April 22, 2024 11:51 pm

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Arizona Senate Passes Anti-Drag Bills

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by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy, Arizona Mirror
March 16, 2023

Two anti-drag bills passed the state Senate with GOP support Thursday despite promises from Gov. Katie Hobbs of a future veto and ongoing threats of violence toward the drag community in Arizona. 

The two bills, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, would target drag shows, despite Kern saying the bills didn’t expressly target drag shows, only “explicit” drag shows. 

“My intent is to regulate sexually explicit drag shows,” Kern said Wednesday during a debate about Senate Bill 1030, adding that he loves the movies “Tootsie” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” which both feature men dressed as women.  

Kern amended the bill to remove the words “drag performer” but Democratic members and critics of the bill said that the overall vague language of the bill would continue to cause issues for drag shows. Additionally, state statute already exists for protecting children from sexually explicit performances.

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The bill received unanimous support from Republican senators, however, Gov. Katie Hobbs has warned that her veto pen will be at the ready to reject any bills that fail to earn bipartisan support, and her chief of staff has dismissed other anti-LGBTQ measures as dead on arrival

Kern’s other bill, Senate Bill 1028, prohibits a public property from hosting an “adult cabaret performance,” which has historically been limited to strip shows. The bill also bans these performances anywhere else a minor may be able to see them. The first violation is subject to a class 1 misdemeanor, for which the maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to 6 months in jail. A second violation could result in a class 6 felony, with a possible fine of up to $150,000 and a prison sentence as long as two years. 

“This is a huge intrusion on the first amendment,” Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, said Thursday. “This bill is requiring that a public entity look at the speech and performance and make a judgment call on the content.” 

Hernandez’s comments were echoed by her Democratic colleagues who worried that the bills would “chill” speech. 

“It is so broad it could apply to a number of private situations,” Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said. “It is very unworkable and could serve to hinder the expressions of joy of certain communities and I do not think we should be doing that.”

Kern and his fellow Republicans reiterated that the bills were aimed at “sexually explicit” shows.

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, mentioned the anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers, as a source of proof for claims of sexually explicit drag shows. The group was founded by former Arsenal Media employee and “Stop the Steal” advocate Jaimee Michell who has posted about wanting “public hangings.” 

Senate President Warren Petersen referenced videos that have been circulating online, likely referencing the popular Libs of TikTok account run by Chaya Raichik whose account often posted the locations of drag events which were then stormed by extremists groups like the Proud Boys or a U-Haul full of the white nationalist group Patriot Front.  

“We are talking about men wearing bikinis dancing weird, sexually, strangely in front of children,” Petersen said. “If you’ve seen it, you know this stuff is gross, it is disgusting, it is perverse and that is what we are talking about here.” 

Democratic members said that the bill was not about protecting children, as their Republican colleagues saw it but something else. 

“Trying to redefine drag shows as sexually explicit is a direct attack on marginalized communities,” Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe said. “This community will not back down from these kinds of attacks, and these kinds of attacks cannot be sustainable.” 

The drag community in Arizona, and nationally, has been facing intense pressure from extremist groups amidst misinformation from groups like Gays Against Groomers and Libs of TikTok attempting to label all drag performers as “groomers” or “pedophiles.” 

The FBI and the Tempe Police Department are currently investigating after a bomb threat was made to the LGBTQ-owned Brick Road Coffee shop in Tempe. The shop has been a frequent target of extremist groups and events across the state have been canceled because of threats and protests. 

In Texas last summer, a family-friendly drag brunch attracted white nationalists who asked police to kill those inside. In a previous hearing on Senate Bill 1030, Kern said that the event in Texas was the impetus behind his anti-drag bills. 

The bills passed out of the Senate along party lines and will head next to the House of Representatives. 

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Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.