LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A bill going before the Arkansas legislature in 2023 seeks to restrict drag performances in the state by classifying them as adult-oriented businesses. This would prohibit the acts on public property or anywhere a minor could view it.
Senate Bill 43 (SB43) sponsor Rep. Mary Bentley called it “common sense” legislation. Chris Davis, otherwise known as Savvy Savant, can’t wrap their head around it.
“Drag is a form of expression. It is my ability to get out and show a different side of myself. Entertain,” Davis explained.
Under the stage name Savvy Savant, Davis was named Miss Gay Arkansas 2022. They’ve performed at bars, restaurants, on stage, and at parks for the last four years, but they fear SB43 could end much of it.
“There is plenty of time for adults to do what they want to do. This is about protecting children,” Bentley argued.
Bentley is a cosponsor of SB43 with Sen. Gary Stubblefield. If passed, SB43 could prohibit the performances in front of those under 18 by changing the definition of what is classified as an adult-oriented business.
Under Arkansas law “Adult-oriented business” means an adult arcade, an adult bookstore or video store, an adult cabaret, an adult live entertainment establishment, an adult motion picture theater, an adult theater, a massage establishment that offers adult services, an escort agency or a nude model studio.
Drag performances would be included if they meet three requirements:
- Exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members of and are meant to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer’s opposite sex
- Sings, lip-synchs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience of at least two persons for entertainment, whether performed for payment or not; and
- That is intended to appeal to the prurient interest.
“The prurient is really the sexual oriented, something that incites sex or is based on something sexual. Just encouraging sexual activity,” Bentley explained.
“Is it something that is very graphic, sexual, scanty? Who’s there, and what is it based on? Really what are they wearing? To me what they are wearing is huge,” she continued.
“The entire thing is vague. It’s suspect, and it’s entirely too open to interpretation,” Davis stated.
Davis worries about what it could mean for theatre performances including cross-dressing or how it could impact trans individuals performing karaoke. They fear it would bring their rights back 50 years, something their community has fought hard to correct.
“It doesn’t sound very prideful to do it behind closed doors, to be honest,” Davis said.
Bentley argued that removing drag from their kids is exactly what her constituents want.
“Parents are really concerned of what they consider sexual grooming of their kids,” she said. “And we’re just ready to push back. Push back with the strong values, and I know that the vast majority of Arkansans feel the exact same way that I do.”
“This has to be fought as soon as possible as much as possible by as many people as possible because it just takes a lot of stepping stones to get to something bigger,” Davis concluded.
If the bill becomes law, any violation would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by an up to $2,500 for each violation. Arizona, Missouri, Texas, and Tennessee have filed similar bills.
The Arkansas ACLU released a joint statement on Tuesday regarding the bill.
On Jan. 17, Little Rock is set to host the Miss Gay America Pageant.
SB43 was filed this month and the Senate Subcommittee on City, County, and Local Affairs handling it will meet Thursday morning.