SC state legislation could restrict drag performances

The bill would prohibit “adult cabaret performances” on public property and in places where the performances could be viewed by minors.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 7:01 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 7:11 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - After Tennessee’s governor signed a bill into law restricting drag shows from taking place in public and in front of kids, some South Carolina legislators want to impose more restrictions on drag shows in the state.

State Senate Bill 585 was introduced last week, which would prohibit “adult cabaret performances” on public property and in places where the performances could be viewed by minors. The bill defines an adult cabaret performance “ a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features entertainment of an exotic nature featuring topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, or male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers.”

If violated, fines and jail time could be on the table.

State Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg, is a sponsor of the bill. He said he was inspired to craft the bill last year after an event in Columbia. He said a young child was brought on stage during a cabaret style program at a drag queen program and was exposed to content he calls “inappropriate” and “repulsive.” After seeing Tennessee’s aggressive legislation, he modeled a bill off theirs.

“It’s really inappropriate to have a venue where there’s a drag cabaret event taking place where children are exposed to this, and that’s in public or in private,” Kimbrell said.

In the house, a bill also known as The Defense of Children’s Innocence Act, was introduced in January. The bill says any business where drag shows are held are deemed to be a sexually oriented business, and any entity supported by public funds, like state agencies or school districts, are banned from using public funds to host a drag show. The bill also would ban minors from attending a drag show performance.

For some members of the drag community like Caleb Coker, who performs under the name Ebony Wood, the recent legislation around the country is sparking fears about violent pushback towards the community.

“Kind of what we’re seeing from legislation is that drag is inherently a sexual or dangerous thing for children, and that’s been something that’s been trying to be pushed on the community since the 1950s, that children need to be protected from the LGBTQ community and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Coker said.

Coker has been performing in Charleston area shows for almost a decade. For the tourism-fueled city that sees many bachelorette parties, Coker thinks the legislation could be detrimental to the economy. But overall, Coker says Charleston has been a supportive community.

“It’s important for kids whether they’re LGBTQ or not to realize that you can dress how you want, you can express yourself how you want, and not have to feel what’s going to happen to me,” Coker said. “Am I going to be arrested and called a felon for wearing a dress to school?”