PHOENIX — Republicans in the Arizona Senate are targeting “drag story hour’’ and other drag performances that have drawn the ire of conservatives, with the sponsor of a proposal banning certain shows before children or in government buildings calling it a case of “good versus evil.’’
But Sen. Anthony Kern’s bill drew strong opposition Thursday from performers and transgender women who called the legislation an attack targeting the LGBTQ community, poorly written and overly broad. And Democrats on the Judiciary Committee also objected to the measure, SB1028, saying it needlessly calls out drag shows when it should just target behavior that is already illegal, such as nudity in front of children.
The proposal, approved by the committee on a party-line vote, is one of several introduced in the GOP-controlled Senate aimed at criminalizing some performances featuring men dressed as women or transgender women. It makes it a high-level misdemeanor to perform drag shows in public buildings or before kids if the performance meets the definition of appealing to “prurient interest.’’
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A second conviction would be a felony carrying a year in state prison.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the legal definition of what SB1028 would make a crime is aimed only at acts that are “lustful, lascivious, erotic, shameful or morbid interest in sexual conduct, sexually explicit nudity, sadomasochistic sexual abuse, or etc., etc.’’
“Use your imagination,’’ he said. “And if anybody has a problem with that, I would really like to hear why.’’
Kavanagh also said he doesn’t think government property “should be used to promote pornographic performances.’’
But SB1028 isn’t limited to government buildings. It also bars — and makes it a crime — to have such a performance in any business where it “could be viewed by a minor.’’
Kavanagh, Kern and other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said the measure is needed to protect children. They said they don’t have anything against transgender people or drag shows.
Critics call it ‘unhinged,’ bigoted
But opponents say the bill proves them wrong.
“SB1028 is bigotry in its purest form, petty, ugly, irrational,’’ said Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.
“It will ban public performances and expressions that have been part of the human society since its inception,’’ she said. “Let’s call this what it is: an unhinged attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life.’’
Richard Stevens, who testified that he was a full-time drag performer, said he grew up in Arizona in the 1990s when LGBTQ people were marginalized and did not appear in the media or in government. He said he worries that the law will further stigmatize adults and children alike.
“So when I hear things like this, it takes me back to that,’’ Stevens told lawmakers.
“That is my concern is kids hearing that LGBTQ people, drag performers, gender fluid people are pedophiles,’’ he said. “That’s hurtful. It puts a target on their back and it’s dangerous.’’
But there was support from others who testified Thursday, including Susan Cheatham, who said the bill is needed to protect children from being exposed to drag shows.
Supporters say it’s to protect children
“It’s time to stop the indoctrination of our children with the drag queen shows,” Cheatham said.
“I am so done with the twisting of the words,’’ she said, saying it is not an LGBTQ issue. “It’s an issue of protecting the children.’’
Another supporter of the measure, who identified herself as Michelle Altair, acknowledged the bill stands no chance of being signed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who has said she will veto legislation that furthers the “culture wars’’ that have gotten so much attention from GOP lawmakers. That includes a bill enacted last year and signed by Republican then-Gov. Doug Ducey that bans transgender girls from playing on the sports team of the sex they identify with.
Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, said she personally has enjoyed attending drag show performances and had a great time.
“But what I do have a problem with is when they go into the public libraries or into the schools,’’ Wadsack said, describing events she said mimic strip shows performed before kids.
“A 5-year-old does not need to be going up to a dag queen and putting dollar bills in their G-string,” Wadsack said.
Kern, in closing the debate, repeated that he has nothing against drag shows or drag performers. But he said children are being targeted and it is “evil against good, it is good versus evil.’’
“And we’ve got to push back on the evil,’’ Kern said.
“The reason why we are singling out drag performances is because that’s what’s happening,’’ he said. “There are drag performances out there that are targeting children. And it needs to stop and I will do everything I can to stop it.’’