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. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a slew of bills aimed at criminalizing and restricting drag performances Friday.
“Intolerance has no place in Arizona, despite the legislature’s frequent attempts to pass legislation that says otherwise,” Hobbs said in her veto letter for the four bills. “[The bills] are attempts to criminalize free expression and ostracize the LGBTQIA+ community both implicitly and explicitly, creating statutory language that could be weaponized by those who choose hate over acceptance.”
Two of the vetoed bills were authored by Sen. 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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Kern’s Senate Bill 1028 bars adult cabaret performances, such as strip shows, from being held on public property or anywhere within the view of a minor, making it punishable with violations up to a class 6 felony. The Republican lawmaker’s other bill, Senate Bill 1030, mandated that city zoning officials issue permits and zoning regulations for establishments which conduct sexually explicit performances, something already permitted under state law, but not required.
First drafts of both bills explicitly mentioned drag shows in the list of entities that would be regulated and criminalized, but later all mentions of drag shows and performers were removed. Kern would acknowledge, however, that the intent would remain the same, continuing to reference drag performers when explaining the purpose of the bills to fellow lawmakers.
Senate Bill 1698 by Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, which would force any adult to register as a sex offender if they allow a minor to view or even be in the same building as a sexually explicit performance, as well as punish them with a class 4 felony, was vetoed as well.
Legislative attorneys expressed their concerns to lawmakers over the vague language in the bill and how it could criminalize adults who were unaware of a sexually explicit performance occurring elsewhere in a building. If the child is younger than 15, the penalty would have carried a 10-year prison sentence.
Much like with Kern’s bills, drag shows were included in the original draft of the bill but were dropped after backlash over the broad definition and concerns it could loop in dance teachers.
State law already prohibits taking minors into adult-oriented businesses like porn shops or strip clubs, punishes exposing them to harmful materials with a class 4 felony and classifies an act of public sexual indecency in the presence of a minor as a class 5 felony.
After the bill was amended, Republicans began framing it as a proposal to protect children, stating that removing the reference to drag shows meant it no longer singled out the LGBTQ+ community.
The only vetoed bill that kept drag shows in its definitions was Senate Bill 1026 by Fountain Hills Republican John Kavanagh.
Kavanagh’s bill threatened school funding by prohibiting organizations that receive state tax dollars from hosting a drag show to entertain people under 18 — or else forgo spending or receiving state funds for three years.
Kavanagh previously told the Mirror that he drafted SB1026 after watching television reports of drag shows in which sex acts were simulated.
Kavanagh’s bill defines a drag show as a performance by one or more people who dress in clothing or wear makeup opposite of the performer’s biological sex to “exaggerate gender signifiers and roles” and sing, dance or act. The lawmaker in interviews and debates dismissed concerns that his definition is broad enough to include football players who dress up as cheerleaders for pep rallies or satirical school Shakespeare plays.
His bill did not specifically address sexually explicit content.
Hobbs had already vowed to reject any anti-LGBTQ measures that made it to the Ninth Floor and her veto letter continued to make that position clear.
“I have made it abundantly clear that I am committed to building an Arizona for everyone and will not support any legislation that attempts to marginalize our fellow Arizonans,” Hobbs said, ending her letter.
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