North Carolina bill filed to restrict public drag performances

CHARLOTTE — A new bill filed Tuesday in the North Carolina General Assembly would make drag shows illegal in public places.

House Bill 673 says “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” would be labeled as “adult live entertainment.” The bill groups “impersonators” alongside topless dancers, exotic dancers, and strippers under the “adult live entertainment definition.”

The rest of the bill, which is one page long, then says it would be illegal to “engage in adult live entertainment on public property or in a location ... in the presence of an individual under the age of 18.”

According to the bill’s text, as it was introduced, a first violation would be a Class A1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 150 days in jail. Any subsequent violations would be Class I felonies.

The bill was filed by Republican state Rep. Jeff Zenger of District 74, just west of Winston-Salem. It’s being co-sponsored by 12 other Republican state representatives, including state Rep. David Willis of Union County, state Rep. Ben T. Moss, Jr., of Moore and Richmond counties, state Rep. Neal Jackson of Moore and Randolph counties, state Rep. Jeffrey McNeely of Iredell County, and state Rep. Donnie Loftis of Gaston County.

While drag shows aren’t inherently sexual --some of the more popular events are “Drag Queen Story Hours” to promote literacy-- North Carolina saw the most protests and threats against drag events in the country in 2022. The Tar Heel State was tied with Texas for the most drag events targeted by protests or threats, with 10, according to GLAAD.

Sebastian Abraham, a drag queen who goes by the stage name ‘Lolita Chanel’ spoke with Channel 9′s Gina Esposito about the bill explaining that most drag queens make their livelihood from performances and that they’re regular people who like to dress up and entertain.

“You are basing your fears out of this hateful rhetoric that’s been pushed by so many media outlets or different stories online that try to portray us as monsters, but we’re not,” Abraham said “We are just regular people that like to play dress up and entertain for the masses. That’s all we do.”

Republicans in the U.S. House introduced the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” to the legislature last year. It would have banned drag shows at federally funded buildings like schools and libraries. It didn’t pass.

House Bill 673 hasn’t been assigned to a committee as of Tuesday but has received support from the North Carolina Values Coalition.

“We need to ask ourselves, why is it so important for grown men to dress in erotic clothing and dance for children?” said Laura Macklem with the NC Values Coalition, “There are laws in North Carolina already banning children from places like strip clubs. Because we are seeing drag shows which include lap dances for children, the General Assembly needs to respond by passing this legislation.”

If the bill passes, it would go into effect by December 1 of this year.

said Laura Macklem with the NC Values Coalition.

(WATCH: ‘I was heartbroken’: Organizers upset after Drag Queen Story Hour for kids in Hickory is canceled)

Andrew McMillan, wsoctv.com

Andrew McMillan is the Digital Content Manager for WSOC-TV.