Republican states fume — and legislate — on drag performances

“We’re not trying to be anti-person, anti-trans, anti-nothing, we’re just trying to protect our children,” said Bentley, who acknowledged during the hearing that schools had expressed concerns about to the fact that student performances could be targeted if the costumes had exaggerated anatomical features or had certain types of songs and dances. “We are not trying to stop the games. We’re not trying to stop Peter Pan, or Tootsie, or any of those things.

Restrictions on drag shows have become a major cultural issue in this year’s legislative sessions for right-wing and prominent Republicans like Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is due to deliver her party’s response to the statehood address on Tuesday. President Joe Biden’s Union.

Lawmakers in at least eight states – including Arizona, South Carolina and Texas – introduced measures to prevent children from participating in drag shows earlier this year, according to PEN America, a group of defense of freedom of expression. Many measures would subject educators, business owners, performers and parents to criminal prosecution and professional sanctions for allowing children to see performances, many of which have been the subject of recent armed protests .

Drag performers aren’t regularly present at school events, despite the GOP’s uproar. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, reportedly asked the state school board association for help this week after middle school students attended an event that featured a drag performance.

Bills often seek to categorize drag shows the same way as explicit adult entertainment, and sometimes include language saying the restrictions only apply to “pruriant” shows with erotic intentions, or include nudity or explicit material. Several proposals would ban drag shows or school appearances, while other bills would further regulate shows on public property and at private businesses.

Opponents argue that signing these measures into law could not only violate constitutional protections, but also cause broader cultural suppression of LGBTQ people.

“The goal of many of these legislators has been to scare people into what drag performances are and what children are really exposed to,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign.

“Many of these bills essentially allow individuals to report performance to be investigated often for violation of criminal law,” Warbelow said in an interview. “This is going to have a chilling effect on drag performances from pride parades, to drag queen story time at the local library, to college campuses that might have a drag performance as part of a celebration of the pride.”

The North Dakota House of Representatives last week approved a ban on drag shows that would classify repeated performances in front of children as a felony, sending the measure to the state Senate for review.

Bentley’s measure at Arkansas House was approved by a committee on Wednesday, a week after the state Senate signed it. Lawmakers backtracked Thursday, however, by tabling an amendment that removes all mentions of “drag performance” from the proposal.

Sanders seemed eager to sign the original measure into law.

“It’s not about banning anything; this is about protecting children,” Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning told POLITICO in a statement, before the legislation was changed. “We don’t let kids smoke, drink alcohol, go to strip clubs, or access sexually explicit material, and the governor believes sexually explicit drag shows are no different. Only in the woke dystopia of the radical left is it inappropriate to protect children.

Republican North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s office declined to comment on the proposal going through his state legislature, but one of his top Democrats is livid.

“It pisses me off,” State House Minority Leader Josh Boschee said of the bill.

“There are no parents coming forward to say there’s all this drag performance going on on Main Street and we need to be protected from that,” Boschee, who is gay, said in an interview. “These are all concepts and ideas that are pulled from the dark sides of the internet.”

State Rep. Brandon Prichard, a newly elected Republican lawmaker who introduced the North Dakota bill, remains confident the measure will win Senate approval.

“There is a clear path to victory for the bill,” Prichard said in an interview. “The Senate is more conservative than it has ever been in North Dakota. And I think there’s a natural tendency in North Dakota to agree with this bill.

In South Carolina, the proposed “Children’s Innocence Defense Act” explicitly prohibits schools and state-funded entities from using taxpayer dollars to provide a drag show, and would allow the prosecution of anyone who allows a minor to see a drag show with a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.

“I don’t know when drag shows became the devil,” Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association, said in an interview. “To my knowledge, I don’t know if schools do this. I’ve never known a school to do that. The homophobic attitude of some of our elected officials is quite worrying and disappointing.

A Montana bill would prohibit schools and state-funded libraries from holding drag shows during school hours or during school-sanctioned extracurricular activities. Librarians or educators found guilty of breaking the law would face fines of $5,000 and the potential suspension and revocation of their teaching license.

Nearly two dozen South Dakota lawmakers have co-sponsored a proposed change to the state’s education law that would prohibit university systems and public schools from using public money and facilities to “develop, implement, facilitate, host, promote or fund any obscene or lascivious content”. ” including drag performances.

Arizona Republicans have proposed a trio of drag restrictions, including a bill that would classify drag performers, their shows, and the establishments that host them as “adult-oriented businesses” — under the law which regulates strip clubs, erotic massage parlors and cinemas. The approval would ban cross-dressing shows within a quarter mile of schools, playgrounds and daycares.

“The tactic and the angle that these bills take are very different,” said Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign. “But the goal is really the same, which is to make sure young people aren’t exposed to the LGBTQ community.”


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