Arkansas Senate passes bill classifying drag shows as adult entertainment

The Arkansas Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would classify drag shows as an adult business and bans the performances from public property.

The bill defines a drag show as one where a performer "exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer's gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members of and are meant to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer's opposite sex."

The show must appeal to "prurient," or sexual, interests to be classified as adult entertainment. The bill also says that adult-oriented businesses cannot be where a minor can view them.

Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, sponsored the bill.

"I can't think of any redeeming quality, anything good that can come from taking children and putting them in front of a bunch of grown men who are dressed like women," Stubblefield said. "I thought, and I thought, and I thought. I couldn't come up with anything."

Opponents said the bill targets the LGBTQ community. Sen. Clark Tucker, D-Little Rock, quoted Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said she would veto a bill that "grows government at the extent of freedom" in her inaugural address.

"I'm not convinced that this legislation actually stands for limited government," Tucker said. "When it comes to our lives and our people's lives, I believe wholeheartedly that this Legislature stands for limited government. But when it comes to other people's lives, I believe that this Legislature is for big government to control those lives."

Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said the first measure of legislation should be how many people it helps and how many it hurts.

"I don't think this bill is going to help anybody, but I know it's going to hurt people," Leding said. "And I know that is not my colleague's intent. I believe he is sincere when he says he wants to protect kids. Everyone in this room wants to project kids, but I don't believe this bill does that."

Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said Stubblefield introduced the bill for "attention."

The bill passed by a vote of 29 to 6. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Several other states are considering similar bills. North Dakota's House Judiciary Committee gave a "do pass" recommendation to a bill Monday that would criminalize the attendance of minors from attending drag shows.

Seventeen South Dakota lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would prohibit the use of state resources for "lewd and lascivious content.

The bill uses almost the same language as the Arkansas bill in identifying "lewd and lascivious content as "where a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer's biological sex through the use of clothing, makeup, or other physical markers, for the predominant purpose of appealing to a prurient interest."

The bill is assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.

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