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Bill to limit drag shows in Arkansas clears another legislative hurdle

Arkansas State Capitol
Jacob Kauffman
A bill that could regulate drag performance in Arkansas clears another legislative barrier as it advances from a House Committee.

After passing the Senate last week, members of the Arkansas House City, County and Local Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 43 on Wednesday.

The bill initially classified any performance involving cross-dressing as an adult-oriented business if the performance “appeals to prurient interests.”

Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, amended the bill Tuesday to add additional language clarifying that performances must have explicit sexual content such as "prosthetic genitalia" to violate the law.

Most of lawmakers’ questions and discussion focused on the vagueness of the bill's language. Bentley said her constituents have voiced their concern that children were losing their innocence at younger ages.

Why can we not stop the sexual grooming of our children? We used to protect our children,” Bentley said, quoting her constituents.

She said kids in modern America are suffering mentally and emotionally, and that the bill could protect them. She said the bill was only meant to protect children from drag performances that were sexual in nature.

Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, asked Bentley if she knew of a specific incident in Arkansas where a drag show for minors became too sexual.

“Not that I am aware of,” Bentley responded. “I know other folks have seen things that I don't have on video.”

Representative Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, asked Bentley how to define the word “prurient” in the bill.

“It’s not for me to determine or for you to determine,” she said. “It will be for a judge to determine.”

“Well, I do think the words in our bills are what we determine,” Collins responded.

The committee voted to limit public comment on the bill to 15 minutes per side. Transgender people, drag queens, and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union said they were worried it could be used to shut down businesses and discriminate against LGBTQ people.

McCullough, the only openly gay member of the Arkansas Legislature, spoke on the bill shortly before the vote.

“I've also talked to my constituents and I’ve heard nothing. I've seen nothing,” she said, saying she felt the bill was attacking a small group of people.

The bill passed the committee and now moves to the full House for a vote.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.