Bill to criminalize drag shows advances in North Dakota

January 26, 2023 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make it a crime to perform drag shows and cabaret performances in the presence of children or in public places.

The House voted 79-13 to advance the bill to the Senate when the chambers exchange passed legislation in March.

A person who violates the law would be subjected to a misdemeanor, with a possible sentence of 360 days in prison and a $3,000 fine. Repeat offenders would face felony charges, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The bill’s passage was the first win in the session for socially conservative lawmakers, who have proposed several bills to restrict gender expression for LGBTQ residents, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Rep. Brandon Prichard, a Republican from Bismarck, said Thursday he proposed the bill after learning of drag shows performed in front of children, including at least once on the Capitol steps. He said the state’s obscenity laws should have prevented the performances, but his bill will state explicitly that the shows aren’t allowed.

LGBTQ advocates said at a hearing earlier this week that the bill discriminates against drag performers and suppresses North Dakotans’ freedom of expression.

Republican Rep. Lori VanWinkle, of Minot, on Thursday called cabaret performers who present programs in front of children “perverts” and said the bill will protect children.

“We cannot let right and wrong be based on the subjective thoughts of our culture, (which) can apparently no longer differentiate what is moral behavior,” VanWinkle said. “Are we ready to next allow pedophilia in North Dakota so our newly sexualized-driven children can act out on what they’re learning from perverts who are demanding them from us?”

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, a Democrat from Fargo who is openly gay, said the bill marginalizes “certain people” who live in North Dakota.

“I would hope that we leave this up to parents,” Boschee said. “We already have laws that restrict where people can perform with nudity or without nudity, so this further expansion is nothing more than continuing to police morality.”