The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center has joined a lawsuit challenging House Bill 359, sponsored by Braxton Mitchel (R-HD3). Montana was the first in the nation to ban costumed performers reading to children. Despite widespread opposition and warnings that the bill would not hold up to judicial scrutiny, Governor Gianforte signed the bill into law. Now the poorly written ban is being challenged in court. Montana citizens and organizations assert the bill is a violation of their rights. Once again, Montana taxpayers will foot the bill as the state defends yet another blatantly unconstitutional law.
Read the full press release from Upper Seven Law below:
*Teachers, artists, and businesses bring suit to prevent censorship and protect Montanans’ First Amendment rights**
[HELENA, MONTANA] On Thursday, June 6, 2023, a group of individuals and organizations, including Billings Public School teacher Rachel Corcoran, trans advocate Adria Jawort, The Myrna Loy and the Montana Book Company in Helena, Imagine Nation Brewing in Missoula, and the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center, among others, filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of a Montana law targeting drag performers.
In May 2023, Governor Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 359 (“HB 359”) into law, banning “drag story hours” and a plethora of other conduct seemingly related to dressing and performing in drag. The bill’s sponsors meant to stop drag queens from leading story hours in schools and libraries. But the bill goes much further. And the result is a law that is as stupid as it is sinister.
For example, HB 359 defines “drag queen” to include women and girls dressed as Disney princesses and “drag king” to include cowboys and male superheroes. HB 359 prohibits reading to children in a library or classroom in any costume with a discernible gender.
And that’s not all. Claiming a desire to protect children, the bill attacks all Montanans’ First Amendment rights. It defines “stripping” to include removing or pretending to remove clothing, even if nudity does not result; it criminalizes the display of critically acclaimed PG-13 and R-rated films in independent theaters, even to audiences who are over 18; and it treats natural cleavage differently than prosthetic cleavage, even a mastectomy survivor’s prosthetics.
“Drag has long been an important artistic and cultural expression,” said Chelsia Rice, co-owner of Montana Book Company, a Helena-based business challenging the law. “This law wrongly targets the constitutionally protected speech of performers, artists, authors, and other Montanans.”
“As a public educator, I wear costumes to get students engaged,” Rachel Corcoran, a Billings Public School teacher and plaintiff said. “The legislature was so worked up about the perceived threat of drag story hours that it didn’t consider the collateral damage. Now I can be prosecuted and lose my teaching certificate for showing creativity in the classroom.”
A copy of the complaint filed with the Court is attached to this press release. A file-stamped version will be available on request.
About Upper Seven Law:
Upper Seven Law is a Montana-based nonprofit law firm dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. Based on the belief that creativity and innovation in law are essential to advancing social justice and public interest objectives, Upper Seven takes smart risks and invests the time necessary to build foundations for long-term accountability work.
About the individual plaintiffs
Adria Jawort is a transgender woman, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and a published author. She regularly speaks to libraries and other organizations across the State of Montana about Two-Spirit and transgender issues.
Rachel Corcoran is a teacher in Billings Public Schools. In her role as a teacher, she has dressed up as many different male and female characters to connect with students, enhance learning, and build community. By the terms of HB 359, she is a “drag queen” or “drag king” participating in “drag story hour” at such times. Thus, she faces criminal penalties, lawsuits, and revocation of her teaching certificate.
About the organizational plaintiffs
Imagine Nation Brewing Company is a brewery and community center located in Missoula, Montana. Imagine Nation has hosted and plans to again host drag shows and drag story hours on-premises.
The Center is Western Montana’s LGBTQ+ community center, which offers community events, health and public safety support, and space for LGBTQ+ individuals, groups, and communities to meet and provide programming. The Center recently produced Missoula Pride, an annual event that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community, and includes storytelling, dancing, a parade, and drag performances.
The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center aims to enhance and sustain the health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community through activities, programs, and services. It organizes events featuring drag performances for all audiences, including Pride.
BumbleBee Aerial Fitness is a fitness studio located in Helena, Montana. BumbleBee teaches aerial arts, choreography, and pole fitness to students.
The Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana is a Montana-based nonprofit that educates and advocates for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies through the production of community-based drag performances that explore multiple gender expressions in an entertaining and educational atmosphere and create a safe and welcoming environment.
The Montana Book Company is an independent LGBTQ+-owned bookstore in Helena, Montana. The Montana Book Company aims to create an open and inclusive community space for marginalized populations in Montana. The Montana Book Company has hosted and plans to continue to host age-appropriate drag shows open to the public.
The Myrna Loy, Helena’s premiere arts and culture center, is an independent movie theater, performance space, source of city-wide arts education, and community arts instigator.