Republicans in Arizona are following the lead of lawmakers in Florida and Texas in opening a new front in America’s culture war, proposing laws banning children from attending drag shows.
GOP leaders in the Arizona Legislature sent out a highly worded press release on Tuesday announcing work on such a bill. They have criticized drag shows – in which people perform, sing or dance on stage, most often wearing extravagant makeup and dressed in flamboyant clothing of the opposite sex – as a dangerous “perversion” for children.
“We will be damned if we don’t fight like mad to protect the most innocent from these horrifying and disturbing trends” propagated by “extremist democrats“, according to the leaders’ statement. He also criticized “non-discrimination” policies regarding gender expression and sexual orientation, saying they lead to a societal decline in “morals and values”.
Republican lawmakers in Arizona have already passed two bills this year that have been heavily criticized by LGBTQ activists, including a ban on genital reassignment surgery up to age 18 and transgender youth in competitive school sports.
The statement referenced the recent June 3 Native Drag Night at the Heard Museum and a planned drag show at a high school in the Tucson Unified School District.
Sen. Vince Leach, R-SaddleBrooke, said the strong tone of the statement came from him and that he was angry at the events he says are hurting children.
“When you have a drag queen sitting on the steps with her… crotch wide open and little kids sticking dollar bills in her g-belt, that’s a problem with me,” Leach said.
Photos and video of a recent daytime drag show at a Dallas gay bar were widely shared by conservatives on social media following a protest against the event, though the images do not represent what Leach described. The event was billed as “family friendly,” and the children appear to be there with their parents as they hand out dollar bills to drag queens near a neon sign that reads, “It’s not okay lick.”
Leach isn’t sure how the bill would define a “drag show” or whether it would go as far as the bans proposed this month by lawmakers in Texas and Florida, which would penalize parents. The proposal would aim to protect children “like we do with X-rated movies, like we do with strip joints and like we do with bars,” he said.
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In addition to Leach, Senate Speaker pro tempore, Senate Speaker Karen Fann and three other senators — Sonny Borrelli, David Gowan and Rick Gray — listed their names on the press release. Leach said they hope to introduce a bill this session, but he doesn’t know if all Republican lawmakers will support it.
Republicans have a one-person majority in both the House and the Senate, which means the bill would need unanimous support from all Republicans to pass, as no Democrat would likely vote for it.
Democrats: “dangerous and wrong” proposal
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said it’s “dangerous and wrong” to link the drag show proposal to alleged “perversion” of LGBTQ people and anti-discrimination ordinances.
“As one of only four openly gay members of the Legislative Assembly, this is of great concern,” he said. “They are attacking a community that is already marginalized.”
The potential drag show bill follows statements by Vice President Kamala Harris over the weekend linking the violence to laws that target the LGBTQ community and an incident on Saturday in which a group of “Proud Boys “self-proclaimed drag queen story disrupted at a Bay Area library-reading event.
It also comes after concerns about a conservative activist in Arizona who said last month he would “chase” LGBTQ supporters from Target stores in metro Phoenix.
Hernandez called the proposal a “trick” intended to distract the public from the fact that the GOP-dominated Legislature has yet to approve the state budget by the June 30 deadline.
The proposal may encounter other obstacles. A law that seeks to ban underage drag shows would be “almost certainly unconstitutional,” said Gregg Leslie, an attorney and executive director of the First Amendment Clinic at Arizona State University.
It is “strange” to imagine how the bill would be drafted, he said.
Typical drag shows involve attire that is no more revealing “than a child would see at the pool or the beach,” but nudity has long been one of the dividing lines in relative law. to public indecency, Leslie said.
A ban – even for minors – where there is no nudity or sexually explicit material would be “problematic”, he said.
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