Iowa, Kentucky considering laws restricting drag queen performances

Shows like this one at Decatur Pride in 2022 would be illegal under proposed laws in Iowa and Kentucky. Photo by Tom Wray

Two states on opposite sides of Illinois are considering bills that would limit where and how drag queen performances can be done.

The Iowa Senate is considering a bill that would completely ban anyone below the age of 18 from being at a drag performance. Iowa Starting Line reported that the bill, SF 348, defines drag so broadly that other forms of entertainment would be impacted.

As written, the bills defines drag as “the main aspect of the performance is a performer who exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth through the use of clothing, makeup, accessories, or other gender signifiers. The performer sings, lip-syncs, dances, reads, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment, whether or not performed for payment.”

Under that definition, watching the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire” could be considered drag. It could also impact plays where cross-dressing is part of the plot. That would also impact plays performed by high school students.

Starting Line used the example of Creston High School’s drama club production of the comedy “Taming the Wild West in a Dress,” an action-comedy about a young actor named Clarance Rawlins who moves to Luck Lady, Nevada, and through a serious misunderstanding, has to pretend to be British socialite named Lady Claire Rawl. That performance would be prohibited under this law.

Anyone who brings a minor to a drag show could be charged with a misdemeanor as could the owner of a business hosting the show. Any business that allowed a minor to see a drag show could get fined $10,000 per minor who watches the show. No agencies or organizations that receive state money could host a drag show and could be fined $10,000 per minor.

Finally, parents or guardians can sue for up to $50,000 for any violation of the bill.

Clock Inc., a Quad Cities LGBTQ community center whose area covers parts of Iowa, condemned the bill.

“The legislation is not only absurd but also a blatant double standard from people that claim to champion ‘freedom’ and yet strips freedoms from those who do not conform to their narrow worldview,” said Clock Executive Director Chase Norris and Director of Operations Adam Peters in a press release.

The center said that drag is a long tradition in the LGBTQ community and creates a space for people to explore there identities.

“This ban is a clear attempt to target and discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, and it sends a dangerous message that our youth are not valued and respected in Iowa,” the release stated. “We will not stand idly by as our community is continually attacked and marginalized.”

Kentucky’s bill, SB 115, isn’t much better. It would classify drag performances as “adult entertainment.” Under Kentucky law, that would mean a business that held a drag show could not be within 1,000 feet of a YMCA, park, place of worship, school, child care center or even residences or walking trails.

The Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBTQ rights group, has been silent about the bill. But that’s because there are a list of other bills that are actually worse. The group is currently fighting against bills that would be a local version of “don’t say gay,” force outing of transgender students, and bans gender-affirming care for youth/