US Republican lawmakers take aim at drag shows

Across the US, conservative Republican politicians want new laws that crack down on drag shows as part of a broader backlash against LGBTIQ+ rights sweeping through right-wing parts of America.
Maxwell Elliff  |  World News
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Republican legislators in Arkansas have drafted a bill that seeks to place serious restrictions on drag performances. The bill would see drag classified as “adult entertainment” on par with pornography or escort services — meaning it would be banned from all public spaces or anywhere accessible to a person under 18 years old. It would affect pride festivals and other queer events, and even impact actors performing in drag for theatre shows.

A key sponsor of the bill, Senator Gary Stubblefield, stated that drag shows are “destroying these kids’ innocence”. Despite vocal pushback from LGBTIQ+ activists, the bill is expected to pass as both chambers of government in Arkansas have a Republican majority.

According to activists, anti-drag legislation shares the common attribute of classifying drag shows as adult or sexualised in nature. “This part of a broader rise in political rhetoric about drag performances,” said Kate Ruane, director of US free expression programs at Pen America.

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“We’ve seen a growing number of protests, and now we’re seeing a policy push to prevent this kind of expression,” Ruane added. “But what these bills say and what they do is very different from the public conversation surrounding them.”

Most of the proposed bills include defining a drag performer as someone performing while using dress, makeup and mannerisms associated with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth

“These attacks on drag shows and performers strike at the heart of our rights to gather, read and perform together”, Pen said in a statement. “Drag shows are an exercise of artistic and creative expression that should be free from government suppression.”

Ten bills propose to expand the definition of adult or sexually oriented businesses to include any establishment that hosts drag performances – locations that would then fall under common zoning provisions that prohibit adult businesses from being located in the vicinity of schools or residential areas.

Nine include lip-synching within their definitions, and most that the person must be performing for an audience; six explicitly ban minors from viewing or participating in drag performances; and four explicitly ban drag performances at schools or public libraries and other spaces.

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