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Bill prohibiting public drag performances to be introduced in upcoming Idaho legislative session

The Idaho House of Representatives conducts its business from the House chambers at the Statehouse in Boise on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The Idaho House of Representatives conducts its business from the House chambers at the Statehouse in Boise on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Family Policy Center helped draft legislation, says it will be legally defensible

A bill that would ban drag performances in all public venues will be introduced in the first days of the next session of the Idaho Legislature in January,Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Conzatti and other conservative activistsaround Idaho andacross the country have protested against events in public spaces that feature drag queens, including drag queen story hour events at public libraries. In September, Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon called for people to pressure corporate sponsors of Boise Pride topull their names from sponsorship at the event over a scheduled “Drag Kids” performance for ages 11 to 18, which was ultimately postponed over safety concerns.

Conzatti said the draft bill is ready to be introduced as soon as the session gets underway but declined to share the text of the bill with the Sun and wouldn’t name the legislators who worked on it with him.

“No child should ever be exposed to sexual exhibitions like drag shows in public places, whether that’s at a public library or a public park,” he said.

Conzatti also cites a drag performance in Coeur d’Alene in June as another example of public indecency, when a performer was accused of exposing himself during a Pride in the Park event. After complaints, the local prosecutor’s office determined the video was edited to look like the performer had exposed himself when he had not. The performer has since filed a defamation lawsuit against North Idaho blogger Summer Bushnell over the incident, according to reporting from theCoeur d’Alene Press.

Group cites section of Idaho Constitution as basis for law

The Idaho Family Policy Center circulated a petition leading up to Boise Pride asking state lawmakers to prohibit drag performances from public places, citing a section of theIdaho Constitution that states the first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people and the purity of the home. It says the Legislature should “further all wise and well-directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.”

“There were many Supreme Court decisions from the 19th century dealing with public virtue and how sexual practices should not take place in public because it degraded public virtue,” Conzatti said.

In Conzatti’s opinion, drag is inherently a sexualized caricature of gender, which he compared to racist blackface practices that were a common practice in theater up until the last 50 years. He recognized that might be an offensive comparison to some.

“You overemphasize certain natural characteristics so much that it becomes a caricature of itself,” he said.

More than 3,500 people signed the petition, according to a newsletter from the Idaho Family Policy Center, and more than 26,000 emails were sent to corporate sponsors of Boise Pride over the course of a day and a half.

Longtime drag performer says sexualized characterizations are insulting

Boise resident Crispin Gravatt has performed drag for more than a decade under the stage name Penelope Windsor in all types of venues, including drag story time at libraries and at Boise Pride in September.

“At its core, drag is art, and art can be powerful,” Gravatt said. “For a lot of us it’s a way to be part of a community and do something fun and creative. For me and for my friends, it’s kind of like art therapy, the same kind of thing we see with veterans or abuse survivors. It’s a way we can find joy and work through some of the challenges in a world that can be challenging at times for people like me.”

To Gravatt, drag is no different from original Shakespearean theater performances when men played women on stage and women played men, or the way a clown entertains a crowd. The misinformation about drag that is spreading is harmful, they said, because many people don’t know what drag actually is and end up believing something that isn’t true.

“It’s a little insulting that these folks think people like me don’t know how to act appropriately for where we’re at,” they said. “In my experience being in this community performing, producing, going to shows, and just celebrating who I am and who my community is, it’s weird to see that such a small group of people has made it so far in what they are trying to do, because 99% of people I meet all over the state – they think it’s a either a fun creative outlet or something that may not be for them, but isn’t a threat.”

Boise Pride director hopes to see pushback if bill is introduced

Boise Pride Executive Director Donald Williamson also received thousands of protesting emails in the days leading up to the event. He said he is aware of the draft bill and thinks it would be a violation of free speech to ban a certain type of performance, despite Conzatti’s assertions that it will be legally defensible if it passes the Legislature and is subsequently challenged in court.

“It’s just wrong on so many levels,” Williamson said. “If you don’t agree with the performances, then you don’t go. It’s just like any other venue. It’s why I don’t go to country music concerts; it’s not my cup of tea.”

Williamson spent several years as a bartender at a drag club in Oregon, and said drag was not built on a sexualized foundation.

“It was meant as a means of expressing your identity that maybe you didn’t have the ability to do in your public life, as a form of expression and empowerment,” he said. “Obviously like any other form of entertainment, there’s going to be some sexualizing in one way or another. … There’s a difference between a drag show that you and I might see if we decided to go see a drag show on a Friday or Saturday night with a cover charge, versus a drag show on a Sunday afternoon at a park in front of the public.”

Williamson said Boise Pride is planning an alternative kids’ drag show at a private venue for a later date so that the performers’ family and friends can attend and the work the performers put in doesn’t go to waste.

If the bill is introduced as planned, Williamson said he expects a lot of pushback, and he hopes those who showed up for Boise Pride will show up to the statehouse or contact their representatives.

“Show up and show out huge, not only when we see this legislation, but any legislation that’s targeting anybody that’s hateful or hurtful and is going to affect vast swaths of the population in a negative way.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.