NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — A bill looking to limit drag queen performances in Arkansas has both people for and against it speaking loudly.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Inertia, a NWA drag performer. “To me, it’s honestly disgusting.”
“Parents are not happy and they want their children to be safe,” said Republican State Representative Robin Lundstrum, District 18.
State Senator Gary Stubblefield, who represents parts of the River Valley in District 26, sponsored Senate Bill 43. It classified a drag performance as an adult-oriented business and prohibits these performances from happening on public property.
The bill defines a drag performance as someone who “exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members of and are meant to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer’s opposite sex.”
“It’s destroying some of these kids’ innocence,” he said. “They are no longer kids. They are seeing things they should not be seeing.”
Lundstrum agrees with this sentiment.
“It fits right in there with a cabaret-type show, an adult performance show,” she said. “It’s not meant for children.”
Inertia said there is a wide range of drag performances and things that drag queens do in the community. He said there are performances that are appropriate for kids.
“I want the opportunity for kids to grow up to be kids,” they said.
They said they had problems fitting in growing up until they found the drag community, and they want to continue to be that example for other kids who struggle with that.
“Parents who bring (kids) to drag queen story hour or bringing them to the Pride Parade, they’re being raised with open minds,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so different because I was told that’s wrong.'”
Lundstrum said this bill isn’t about stopping drag altogether.
“It doesn’t eliminate that at all. It just says this is an adult performance, which most adults would recognize that as an adult performance,” she said.
Jeremy Stuthard has been a drag performer for more than 20 years. His drag persona is Taylor Madison Monroe. He said he has done shows for kids in the past.
“I’ve done birthday shows as Elsa from ‘Frozen’ for little kids and they have no idea. They just see Elsa. It’s a character,” he said. “I present to them like Barney, like Bozo clown, like any mascot in the NFL or anything. It’s a character and that’s what I am.”
He traveled the country as Miss Gay United States in 2012 proudly representing Arkansas.
“I got to tell everybody across the nation how cool Arkansas is with drag, how accepting Arkansans were of drag and how fun it was doing drag in Arkansas,” he said. “With this bill, it kind of puts us back to 1980s and 1970s when they were trying to cancel all of drag.”
Drag queen storytime events at libraries are part of what sparked SB43. The Fayetteville Public Library said it has never hosted a program that includes drag performers, but there have been organizations that have rented space in the library for private events that did include drag performers.
A spokesperson for FPL said that if the bill passes, they would have to review its language with their attorneys. Any changes to programming and event policies would have to be approved by the library’s board of trustees.
So far, SB43 has been referred to the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs but has not been scheduled for a read at this time.
A protest against SB43 is planned to happen at the State Capitol in Little Rock on Thursday, January 19 at 3 p.m.