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New NC bill could restrict public drag performances

Drag queen Michelle Michaels stands in the street outside of The Herritage Tap Room and Bottle Shop in Kinston, North Carolina before hosting a drag brunch event. The non-profit ENC Pride began organizing drag events in this rural community in February 2020. ENC Pride Vice-President and The Herritage owner Laurie Anderson explains that she wanted to make a space where people Òfeel like they can be themselves and not be judgedÓ in a town that might not always feel inclusive to members of the LGBTQ community.
Madeline Gray
Drag queen Michelle Michaels stands in the street outside of The Herritage Tap Room and Bottle Shop in Kinston, N.C., in June 2021, before hosting a drag brunch event.

GOP state representatives introduced legislation Wednesday to ban adult entertainment on public property, and it could restrict drag shows.

The restrictions were added to another bill dealing with obscenity crimes.

Rep. Jeff Zenger, R-Forsyth, presented the new additions to the bill at a committee hearing. He says the proposal stems from a drag show held during a Pride festival at Forsyth Tech Community College in Winston-Salem when high school students were present.

"They grabbed a minor student and did basically like a lap dance on this student," he said. "And we had parents blowing up all over the place about this. And so that's where we said, 'OK, well, what can we do here to tighten that up so that this kind of touching and different things doesn't happen?'"

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

The bill would also make it a crime to have adult entertainment when someone under age 18 is present.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, says the legislation could affect events like the city’s annual Beaver Queen Pageant — a fundraiser for the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association — which includes drag performers.

"It is a family event," she said. "There are thousands of people, and it's every year, and some are in drag, and it's kids, it's parents who decide this is a lot of fun. It's good fun, but I'm worried some of the provisions in here, it would outlaw it."

The bill’s definitions for adult entertainment include nudity and physical contact, but don’t specifically list drag performances.

The bill would also create a misdemeanor crime for physical contact with people under age 18 that involves "intentional touching of another person with a person's own intimate parts, whether or not those intimate parts are clothed."

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.