Drag performer Poly Tics testified on March 3 before a Kentucky Senate committee that was considering a bill that would have placed new restrictions on drag shows. The bill died. (Screenshot of KET livestream)
FRANKFORT — A Kentucky bill that would criminalize “sexually explicit” performances by “male or female impersonators” on publicly-owned land or in front of children passed a Senate committee Thursday.
Members of the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield.
A chant of “shame, shame, shame” echoed in the room upon the passage.
Those who violate the rules in the bill would be subject to misdemeanors the first two violations and felonies on the third and thereafter.
A business that “knowingly allows or hosts an adult performance” with minors present can lose their liquor or business licenses under the bill.
“This bill is not anti-LGBTQ,” Tichenor said while presenting her bill. “This bill is pro-children.”
Not all drag performances will meet her definition of “sexually explicit,” Tichenor said, “but some do meet that definition.”
“The intent of SB 115,” she said, “is to keep sexual performances away from children.”
Opponents of the bill testified that it would harm the LGBTQ+ community.
Kate Miller, the advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the latest version of the bill is better than its predecessor, but she still has concerns.
“Our concern remains that this will include some censorship from the government that is not in compliance with our First Amendment protected rights,” she said.
“And in particular, that the expression – not only of individuals who are drag performers – will be undermined, but the individuals who are trans will be stopped from being able to perform and include individuals who are not trans but who might be performing in ways that undermine your concepts of gender.”
An earlier version of the bill said “adult” businesses like strip clubs couldn’t be within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, residences, child care facilities and other locations. That was removed in the committee substitute version of the legislation.
Drag performer Poly Tics quoted a Bible verse in testimony before the committee: “Do unto the least of these as you have done unto me.”
“Ask yourself,” she said, “what are you doing unto the least of these? And would you do this to Jesus that you so love and worship?”
“This bill not only compromises, or asks me to explain, my humanity, but it also brings into question my livelihood,” Tics testified. “As a drag performer who depends on drag shows and drag performances for income, this bill not only tells me that I am not really a human worthy of rights, but I’m also not worthy to work and I’m not deserving of an ability to make money.”
Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, blamed “bad actors” for performing in a way that “doesn’t help advance the cause.”
“There’s no hate in my heart for any of you out there,” he said before voting in favor of the legislation. “I appreciate the level of professionalism a lot of people have – and that it is art.”
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