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Proposed ban on drag performances in public places in Ohio gets praise and questions

A drag queen holds a small child as part of a protest in Delaware, Ohio on June 5, 2019
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
A drag queen holds a small child as part of a protest in Delaware, Ohio on June 5, 2019

Supporters of a Republican-backed bill that would ban drag performers from doing shows in public places within view of children testified before the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee earlier today. They said the ban is needed to make sure children are not exposed to obscene or lewd material in parks or other public venues.

But Democrats on the committee had questions about why a statewide ban was needed when there are local laws that address lewd behavior. And advocates are concerned it could affect Pride celebrations or "drag queen story times" in public libraries.

House Bill 245 would prohibit "adult cabaret performances" in locations other than adult cabarets.

Celina City Council President Jason King said an annual drag show event in his community has been a problem for families who frequent the park and nearby splash pad. King is the brother-in-law of Rep. Angie King (R-Celina), the sponsor of HB 245.

Jason King said the annual drag performances at the park have featured obscene behavior, offensive signs, and sex toys like plush penis pillows or penis tip squeeze balls.

“Under the First Amendment banner of free speech, these individuals claim they can basically do as they please in our public spaces as a guaranteed right. But one person’s first amendment right should not be sacrificed at the expense of another," King said.

Rep. Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester) asked why police didn't enforce local park rules on behavior during these events. King said police and the city law director are reluctant to enforce the local ordinance because of concerns about litigation, but that would change if the legislature passes this bill.

Shawn Meyer, a pastor from Celina, said he is also offended by the annual show. Meyer said he wonders why organizers of drag shows continually hold their events in the public park where families gather.

"I'm not the first to ask why drag queens are so insistent on performing for young children. Why don't we hear of drag events in nursing homes? The answer seems obvious. One audience is far more impressionable than the other," Meyer said.

The hearing also featured testimony supporting the bill from the influential Center for Christian Virtue and from a representative of the Florida chapter of Gays Against Groomers. LGBTQ+ groups have said that is an extremist organization that promotes hateful speech.

Opponents of the bill speak out

Opponents of the bill fear a statewide ban like this could be used to prohibit performances at Pride celebrations, to halt shows like Broadway's "Mrs. Doubtfire" or to ban drag story times in public libraries.

And LGBTQ+ advocates pushed back on the way those who testified for the bill and Republican lawmakers portrayed drag performers.

“Proponents of HB 245 argued that entertainment including drag or trans performers is no different than strip shows and topless dancers. This is just the latest of many attempts to criminalize Ohioans not strictly adhering to narrow gender stereotypes. This vague criminalization has no place in a society that values free expression," said Maria Bruno of Equality Ohio in a written statement.

Bruno said the negative characterization of the Celina event will not dissuade her group.

"We will continue to loudly and joyfully celebrate pride and our community, and we’ve come too far to be intimidated back into the closet," Bruno wrote.

Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau