New Kentucky bill would restrict drag show performances to ‘protect our children’

The bill says drag shows are associated with human trafficking, disease, blight and the ‘weakening of public morality.’
Featuring LGBTQ+ affirming organizations, businesses, churches and performers, the 2022 NKY...
Featuring LGBTQ+ affirming organizations, businesses, churches and performers, the 2022 NKY Pride parade, hosted by the NKY Pride Center, kicked off the non-profit's annual Northern Kentucky Pride festival in Covington on Sunday, June 5, 2022. The parade and festival follow a week of festivities and events including an LGBTQ youth party at the NKY Pride Center, the Pride Bike Ride, a drag show and watermelon wheat release at Braxton Brewing.(STEPHANIE SCARBROUGH/THE ENQUIRER)
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 1:59 AM CST
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COVINGTON, Ky. (WXIX) - Legislation has been introduced to the Kentucky General Assembly that could force cities like Covington to cancel or dramatically alter its pride celebrations and drag shows.

Senate Bill 115 would create a 1,000 ft. perimeter around a long list of public amenities (parks, libraries, schools, churches and other places that “cater to minors”) where “adult-oriented” businesses could not exist and where businesses could not host “adult-oriented” activities.

The bill was introduced last Friday and is currently in committee.

Ky. Sen. Gary Boswell (R-Owensboro) is one of the bill’s sponsors. He told FOX19 he introduced the bill because of “things we have eye-witnessed on the news and an increasing amount of this type of venue.”

The bill includes drag performances in its definition of what is “adult-oriented”—i.e., performances in which “a performer sings, lip syncs, dances, reads or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment while exhibiting a gender expression that is inconsistent with the biological sex formal recognized on the performer’s original birth certificate[...]”

It’s written such that it could prohibit a bar karaoke night where a woman takes fashion cues from her favorite male artist and then decides to sing a song by that artist—for example, she wears a cowboy hat and jeans that are judged looser than normal for a woman (based on “community standards”) and sings Garth Brooks.

City of Covington officials worry it could also shut down the city’s annual pride parade as well as regular drag shows at businesses like Hotel Covington, Braxton Brewing Co., The Standard restaurant, Covington Yard, etc.

The bill says such “adult-oriented” activities “are associated with a wide variety of adverse secondary effects,” including property and violent crime, human trafficking, prostitution, disease spread, “weakening of public morality,” blight, depressed property values and more.

“We are protecting our children from being exposed to inappropriate adult activity,” Boswell said.

Ky. Sen. Lindsey Tichenor (R-Campellsburg) is another bill sponsor.

“I’ve seen a lot of different drag performances and performers that are dressed in drag... they never look like your average gal going to Kroger,” Tichenor said. “They just... it’s very much overly sexualized.”

The Lady Phaedra is an entertainer and activist in Covington. “It angers me. It breaks my heart. They’re trying to lump us in with strip shows and sex workers.”

She continued, speaking at Covington Yard’s Wednesday drag night: “Do I look like a threat? What am I going to do—a hostile makeover? What am I doing that is hurting you? Why does me living my life harm you?”

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer is of the same mind.

“I can’t begin to describe how wrong-headed and ill-advised this legislation is, and how much of an overreach it is. The courts have consistently restricted the government’s authority to regulate expression such as this,” Meyer said.

“Anybody who associates the Pride Parade and drag shows with crime, urban blight, and depressed property values has obviously never attended either the parade or a show in Covington,” Dan Hassert, Covington communications director, said. “These are fun and entertaining and epitomize the quirky personality of The Cov, which by the way has paid off very handsomely in our ability to attract businesses, investors, talent, and visitors.”

Covington Economic Director Tom West said embracing diversity is both the right thing to do and “the smart thing to do.” He continued: “This is a fun community that is open to everybody. I don’t understand why we’re trying to vilify performers and denigrate the upstanding businesses which host these events.”

Tichenor argues the bill merely sets parameters in order to protect children from displays she regards as obscene and grossly over-sexualized. The Lady Phaedra counters drag queens are an indispensable part of the LGBTQ community, welcoming people of all ages who are fear coming out.

“I remember being the scared young person myself—drag queens are the first people we encounter who demonstrate to us that it’s ok to be who we are, it’s ok to be different.... It’s not only ok to be different, it’s fabulous.”

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