoritarianism of religious orthodoxy, and my atheism is not going to question inclusion and equality.


  1. brightmoon says

    I’m Christian but I have more in common with PZ on most issues than I do with my fundie co religionists. Things like this make me sick . Why don’t they just leave the non binaries alone. Science has already demonstrated that they exist. Who cares if people dress differently or who they’re with in the privacy of their own homes?

  2. Bucket of Rainbows says

    (White male) Atheists shocked that an atheist rag is covering “LGBTQ stuff”? How dare this print popped their monocles?!

    Remember when atheists back then were very inviting of the LGBTQ community just because? What happened on the way to now?

    But yeah, race, class & sexual orientation are issues that secularism needs to tackle. They need more than being seeing than their “black, gay friend”: legal protection, shelter, representation and human connection not found in their former communities. It’s sad that the white atheists in charge are still gatekeeping against secularist minorities that deserved second chances. It’s even sadder than the said atheists are now doing the “I hate Trump, but…” dance around these issues.

  3. says

    As long as organized religion insists on sticking its proboscis into parts of life other than faith itself, there will be a place for articles in AA on the necessary corollary: Showing and discussing alternatives. Part of the point of “atheism” is supposed to be a rejection of supernatural-being-worship-inspired orthodoxy…

  4. says

    As a nerdy old white guy with a conservative haircut and a boring style of dress, I am appalled that there are atheists so lacking in discernment that they’re puzzled over this issue. Are we to defend the rights of only those people who can “pass” for uptight mainstream Christians? How nice for me, since I am routinely mistaken for a conventionally religious middle-American (and even, once, for a Mormon [I nearly left out the “m” in the middle]). But that’s extremely foolish and narrow-minded. Okay, worried non-warriors, maybe you’re not on the ramparts at this time, but don’t undermine or fail to defend those who are.

  5. Susan Montgomery says

    I’m getting the vibe of “Drag – or Trans, or LGBTQ overall – is inherently transgressive” with this article’s conclusion. I’ve always taken issue with the notion of people who think that to approve of LGBT people requires people to have no moral values whatsoever. They still think it’s horrible, but they’re cool with that.

    I’m sorry if I’m jumping at shadows (not to mention kinda repeating myself) but this has been a rather sensitive issue lately.

  6. says

    Are “staid old gomers who are comfortable in traditional relationships” also transgressive? I don’t think so, nor do I think there’s any problem with people who are not that.

  7. says

    It’s this easy:

    The library is a government program.

    There are a large number of people who wish to use the library, many of those are religious, many are not, and there are many flavors of each.

    One group chose to use the library for something very close to the library’s core mission: to get kids interested in books and stories so that they develop their own internal motivation for increasing their literacy. Another group decided to deny the first access to the library on the basis that the first did not comply with the second’s religious commandments.

    Telling people that they can’t use the library unless they pass a religious test, even a relatively permissive religious test that more than 90% of people pass, should be an unquestioned violation of the core principles of any pro-secular government group.

    The only remaining question, I suppose, is whether or not American Atheist should be pro-secularism. PZ’s critic obviously believes that the magazine should be hostile to secularism, or at best should allow violations of secular principles with no pushback.

    I believe that’s short sighted idiocy.

    Have fun being an atheist in a majority Christian country with no effective secularism, PZ’s critic!

  8. cartomancer says

    I suppose sitting down to hear a man in a dress telling fantastic fairy stories for an hour is rather too much like church for some atheists.

  9. Susan Montgomery says

    @PZ No, of course not. I see your point, too. I’m sorry for letting my typing outrun my thinking. ;)

  10. unclefrogy says

    it has occurred to me in trying to think of how to put my reaction to this issue that it is faith that is at issue. Those who are shocked and threatened by things like Drag Queen Story hour still are victims of faith. They have not been able to see that blind faith is a dangerous error in judgment it clouds our minds and perception of what is and what is not real. They still cling to belief in the things they were taught as children that just ain’t so and different is threatening.
    I also suspect that the strong negative to even hostile reaction to anything outside to traditional sanctioned sex relationships is highly influenced by all to common experience with sexual predators. Leading to the inability to understand that sexual orientation is not the same as sexual predation nor does sexual orientation protect you from sexual predation. There are all flavors of sexual predators in existence.
    there is also the experience of hostility experienced in general to any behavior outside a narrow band of excepted behavior experienced by children from their care givers and their peers.
    I think there would be nothing as anciently shamanistic then a drag queen reading the ancient magical stories we call fairy tales or say The Mahabharata or Genesis.
    uncle frogy

  11. gijoel says

    I didn’t know that I needed Drag Queen story hour in my life until I read this article.

    Even if this story wasn’t about dominionists trying to fuck over everyone it would still be a great story for Skeptic magazine. This is a fantastic way bringing marginalized groups into the mainstream.

  12. mountainbob says

    Of course Atheists should have to pay extra for protection at public libraries. According to the Attorney General of the United States, folks who disrespect or at least don’t sufficiently respect law enforcement may find themselves without police protection. Given the shaky history of the relationship between law enforcement writ large and the equally broad gay community, it all makes perfect sense; it’s quite likely that every drag queen has had at least one unfortunate experience with John Law, so it’s quite possible that said Queen might likely harbor some suspicion regarding John Law. Now, therefore, why should they expect anything but a bill for services the rest of us expect to be offered as a matter or course. It’s only those darn liberal Founding Fathers who advanced a case that justice must be served by impartial agents in the courts; and, by extension, on the streets and byways.

  13. rvoss says

    I was very happy to read that the St. Mary’s County commissioners voted to reverse their earlier decision. After receiving the letters from various atheist organizations, two weeks ago the commissioners gave $4,000 to the to the library to make up for the earlier fine of $2,500. Good news.