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Arkansas Advances Bill Terming Drag Shows 'Adult Entertainment,' Similar to Porn

Arkansas Advances Bill Terming Drag Shows 'Adult Entertainment,' Similar to Porn

Two images: Drag queen on the left with the Arkansas Capitol building on the right

The Arkansas Senate passed the legislation along party lines Tuesday, and it now goes to the House.

The Arkansas Senate has approved a bill that would classify drag shows as adult-oriented businesses and limit the venues where they could be staged.

The chamber Tuesday passed Senate Bill 43 by a party-line vote of 29-6 — Republicans in favor, Democrats opposed — and sent it on to the House, TV station KARK reports.

It would put drag performances in the same category as escort services, nude modeling studios, and theaters that show erotic films.

The legislation would also ban drag shows on public property or anywhere they could be viewed by people under 18. Drag is defined as the use of clothes, makeup, or accessories to present as a different gender than the one the person was assigned at birth, and a performance is classified as singing, dancing, lip-synching, or another type of entertainment for an audience of two or more, in a manner “intended to appeal to the prurient interest.”

The bill is part of a push by right-wingers around the nation to demonize drag, with proponents of such measures claiming that drag sexualizes children. The Proud Boys and other far-right groups have protested drag queen story hours at libraries; there were at least 141 protests and threats against drag events last year. A total of 315 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in states around the nation last year, most of them directed at transgender and nonbinary people, and more than 150 have already been introduced this year.

Performers and civil rights advocates have spoken out against the Arkansas legislation. “Under the language of the bill, it seems that there would be no place for a trans person who expresses their gender identity different from their sex assigned to be allowed to perform in any way karaoke, poetry reading, church choir, school play, Pride event,” said Holly Dixon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arkansas affiliate, according to KARK.

The Human Rights Campaign also released a statement against the bill.

“Many drag performances — such as drag queen story hours at schools and libraries — are age-appropriate for children and can teach important lessons like acceptance and openness,” said HRC Arkansas State Director Eric Reece. “This is just another example of radical politicians in Arkansas spreading propaganda and creating more stigma, discrimination, and ultimately violence against transgender and nonbinary people just to rile up extreme members of their base, the only voting bloc they are moving on these issues. The Human Rights Campaign strongly opposes Senate Bill 43 and urges the lawmakers behind them to stop attacking our community and instead focus on real issues impacting Arkansans.”

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