Heated debate over anti-drag bill banning performances from public places

The anti-drag bill proposed by Republicans passed through the Arizona Senate judiciary committee along party lines.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 6:42 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A proposed bill regulating and limiting drag performances is moving forward in the legislature. Senate Bill 1028 defines drag performances in Arizona as “adult cabaret.”

Republican Sen. Anthony Kern, representing the City of Glendale, wants to ensure that no drag performances happen within a quarter mile of a daycare center, school, playground, park, house or church. Critics at the capitol on Thursday called it unfair, explaining it targets drag queens who could be performing in areas where kids could just be passing by.

“I will show you the absolute debauchery and evil behind this. We have to protect the children,” said Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, a member of the Arizona Freedom Caucus. In the meeting, Republican lawmakers described drag queen performances as evil and pornographic. “It’s not R-rated, it’s X-rated entertainment,” said Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

Those part of the LGBTQ+ community feel SB1028 is unreasonably targeting performers. Jessica Harper is a transgender woman working as a DJ. She feels this new legislation is an attack on her existence. “This bill is so vaguely written it would effectively make it illegal for me to exist as a transwoman, let alone, DJ anywhere but a strip club,” she said.

Growing up in Scottsdale, she feels there is a certain hypocrisy, stating there are people who allowed their children to watch Victoria Secret fashion shows, yet depict members in her community as sexual beings. “If you’re going to go around accusing our culture of being inherently sexual, I highly recommend you get your heterosexual house in order first,” she said during the hearing.

She has seen the LGBTQ+ community in the Valley grow but says some people feel they’ve flown too close to the sun. “I think we’re just really uncovering the root of the insecurities of the average American person,” Harper said. “Phoenix has a really flourishing drag presence and I see that as a really awesome thing, like any art form that grows, you get so many different variants.”

She tells Arizona’s Family the proposed bill is just the beginning of a hard fight. “Its like in a video game, when you get to the higher level bosses, things do get harder and that is OK,” Harper said.

Richard Stevens is a prominent figure in the Arizona drag community who doesn’t agree with the bill. “There’s been a lot of people speaking to the vagueness of the bill, the danger of the bill, the ambiguity, and how open to interpretation it is and how sort of dangers that could be,” he said. “There are countless drag shows almost every night of the week and drag brunches have become a popular thing. There are maybe 10 to 15 brunches a week nowadays.”

Critics spoke before the State Senate Judiciary Committee to explain they felt other big events in the Valley would be affected, including the pride parade or even concerts from certain artists like Lil Nas X, who they say dresses as a woman as part of his show. They asked if parents would then face a misdemeanor if they took their child to the concert. Senators explained that was not in the bill’s text. “I don’t care if it’s a parade or a book reading, or a play, or whatever. If you are doing sexually explicit or perverse acts in front of children, then it needs to be criminalized and needs to be stopped,” said Sen. Kern.

If someone violated this law, they’d face a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Governor Hobbs was asked about the proposed bill on Thursday and said it is something she will veto.