FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Republican lawmakers in Kentucky advanced a bill Friday to put limits on drag shows, limiting a free Senate debate as supporters promoted it as a measure to protect children and opponents called it an unconstitutional attack aimed at LGBTQ people. groups.
The measure won passage of the Senate by a vote of 26-6 after a lengthy debate that led to some exchanges of eyebrows in the buttoned-up chamber.
The main sponsor of the project was asked if he had ever attended a drag show and then if he found it “sexually exciting”. Republican Senator Lindsey Tichenor replied that she had attended a drag show in Kentucky. The last question — from a Democratic opponent of the bill — was deemed out of order after a Senate GOP leader called it “beyond the bounds of decorum.”
The measure heads to the House with just days left in this year’s 30-day legislative session. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.
The culture war proposal prohibits drag shows on public property or in places where they could be seen by children.
“The intent of this legislation is to limit these types of adult entertainment to adults,” Tichenor said.
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg borrowed a libertarian theme to oppose the bill: “Don’t step on me.”
For LGBTQ groups, “drag is a form of self-expression that you don’t have to understand, you don’t have to appreciate, you don’t have to like and you don’t have to attend,” he said.
Across the country, conservative activists and politicians complain that drags contribute to the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. The Tennessee Legislature recently passed a bill banning public drag shows, classifying them as adult cabarets, including topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers. Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed the bill into law.
The Kentucky bill targets drag shows by saying that adult shows include a live performance involving male or female impersonators that “appeals to an itchy interest in sexual behavior” and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value “. Drag, however, does not typically involve nudity or stripping, which are more common in the separate art of burlesque.
Violations under Kentucky’s proposal – Senate Bill 115 – would be punishable as misdemeanors for the first two offenses, but would result in a felony for subsequent offenses. Businesses hosting such shows could have their alcohol and business licenses suspended or revoked.
Tichenor acknowledged that there is a long history of male and female impersonators, and specifically pointed to Robin Williams’ “masterful performance” in drag in “Mrs. Doubtful Fire.”
“This bill is in no way addressing these types of benefits,” said the senator.
The project is in response to performances that were once limited to the adult public, but “are now presented to the general public as suitable for all ages under the guise of inclusiveness,” he said. She said she has heard from people who say their families have encountered such spectacles in public places.
“These benefits were never a problem until they made their way into the public sector,” Tichenor said.
Opponents said the bill violated constitutional protections and targeted the LGBTQ community. Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong said First Amendment protections extend to the “expressive choices we make,” including the clothes we wear and “the way we choose to present ourselves to the world.” That includes “choosing to dress in drag,” he said.
There are many existing laws, including indecent exposure, to deal with sexually explicit activity in public places, he said. The bill instead sends a message of “hate and fear and discrimination to a group of Kentuckians who deserve equal protection and equal dignity under our laws,” he said.
Supporters of the project say that the focus is on protecting children from exposure to adult entertainment.
“What is hateful about keeping children away from adult sexual performances?” Tichenor said.
The project attracted the support of social conservatives. David Walls, executive director of the Family Foundation, on Friday called it “a bill for the family.”
It brought condemnation from gay rights activists and drag supporters. Opponents chanted “shame” when the bill was recently approved by a Senate committee.
“This bill not only compromises or asks me to explain my humanity, it also calls into question my livelihood,” Poly Tics told the GOP-led Senate committee.