During a recent appearance on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed, “It’s my honor to be here, to say to all of you how proud we are of you...your freedom of expression of yourselves in drag is what America is all about.”
Pelosi’s assertion might strike many Americans as absurd—even if they hesitate to say so and are unsure how to say it. Is our “sweet land of liberty” really all about grown men dressing up as hyper-sexualized caricatures of women, taking over the public square, and insisting that society celebrate them? Surely Pelosi’s version of America is one that the pilgrims, and our fathers and grandfathers, would find shameful.
Pelosi’s view didn’t come out of nowhere. She simply followed a distorted idea of America to its logical conclusion. As Justice Anthony Kennedy put it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Or, as President Biden put it in his recent proclamation on LGBTQI+ Pride Month, “America can be defined by one word: possibilities.”
No pilgrim father or American founder would agree with this. We know this because we know what they said and wrote. In 1645, John Winthrop praised genuine liberty, which he called “moral,” “civil and lawful,” and “a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest.” He contrasted it with “corrupt liberty,” the “liberty to evil as well as to good” that “makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts.” True liberty is celebrated by religion and reason, and works to support society. False liberty—“license” or “licentiousness”—is condemned by religion and reason, and works to undermine society.
This contrast between true and false liberty is echoed in the founders’ frequent reminder that good government depends upon morality, virtue, and religion. George Washington called “religion and morality” the “great Pillars of human happiness,” and said they are “indispensable supports” to “political prosperity.” According to John Adams, “it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Thomas Jefferson agreed: “Peace, prosperity, liberty and morals have an intimate connection.” The founders understood that moral seriousness undergirds good political order. Only by ignoring their moral vision of politics can we imagine that phrases such as “the pursuit of happiness” and “the blessings of liberty” include licentiousness.
Because our forebears understood that liberty does not entail the “right” to define oneself, humanity, and the entire universe however one likes, the traditional distinction between true and false liberty is enshrined in federal and state law. The 1889 constitution of my own state, Wyoming, is no exception.
The preamble declares that “the people of the State of Wyoming” are “grateful to God for our civil, political and religious liberties” and “desir[e] to secure them to ourselves and perpetuate them to our posterity.” “All free governments,” according to Article 1, Section 1, “are instituted for [the people’s] peace, safety and happiness.” Like the United States as a whole, Wyoming, the “Equality State,” proudly proclaims the equality of every person “in their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Like John Winthrop, the Wyoming Constitution recognizes that abuses of liberty are not true acts of liberty. And it is within the power of the state to constrain such abuses. For example, “every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects,” but every person is “responsible for the abuse of that right.” Spoken and written words are subject to trials for libel, and only “the truth […] shall be a sufficient defense.”
Because Wyoming recognizes the distinction between true and false liberty, it outlaws “offenses against morals, decency, and family”—including public indecency and obscenity. The State of Wyoming, like common-sense Americans throughout history, understands that morality, decency, and the family are things that the state can—and should—protect with the force of the law.
Which brings us to June 2022, which was the most extreme Pride Month to date: an all-ages public celebration of lies and obscenity promoted by governments, corporations, schools, and nonprofits, and funded by billionaries who stand to profit by it. The Washington Times reported a “spike in drag queen events for children” at schools, zoos, libraries, and even churches across the country. At a Dallas gay bar, “kids were invited onstage and tipped performers.”
It may surprise some to hear that Wyoming has followed the national trend. Laramie PrideFest, in its sixth year, included a drag story hour billed as a “family-friendly event wherein young community members can hear a variety of heartwarming children’s books read by some drag performers.” It also featured a drag show for those 21 and older. Casper’s drag show entered its sixth year as well. Lander’s “Wind River Pride Month” included an outdoor drag show at a public park during daylight hours: no age limit, and no barriers between the event and the rest of the community.
After years of increasing aggression from the LGBT lobby, many Americans have had enough. Some have gone to the parades, libraries, and drag shows to protest. The citizens who show up rarely succeed in shutting down the events. But it shouldn't be left to private individuals to act as “public decency” vigilantes in the first place. Ensuring public decency, no less than public health, is a duty of legislators.
Nancy Pelosi didn’t just celebrate dressing up in drag. She encouraged her audience to act: “It’s very important for people to make their voices and their vote heard.” I agree. It’s very important for the people to make their voices and their vote heard. Until they do, year by year, every town, city, and county in the nation will drift closer to Pelosi’s twisted idea of “what America is all about.”
Pavlos Leonidas Papadopoulos is assistant professor of humanities at Wyoming Catholic College.
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Photo by DVSROSS via Creative Commons. Image cropped.