4 Shocking Moments as Republican Lawmakers Rush to Criminalize Drag

A bill from state Senator Anthony Kern that criminalizes drag shows passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 2.
A bill from state Senator Anthony Kern that criminalizes drag shows passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 2. Elias Weiss
Mommy milk. Sadomasochism. A cabal of pedophiles brainwashing children at your local library. Republicans in the Arizona Senate made these and other outlandish claims on Thursday as a legislative committee approved a bill criminalizing drag shows.

Their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric came during an hours-long hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had eight bills on the agenda to review. But GOP lawmakers were so focused on drag shows that they ran out of time to discuss six others.

SB 1028, sponsored by Senator Anthony Kern, the Republican chair of the judiciary committee, makes it illegal to host drag performances at any public place or at a private location where the show “could be viewed by a minor.” A first offense is a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and nearly $4,000 in fines. A second offense is a felony that could mean a maximum of nearly six years in prison and fines of $150,000.

The legislation criminalizes drag brunches, drag story hours, some plays and musicals, and plenty more. The bill is one of at least seven bills from state lawmakers this session attacking LGBTQ people.

Kern, who has warned that "LGBTQ rights" would "take over" under Democrats in the legislature, has also sponsored SB 1030. The bill requires permits for drag shows and zones businesses that host them as an “adult-oriented business." The proposal lumps drag performance in the same category as adult entertainment and sex work.

SB 1030 and SB 1026 are scheduled for hearings before the Senate Government Committee on February 8. The latter is from Senator John Kavanagh and prohibits public money from being used to pay for “drag shows targeting minors.”

On Thursday, despite a hearty serving of angry backlash from people who spoke against SB 1028, the committee advanced the bill to the full Senate on a 4-3 vote. Republicans on the committee — Kavanagh, Kern, and Senators Justine Wadsack and Wendy Rogers — voted to advance the bill, while Democratic Senators Anna Hernandez, Christine Marsh, and Mitzi Epstein voted against it.

In their own comments about SB 1028 on Thursday, the Republican clique of “aye” voters repeatedly dished unfounded accusations and homophobic tropes. Here are four of the most ridiculous things we heard.
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State Senator Justine Wadsack has proposed a bill that adds drag shows to a list of "dangerous crimes against children."
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

‘Thirsty For Some Milk, Little Girl?

Wadsack, a first-term legislator from Tucson, said she frequently attends and enjoys drag shows. But some of the things she has seen at those shows, she claimed, haunt her to this day.

“I’ve seen them stand on stage in a g-string, with breast implants, and a 5-year-old girl places a dollar bill in the g-string,” Wadsack said. Then, she claimed, the drag queen asked, “Are you thirsty for some milk, little girl?”

Wadsack described how “drag queens make children lie down on top of them.” She concluded, “That’s why we have to write laws.”

Wadsack recently penned her very own anti-drag bill, SB 1698, which adds drag shows to a state law about "dangerous crimes against children." The bill defines drag shows as adult-oriented performances and compares them to bestiality, child sex trafficking, second degree murder, and sexual assault. Under the proposal, adults who allow children to see drag shows could receive prison terms of five years and be required to register as sex offenders. The bill is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wadsack said Thursday that drag performers are “targeting children in a pedophilia manner. It’s absolute debauchery and evil that is behind this.”
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State Senator John Kavanagh called drag performances "sadomasochistic sexual abuse."
Elias Weiss

Drag is ‘Sadomasochistic Sexual Abuse’

Kavanagh, a veteran state lawmaker, skipped out on about half of the meeting. But he stuck around long enough to cough up a couple of his own ice-cold takes.

He began by listing the groups of people that he’d prefer to remove from the public eye: “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, drag performers, male or female impersonators … we’re talking about pornography,” Kavanagh said.

He lumped drag artists into the same category as sex workers and called drag performance “a lustful, erotic, shameful, morbid sexual contact involving sadomasochistic sexual abuse.”

He admitted not all drag shows are overtly sexual but said that “this type of stuff is happening all over the country and in Phoenix right now.” Kern later estimated that 10 percent of drag shows involve some type of morbid sexual filth.

Kavanagh has sponsored four anti-LGBTQ bills. His SB 1001, which was passed by the Senate Education Committee in January, prohibits students from using their preferred pronouns in schools.

Drag ‘Tears at the Very Fabric of the Family’

About as many people spoke in favor of SB 1028 on Thursday as did against it. There was a trend among those who voiced their support: Republicans who lost campaigns for public office.

Among them was Allen Skillicorn, a GOP faithful who fled to the Valley after losing to a Democrat in an Illinois House of Representatives race in 2020. Next up was Jeffrey Zink, who mustered just 23 percent of votes in a landslide loss against U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego in 2022. Then came Michele Altherr, who campaigned for failed school superintendent candidate Shiry Sapir last year.

All of those who spoke in favor of the bill referenced the Bible. One of them, Leslie Shepherd, asserted that “the LGBTQ movement is using [drag] as a shield to allow inappropriate behavior toward children.”

She suggested that the drag performers who are allegedly indoctrinating children should be killed, citing scripture. Matthew 18:6 says that anyone who causes a child to stumble should be weighed down with stones and drowned to death in the ocean.

Zink, a pastor, said that drag performers anger God. The popularity of drag artistry “shows how depraved our society is becoming,” he said. “We can’t allow this agenda to continue, which tears at the very fabric of the family that was designed by God.”

Another woman, Danielle Hagan, read from her laptop computer, which was plastered with a “Trump won” sticker. She claimed, without evidence, to have seen “children touch strangers in areas of the body usually covered by undergarments” at a drag show.
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State Senator Anthony Kern has sponsored two two anti-LGBTQ bills the 2023 legislative session.
Elias Weiss

‘Grotesque, Debauchery, Perversion’

Kern, who sponsored the bill, wasn’t playing fair on Thursday.

He barked at a man who chuckled at Republican committee members as they peddled a conspiracy theory that drag story hours at libraries are the tool of a cabal of pedophiles looking to prey on children. At the same time, Shepherd hooted, clapped, and yelled things like “amen!” and “that’s right!” throughout the entire meeting without consequence.

Kern said he wanted “to put it out there for the media” that he isn’t against drag shows.

“This is America,” he said. “If a man wants to dress up as a woman and perform, I am fine with that.”

What he is concerned about, however, is his unsubstantiated claim that “the left” has taken control of Arizona’s education system and is sexually abusing children with government-funded drag shows at public schools.

“We’ve all seen it on social media,” Kern said. “It’s graphic, grotesque debauchery. It’s a perversion.”

Kern said that he “doesn’t believe all drag performers are pedophiles” — only some of them. Like police officers, he said, there are bad apples in every barrel. Some drag queens are pedophiles targeting children, he said, again without offering any evidence.

“It’s very, very, very, very sad that we have become such a perverse nation,” Kern said. But in a moment of obscure clarity, he noted, “Drag shows have been around probably since humans have been around.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times who covers everything from politics and sports to gambling and electric vehicles. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was managing editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and courts. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide, and in 2021, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Long-Form News Writing and Headline Writing. His Arizona politics coverage has been featured in The Daily Beast.
Contact: Elias Weiss

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