Kelsen Young

As the executive director of the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV) for 17 years and lobbyist for the coalition for 19 years, I cannot tell you how many bills I’ve heard claiming to protect children but are poorly disguised attempts to outcast people in our communities.

These types of legislation often hurt children in the process.

The Drag Story Hour bill from last week at the legislature is a prime example.

First, let's be clear. Child sexual abuse is a problem in our state. I know because it’s an issue MCADSV and our member programs are committed to ending. Advocates at these programs are there every day for children and families dealing with significant trauma.

With two decades of expertise and the data to back it up, we know that transgender individuals and the LGBTQ+ community do not commit a higher incidence of sexual harm than the rest of the population. Statistics show that a vast majority of perpetrators of children are someone they know, like a parent, relative, babysitter, or family friend.

We all know that it was never the point. This bill banning children from attending Drag Story Hour was never about kids. If Representative Mitchell or other legislators want to help prevent child abuse, I could give them a list of bills they could pass tomorrow that help kids across the state avoid being victimized.

But no one asked us – the experts – how to keep kids safe and healthy.

This bill is about ostracizing people for being themselves and attacking beautiful and caring people in our community. People who take time out of their busy lives to read to children. People who pick out age-appropriate books about belonging and being comfortable with being themselves. People who think about their outfits and makeup based on what the kids will like and respond to.

It is so upsetting that in 2023, our legislature is intent on making sure people feel unwelcome in our state. And frankly, it goes beyond feeling unwelcome. When legislators bring forward bills like this, violence against the LGBTQ+ community increases.

It is not harmful to children to attend Drag Story Hour. It might actually be helpful.

We all have things about ourselves that don’t always fit with what is around us. There are boys in small towns that don’t want to hunt and girls who want to wrestle. Some kids feel out of place in their bodies, and some are unsure about everything. Simply hearing from someone who didn’t always “fit” but found a way to be happy and express themselves could give kids the confidence to be who they are - whatever or whoever that is.

And for those kids that do “fit,” the ones who will grow up straight, playing the “right” sports, having the “right” friends, and dressing the “right” way, attending a Drag Story Hour might help them be more understanding, more loving, and do more to stand up to bullies.

No one is forcing anyone to attend Drag Story Hour. Banning parents from making the right decisions for their children is total government overreach.

Our legislature meets only 90 days every other year. That isn’t much time. Instead of proposing bills that harm members of our community, we should spend this precious time on programs that prevent child sexual abuse and support families impacted by the abuse. Legislators who want ideas can reach out at any time.

Kelsen Young is the Executive Director of the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, with member organizations across the state that provides support, resources, safety, and counseling to domestic and sexual violence survivors, including child sexual abuse survivors.