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Drag Ban Won't Go on Ohio City's Ballot, State Supreme Court Rules

Drag Ban Won't Go on Ohio City's Ballot, State Supreme Court Rules

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Drag Queen in LGBTQ Parade
Images: Facebook @franklarose; Shutterstock

Secretary of State Frank LaRose didn't follow the law in deciding to put the issue before voters, according to the court.

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Voters in Bellefontaine, Ohio, won’t be considering a drag ban when they cast their ballots in the November 7 election.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose didn’t follow the law when he said the proposed ban could go on the ballot, the state Supreme Court ruled Sunday.

Proponents of the ban circulated petitions to get the measure on the ballot and collected enough signatures to qualify it, but they “switched the petitions’ cover page before submitting them to elections officials,” The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reports. “The ruling said this violated state law, which says the ‘text’ and ‘title’ of a petition signed by voters seeking a ballot issue must be the same as the petition submitted to elections officials.”

The Logan County Board of Elections had deadlocked on whether the proposal could go on the ballot, so the board submitted it to LaRose to break the tie. In September, he approved it for the ballot, saying the change wasn’t substantial.

But several Bellefontaine residents, including Democratic mayoral candidate Tim Steinhelfer, sued to get the measure deleted from the ballot, and they cited the change in the cover sheet. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed, in a 4-3 ruling, that the change disqualified the proposal.

The measure would have classified drag shows as “adult cabaret performances” and ban them from public places or any location where they could be viewed by minors. It came in reaction to a float sponsored by the Olive Tree, Bellefontaine’s only gay bar, in the city’s Christmas parade last year. The float included a drag queen, fully clothed. Bellefontaine resident Devin Palmer found this objectionable, and she and others began circulating petitions to get the ban on the ballot.

“We don’t see why drag performance should be treated any differently from other sexually charged entertainment,” Palmer told The Ohio Newsroom in June. “You shouldn’t have kids in attendance, and you shouldn’t be marketing these to kids either. It’s just that simple.”

Olive Tree owner Tyler Berry countered that drag shows aren’t necessarily sexually charged. If the ban had passed, it wouldn’t have prevented the bar from hosting shows that are open only to those 18 and older, but it would have kept the Olive Tree from reinstating its family-friendly drag brunches, where children and teens are admitted if they’re accompanied by parents. Berry had canceled the brunches when the controversy came up.

The backers of the proposal are “100 percent trying to put me out of business,” he told The Plain Dealer in September.

Bellefontaine is a town of about 14,000, located around 50 miles northwest of Columbus. It would have been the first Ohio city with restrictions on drag shows. Republicans in the Ohio legislature have introduced a bill that would criminalize certain drag performances statewide, but it has not passed.

Steinhelfer lauded the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling. “Today, the arc of the moral universe bends a little closer to justice due to the bravery of the people who spoke truth to power,” he said in a statement.

So did drag queens and LGBTQ+ activists. “It’s great that the Ohio Supreme Court has taken a step to remove this,” drag performer Veranda L’Ni told TV station WEWS.

“Equality Ohio is thrilled that the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision will keep fear and government overreach off the ballot this November in Bellefontaine,” Jen Scott, Equality Ohio statewide field manager, told The Buckeye Flame. “Bellefontaine is a city that prides itself on being lovable — which means inclusivity for all. We look forward to collaborating with local organizers to deepen the positive and loving environment that was momentarily challenged by this ballot initiative.”

In the November 7 election, for which early voting began this week, Ohioans will be voting on some offices in their cities as well as a statewide ballot measure that would write a guarantee of reproductive rights into the Ohio constitution. Opponents of the measure have contended that it would also allow children to undergo gender-transition procedures without their parents’ consent, even though the measure doesn’t mention gender-affirming care.

Opponents put together a separate measure that would have raised the vote required for amending the state constitution from a simple majority to 60 percent, but voters rejected that in an August special election.

Pictured: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and a drag queen

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.