Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill to prohibit drag show performances from being presented in places where they could be viewed by children.
The GOP-backed legislation passed through the Senate on Friday by a 26 to 6 party-line vote. Senate Bill 115, which Republicans say is aimed to protect children, would also ban drag shows from publicly owned property.
“The intent of this legislation is to restrict these types of adult performances to adults,” said Republican state Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg argued that people who do not support drag shows are not required to attend.
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She said drag is a form of self-expression for LGBTQ+ groups that “you don’t have to understand, you don’t have to appreciate, you don’t have to like and you don’t have to attend.”
Drag shows have been criticized across the country by parents and Republican lawmakers who say the performances are sexualized and inappropriate for children. In Tennessee, GOP Gov. Bill Lee recently signed a bill into law banning public drag performances by classifying them as adult entertainment, putting them in the same category as topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers.
The Kentucky bill states that adult performances include a live performance involving male or female impersonators appealing to a “prurient interest in sexual conduct” that lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Those who violate the measure would be subject to misdemeanors for the first two offenses and would be hit with a felony for subsequent offenses. Under the bill, businesses hosting the drag shows could have their alcohol and business licenses suspended or revoked.
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Tichenor acknowledged the long history of male and female impersonators, and pointed to late actor Robin Williams’ portrayal of a woman in the film “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
“This bill is not in any way addressing those types of performances,” she said.
She said the bill was introduced because performances previously limited to adult audiences are now presented to the general public as appropriate for all ages.
Opponents of the bill claim it challenges constitutional protections and targets the LGBTQ community.
Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong said First Amendment protections extend to the “expressive choices we make.” She said this includes the clothing people wear and the way they choose to present themselves to the world.
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Chambers added that there are numerous existing laws to combat sexually explicit activity in public places.
The bill now heads to the House, where Republicans also have a supermajority, with only a few days remaining in the year’s 30-day legislative session.
“What is hateful about keeping children away from sexualized adult performances?” Tichenor said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.