Arizona Republicans say their anti-drag show bills don’t target drag shows
A drag artist performs on the stage at Phoenix Pride Festival 2011. Photo by Devon Christopher Adams (modified) | Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0
Arizona GOP lawmakers are continuing to promote legislation targeting drag shows, while insisting that their proposals aren’t actually about drag shows at all.
During a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday, Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said that the descriptions of Senate Bill 1698 that he read from the “liberal media” were much different than his interpretation of the bill.
“Where are the drag queens?” Kolodin asked. “All this bill does is prohibit parents from taking their kids to a strip club or sex show.”
Kolodin failed to mention that the bill previously included multiple references to drag shows, but that the term was removed from the bill on March 2 when the Senate debated the bill.
“Let’s not pretend that this is something the liberal media made up,” retorted Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix.
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In the bill’s original form, it added “drag shows or establishments that host drag shows” to the state’s definition of adult-oriented businesses and included a detailed description of what its authors considered a drag show. The Senate amendment replaced “drag shows” with “sexually explicit performances,” which the bill defines as having “the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires or appeal to the prurient interest.”
In its current form, SB1698 would mean a felony charge and possible sex offender status for parents who allow their children to watch adult-oriented performances or allow them to be in a building where an adult-oriented performance is happening.
Ortiz accused some of the Republicans on the committee of spreading misinformation that makes it seem as though it’s not already illegal to take a minor to a strip club.
State law has long said that it is a felony in Arizona to take a child to a strip club or a sex show. It’s also illegal for a strip club to allow a minor inside.
Critics of the bill, like Lisa Bivens of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said that the vagueness of the proposed law was problematic, since proving a performer’s intent to appeal to prurient interests would sometimes be difficult for a parent to know beforehand or to prove in court afterward.
And the legislation could have unintended consequences, Bivens said, pointing out that a parent could unknowingly take their child to an art show that contains nudity or partial nudity and then be charged with a felony for doing so.
Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for the ACLU, said that the proposal was a way for the legislators to substitute their own puritanical values for those of parents. And in doing so, they’d be limiting performers’ First Amendment rights to expression, she said.
Ari Bradshaw, a conservative activist, said that he supported the bill, but believes there should be an exception for art.
“I don’t think anyone here wants to see any child sexualized,” he said.
Rep. Cory McGarr, R-Marana, said the bill shouldn’t be necessary, but American culture is pushing “hypersexualized material” on children.
“You don’t have a First Amendment right to take a child to a strip club,” he said, ignoring the existing laws making that illegal.
The Judiciary Committee approved the bill 5-3 along party lines. It will next go to the full House of Representatives for consideration.
Also on Wednesday, the House Government Committee approved Senate Bill 1026, which would prohibit any entity that receives government funding from hosting drag events aimed at minors, even if the event is privately funded. Entities that violate the law would risk losing state funding for three years.
“In my opinion, drag shows are for adults,” said Tucson Republican Rep. Rachel Jones, who voted for the bill.
This bill is part of a movement from conservatives across the nation to target events like drag queen story hours, which are typically meant to be family-friendly and LGBTQ-inclusive events to promote childhood literacy.
In February, a drag queen story hour scheduled at the LGBTQ-friendly Brick Road Coffee in Tempe was temporarily halted after a bomb threat.
And a drag story hour scheduled for March 25 at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Tucson has been postponed and relocated after the event was targeted by a church, as well as a local chapter of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, according to a statement from Bookmans. Targeting from those groups “raised the specter of potential violence,” making the event unfeasible, Bookmans said in the statement.
If people want to live a certain lifestyle, said Goodyear Republican Rep. Steve Montenegro, that’s their own business — but he doesn’t want public tax money going to indoctrinate children or advocate for that lifestyle.
Republican Sen. John Kavanagh, of Fountain Hills, argued against claims from some detractors that the bill would stop schools and libraries from hosting some performances of Shakespearean plays.
“Shakespeare is not drag,” Kavanagh said. “That’s just not true.”
When William Shakespeare was alive and publishing plays, women were not allowed to perform on stage, so the female characters were played by men dressed as women. Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” features a cross-dressing heroine.
Kavanagh also said that claims that this bill would outlaw any transgender person from reading to children were “outrageous.”
“Somebody who’s a transgender person who’s just reading like a regular person is not doing a drag show,” Kavanagh said.
The bill’s language describes a drag show as featuring performers who dress in clothes opposite of their gender at birth to “exaggerate gender signifiers and roles.”
Kavanagh added that parents were free to take their kids to drag shows if they want, but that they should be ashamed to do so.
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