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Montana City Could Refuse LGBTQ+ Pride Parade Permit Over Drag Ban

Montana City Could Refuse LGBTQ+ Pride Parade Permit Over Drag Ban

Hate is a drag sign.

The group joined a lawsuit challenging the state’s restriction on drag performances.

The leading organizers of Montana’s largest LGBTQ+ Pride parade in Helena have joined the lawsuit challenging the state’s drag performance ban.

An independent bookstore owner and a transgender woman oppose a Montana law that forbids people in drag from reading to children in schools, libraries, and other public spaces. The group sued city and state officials on July 7 to block the law, NBC News reports.

Additionally, minors are not allowed to attend “sexually oriented or obscene performances on public property,” and such performances are prohibited “on public property where children are present.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the law violates the First Amendment’s free speech protection and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

About 15,000 attendees are expected to attend Montana Pride’s 30th celebration, which takes place from July 30 to August 6. In a lawsuit, organizers of the event claim that the city of Helena refuses to issue permits because of a drag restriction for the same events they hold every year.

“In denying event permits to Montana Pride, Defendant City of Helena intended to suppress and in fact is suppressing Montana Pride’s protected speech, denying it the opportunity to host constitutionally protected events, and denying the audience the opportunity to attend these events,” according to the amended complaint filed Monday, which also names Montana Pride as a plaintiff and Helena as a defendant.

Helena’s public information officer, Jacob Garcin, stated in an email to NBC News that the city has not officially denied permits for Pride. He said a city staff member discussed “all aspects of the application” with Pride organizers last week, including how the drag restriction would affect the event.

“City staff communicated generally that the event will be permitted, with the expectation that it follows the law at the time of the event,” Garcin declared. “Which is the same expectation of any other event. The application is still in the review process.”

As Constance Van Kley, an attorney for the plaintiffs, points out, the city has not yet denied the permits. During the meeting described by Garcin, city officials told Kevin Hamm, the founder of Montana Pride and Happiness & Joy Foundation, that permits would only be issued once the drag restriction was lifted, they say.

“Ultimately, Montana Pride has an absolute right to organize and to participate in celebrating the community, as it has done for decades,” Van Kley said.

Several states have proposed similar restrictions on drag performances this year, and four have signed them into law — Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and Tennessee — but Arkansas’s final version removed drag performances from the list of adult-oriented businesses. A Tennessee restriction was declared unconstitutional last month, while a Florida restriction was temporarily halted.

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