The proposed legislation, which would limit the places where drag speeches can take place, will go to the Arkansas House of Representatives after passing by the Senate in a party-line vote Tuesday.
Senate Bill 43 defines “drag performance” as at least one person “demonstrating (demonstrating) a gender identity that differs from the sex of the performer assigned at birth through clothing, makeup, or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members and are intended to exaggerate the gender identity of a performer of the opposite sex, or sing, dance, sing along or perform in front of an audience in other ways.
The bill classifies drag performance as an adult business, similar to pornography, strip clubs, and other sexually explicit material and activities.
Supporters of the bill said it would protect children from sexual material, while opponents said the broad definition of drag and drop poses a risk to transgender and non-binary Arkansas.
All 29 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Gary Stubblefield of the chapter. Fifteen fellow senators signed on as co-sponsors. Rep. Mary Bentley, Perryville, is a sponsor of the House; Another 13 representatives signed as co-sponsors in the House.
All six Senate Democrats voted against the bill, and four of them spoke out against it during the nearly hour-long debate leading up to the vote.
“(This bill) will harm children, especially children who are struggling to feel welcome, safe and accepted, and like they belong in Arkansas,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) said. “…I can’t imagine how they feel when they see their Legislature demonize their community and make them feel like they’re somehow a threat to their peers just by being who they are.”
Senate Bill 43 argues that drag is “intended to appeal to lascivious interests,” meaning overtly sexual in nature. It would ban such performances or businesses that take place on public property or in the vicinity of minors, and would restrict these businesses to areas that children do not visit.
Stubblefield told the Senate that he thought “putting kids in front of a bunch of grown men dressed like women” couldn’t have good results.
“I had one (person) who emailed me and said that I hate transvestites and that’s a lie,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone. I hate sin because that’s how I was raised. I think I know what’s wrong in God’s eyes because that’s how I was raised and I believe the Bible, but I don’t hate any transvestites.”
He added that the bill should not interfere with “womanless beauty pageants” common at some fairs, as well as theatrical productions in which actors wear clothes that do not match their birth sex.
Senator Clark Tucker (D-Little Rock) disagreed and said the bill’s vagueness could be aimed at the current production of Tootsie, a musical in which the male protagonist dresses as a woman, at Little Rock’s Robinson Center. He also said the bill could criminalize LGBT Pride events.
“This bill is not about governance,” Tucker said. “This is about intimidation, and if you don’t believe me or disagree, all you have to do is look at the wording in the bill.”
PERFORMANCE AS PROTEST
About 200 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol last week to protest Senate Bill 43. The rally included a performance of “The Seasons of Love” by a group of dozens of people, including drag and transgender artists from Arkansas, as organizers said such a performance could be made in the near future. illegal.
Similarly, transgender advocacy group Intransitive Arkansas held a total of five flash mobs in Central and Northwest Arkansas on Monday, the day the bill was originally expected to be debated and passed by the Senate. Performances in Little Rock, Conway, Fayetteville, Bentonville, and Springdale were inspired by the movie Free Feet, about a Midwestern city where dancing is banned.
The flashmobs were billed as “Joyful Resistance” and the one in Little Rock again took place on the steps of the Capitol and attracted about 15 people.
“(Legislators) use hate to promote their cause, so we’re here to dance for joy,” Intransitive Advocacy and Resources organizer Thien Estell told reporters before heading to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
More than two dozen people danced near a busy intersection near the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville on Monday morning before the tour moved to Shiloh Square in Springdale.
“I think the Arkansas State Legislature has the misconception that Arkansans generally disagree with queer people, and I think it’s all in their heads,” said Intransitive Development Coordinator Maximiliano Calabotta, who led the speech. in Fayetteville. “There are so many LGBTQ people in Arkansas and there are so many allies in Arkansas… We are here and many of us are queer and we are not going anywhere.”
Monday’s demonstrations show that “there is a better use of our imagination and a better use of the word ‘community’ than organizing a state to demonize a group of people” that gave so much, said dancer and performer Blake Worthy.
“It just seems to me that the SB43 was not designed to protect anyone, in any material form,” Worthy said. “This is bad. The feeling is negative. It doesn’t give life to anyone anymore. It doesn’t make anyone’s life easier. He doesn’t protect anyone at all. It actually opens them up to more violence.”
DEBATES IN THE SENATE
Worthy said Senate Bill 43 likely violated the right to free expression enshrined in the First Amendment. Tucker agreed in his Senate speech, citing his experience as a lawyer, and added that it also violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Leding said he believed Stubblefield’s desire to protect children was sincere, but Senate Bill 43 would fall short of that goal.
“What place do we think Arkansas ranks among kids who have seen drag shows?” he said. “I know we are second in child food insecurity, fifth in child mortality, seventh in child gun deaths and sixteenth in teen suicide.”
Senator Tyler Deese (R-Siloam Springs) said he’s heard from voters about these issues and believes the Legislature “can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
“We have an issue that is a cultural battlefield right now, and our kids are at the forefront,” Dees said.
Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) said he agreed with Stubblefield that the bill is not as restrictive as its opponents claim.
“You can call me intolerant if you want,” Johnson said. “This bill does not say that you cannot dress like a woman. (It says) you can’t sexualize your products.”
Tucker said he was open to discuss “protecting children from undue sexual influence,” citing Hooters and Twin Peaks sports bars.
“There are activities there that are 100% for the lustful interest and there are kids running around, but that is not in this bill,” he said.
Both Tucker and Senate Minority Representative Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) cited Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ goals for her tenure, she said Jan. 10 shortly after being sworn in.
Tucker said he fully supported Sanders’ pledge to veto bills that “strengthen government at the expense of freedom.” Senate Bill 43 does just that, especially because it’s worded vaguely enough to target the behavior of people in private homes, he said.
According to Tucker, Arkansas legislators throughout the state’s history have introduced bills that attempted to dictate life to certain groups, from women to racial minorities to the LGBT community.
“When will we learn from our history?” he said. “We’ve been trying to control other people’s lives for almost 200 years, and where has that gotten us?”
Chesterfield cited Sanders’ goal of allowing parents to choose where their children go to school, no matter where they live. Last week, school choice supporters held a rally at the Capitol where Sanders gave a speech.
“Parents have a choice of where to take their children,” Chesterfield said. “No one forces parents to take their children to see something bad.”
Stubblefield said his colleagues should ask themselves, “Will God approve of this?” when deciding how to vote on Senate Bill 43.
“When I come to this Capitol, I don’t leave my faith outside,” he said. “He stays here with me. In fact, most of my votes are based on what I believe and how I was raised as a Christian.”
At a committee hearing last week, Stubblefield referred to the Bible verse, Deuteronomy 22:5, which calls wearing clothes of the opposite sex “an abomination.”
During Tuesday’s debate, Senator Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) noted Stubblefield’s references to his faith. Deuteronomy is part of the Old Testament, while Christians should pay more attention to the New Testament, Flowers said, referring to her faith.
“The New Testament preaches love for everyone, no matter what,” she said. “It seems to me that you are trying to put a target on the backs of people who, in your opinion, are not normal.”
Senior reporter Antoinette Graheda contributed to the story.
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