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Drag Shows, Pronouns Targeted by Arizona Republicans

Drag performers

The state's legislative session is opening with a rash of anti-LGBTQ+ bills.

Two Republican Arizona lawmakers are opening the legislative session by seeking to restrict drag shows.

State Sen. Anthony Kern has filed one bill that would ban drag performances during certain hours -- aimed primarily at quashing drag brunches -- and another that would prohibit them on public property or any location where they could be viewed by a minor. Sen. John Kavanagh has chimed in with a bill to ban the use of state funds for drag shows targeting minors.

Kern's Senate Bill 1030 would stipulate that a drag show could not take place between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday or between 1 a.m. and noon Sundays. It would put drag shows in the same category as performances featuring nudity. Violation would be a misdemeanor. His bill dealing with locations, SB 1028, also would put drag shows in that category and would make the first violation a misdemeanor and subsequent ones a felony. Kavanagh's SB 1026 would prevent state funds from being distributed to any violator for 36 months after the violation.

The bills, filed Friday for the legislative session that began Monday, are all part of a right-wing trend of attacking drag queen story hours and similar events, but some are questioning the lawmakers' priorities. "I don't think if you walked up to someone at the supermarket today and said, 'Hey, what's a problem that's facing you and your family?' I bet they would list 15-20 things before they ever got around to drag shows," Richard Stevens, a Phoenix-area entertainer who performs in drag as Barbra Seville, told TV stations KTVK/KPHO.

He noted that the bill on drag show hours would particularly affect Sunday drag brunches. "There are very popular drag brunches all over the Valley," he said, referring to the greater Phoenix area. "Some of them get anywhere from 100-300 people who just want to come out. They want to laugh."

He told another station, KJZZ, that anti-drag legislation in general is a "solution to a problem that doesn't exist" and is "that 'angertainment' that you keep reading about. It's where you raise money and you get clicks by trying to outrage people."

Stevens became well-known during last year's gubernatorial race by calling out Republican candidate Kari Lake for hypocrisy because she'd attended his drag shows and been friends with him but condemned drag performances during the campaign. She ended up losing to Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Kern hasn't been widely interviewed on the topic, but Kavanagh, for his part, told Phoenix's Fox affiliate that his bill was motivated by online viewing of what he called sexually explicit drag shows. They weren't from Arizona, but he wants to do what he can to keep such performances out of the state. He emphasized, however, that his bill would not ban drag shows or even keep parents from taking their children to them, although he'd be "disturbed" at the thought of parents taking children there.

To KTVK/KPHO, he added, "I would suspect that this session suddenly there's an interest in regulating drag shows because culturally there's been a sudden preponderance or abundance of drag shows that are directed at children."

Kavanagh has also introduced a bill, SB 1001, that would not let school employees refer to students by pronouns that differ from a student's "biological sex" unless they get written parental permission -- which would have the effect of outing students to the parents regarding their gender identity. He claimed that keeping this information from parents would prevent them from helping their children.

But Bridget Sharpe, Arizona state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said Kavanagh's legislation would endanger young people. "A student has the right to express their gender identity," she told KTVK/KPHO. "They have a right to express that to whoever they wish, and it's up to them who they trust and who they feel safe around to be able to share that information."

On the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in general, Sharpe issued this statement to The Advocate:

"Attacking LGBTQ+ events and spaces, including drag shows, is the latest in a long line of attacks on LGBTQ+ people. The dangerous practice of banning LGBTQ+ culture is part of a large-scale attack on LGBTQ+ people and an attempt to put us back in the closet and label us as dangerous.

"This is just another example of radical politicians in Arizona spreading propaganda and creating more stigma, discrimination, and 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. Not to mention with so many issues plaguing Arizonans, these politicians choose to prioritize attacking our community.

"As radical politicians sow hate and fear with anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, we have seen the physical threats to our community multiply -- from armed men who were stopped on their way to cause harm at a Pride Parade in Idaho, to threats of violence against local drag shows at libraries, to the continued rise in fatal violence against members of our community, especially Black transgender women. The Human Rights Campaign strongly opposes these anti-LGBTQ+ bills and urges the lawmakers behind them to stop attacking our community and instead focus on real issues impacting Arizonans."

Kavanagh's and Kern's anti-LGBTQ+ bills may advance, as Republicans hold majorities in both the Arizona Senate and House. But Hobbs, an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, would likely veto any such legislation.

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