Arkansas bill to classify drag shows as ‘adult-oriented businesses’ inches closer to reality

Arkansas senator Gary Stubblefield sits during a hearing.

A dangerous bill attempting to classify drag shows as “adult-oriented” is inching closer to being brought into state law.

Senate Bill 43 (SB43) passed in a shocking 29-6 vote on Tuesday (24 January) after its introduction by Republican lawmakers earlier this month.

The Arkansas bill, headed by Senator Gary Stubblefield, aims to prevent drag shows from being performed in public by defining them as “adult-live entertainment” on par with stripping or pornography.

It defines drag as a performance in which the participant “exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth,” a definition that has caused concern among LGBTQ+ activists.

Drag queens celebrate during a Pride event in 2022.
Drag performances would be considered ‘adult-oriented entertainment’ if the bill were to pass. (Getty)

During Tuesday’s hearing, Stubblefield argued the drafted legislation was all about “protecting children,” while asking colleagues if they think “God would approve” drag shows.

“I can’t think of anything good that can come from taking children and putting them in front of grown men who are dressed like women,” he said.

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In a statement following the bill’s passing, Arkansas Human Rights Campaign director Eric Reece said lawmakers were spreading misinformation about drag events in order to push this and many other bills forward.

“Many drag performances – such as drag queen story hours at schools and libraries – are age appropriate for children and can teach important lessons like acceptance and openness,” Reece said.

“This is just another example of radical politicians in Arkansas spreading propaganda and creating more stigma, discrimination, and ultimately violence.”

Wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills hit the US in 2023

Its introduction and subsequent passing follow the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been proposed in January alone.

Over 100 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced across the US since the start of 2023 – most of which target drag performances or trans rights.

A large portion of bills attempt to define drag as “adult entertainment,” with some banning musicals and parts of Shakespeare as a result of their definitions of drag.

Journalist and LGBTQ+ activist Erin Reed has been reporting the rise of hateful bills, documenting their outrageous and arguably unconstitutional clauses.

In response to the Arkansas bill passing, she said: “This is a return to age-old obscenity laws targeting the trans, drag, and gay communities.

“Decades later, we are now finding ourselves returning to those days should these bills pass,” she added. “Please show up and fight back everywhere these bills are proposed.”

In an article detailing a frightening bill that would jail people for “transgender exposure” to minors, Reed added that those arguing these bills would be shot down at the first hurdle are ignoring the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech.

“I want to emphasize that this isn’t just a single Republican proposing it – several bills like it have been proposed all over the country.”

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