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Republican legislators in Arkansas have introduced a bill that would classify drag performances as adult entertainment, similar to erotic films or escort services.
The legislation would also ban drag shows on public property or anywhere that they could be viewed by people under 18. Drag is defined as the use of clothes, makeup, or accessories to present as a different gender than the one the person was assigned at birth, and a performance is classified as singing, dancing, lip-synching, or another type of entertainment for an audience of two or more, in a manner “intended to appeal to the prurient interest.”
Drag shows are “destroying these kids’ innocence,” Sen. Gary Stubblefield, sponsor of his chamber’s version of the bill, told Arkansas TV stations KHBS/KHOG. “They’re no longer kids. They’re seeing things that they shouldn’t be seeing.”
LGBTQ+ activists have spoken out against the legislation.
“The audacity of this bill to try to say that we aren’t being appropriate in front of all audiences is absurd,” Patty Johnson, who performs drag as Lady Kakes Monroe, told KHBS/KHOG. She has done drag shows for audiences of all ages for more than a decade, she said.
Megan Tullock, director of programs and advocacy for NWA Equality, said homophobia is behind the bill. “Is it that we don’t want people with low-cut shorts to read books to children?” she told the broadcaster. “Or is this just about keeping anybody with any kind of queerness away from kids?”
Tullock noted that if the measure becomes law, it will affect Pride festivals and more. “Even having nothing to do with the youth zone that does include drag performance, our main stage, which is outside, has drag performers on it, and that would not be possible because it’s an outdoor space that kids have access to,” she said.
Others pointed out the legislation’s chilling effect as well. “As a member of the LGBT community and with my pronouns being they and them, it directly affects me every day,” Deloris Wilk, executive director of Central Arkansas Pride, told TV station KATV. “I dress differently than my assigned gender. This is what I’m comfortable in. If this bill passes, I cannot perform karaoke at a local venue. I cannot perform in my church’s choir. Think about it.” It would also keep Central Arkansas Pride from hosting its annual festival, Wilk said.
MD Hunter, who does drag as Athena Sinclair, added that the legislation would affect touring events that bring money into the state. “If this bill passes, we can’t [host] Miss Gay America or any of these events,” Hunter told KATV. “Theater is a main thing that it’s going to affect because [actors] perform in the opposite gender all of the time. I think that the biggest aspect of this is that people don’t actually know what drag is.”
Stubblefield and the legislation’s House sponsor, Rep. Mary Bentley, said they expect it to pass easily, as both chambers have a Republican majority. The state’s new Republican governor, former White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, doesn’t appear to have commented on the measure, but she has leaned into culture war issues in her first week in office. Among other things, she has issued executive orders banning the use of the term “Latinx” in state documents and the teaching of critical race theory in Arkansas schools.
Republican lawmakers in Arizona have also recently introduced bills aimed at limiting the hours and audiences of drag shows. Drag queen story hours and other drag performances have been under attack by the right wing throughout the past year.