News (USA)

Small town is trying to ban “adult entertainment” to quash drag performances

A drag queen reads a book at a St. John, New Brunswick event
A drag queen reads a book at a St. John, New Brunswick eventPhoto: Shutterstock

The Bartlesville, Oklahoma City Council voted earlier this week to draft a new ordinance banning “adult entertainment” in public parks following outcry over a September Pride event that featured drag performers.

The 4-1 vote Tuesday followed months of debate over the event, sponsored by Oklahomans for Equality Bartlesville (OKEQ) in Unity Square Park. In October, resident Shannon King presented the council with an online petition she’d organized requesting that they take action to determine whether the Pride event “violated any state laws, city ordinances, or city contracts for use of public areas and if so, to take appropriate action.”

“If no laws or ordinances were broken, and no current contracts violated, then I ask you to study this issue and consider a new city ordinance to prohibit adult-oriented activity from happening in our public areas again,” the petition, which reportedly received over 2,000 unverified signatures, read.

City staffers initially worked to negotiate an agreement between King and OKEQ, but negotiations broke down after King withdrew saying she did not believe she had the authority to agree to any terms. OKEQ’s board later voted to withdraw all concessions they had offered relating to the drag performances, saying in a statement that “It would be discriminatory to insist that only our group move our performances inside while others are free to use the public space as they deem necessary.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the city council voted to authorize City Attorney Jess Kane to obtain outside counsel with expertise in constitutional law to assist in drafting potential municipal ordinances that may be both “content neutral,” or which apply to everyone rather than a specific individual or group, and which seek to define and regulate “obscenity” in Bartlesville, according to a release from the City of Bartlesville.

City Manager Mike Bailey had warned that this approach could lead to legal challenges and have unintended consequences. The city’s Parks Board and Unity Square Management Committee had advised that existing laws and regulations already prohibited inappropriate performances in city parks. As the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise reports, the council chose to ignore these warnings. The city council also declined to define “adult entertainment.”

The council also directed city staff to draft a resolution to request that the Oklahoma Legislature review adult entertainment in public places and provide direction.

OKEQ Attorney Joshua Payton called the decision “pandering.”

“It’s obvious they have no clue what they are doing,” he said.

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