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Restrictions on drag performances debated by Missouri House committee

Autumn Equinox, a drag performer, tells Missouri House committee members that gender affirmation through drag has been lifesaving for her. The Special Committee on Public Policy debated restrictions on drag Wednesday afternoon (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).
Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent
Autumn Equinox, a drag performer, tells Missouri House committee members that gender affirmation through drag has been lifesaving for her. The Special Committee on Public Policy debated restrictions on drag Wednesday afternoon (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Opponents worry drag would be banned from some areas.

For the second year in a row, a Missouri House committee debated GOP-backed legislation that would face the same limits on drag performances as govern “sexually oriented businesses.”

The bill, sponsored by Bethany Republican Rep. Mazzie Christensen, would also create penalties for engaging in an adult cabaret performance in a location where it could be “reasonably expected to be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” The first offense would be a misdemeanor and the second a felony.

The House’s Special Committee on Public Policy debated the topic Wednesday afternoon, with a handful of opponents of the legislation attending the hearing dressed in drag.

“The intent of the bill is to protect minors,” Christensen told committee members. “Exposing children to sexual content before they’re emotionally mature enough to understand is extremely harmful to their brain development.”

Opponents to the legislation argued that not all drag is sexual in nature, and the legislation would further marginalize LGBTQ Missourians.

Christensen’s bill matches a version written at the committee level last year combining legislation filed by her and Rep. Ben Baker, a Republican from Neosho. While it cleared committee, it never made it to the House floor.

The bill defines an “adult cabaret performance” as a show that “appeals to a prurient interest” and “features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers or male or female impersonators.”

Any business that offers an “adult cabaret” and makes over 30% of its revenue from sexually oriented material would be considered a “sexually oriented business.”

Sexually oriented businesses are restricted from operating between midnight and 6 a.m., selling alcohol or opening “one thousand feet of any preexisting primary or secondary school, house of worship, state-licensed day care facility, public library, public park, residence, or other sexually oriented business.”

Maxi Glamour, a drag performer based in St. Louis, said the zoning restrictions would prevent drag clubs from operating in the city of St. Louis. Glamour said people are moving out of the city as the state legislature enacts policies such as this.

“Jobs and progressive people are not seeing that they can be validated, appreciated and understood based on these draconian policies,” Glamour told the committee.

Lawmakers debated the bill’s language, some saying it was too “broad” and others telling attendees it would only impact sexually explicit performances.

“This legislation is aimed at folks that are wanting to conduct sexualized performances in the presence of children,” said Rep. Brad Hudson, a Cape Fair Republican.

Rep. Ashley Aune, a Democrat from Kansas City’s northland, said the language identifying “male or female impersonators” was particularly troubling and wondered whether restaurants like Twin Peaks or Hooters would fit the definition of a “sexually oriented business.”

Hudson disagreed. He said businesses must both feature the listed performers and “appeal to a prurient interest” to be restricted.

“If we were to craft this bill where there was no doubt that the only thing we were outlawing would be sexualized entertainment in the presence of young children, would (people) still be in opposition to this bill?” he asked.

Rep. Mark Sharp, a Kansas City Democrat, said at the top of the hearing that the committee “shouldn’t be hearing this bill.” He said he would be fine with his two-year-old seeing someone dressed in drag, but he said he wouldn’t want any prurient performances around his daughter.

“I think it was just to try to cover that one particular thing, I think this would be a lot of different, very different,” he said, referring to sexualized performances. “That’s not what the bill is. It does so much, so much more than that.”

Aune said it felt like an attack.

“If you just want to protect kids, why aren’t we just saying, ‘any performance by anyone that appeals to a prurient interest.’ Full stop,” she said.

The committee did not take action on the bill Wednesday.