Texas will pay bounty hunters $5K to find performers who ‘exhibit a gender different than recorded at birth’ in new drag ban bill

Texas’ HB4378 would grant the ability for private citizens in the state to sue those who perform in drag wherever children are present.

Critics of the bill note that this will establish a bounty-hunting culture that targets not only drag queens, but also trans people.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Houston-area Rep. Steve Toth on Mar. 9 details that “drag performance” means a performance wherein a person “exhibits a gender that is different than the performer’s gender recorded at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers.”

Read more: These two new West Virginia bills are trying to make it a crime to be ‘exposed’ to trans people

Should a plaintiff win, the court would compensate them for damages that include “psychological, emotional, economic, and physical harm”, attorney fees, as well as statutory damages of $5,000. The bill also notes that civil action can be brought up to ten years after the performance.

The bill harkens back to when the state proposed SB8 in 2021, which gave private citizens of Texas the right to sue those involved with any part of an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. In the case of HB4378, while Republicans continue to position themselves as the defenders of “parental rights,” some believe the bill is set to fail by logic.

Robert Emery—the President and Co-Founder of The Dallas Way, an organization archiving the untold and “under-told” LGBTQ histories in Dallas—notes that “[Party clowns] arrive wearing colorful clothes, exaggerated shoes, an elaborately painted face, and an oversized wig, [and] children are delighted by the pageantry and theatricality.

“Why, then, could anyone think differently about a drag queen?” Emery said. “They arrive at a birthday party wearing colorful clothes, exaggerated shoes, an elaborately painted face, and an oversized wig—just like the party clown. The only difference between a party clown and a drag queen is that children don’t have nightmares about drag queens.”

Just last month, Oklahoma was the leading state with the most anti-LGBTQ bills proposed this year. According to the ACLU map tracking anti-LGBTQ bills in the country, Texas now takes the cake at 49 proposed bills—14 bills more than Oklahoma.

The vague description of what HB4378 qualifies as “drag” could therefore endanger the safety of trans people, too. “How long until women can’t wear pants?” said TikTok user CoyoteAnnie, criticizing HB4378 in a viral post. “When they come for some of us, they come for all of us.”

The Rose Room, a major drag venue within the S4 gay club in Dallas is run by show director James Love, who is also known in drag as Cassie Nova.

“It’ll hurt a lot of the drag branches, which is the way a lot of the girls make their money,” Love said. “Not to mention it’s scary as hell going into a damn drag branch and having protesters and gang organizations [come] with guns.”

Last November, an upcoming all-ages Christmas drag show was announced in San Antonio, Tx. The sold-out event drew out major publicity, so much so that members of a Texan anti-LGBTQ group This Is Texas Freedom Force protested the advertised event armed.

“I honestly don’t think this is so much of an attack on drag queen [as much as] it’s an attack on trans people,” said Love, who believes that the uproar in anti-trans hate is a direct result of the community’s gain in visibility over the past several years. However, it does not change the fact that HB4378 would be detrimental to the careers of drag queens in Texas.

For Love, the future of LGBTQ members and drag queens of Texas is reliant on community support.

“When there is someone saying something negative about one, speak your truth and tell them how you really feel. Don’t just stand on the sidelines and let people make laws that could hurt the people that you say you care about. When [it’s] time to vote, vote against people that vote against us.”

Denny Agassi

Denny |

Denny is a writer, actor, and musician who has co-starred in POSE (FX) and New Amsterdam (NBC), and will appear in the upcoming series City On Fire (Apple TV). Aside from The Grammy, Allure Magazine, PAPER, and more, her recent writing—“He Made Affection Feel Simple”—was published in The New York Times’ Modern Love.

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.