Citizens testified before the Senate Committee on State Affairs Thursday on two measures that would keep children from viewing sexually oriented performances.
Senate Bill 12 by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola) is a legislative priority for both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas GOP, as drag shows are increasingly targeted towards children in Texas.
This measure would restrict sexually oriented performances from the presence of children in public places and private businesses and authorize the Texas attorney general to sue any business or entity that violates the law.
“Drag shows are sexually explicit and expose children to issues of sexuality and identity that should be reserved for adults,” said Hughes.
Chris Hopper, president of Texas Family Project, testified in support of both bills but highlighted SB 12, stating, “These shows are not Mrs. Doubtfire and simply reading fairy tales to children. They are far more grotesque and inherently sexual in nature than anybody here would like to admit.”
“What world do we live in where we even have to have a platform to debate whether or not grown men in lingerie should be allowed to twerk and flirt with little children?” asked Hopper.
“It seems that we have stepped into idiocracy,” said Hopper, before addressing a commonly used argument that parents have the right to take their children to drag shows if they so choose:
Parents don’t have a right to take their kids to casinos to gamble at the blackjack tables. Parents don’t have the right to let their children go into a strip club. Parents don’t have a right to buy their kids a pack of cigarettes, and parents don’t have a right to cause injury or severe damage to a child. And I would say child abuse does not fall under parental choice.
Ed Fox, director of Christian education at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, also testified in favor of SB 12, stating, “This used to be an issue of common sense; now it’s ridiculous. Leave sexually oriented entertainment for adults.”
Kelly Neidert, executive director of Protect Texas Kids, supported SB 12, highlighting her experiences with “kid-friendly” drag shows:
Last June, we organized a peaceful protest outside of a drag show called “Drag the Kids to Pride,” which was advertised as being a “kid-friendly” drag show, and parents were actually encouraged to bring their children. Footage from inside the drag show was extremely disturbing and went viral on the internet. Everything about the show was hypersexual; children could be seen walking with drag queens on a catwalk with a giant neon sign in the background that said, “It’s not gonna lick itself.”
Protect Texas Kids has since protested other “kid-friendly” drag events. Neidert said that “every single one of these shows has been over the top in their sexual depravity.”
“There’s no debate that this is highly inappropriate for children,” said Neidert. “Bringing children around sexual content is a targeted assault on their minds and bodies that should never be tolerated in a civilized society.”
Theo Adams, a “trans adult,” testified against SB 12, calling it “unconstitutional” and stating, “Drag is an art form that is as diverse as any artistic style. Drag performers are a cornerstone of the queer community and are vital to the Texas arts economy.”
Pat Buchta, CEO of Austin Texas Musicians, said, “This bill seems less about protecting children and more about discrimination against the LGBTQ community.”
Senate Bill 1601 by Hughes would ban drag queen story hour from public libraries that receive state funding.
“These events normally geared for children ages 3 to 11 are hosted by drag queens to read children’s books and engage in other activities in public libraries,” explained Hughes. “The program strives to ‘capture the imagination and play of gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,’ and these have been hosted in various libraries across the state including Dallas, Houston, and Austin.”
Mary Elizabeth Castle, director of government relations for Texas Values Action, testified in support of both bills but honed in on the issue of drag queen story hour:
They’re exposing young boys and girls to these hyper-sexualized images and kind of caricatures of women. And if our society really wants to change that view of how we treat and respect the image of woman, then I think that we shouldn’t have these very unhealthy views in front of our children.
Castle highlighted the findings of an open records request sent to an Austin ISD elementary school, which invited a drag queen—David Richardson aka Miss Kitty Litter ATX—to read to a class of children.
Richardson was at the school for nearly the entire school day, not just reading to one class at 11 a.m. but “dressing and undressing in his drag performance gear” at the school. He also had a prior criminal conviction for prostitution.
Houston-area Republican Dr. Steven Hotze testified in support of both bills highlighting that it is a second-degree felony to coerce a child to engage in a sexual performance. “This means that any person involved in drag queen story hour for children is committing a felony crime and should be prosecuted,” said Hotze.
Ash Hall of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas testified against both SB 12 and SB 1601, saying how “awful it is to censor an entire form of art, to censor part of a community’s culture.” Hall also said both bills are “more than likely going to increase threats of violence against LGBTQ+ Texans.”
Baylor Johnson, marketing and public information program manager at the Austin Public Library, testified against SB 1601 on behalf of the City of Austin, stating that drag queen story hours hosted at Austin libraries were “age-appropriate.” Johnson added, “None of our programming is mandatory. If a parent does not want their child to attend a particular program, they have the right to make that choice.”
SB 12 and SB 1601 were left pending in committee.
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