Arkansas

The Arkansas Senate approved restrictions on drag shows; heading for the house

 

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) — The Arkansas Senate on Tuesday approved legislation restricting drag show venues to classify them the same as strip clubs and adult theaters, despite criticism that the move was too broad and discriminated against LGBT people. -community.

The Republican Senate passed the bill by a majority vote of 29 to 6 along party lines, with all six Democrats in the House opposed. The measure, which also bans drag shows in public places, now goes to the Republican majority house. The bill, if passed, could make Arkansas the first state to place such restrictions on drag shows as they face increased scrutiny from Republican lawmakers and groups.

“It seems to me that you are trying to target the backs of people who you think are not normal,” Democratic Senator Stephanie Flowers told the bill’s sponsor ahead of the vote.

Transvestite hours, in which transvestites read books to children, and other events involving drag queens have sparked protests from right-wing activists who see them as harmful to children. At least 20 bills have been introduced in nine states this year to ban or restrict drag shows, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“If you need your kid to be entertained by a big man in a suit, take him to a circus or something,” Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield, the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate ahead of the vote. “For me, this puts our children in situations that violate their personal boundaries.”

The Arkansas proposal would classify venues hosting drag shows as adult-oriented businesses and prohibit them from being held within 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) of churches, schools, parks, and libraries.

The bill defines a drag show as a person who sings, lip-syncs, dances, or performs in front of an audience of at least two people while demonstrating a gender identity that is different from their birth sex. According to the bill, drag performers “use clothing, cosmetics, or other accessories traditionally worn by contestants and designed to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer’s opposite sex.”

It also defines drag shows as meant to appeal to “lascivious” interests, a term that is not defined in the bill.

Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not say if she would sign the bill if it hit her desk. But a former White House press secretary said she would support legislation modeled after a Florida law that would ban teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Critics called the measure the “Don’t Say Gay” law and said the ban marginalized LGBTQ people.

“Governor Sanders believes we should protect and educate children, not indoctrinate them,” Alexa Henning, Sanders’ spokeswoman, said when asked about the bill. “It’s time to let kids be kids again.”

The bill is among dozens of restrictions targeting LGBTQ people that have already been placed in public buildings across the country this year.

The bill is advancing while a federal judge is still considering whether to repeal a 2021 Arkansas law he temporarily blocked that would ban sex-proven juvenile health care. Arkansas was the first state to implement such a ban.

Critics say the bill is so broadly worded that it will apply to people in their own homes, especially transgender people. They also wondered if the restrictions would apply to theatrical productions in which actors or actresses portray members of the opposite sex.

The bill was for equality for Northwest Arkansas, which annually organizes the state’s largest pride parade and festival in Fayetteville. Steve Harrelson, the group’s operations manager, said it was unclear if the bill would go beyond events and ban people in clothes from even attending.

“It creates a community,” Harrelson said. “It’s not the terrible thing people imagine.”

One Democratic MP called the restriction unconstitutional and noted that the state does not classify restaurants like Hooters or Twin Peaks, which have waiters in skimpy outfits, as adult businesses.

“The truth is, this bill is not about governance,” Democratic Senator Clark Tucker said. “It’s about bullying.”

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