Law & Principles , Culture and the Family
Ray Carter | February 22, 2023
Regulation of drag-queen shows advances from committee
Drag-queen shows or drag-queen story hours could result in fines and prison time for participants if they subject children to harmful content under legislation approved by a state House committee.
“This is something that we’ve seen more and more, not only here in the state but nationwide,” said state Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore. “I’ve been in communication with some cities who are having issues with this, and something like this would give them a clear-cut basis that they could stand on to make policy for public displays like this.”
House Bill 2186, by West, states, “It shall be unlawful for a person to engage in an adult cabaret performance which is harmful to minors or to organize or authorize the viewing of an adult cabaret performance which is harmful to minors on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a minor.”
The legislation defines “adult cabaret performance” to include activities that involve “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, drag performers, or similar entertainers.”
Violations could result in felony charges that result in up to two years’ incarceration and a fine of up to $20,000.
The bill also states, “It shall be unlawful for a person to organize or authorize on public property a story hour for minors that is hosted by a drag performer whose performance is harmful to minors.” Violations of that provision could result in one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
West noted the phrase “harmful to minors” has long been defined in Oklahoma law. State law declares harm has occurred when minors are exposed to “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” at a performance designed to “appeal to a prurient interest in sex to minors” that the average adult would find “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors” and that “lacks serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors.”
Despite the many conditions that would have to be met before a drag performance resulted in charges, several groups opposed HB 2186.
ACLU-Oklahoma recently declared, “HB 2186 threatens businesses, libraries, performers, and the people they serve by putting the power to decide what’s appropriate in the hands of politicians.”
Freedom Oklahoma, a group that advocates for 2SLGBTQ+ causes, declared, “Drag isn’t the state’s to regulate.” The acronym 2SLGBTQ+ stands for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning plus additional sexual orientations and gender identities.
Some lawmakers echoed those arguments in committee.
“There are already indecency laws and I think most of your cities, your police officers or whatever, already have the ability to, I guess, weed out or decide if something is indecent and stop it,” said state Rep. Judd Strom, R-Copan.
He suggested HB 2186 could make it illegal for schools in his district to have “powder puff football” events in which male athletes wear female cheerleader uniforms.
West noted those events don’t run afoul of the “harmful to minors” language in the bill.
State Rep. Rande Worthen, a former prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Judiciary–Criminal, also noted performances would have to clear several thresholds to result in charges, such as having minors present at an event deemed harmful because of nudity or sexual conduct.
“Absent those two factors, there is no prohibition,” said Worthen, R-Lawton.
Strom also said the bill strips parents of their rights, saying state government would be deciding what is appropriate for children rather than parents making “those decisions as to what they want to take them to.”
State Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, also objected to the bill.
“The government is going to be controlling what people wear, what activities they attend,” Lowe said. “That’s a problem for me.”
“Nothing in this bill says that you can’t wear the clothes that you want to wear,” West said. “Nothing in this bill says you cannot attend an activity that you want to attend. What it says—just like the chairman pointed out—if it is in the presence of minors and it is harmful to minors, that’s where a problem is.”
HB 2186 passed the House Committee on Judiciary–Criminal on a 5-2 vote with Lowe and Strom in opposition.
[Photo credit of drag performance in Bartlesville, Oklahoma: Libs of TikTok]
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.