Senate committee approves limitations on drag shows

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 5:30 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 9:31 AM CST
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - An Arkansas Senate committee has given the greenlight to a bill that would put the brakes on drag performances in the state.

On Thursday, Jan. 19, the State Senate City, County, and Local Affairs Committee recommended a “Do Pass” on Senate Bill 43.

The bill need heads to the state senate for a vote. If passed, it would classify a drag show as adult entertainment inside an adult-oriented business, where anyone under 18 could not watch.

Sponsors of the bill, like Senator Gary Stubblefield, said this needs to happen to protect children.

“It’s destroying some of these kids’ innocence,” he said. “They are no longer kids they are they are seeing things they should not be seeing.”

Stubblefield said there are things children should not see until a certain age, and he believes that drag shows are one.

“We don’t let our kids have tattoos, no matter where you’re at or who the parents are, you don’t let them go into a bar, you don’t let them go into the casino,” he said. “I can list a number of things we don’t let little kids do because they are kids.”

Rebekah Pruitt, treasurer for NEA Progress, is one person who does not understand some of the bill, such as the following excerpt:

“Drag performance means a performance in which one or more performers exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth.”

Arkansas Senate Bill 43

“The law is so vague. Does that mean a woman can’t wear pants or sneakers on stage if it goes with their character,” Pruitt said. “It’s kind of this weird situation, whereas a theatre kid or even as an entertainer what can, but we can’t wear on stage.”

Several Arkansas pro-equality groups, including the ACLU of Arkansas, made a statement on the filing, saying the following:

“Laws like SB43 are a red herring and more broadly attempt to erase LGBTQ people from public life by forcing gender norms onto private businesses and individuals. These laws are fueled by the same paranoia banning books from our libraries and censoring teachers for treating all their students the same. But this bill is even more extreme, defining drag performers simply as people who “exhibit a gender identity” different from their gender assigned at birth and “perform” for two or more people.

Fear-mongering interest groups continue their absurdly false and extremely harmful rhetoric conflating transgender people and other LGBTQ people with pedophiles. And these laws have a long history of hurtfully and needlessly criminalizing LGBTQ people, giving police permission to raid bars like Stonewall and arrest trans women simply for existing in public. These bills further endanger people who are transgender and gender-nonconforming and other LGBTQ people who already face significant harassment and discrimination simply for being who they are. Placing the power to decide what’s “appropriate” in the hands of politicians influenced by their own special interests is a slippery slope.

Fortunately, the First Amendment protects us from government limits on our freedom of expression, including how we express our gender. Arkansas families have a First Amendment right to attend these events and performers and business owners have a right to offer them. Drag is a form of creative expression like any other. And transgender people have a right to live and participate in public life.

As organizations that strive to advance equality in Arkansas, we denounce this first anti-LGBTQ bill of the session and all others like it, and we call on all other Arkansans to do the same. Arkansas should be a place that provides equal opportunities for all people and protects all people’s civil rights. We will fight until it is.

Contact your legislators today and remind them that they serve all the people of Arkansas.”

With a large republican majority in the Arkansas Senate, House sponsors are confident about the bill being passed.