Ky. lawmakers reference transphobic ideas in vote to restrict sexually explicit performances

Republished from WEKU.

Former Republican state Rep. Bob Heleringer told a committee room of lawmakers Tuesday their plans to limit “adult-oriented” businesses unfairly targets LGBTQ+ communities.

“If you want to be prejudiced, we live in a free country and you could do that. But when you write it in the law, that’s different. That’s wrong,” Bob Heleringer, who represents the Fairness Campaign, said at the House veteran, military affairs and public protection committee hearing. “If you’ll permit me, because I’ve sat there, it’s a debasement of this General Assembly, of the high public office that you hold.”

Under the Senate Bill 147, anything that could be used to define an “adult-oriented business” — like showing a movie with nudity or a performance that includes the “simulated removal of clothing in a sexual manner” — would not be allowed on state or local property and would be banned from within an estimated city block of places children might frequent. That includes parks, churches, schools, and many more.

The bill passed the House committee Tuesday with only two voting in opposition, both Democrats. It has already passed the Senate, and will now be sent to the House floor for a vote.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Tichenor from Smithfield is sponsoring the bill that she says she changed after meeting with drag performers from Louisville. She says it would not affect drag performances at libraries and in front of kids that do not include sexual conduct.

“I did enjoy, along with Representative [Nancy] Tate, taking the opportunity to sit down with drag performers in our community as we worked through the bill to make sure that they were as happy as they could be with it,” Tichenor said.

The bill received support from Republican Rep. Chris Fugate, a pastor from Chavies, who said he’s operating under a definition of “freedom” where people don’t have the right to do whatever they want.

“This bill is not about taking somebody’s freedom, by the way. What is freedom? Freedom is not the ability to do what we want to do,” Fugate said. “When you go outside the boundaries of what I believe God’s word teaches us, then we’re not living in freedom.”

Fugate referenced a number of transphobic conspiracies, including that trans people are likely victims of abuse. He said he felt “heartbroken” when he saw a transgender person in his church, and said it is the duty of the General Assembly to protect children from such influences and not “cater to the people who want to destroy the morals of our country.”

The bill Fugate and other Republicans were speaking in favor would also ban businesses from allowing minors to see performances the bill defines as “obscene, harmful to minors, or patently vulgar matter.”

One of the most controversial elements of the bill is reference to a definition clearly meant to apply to drag shows: “Performance with explicitly sexual conduct in which a male or female performer sings, lip syncs, dances, reads, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment while exhibiting an exaggerated gender expression that is inconsistent with the biological sex of the performer.”

While the word “drag” has been removed from the bill during the legislative process and the assurance that only explicitly sexual shows would be regulated under the bill, some lawmakers still say it unnecessarily targets drag performers.

“I am grateful that a lot of it has been subbed out that it seems less harmful, but it still seems mean,” said Rep. Rachel Roberts, a Democrat from Newport. “It seems like we’re trying to target a specific group of people who are already marginalized.”

Rep. Stephanie Dietz, a Republican from Edgewood, voted in favor of the bill and said she believes county attorneys tasked with enforcing the legislation would not be overzealous in interpreting the bill in her area.

She said she was concerned that the bill could be weaponized against pride parades, even those that are not truly sexual in content.

“I do have concerns though, that if you go to a different area of the state, that they may not feel the same on something that I wouldn’t consider vulgar or my county attorney. But I have to trust that my officials that are being elected by those citizens are going to enforce this the way that it’s intended to be,” Dietz said.

Heleringer said he believes the bill was brought to attack LGBTQ+ populations and does not address a problem that is actually happening.

“I’m not aware of any children that are present for these performances involuntarily, that are subjected to drag shows against their will,” Heleringer said. “This bill, in our estimation, goes well beyond anything about children.”

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.