The Kentucky Senate on Friday passed a bill that would ban drag performances on public property or in front of children.
Senate Bill 115, which passed in a 26–6 vote along party lines, now heads to the Republican-controlled state house.
The legislation applies toward adult performances, which are defined as a live “sexually explicit performance” involving acts of “homosexuality,” intentional “exhibition” of genitals and exposure of unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks and the female breast. The definition also includes live performance involving male or female impersonators that “appeals to a prurient interest in sexual conduct” and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
The first two violations of the proposed law would be punishable as misdemeanors, while subsequent offenses would be felonies. Businesses that host prohibited performances could have their alcohol and business licenses suspended or revoked.
Republican state senator Lindsey Tichenor, the lead sponsor of the bill, said during debate that the legislation intends to restrict adult performances to adults.
Tichenor said that there is a long history of male and female impersonators, including Robin Williams’s performance in Mrs. Doubtfire, and that the bill “is not in any way addressing those types of performances.”
The growing ubiquity of drag shows in restaurants and bars, as well as “drag queen story hours” for children at public libraries, has led at least 15 states to introduce legislation banning drag shows in public venues.
Tennessee passed a law earlier this month that makes it illegal to host “an adult cabaret performance” in public venues or where children may be present. Cabaret performances are defined as those featuring “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, [and] male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”
Anyone who hosts or performs in a drag show in the presence of children would be charged with a class A misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in prison under the new law. Additional violations would be escalated to a class E felony and carry one-to-six years of prison time and fines up to $3,000.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Tennessee law “not just unnecessary” but also “dangerous” during a press briefing. She suggested elected officials who are concerned with legislating against drag shows are ignoring more pressing issues that Americans are focused on, such as the economy, inflation and building safer schools and communities.
“Instead of doing anything to address those real issues that are impacting American people right now, you have a governor from Tennessee who has decided to go after drag shows. What sense does that make, to go after drag shows?” she said.