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Arizona Republicans move to regulate drag shows

Democrats say the bills in the Arizona Senate are too vague and unfairly target drag performers.

PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to support two bills aimed at regulating drag shows and related performances during a meeting of the committee of the whole.

Republican state Senator Anthony Kern of Glendale sponsored the two bills, which he says are intended to protect children from sexually explicit performances. Democrats say the bills, like others in the Senate, are intended only to regulate and ostracize LGBTQ people and content. 

One of the bills, SB1030, initially sought to require a county board of supervisors to regulate businesses that host drag shows by adding them to the list of regulated adult-oriented businesses, and requiring permits for drag shows and drag performers. Adult-oriented businesses aren’t allowed to be within a quarter mile of a childcare facility, school, public playground, public recreation area, residence or place of worship, according to Arizona law. 

Lawmakers later amended the bill to regulate “sexually explicit” drag shows, rather than all drag shows, and it was amended again on Wednesday to redefine “sexually explicit drag show” as a “sexually explicit performance.”

The intent still focuses on drag shows, Kern said, but only shows deemed “sexually explicit” rather than all of them.

“The intent behind it is to protect our children and keep children away from sexually explicit drag shows,” he said. 

Included in the bill’s definition of sexually explicit is “sexual excitement,” defined as stimulation or arousal.

State Senator Priya Sundareshan, a Democrat from Tucson, voiced concerned about how regulation would apply to such businesses under the broad definition.

“There is a portion of that definition that regulates sexual excitement,” she said. “What causes sexual excitement could vary from person to person. That’s a subjective question. 

“How is any business or anyone supposed to imagine the realm of possibilities that could create excitement in another person?” she asked.  

Kern didn’t clarify if sexual excitement applies to a performer or audience member, nor how businesses should use the definition to regulate drag shows.

“I think Senator Sundareshan has not read the bill," Kern said. "Because again, the bill keeps the same intent as sexually oriented businesses. Whatever they do inside those sexually oriented businesses is up to them.”

The Senate gave the bill a do-pass recommendation but didn’t vote on it yet.

Kern also sponsored SB1028, which prohibits “adult cabaret performances” from being held on public property or in a space where children could view them. The definition of those performances initially included drag shows and drag performers, but amendments removed those items.

Violators would be hit with a Class 1 misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class 6 felony for subsequent violations. 

Kern also amended the bill to include a stipulation finding that an event host is only in violation if they know minors could view the performance. The bill received a do-pass recommendation without challenge.

Kern’s bills aren’t the only Republican-led legislation going after drag shows and other aspects associated with the LGBTQ community.

State Senator John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, sponsored SB1026, which would prohibit federal monies from be used toward drag shows “targeting minors,” whether the shows are deemed sexually explicit or not. That bill moved to the House on March 2. 

Democratic state Senator Juan Mendez of Tempe called it an attempt to “vilify trans people and the queer community.”

Kavanagh also sponsored another bill, SB1001, which would prohibit teachers from using students' preferred names and pronouns without permission from parents or guardians. Opponents say the bill would force transgender and non-binary students to come out to their parents before they’re ready, potentially putting them in danger. That bill was sent to the House on March 2 as well.

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