An audience member watches a drag performance at the Montana State Capitol on April 13, 2023. Credit: Mara Silvers / MTFP

This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

Public officials in Butte made headlines last week for enforcing House Bill 359 — Montana’s ban on broadly defined drag performances and story hours in schools, libraries, and other places where minors are present — when they canceled a Friday presentation about the history of transgender and Indigenous two spirit people in the West at the Butte Public Library.

To be clear, the presentation was not a drag performance or a drag story hour, where people in elaborate costumes typically lip sync, dance or read children’s books. Rather, the event was to be hosted by writer, activist and transgender woman Adria Jawort — wearing her usual clothing and perhaps holding books — and feature discussions about gender and sexuality in a historical context.

In a statement posted to the library’s website, library director Stef Johnson called the circumstances presented by HB 359 “challenging.”

“Our commitment to promoting inclusivity and intellectual exploration remains, but not in violation of law,” Johnson said.

County Attorney Eileen Joyce told Montana Free Press Friday that the decision was made after the county received a Facebook message about the alleged illegality of Jawort’s event, calling her “a transexxual” and referring to her as “it.” The message pointed to online statements Jawort previously made about how her public presentations might be undermined by HB 359 because of the bill’s vague definitions.

Joyce said the Facebook message was the first she and Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher had heard of the event. After reviewing Jawort’s online posts about how the bill could be interpreted, Joyce said the county encouraged the library to cancel the presentation “out of an abundance of caution.” She attributed the conclusion to confusion over the new law, a short time frame before the Friday morning event, and limited communication between the county and Jawort.


“After you read it 10 times, you say, ‘alright I see what she’s trying to point out.’ That she was trying to say ‘there’s a difference between a drag queen and me being a transgender person who’s dressed flamboyantly,’” Joyce said. “Hindsight’s always 20-20.” 

Joyce acknowledged that the county’s actions could be seen as discriminatory toward transgender people and possibly even grounds for a lawsuit. She said the county is open to rescheduling the event in the future, pending further conversations and clarification about its content.

Jawort could not be reached for comment before publication. In a Friday morning Twitter post, she framed Butte-Silver Bow’s decision as reactionary and based in fear.

“In the face of fascism, these people are such spineless cowards,” she wrote.


Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.