A man holds up a sign questioning if religious uniforms fall under the same definition as the clothing drag performers wear in Phoenix during a protest of anti-drag bills on Jan. 22, 2023. The definitions included in the bills, which seek to target drag performers who often use clothing perceived as belonging to the opposite sex, have been criticized as being too broad. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Undeterred by the threat of vetoes, Arizona Republicans advanced a trio of anti-LGBTQ bills on Monday, defending them as a protection against immorality.
“We need to turn the moral compass of this country back in the right direction,” said Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, shortly before the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to two bills that originally criminalized drag shows.
Senate Bill 1028 and Senate Bill 1030 were approved in quick succession and await a formal vote by the full House before being sent to Gov. Katie Hobbs. Both proposals were authored by Glendale Republican Anthony Kern, a member of the legislature’s far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus who, in previous debates, called drag shows evil and accused performers in family-friendly events of pedophilia.
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SB1028 bars adult cabaret performances, such as strip shows, from being held on public property or anywhere a minor may view them, punishing violations with up to a class 6 felony, while SB1030 mandates that city zoning officials issue permits and zoning regulations for establishments that conduct sexually explicit performances — which is already allowed under state law, but not required.
Initially, both measures focused on including drag shows in the list of entities, alongside porn shops and strip clubs, that warranted regulating and criminalizing, but the bills were later scrubbed of any mention of drag shows. But the intent remains the same, which Kern has acknowledged, as he has continued to reference drag performances when explaining their purpose to fellow lawmakers.
On Monday, Democrats called the proposals unnecessary and likely unenforceable.
“At a time when our state is facing a severe water shortage and an acute housing crisis, it is rather bizarre that the majority is choosing instead to focus on regulating adult cabaret performances,” said Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, D-Laveen. “It is already illegal to bring underage minors to adult entertainment venues.”
State law punishes allowing minors into any business that hosts shows that include nudity with a class 6 felony. And knowingly engaging in a sexual act when a minor is present is a class 5 felony, with multiple violations leading to at least a six-year prison sentence.
Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, D-Tucson, warned that the definitions in the bills are too vague. Both bills include definitions of sexually explicit as having the intent to “arouse or satisfy the sexual desires or appeal to the prurient interest.”
“How does one prove intent?” Gutierrez asked. “Criminalizing an action that is unclearly defined…is irresponsible.”
Anti-trans bathroom bill advances
Also given an informal OK on Monday was Senate Bill 1040, which forces schools to provide separate bathroom, shower and locker room accommodations for trans students or else risk lawsuits from uncomfortable peers. The proposal, along with the anti-drag bills, are almost certain to fall to Hobbs’ veto stamp, who has vowed to reject any bills that target the LGBTQ community.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, has pushed some version of a bathroom ban bill since 2013, and has repeatedly touted this year’s iteration as a compromise between accepting the gender identity of trans students and preserving the “natural” personal modesty of their classmates.
That sentiment was echoed on Monday by Republican lawmakers who repeatedly dismissed transgender girls and women as biological males, arguing that biological females shouldn’t be “forced” to share facilities with them.
“Women and girls exist, and they do not deserve to have their spaces taken up by biological males,” said Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa.
Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, denied that the bill attacks transgender students, saying that it’s actually meant to protect non-trans students.
“Is the convenience of a few extra steps to a different restroom too much to ask for safety and the privacy of school girls?” she asked.
There is no evidence to suggest that inclusive bathroom policies lead to incidents of violence from trans people. But there is ample evidence showing that trans people face a much higher likelihood than cisgender people to experience rape or assault — and that risk spikes for trans students who attend schools with hostile bathroom policies.
Democrats pushed back on anti-trans rhetoric from Republicans, denouncing the proposal as discriminatory and harmful for trans youth listening across Arizona.
“The fact is that this bill stigmatizes transgender students and will put trans students in harm’s way,” said Gutierrez. “This is a discriminating and (segregating) law.”
Gutierrez added that the concern in the bill is a nonissue. In her decade-long career as a teacher, with an office in the gym, she’s never had a student voice concerns about sharing a locker room with trans classmates.
Rep. Patricia Contreras, D-Phoenix, the co-chair of the legislature’s LGBTQ caucus and a lesbian, criticized the GOP for potentially contributing to suicide rates while advertising itself as the pro-life party. Trans and nonbinary youth contemplate suicide at disproportionately high rates, and surveys show that anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric — which have been at record highs in recent years — worsen those rates.
Minority Leader Andrés Cano, who is openly gay, excoriated Republicans for dismissing that danger.
“I have to ask this body if we are at all concerned that more than 50% of transgender and nonbinary youth in our country considered suicide this year? Are we going to just look the other way when we advance bills like Senate Bill 1040 that cause harm?” he asked.
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