June 22, 2023 | The Guardian

UK’s anti-LGBTQ+ mobilisation is drawing on US trends and narratives against drag performances

ISD’s Head of Communications, Tim Squirrell, wrote an op-ed for The Guardian about the increase in protests and threats against all-ages drag shows in the UK, and the broader connections to the anti-LGBTQ+ narratives and actions in the US.

In the op-ed, he outlines the main findings from ISD’s UK country profile on anti-drag mobilisation efforts. “More than 50 family drag events in the UK were targeted by protesters from June last year to this May […] The groups spearheading this campaign often have ties to white supremacist movements or far-right extremism and have appropriated for political aims legitimate discussion about what is suitable entertainment and education for children, and at what age.”

Tim further explains how UK protests are heavily influenced by anti-LGBTQ+ groups, narratives and tactics in the US. “Previous analysis by our researchers found US groups had an outsized influence on internet subcultures and activism in many parts of the world. And our latest research confirms this – British anti-drag protesters are repurposing rhetoric and actions spearheaded by US-based extremist groups. In the UK’s anti-drag movement, American actors are approvingly cited by groups in Telegram channels who are inspired by their narrative of pushing back against ‘grooming’ and ‘queer ideology.’”

Emphasising the additional similarities between the UK and the US and how groups are coming together on these topics, he says: “Beyond the expected far-right extremists, a surprising and diverse range of UK groups are joining forces over a shared aim. COVID deniers, ‘sovereign citizens‘ (who believe the UK is not a legitimate state) and various other conspiracy theorists all sought to have drag events cancelled last year. […] This mirrors trends in the US […].”

“Public debate about what is appropriate entertainment for children, and at what ages, is absolutely legitimate and deserves a fair hearing. But these tactics only serve to undermine that discussion, with chilling consequences for free expression and create fertile ground for a potential uptick in violence,” he said.

The full op-ed is available on The Guardian, and the UK report and US report are available on our website. Tim was a co-author on the series’ Executive Summary.