Republican state lawmakers want to shield children by closing the curtains on drag performances.
Legislation moving through several GOP-controlled capitols would ban the gender-diverse shows in front of young people — including at schools, colleges, or on public property — sparking a furious response from the LGBTQ community and civil liberties groups.
“We’re just trying to keep minors away from sexually explicit material,” Arkansas Republican state Rep. Mary Bentley told her fellow lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday about a bill she’s co-sponsoring to prohibit children from watching drag shows that might affect student performances. Many drag shows do not contain sexually explicit content, especially when performers — who often wear more clothing — are entertaining in spaces where children may be present.
“We’re not trying to be anti-anybody, anti-trans, anti-anything, we’re just trying to protect our kids,” said Bentley, who acknowledged at the hearing that schools expressed concerns that student performances might be targeted if costumes had exaggerated anatomical features or had certain types of singing and dancing. “We’re not trying to stop plays. We’re not trying to stop Peter Pan, or Tootsie, or any of those things.”
Drag show restrictions have become a leading cultural issue during this year’s legislative sessions for the right and prominent Republicans like Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is set to deliver her party’s response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Lawmakers in at least eight states — including Arizona, South Carolina and Texas — introduced measures to block children from drag shows at the start of this year, according to PEN America, a free speech advocacy group. Many of the measures would subject educators, business owners, performers and parents to criminal prosecution and professional sanctions for allowing children to view performances, many of which have been the focus of recent armed demonstrations.
Drag performers are not a regular presence at school events, despite GOP uproar. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, reportedly petitioned the state school board association for help this week after middle school students attended an event that featured a drag performance.
The bills often seek to categorize drag shows the same way as explicit adult entertainment, and sometimes include language saying restrictions only apply to “prurient” exhibitions with erotic intentions, or include nudity or explicit material. Several proposals would prohibit drag performances or appearances in schools, while other bills further regulate shows on public property and in private businesses.
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