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Controversial Arkansas bill amended, no longer targets drag shows

After two amendments have been made, ACLU of Arkansas said the bill no longer "explicitly" targets the LGBTQ community.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Senate Bill 43 was originally filed to classify drag performances in the state as "adult-oriented," restricting businesses from hosting them and minors from attending the shows. 

However, after two amendments have been made, ACLU of Arkansas said the bill no longer "explicitly" targets the LGBTQ community, who is often found at the forefront of drag performances.

An "adult-oriented performance" is now defined in the bill as a performance that "is intended to appeal to the prurient interest" and that features:

  • A person who appears in a state of nudity or is seminude;
  • The purposeful exposure, whether complete or partial, of:
    • A specific anatomical area; or
    • Prosthetic genitalia or breasts; or
  • A specific sexual activity

Before the amendments were made, Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch), the main sponsor of the legislation, argued that kids today are "confused about their own gender" and that children have experienced more of the "ugliness of society and of sex that it'd become a secret burden to many of them."

Representative Mary Bentley, a Republican from Perryville co-sponsored Senate Bill 43. “I'm not trying to ban anything; I'm not trying to ban adults from anything adults want to do, I simply want to protect our children,” Bentley said.

The bill initially restricted performances that included people dressed in clothes of the opposite sex in which they were born and also was "prurient," which is defined as "having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters." The bill and its sponsors faced a wave of backlash stating that this specifically targets drag shows and effectively, the LGBTQ+ community. 

Megan Tullock, the director of programs and advocacy for NWA Equality said she interpreted the original bill's intent as still allowing drag performances to continue, but making it so that any citizen can decide the show was prurient and sue the performer or venue. 

“I think that when we create problems that don't exist, we waste tax money and time. And we do that in a way that makes a spectacle of the state nationally, around exactly these kinds of cultural issues that I think so many people are exhausted by,” Tullock said.

The bill passed the House Monday afternoon and heads back to the Senate to approve the new amendments.

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