A few members of the uber-right S.C. Freedom Caucus want to take away the freedom of businesses to provide entertainment.
In an obvious attempt to legislate morality, generate headlines and bolster divisiveness, seven of 20 members of the uber-right caucus back a bill that would cause businesses that offer drag shows to be classified as “sexually-oriented” businesses — even though drag shows are about entertainment, not sex.
The leader of the effort, freshman state Rep. Thomas Beach, R-Piedmont, wouldn’t answer questions. Instead, he hung up the phone when faced with a simple question about Halloween:
Beach: “So what, what does that have to do with the Statehouse?”
Brack: “You’ve introduced a bill, H. 3616, that wants to make it so that some people can’t dress up. So I’m wondering if your children dress up for Halloween?”
Beach: “Absurd question and no, that’s not true. I did not make a bill or anything like that. Go ahead, read the bill and then come back to it again.”
Brack: “It’s House Bill 3616. You’re the primary sponsor for a bill called the Defense of Children’s Innocence Act. And in it you basically say that if there’s a business with a drag show, then it has to be considered a sexually-oriented business, but that’s about people dressing up in costumes and so I’m kind of thinking that it is not completely irrelevant. Do your children dress up for Halloween?”
At some point, he disconnected and then didn’t answer when called back.
This bill is a cookie-cutter version of similar coordinated measures rippling through legislatures across the country. Businesses actually do say it’s absurd.
Cameron Read is a partner at Edmund’s Oast Brewery in Charleston. It has had fun family-friendly drag shows every month for the last five years, except when the pandemic didn’t permit. He says he’s offended by Beach’s bill.
“Saying these shows are inherently sexualized is equivalent to saying a fashion show is inherently sexualized,” he said. “Maybe a fashion show can be seen as a celebration of clothing and dress and culture. These drag shows that take place at our brewery — we also see them as a celebration of dress and getup and culture.”
Read’s business partner, Timmons Pettigrew, said the shows offered lip-synching performances to popular music with no profanity and no nudity.
“Parents bring their children and celebrate with their family,” he said.
Managing partner Scott Shor said if the bill passed, it would force a business like his to stop the performances.
“We don’t have an option to be relabeled as a strip club,” he said.
Read said comparing family-friendly drag shows to what people can see any day on the beach is mind-boggling.
“The amount of sexuality of people at the beach is immensely higher than any of the drag shows we have on our grounds,” he said, criticizing the proposal as “government telling a certain group of people it’s not OK to express themselves as they want.”
Chase Glenn, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance in Charleston, said Beach’s bill is a direct attack.
“Sponsors of this bill are attempting to push LGBTQ+ people out of public life, fan the flames of fear around drag performers and LGBTQ+ culture, and intimidate allies of our community,” he said. “This is yet another bill crafted by national outsiders, then copied and pasted by South Carolina politicians who for some reason seem to be obsessed with LGBTQ+ people, instead of focusing on issues of actual consequence to South Carolinians.”
The bill, which is kind of creepy because of its detailed descriptions of sex, could have major unintended consequences. What, for example, of a community theater that receives state funding, but decides to put on a play about Mrs. Doubtfire, Tootsie or some other drama in which men dress up as women?
One longtime community actor noted he performed as a man disguised as a woman with a bountiful bosom in an Agatha Christie murder mystery spoof.
“So my question is, as a thespian and current chairman of our community theater board, would shows of this kind deem theaters, which get funding from local accommodations taxes, as sexually-oriented businesses? Neither play was a drag show, per se, but this proposed legislation is too vague as written and opens the door to doing precisely that.”
Let’s hope the legislature ditches — err, beaches — this dumb legislation.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper and Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: email@example.com.
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