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North Dakota Advances Bill Terming Drag Shows 'Adult' Entertainment

North Dakota Advances Bill Terming Drag Shows 'Adult' Entertainment

Drag queen story hour
Photo by Doug McLean/Shutterstock

The North Dakota House of Representatives approved a bill putting drag performers in the same category as strippers and limiting the venues for drag shows. It now goes to the Senate.

North Dakota has advanced a bill classifying drag shows as “adult-oriented businesses” and banning them from taking place on public property or anywhere people under age 18 are present.

The North Dakota House of Representatives approved House Bill 1333 by a vote of 79-13 Thursday, and it now goes to the Senate, which will take it up in March. It puts drag shows in the same category as performances by strippers or topless dancers.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, a Democrat and the only gay member of the chamber, said the legislation simply marginalizes “certain people who live in our state,” the Grand Forks Herald reports.

“I would hope that we leave this up to parents,” he added. “We already have laws that restrict where people can perform with nudity or without nudity, so this further expansion is nothing more than continuing to police morality.”

Republican Rep. Brandon Prichard, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he introduced it after learning of drag performances with children in the audience. There was one on the steps of the state capitol, he said. “The 21-year-old legislator said he thinks the state’s existing obscenity laws should have prohibited the performances, but his bill would make explicit that the shows are not allowed,” the Herald reports.

Another Republican, Rep. Lori VanWinkle, called cabaret artists who perform for children “perverts” and said drag shows are a slippery slope to pedophilia. “We cannot let right and wrong be based on the subjective thoughts of our culture, [which] can apparently no longer differentiate what is moral behavior,” she said, according to the Herald. “Are we ready to next allow pedophilia in North Dakota so our newly sexualized-driven children can act out on what they’re learning from perverts who are demanding them from us?”

Four Republicans joined all House Democrats in opposing the bill. LGBTQ+ advocates and allies had testified against it this week. Violation would be a Class A misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 360 days in prison and a $3,000 fine. Repeated violations would be a Class C felony, carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The House vote marked the first victory for anti-LGBTQ+ forces in North Dakota this year. Last week the Senate rejected a bill that would have imposed a $1,500 fine each time a person refers "to themselves or others with gender pronouns different from the ones they were assigned at birth," PBS reports.

The Human Rights Campaign condemned the drag show bill's passage. “These legislators are clearly failing to understand that a drag performance at a bar for adults is very different from a drag story hour for families in an age-appropriate environment meant to foster creative validation and acceptance,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a press release. “These performances vary widely by audience, and while they’ve existed for decades in the face of hate, today’s move by lawmakers reflects the dangerous place to which extremism has led. Bills like these create more stigma, discrimination, and ultimately violence against LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender and nonbinary people. We urge members of the North Dakota Senate to focus on the real issues impacting North Dakotans by opposing this nakedly political attack on the LGBTQ+ community.”

The Arkansas Senate approved a similar bill Tuesday and sent it on to the state’s House. The nation has seen a rash of attacks and threats against drag performances, especially drag queen story hours, in the past year. Armed members of the Proud Boys, a racist and homophobic group, menaced patrons of a family-friendly drag show in Salt Lake City just last week.

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