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Arkansas moves forward on criminalizing drag shows

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A bill in Arkansas that reclassifies “drag performance” as adult-oriented entertainment has been approved by Republicans in the state Senate and will now move to the House for consideration.

SB 43, introduced by Republican state Sen. Gary Stubblefield, would outlaw drag performances on public property or “where a minor can view” them. The full Senate passed the measure along party lines, 29 to 6.

Drag shows would join adult theaters, cabarets and nude modeling studios on the list of adult-oriented businesses in the state.

Language in the bill is sweeping.

Under the measure, a “drag performance” is defined as one in which an individual exhibits a gender identity that is different from their sex assigned at birth “using clothing, makeup, or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members of and are meant to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer’s opposite sex.”

A “drag performer” is defined as an individual who lip-syncs, dances or otherwise performs for an audience of at least two people in an act that is “intended to appeal to the prurient interest.” Prurient, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to individuals “having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters.”

Before Tuesday’s vote, Stubblefield said the measure is about “protecting children” from obscene or sexually explicit content, and he advised his colleagues to ask themselves “if God would approve” of drag queens.

“I can’t think of anything good that can come from taking children and putting them in front of a bunch of grown men who are dressed like women,” Stubblefield added, referring to drag queen story hours.

Trans activist and researcher Erin Reed points out the sweeping language in the bill could “ban all trans people performing, doing karaoke, making a dirty joke” in front of an audience of two or more people.

A transgender activist in the UK cited academic lectures as another potential target of the law. “So I think it’s illegal for me to give a talk at a university in Arkansas now?” tweeted LGBTQ+ advocate Katy Montgomerie.

Arkansas joins multiple states looking to sweep drag queens and trans individuals from public view.

In Tennessee, a proposed bill would add “male and female impersonators” to a list of businesses and performers prohibited from being viewed by a minor and from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks or places of worship.

In Oklahoma, lawmakers want to criminalize individuals who adopt “a flamboyant or parodic feminine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup” and charge them with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Two bills in West Virginia would make it illegal to subject a minor to “transgender exposure” and “patently offensive” material.

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