Arizona Republicans want to make it a crime to take minors to drag shows
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Saying it promotes "sexual perversion,'' Arizona Republican state senators are crafting legislation to make it a crime for parents to let a minor attend "drag shows.''
And they definitely could not participate.
The move follows reports of a drag show last month at Tucson Magnet High School. A spokeswoman for Tucson Unified School District said the event, while on school property, was club activity coordinated by students and not staff.
But the Republicans, in proposing legislation, pointed out the effort was spearheaded by two school counselors who lead the LGBTQ+ student club, one of whom was later arrested on charges of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student.
And Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who is leading the effort, also complained of a Pride Night at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, what was billed as a "family friendly'' event in which children were present.
"Performers were seen dressed in scantily clad attire while carrying out provocative dance moves that left little to the imagination as youngsters watched,'' according to the statement by five Republican senators.
Leach told Capitol Media Services the issue is not just local. And he's simply proposing what is being considered elsewhere.
Florida Gov. Ran DeSantis is supporting legislation there to make it a crime for a parent to take a minor to a drag show, complete with the risk of losing parental rights. And a Texas lawmaker is crafting a measure to bar minors from attending drag shows.
Leach said Arizona needs to follow suit.
"If you had been researching this, you would have seen videotape of mothers turning kids' heads to watch something when they turned away, something that's vile, disgusting, and outside of a civil society,'' he told Capitol Media Services.
"Do you believe that a young first grader or a kindergartner should be hauled into a show, stuffing dollars bills into G-strings of a drag queen?'' Leach said. "Do you think that's good for our society?''
And Leach said there's precedent for lawmakers to decide what is and is not appropriate for minors.
"We don't allow kids into strip joints,'' he said.
"We don't have kids going in bars by themselves,'' Leach continued. "We have movie ratings.''
Nor, he said, does permission matter, any more than a parent could legally OK a child in a strip club or attending a movie with an NC-17 rating.
Leach said details are still being worked out for his proposal.
"I don't know where that line is,'' he said. "But I'm sure as hell going to try to find it.''
The trick, said Leach, will be coming up with something that passes legal muster.
"There are First Amendment rights that people have to do whatever it is they want to do,'' he said. But Leach said this should not be an issue subject to debate.
"This is wrong for society to haul kids in and force them'' to look, he said.
What it also is, Leach said, is age inappropriate.
"A first grader, a kindergarten kid, doesn't even know what that's all about,'' he said.
"They still want to be Superman or Spider Man,'' Leach continued. "And now we're going to teach them how to be drag queens?''
Bridget Sharpe, state director of the Human Rights Campaign, called the legislation "harmful propaganda.''
"There is no place in our country for the blatant lies and false accusations being pushed today by Arizona Senate leaders,'' she said.
"Their statement is not at all about keeping kids safe,'' Sharpe said. "It's about riling up a small number of extremist base voters.''
More to the point, she said Leach is off base in trying to compare taking children to a strip show with taking them to what she said was clearly designed as a "family friendly event'' at the Heard Museum.
"We're talking about folks who want to show children who may be LGBTQ that they are affirmed and they're not bad people,'' Sharpe said.
There are other questions yet to be answered as Leach is crafting his legislation.
One crucial one deals with what happens in public.
Many cities have Gay Pride parade with some participants dressed in drag. It remains unclear whether a parent could be charged with a crime for taking a child to see such an event.
Then there's the issue of at what age the line should be drawn. Leach said he does not yet have those details for the forthcoming legislation.
"I'm in the process of pulling everything together,'' he said. But he said this isn't just about young children.
"It's going on at the University of Arizona,'' he said. One event earlier this year from the school's Institute for LGBT Studies advertised a "virtual drag show.''
And there's the question of penalties.
Leach mentioned the Florida plan. Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini would not only charge parents with a felony but also terminate the parental rights "of any adult who brings a child to these perverted sex shows.''
It's not just Leach pushing for the change.
"One of the reasons why we were elected as lawmakers by our constituents was to protect family values,'' said the joint statement attributed not only to Leach but also Senate President Karen Fann of Prescott, Majority Leader Rick Gray of Sun City, Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City, and Sen. David Gowan of Sierra Vista.
And the press release announcing the plan said that policies of nondiscrimination on gender expression and sexual orientation "are sending a message to society that we should disregard morals and values just to normalize these unscientific, broad, ill-defined and subjective terms, which set a dangerous precedent for our children that are too young to be exposed to such concepts.''
The issue, the GOP lawmakers said, is not about adult behavior.
"If men want to dress as women, and if adults want to participate in watching these hyper-sexualized performances, they have the freedom to do so,'' they said. But they said it crosses the line when children are involved.
"This ignorance by public and private sectors promoting this behavior sends a message of complete and utter perversion that can have detrimental impacts on the social and emotional development of our children,'' the legislators said. And there was a political spin on it.
"We will be damned if we won't fight like hell to protect the most innocent from these horrifying and disturbing trends that are spreading across the nation now that extremists Democrats are currently in control of our federal government,'' they said.
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