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Lenore Skenazy: Don't break up families over drag shows

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Take your kids to a drag show, expect a knock at your door.

It won’t be the Village People.

Government intervention is an option Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was mulling out loud last week when reporters asked whether he’d consider legally punishing parents who bring their kids to a place like Mr. Misster. That’s the Dallas gay bar that held a “family friendly” drag event someone posted on Twitter.

(Which was basically like throwing a Molotov cocktail into a nuclear reactor near an active volcano on the Fourth of July.)

“We have child protective statutes on the books,” DeSantis said. Framing parental brunch decisions as actual child endangerment might allow Child Protective Services to investigate people who take their kids to such shows. DeSantis said he would ask his staff to look into the feasibility of this.

But regardless of whether your idea of a great family outing is mimosas and chicken nuggets at a bar dominated by a sign that says, “It’s not going to lick itself” (surely, they’re talking about inflation?), what DeSantis seems to be considering is something that should disturb any parent, no matter how proper.

Why? Because no one ever thinks any parent is making good choices. How dare she not breastfeed? He put an Oreo in his son’s lunch? Who bought that kid an accordion?

Parents are constantly judged — and found awful — by almost everyone else, which is why investigations must be triggered only when parents are putting their kids in obvious, serious and likely danger. Not just when they’re being foolish, goofy, pushy, lazy, self-absorbed or dumb. Which is most of us, at one time or another.

What’s more, weaponizing CPS against someone you dislike is already a huge problem. We don’t need the governor encouraging more of this. Currently, according to ChildWelfare.gov, “Most States maintain toll-free telephone numbers for receiving reports of abuse or neglect. Reports may be made anonymously to most of these reporting numbers.” That means jilted boyfriends, angry ex-wives and just plain nutjobs can and sometimes do use CPS as their personal (and free!) SWAT team.

This affects thousands of families every year. In my own state, The Imprint reports, a 2022 study by New York’s Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition found that “7% of the roughly 150,000 reports to the Statewide Central Register each year are made by anonymous or unknown sources. These anonymous reports are 10 times less likely to be found credible.”

Those crank calls add up to a lot of wasted time and money — and something far worse. Being subjected to a child welfare investigation is “terrifying,” says my colleague Diane Redleaf, a longtime civil rights and family advocate. “It gives a sense of shame. It changes your judgments about what you can and cannot do.” Kids old enough to realize something’s going on fear they could be taken from their parents. Their parents fear how easily that could happen. Even if all charges are ultimately dropped, an investigation can tear a family apart

There’s almost nothing more harmful you could do to a family than initiate a child abuse investigation.

And that includes dragging little Jimmy to a drag show every weekend for the rest of the year.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, a contributing writer at Reason.com and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?”

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